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2023-01-29 Epiphany 4

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

With the invention of the internet and YouTube and the miracle of TikTok, you quickly see how crazy people truly are! I’m talking about adrenaline junkies! Thrill seekers who do wild and crazy stuff for fun and now monetized ad revenue! Taking a dirt bike on a 322 foot flying jump over a Las Vegas hotel! Walking a tightrope 1800 feet over a Nicaraguan volcano! Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane that wasn’t on fire or careening to the earth - without a parachute! Free falling 22,000 feet and hoping to land in a net?! That’s crazy! I want to throw up just thinking about that!

I’ve never been an adrenaline junkie. I don’t jump off bridges with my feet tethered to an elastic bungee cord, I don’t do roller coasters at the fair! I don’t even do the tea-cup ride at the fair! But I will gladly hold your purse and eat mini donuts if you want to ride the rides! And of course, how could we bring up crazy risk taking without talking about rock climbers!? Scaling the sheer side of a mountain cliff with only a pocket full of chalk dust and some rubber shoes!? Shivers and goosebumps at the very thought!

I’m a true, dyed in the green and yellow wool Saskatchewan flat lander. I require zero excitement and I don’t even like being near the mountains let alone climbing all over them! But today I’m reminded that God doesn’t share my opinion about the mountains. He made a lot of them and they are spectacular. And when you read the Old Testament, God was forever doing great and amazing things on top of mountains. Abraham and Isaac went up the mountain to sacrifice, foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ our Lord. Elijah won a glorious victory over the false prophets on the top of Mount Carmel. And who could forget God’s direct revelation to Moses on Mt. Sinai? Interestingly enough, very few people were chosen to hear God directly though. Yet in the Gospel reading appointed for today, it’s a different story, isn’t it? In Jesus, God incarnate speaks to the multitudes face to face.

Here’s the scene, Jesus is being followed by the great crowds. Instead of retreating away from them, He takes a seat. Sitting down was the traditional Jewish position of teaching with authority. Even some of the early Christian preachers did this. They would sit while preaching and the congregation would stand. We never should have got rid of that. It was way easier to know who was falling asleep when the people fell all the way over! So our Lord Jesus sits down, opens His mouth and teaches the crowds. This was a “one-way” teaching. Jesus has come to teach with authority and power. It’s not like it was when He was a 12 year old boy asking teachers of the law questions in the temple. It’s not as if the disciples are there to debate and discuss stuff. Nope. They are there to listen. They are there to hear. They are there to inwardly digest this word from the incarnate Word of the Lord! And what does Jesus say? He reveals the light of God’s Kingdom with His famous Sermon on the Mount. And it starts with the reading we have today from Matthew 5.

Our Lord’s sermon lasts for two whole chapters! But it begins with the word “blessed.” It literally means happy or joyous. But in the context of the whole situation, it really indicates a heavenly, spiritual exaltation rather than earthly happiness or prosperity. It is illuminated and brought to life by Jesus the light of the world. It describes not only the way of life for God’s people but also the true joys that come from following Jesus as His disciples. We not only await the future rewards of righteousness Jesus promises in these words but we also experience them now. The trick is in coming to repentance, turning our hearts and minds and hands to the brightness of the Kingdom of God and His ways rather than being sucked into the worldly ways of darkness.

The very first beatitude or blessing opens the door to the rest of the sermon. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (MT5:3). Throughout Jesus’ ministry He visits the poor. He Himself was poor, having no home in which to lay His head. Being poor is simply a condition of lacking, of needing something one cannot get by oneself. In our day, we instinctively think of poor in the sense of money and worldly possessions and stuff. But it’s a relative thing. The person living in a ramshackle trailer, driving a rusty ’76 Oldsmobile is considered poor in contrast to the guy iving in the 5000 square foot mansion with 3 BMWs in the front yard. But the trailer dweller in contrast to a person in Haiti who has no food or home at all appears very rich.

Being poor in spirit is different. It refers to the fact that we are all poor, we are all in need, we all lack when it comes to the spiritual realm. The people who ran to Jesus and followed Him were people who realized this: the poor, the hungry, the blind, those in need of health & healing. It was only the Pharisees and the Scribes and people who perceived themselves to be very rich who would have nothing to do with Jesus and in fact, sought to kill Him.

Today, the greatest challenge the church faces is from people who perceive themselves to be very rich, overflowing with earthly stuff. This over abundance of earthly blessings has blinded people to the enormous problem of spiritual poverty. As a society, we have every blessing under the sun and yet more and more people are turning their backs on the Son of God Who richly gives all these things. It seems that the only things that bring people to their senses are huge calamities, stock market crashes or natural disasters. One would think the churches would be overflowing with the threat of nuclear war looming on the horizon today! But the still small voice the Lord speaks often falls on deaf ears. And when God starts turning up the volume, people become resentful instead of repentant!

It’s much like the last chapter of Jonah. God causes a plant to grow up and shade Jonah and provide some relief from the sun, but then the worm comes and eats the plant and it withers. Then the winds come and the sun beats down and Jonah gets mad and angry, lamenting the demise of the plant! He doesn’t thank God for the gift of shade, he simply gets mad when he perceives his loss of something he didn’t earn or work for! Likewise for many people today. We have forgotten the Giver of the gifts! We have perceived ourselves rich when in reality we are a people and society who are very poor.

Repentance is the key. A humble heart by faith, will realize that we are poor in spirit. And when we realize this, that we are completely and utterly dependent on our Lord for everything, for each aspect of life, for physical things and spiritual things and indeed, for every breath we take, we begin to perceive what it means to be “blessed.” It means that those who are empty will be filled. Those who are hurting will be healed. Those who are crying will have their tears wiped away. Those who are blind will regain their sight. The lame will walk. The deaf will hear. The light shines in the darkness. And in the light of God’s Word, we see that being poor and dependent is actually a blessing because our gracious God will fulfill our needs.

The Kingdom of God has drawn near to the poor in Spirit. Or, we could say, it has drawn near to all people, because everyone is poor in Spirit. But not everyone will receive this Good News. Many will reject this very idea that they are poor and in need. On them the stinging irony of Jesus’ words “I did not come to call righteous people, but sinners” (MT 9:13) will also fall upon deaf ears. Yet, for those who humble themselves, who repent of self-perceived richness, tall pride and wide ego, there is blessedness. The gracious ministry of Christ is taking place on the mountain as Jesus speaks blessing to His disciples. The word He spoke to them is a word He still speaks to us today by the Holy Spirit. If we can accept that we are the ones who are poor in Spirit, then we will be very rich - abounding with God’s love, forgiveness and mercy through the cross of Christ out Lord. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven! Amen!

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