GCI Sermon – 13February2022

The Blessed Poor

Luke 6:17-19,20-26


When you think of the poor, who comes to mind?  Perhaps you think of someone who is homeless.  Or, maybe someone on a street corner asking for change?  Maybe you thought of one of those commercials featuring starving children in some distant land?  Does anyone you know come to mind?  Is poverty something you have encountered?  In America, most people do not see themselves as living in poverty.  Oftentimes, people live their entire lives without having a relationship with a person they consider poor.  Is this a good thing?  Do we lose something for not being in close proximity to the poor?

Mother Teresa knew at an early age that she wanted to commit her life to religious service.  At 18, she left home to be equipped to be a missionary, and she never turned back.  She became a nun and soon after began to minister to the people of Calcutta, India.  In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the poor.  Given her decades of work with the poorest of humans, Mother Teresa had uncommon insight into poverty and our spiritual needs.  She said:


The greatest disease in the West today is not [tuberculosis] or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.  We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love.  There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.  The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality.  There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.

Mother Teresa saw poverty as a universal problem.  To her, we are all poor in one way or another.  This does not mean that we turn our back on the economically disadvantaged to attend to our own poverty.  Rather, we should identify with the poor and act accordingly.

Jesus taught about poverty in his “Sermon on the Plateau” in Luke 6:

He went down with them and stood on a level place.  A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.  Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.  Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.  “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.  For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.  “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.  Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:17-26)

In order to appreciate the depth of Jesus’ message, we have to put ourselves in the place of the disciples.  Imagine what it was like.  You are standing there with Jesus and many other disciples when an even larger crowd comes to hear Jesus.  You feel excited at first that people from far and wide were coming to hear your teacher.  Then as the people get closer you see that they are the outcasts of society: the sick, the demon-possessed, the infirmed.  You were taught that people in those conditions were sinners — people to be avoided.   Some of them are carrying diseases that made them ritually unclean and they are drawing nearer.  Your excitement turns to trepidation because this is not the audience you wanted for Jesus.  These are not the people around whom you feel comfortable.

You watch as Jesus tries to touch each person in an orderly way, but the crowd keeps growing.  They are now pressing all around you as they try to touch Jesus.  If you were in this situation, what would be your attitude towards the crowd?  Many of us would negatively judge the people.  We may be tempted to make generalizations and judgments about the less fortunate.  We may be tempted to see ourselves as better in some ways compared to the pitiful crowd.

It is at this moment that Jesus turned to his disciples, not the crowd, and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  What an astonishing teaching!  Not only was Christ’s message at odds with conventional wisdom, but it also may have been an admonishment to his disciples.  It is likely that after being pushed and shoved by people who were to be avoided in their culture, some of the disciples may have grown tired of the pleading and the tears.  In the same moment, Jesus brought comfort to the crowd and conviction to his disciples.

In verses 24-26, Jesus delivered warnings to the comfortable.  Jesus was not saying there is something inherently evil about being wealthy, happy, or having a good reputationHowever, it is a problem if we see ourselves as wealthy, happy, or having a good reputation by our own strength.  We are in trouble if we allow our comfort to make us think we are better than those we perceive as strugglingIf we see ourselves as healthy and whole apart from God, there is no room for God to address our spiritual needs.  Our physical wealth can mask our spiritual poverty.  Mother Teresa is also quoted as saying, “One day there springs up the desire for money and for all that money can provide — the superfluous, luxury in eating, luxury in dressing, trifles.  Needs increase because one thing calls for another.  The result is uncontrollable dissatisfaction.  Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up.”

In America, most people aspire to wealth, not poverty.  We have something called “The American Dream” — the idea that if a person works hard, they can achieve status and wealth.  We strive for the house with the bigger garage and pretty fence.  We love “rags to riches” stories and view “riches to rags” stories as tragic.  We have been socialized to see poverty as shameful and to be avoided.  As a result, Christ’s upside-down teaching in Luke 6 can strike us as radical.

Jesus often has to disrupt our flawed thinking in order to better reflect his image.  The Lord exhorts us to reconsider our attitude towards poverty and the poor.  In contrast to our natural inclination, there is some kind of blessedness to poverty.

As believers, we should follow our Lord’s example and be concerned about the economically disadvantaged.  We should be appalled at the deplorable conditions in which some people live simply because human beings are not very good at sharing.  In God’s economy, “those who have” are to give, so “those who do not have” can have.  That way, everybody has what they need (Acts 4:32-35).  Because of God’s lavish love, there is a blessing in both the giving and receiving (Acts 20:35).  Yet, the norm in our society is for people to be concerned about themselves and what they can accumulate to fulfill their own desires.  Our perceived individualism causes us to lose sight of humanity’s interconnectedness.

To Jesus, the poor are blessed because the kingdom of God belongs to them.  The hungry are blessed because they will be fed.  The mourners are blessed because they will be made to laugh.  The marginalized are blessed because they will receive rewards in heaven.  These people are blessed not because of the lowly state in which they find themselves.  They are blessed not because they are learning humility, although learning humility is a good thing.  Jesus says they are blessed because of the response of their loving God.  In his compassion, mercy, justice, and love, God responds to our suffering with restoration and renewal.

This is the mystery that the poor Christian has an easier time understanding: the greater our poverty, the greater access to God’s power we have when we humbly seek our Father.  It is true that poverty can bring humility and less distractions, both of which are blessings. However, the greater blessing is the emptiness that Mother Teresa spoke aboutthe room in our lives and in our hearts that God can fill.

Whatever our state, we should embrace our own spiritual poverty.  We are all in desperate need of God every moment of every day.  Jesus is life itself and there is no existence apart from him.  We are blessed if every day we thank God for our lives and seek him to supply our needs.  We are blessed if we realize we have no strength in ourselves and wait on the Lord to order our steps.  This means that sacred practices like prayer, study, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines that cultivate a dependence on God are profitable ways to spend our time.

At the same time, Luke’s Gospel speaks about poverty in a literal sense.  The author has both spiritual and economic poverty in mind.  Finances are an uncomfortable topic for many; however, the Bible has a lot to say on the issue.  In this passage, Jesus is warning those who accumulate earthly riches to not see their value in their possessions.  Rather, they should submit all that they have to God and see their wealth as a tool to be used by the Lord.  The prayer of the wealthy should be, “Thank you Lord for the gifts you have given and please show me how to use them for your glory.”  In that way, the wealthy do not see themselves as such.  Rather, God is wealthy and in his grace he has chosen to share his riches.  Those who are wealthy are stewards of God’s wealth; they should seek opportunities to build authentic relationships with the poor.  Not only will proximity to the poor create openings to be a blessing to those in need, but it will allow the financially secure to learn emptiness from poor people.

Jesus tells us that those who struggle with economic insecurity should see the blessings we have in Christ.  We are defined by God’s love for us, not by how much is in our bank account.  Jesus represents the end of poverty, and our financial insecurity is temporary.  Even if we do not have a lot of cash, we should follow Jesus’ example and seek to bless others with our time and talent.   Those who are poor have much to teach the wealthy, so the economically insecure should seek authentic relationships with those who have riches.  If God moves upon the heart of the wealthy to give to those who are poor, those gifts should be received as a blessing from the Lord.

In this Epiphany season, it is important that we remember who Jesus revealed himself to be.  When it comes to poverty, the good news is that we have all been made rich in Christ.  Because of Jesus, every spiritual blessing is available to us in this life and the life to come.  In Jesus we have love, joy, peace and every other good thing.  In Jesus, we can be generous in giving.  In Jesus, we can be gracious in receiving.  In Jesus, the rich can be humbled and the poor can be filled.  In Jesus, we can hope for the day when no one will ever hunger or thirst againJesus is the end of poverty because there is only abundance in him.


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