by Rev. Thomas Hall
This morning we find ourselves in the
Gospel of Matthew. As I began to work on this passage, it occurred
to me that someone here might be wondering how we arrive at the
lessons that are read and preached from each week. Let me take just
a few moments before I preach to explain how we come up with our
I want to be honest and say that scriptures do not come to me in
the middle of the night in dreams. It would be nice, but I could
never rely on that method. Nor do I subscribe to the weegy board
method of allowing my own inner voices or feelings to guide my
selection of biblical passages. I have discovered that left to my
own intelligence I tend to gravitate to the passages that I'm most
comfortable with. I tend to preach my own little canon within the
Canon of Scripture. So I instead, follow a lectionary. A lectionary
is a simply a list of Scriptures that takes me through the four
gospels and much of the Bible over a period of three years. That
means that given that amount of time, you will heard read in this
place much of the Holy Bible, rather than my favorite preaching
topics of genealogies and funeral inscriptions. And that now brings
us to the Gospel of Matthew.
this year, when I preach from the Gospel lessons, it will usually be
from Matthew. So well become real familiar with the style and
portrait that Matthew paints of Jesus.
When we come to Matthew we come to several interesting personal
touches: this gospel is arranged in five large blocks which always
begins with a string of stories and events; and then follows with a
lengthy teaching. Matthew certainly knew his Bible! I wonder how
many scriptures we could quote nonstop? Whatever you do, don't make
the mistake of asking Matthew to quote Scripture--he'll be quoting
Scripture until half time of the Super Bowl. So why does Matthew
constantly quote the Old Testament scriptures? To make us more
familiar with the Bible? Trying to impress us with his knowledge?
Matthew was intrigued with the precision of how the Jewish
scriptures predicted Messiah and how well Jesus fulfilled those
prophecies; he is absolutely convinced that in Jesus Christ, God has
come to us with his heavenly kingdom.
Matthew's kingdom is not clouds, harps, angels or Peter sitting
at the pearly gates with a list in his hand of who's been naughty or
nice in the former life. Matthew's view of God's heavenly kingdom is
quite earthy-trees, sky, city parks, butterflies, children
frolicking. Writes about a kingdom of heaven that has little to do
with harps and angels and a lot to do with the way we treat each
other, the way we follow Christ in this present life. So, on behalf
of Matthew, I invite you to an adventure, to go on tour with the
disciples as they follow Jesus over hill and dale, through five
blocks of teaching and drama. We'll discover with every step more
about the fantastic life that God offers us in Jesus Christ. And it
all begins with our boarding pass-- the Beatitudes, a description of
the kind of person who really needs God. The person that God
Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, once remarked that to
understand the first beatitude is to understand the whole lot of
them. He said, Blessed are the poor in spirit, is a word that
goes against the world's greatest religion--faith in success. At the
core of these beatitudes that line the front of your bulletin is a
contract that God makes with us, a promise that he gives us to bless
those who follow him. These words will mark us as disciples as we
journey toward God and the Kingdom of Heaven. We discover what and
who God blesses: spiritual poverty , tears, those who long for
justice to prevail, merciful, those who desire to shake away
phoniness and to move toward becoming pure, whole persons,
peacemakers in this world, and suffering because we stand for values
and beliefs that we believe are worth dying for, and even harder,
are worth living for.
But a quick glance over the list alerts us to how odd these
qualities are when we stop to look at the values our own culture
prizes. In our American culture we value youth, supple skin, power,
muscle, intelligence, self-confidence, look suspiciously at any
public figure who cries, accept unfaithfulness as part of the 90s
thing, and walk over meekness like a door mat on the way to the top.
Peacemaking is politically correct, yet usually on our terms.
Jesus says, Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor
. . . You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope . . .
says another translation. Blessed are the poor in spirit Every
once I awhile don't we experience those moments when we bump into
the meaning of what Jesus meant by being poor in spirit. I had
a recent experience like that this week, in fact. In a classroom
lecturing for an hour and fifteen minutes. I recall carrying on two
conversations simultaneously--one with students, but the other
with myself inside. Though looking professorial on the' : outside,
inside I was caving in, realizing that I had no life in my words to
students, just words being tossed out, a few caught on the end of
Bic pens and scribbled on to paper, but most just dribbling away. I
felt empty, spiritually impoverished. Yet how could I admit this
emptiness to students? Professors never have bad hair days. Never
are less than prepared. Never at a loss for words. Yet, I read my
own emptiness off of their eyes.
Spiritual poverty happens. Those moments when we are at the end
of our rope, when we just look inside to emptiness. When we speak in
the depth of our being and hear only echoes. Dwight L. Moody, the
great American revivalist knew something of that kind of poverty. He
use to pray, God, fill me with your Holy Spirit again, I am such
a leaky vessel; your goodness just keeps leaking out of my life
A number of weeks ago, it was on a Monday, when I prayed my own
D. L. Moody kind of prayer:
I hunger for relationship with you, Lord.
Not just in saying words, writing words, praying words.
I desire to seek you with all my heart and to know you better.
A lot of feverish activity last week, Lord:
So I'm now left to myself on Monday morning,
sitting in an empty office
with only the hummmmm of the computer
and the occasional creak of metal pipes
as they expand to the heat.
Now in the quiet moment
I again hunger for relationship,
for a personal, intimate conversation with
and the Holy Spirit;
A conversation with the Holy Trinity
that I recite truths about on Sunday mornings.
Come, Veni Spiritu-, Holy Spirit,
come Sweet Spirit,
come Lord and giver of life.
Fill me again,
fresh and pure,
to the top,
spilling over into my week.
Grant me a greater desire
to seek you,
to hunger for you.
If you've ever felt like that, if you've ever sung Precious
Lord take my hand, lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak,
I am worn, and sung it because deep down in your soul you
knew it was true, if you've ever felt like you were going through
the motions in a church worship service. Wondering what you were
doing there. Or wondering if all the energy you've exerted for your
family and career was worth it, when you look at your faith, then
pick up your boarding pass to God's Kingdom--a presence that
requires spiritual poverty, not self-confidence as the starting
point in order to receive God's rich blessing.
The beatitudes are for those of us who standing in God's Presence
on a Sunday morning and realize that they are spiritually bankrupt.
God blesses those of us who are not-so-successful. Those of us who
aren't experts at being spiritual. That's who Matthew says Jesus
blessed on that day; he blessed the not-so-successful.
Did you ever notice the kinds of people who were following Jesus?
The guy with the trick knee and the bad back, the woman who knew
what sitting at the back of the bus felt like, the kid who got mixed
up with the wrong crowd. The not-so-successful people first heard
those words. But what about the disciples who sat around Jesus that
day? Well, they weren't exactly the top of the class either. Two
were fishermen, one a)( small-time crook tax collector, another a
bookworm, another a petty thief, and at least one was part of a
group like Hamas-militants who went around carrying out
assassinations against Jews loyal to Rome. Yet, apparently the only
thing that they shared in common was the simple fact that they all
knew that when it came to what mattered in life--they were all
paupers. Spiritually bankrupt.
To be aware of our of our not-so-successful spiritual condition
is not the end of the journey but the beginning--the starting point
in the life of a Christian. Jesus begins the journey of the
disciples by blessing them and us--if we choose to follow him. I'm
in the business helping people find sure answers, certain solutions
firm faith, credible creeds, and spiritual competency. I want to
inspire you. And bless we shall. God bless you troubled souls,
questioning minds, insatiable skeptics, fallers from grace,
stumblers in the dark, moral bunglers, failures at faith, troubled
God bless the poor in spirit, for Jesus has promised you the
kingdom. God's table is all yours. Amen.