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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 lessons.

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.

For this year, when I preach from the Gospel lessons, it will usually be from Matthew. So we’ll 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 blesses.

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:

  • A newsletter to

  • organize,

  • type,

  • and print,

  • a bulletin to get out,

  • a meeting to attend,

  • a household of people,

  • overnight guest

  • sermon to prepare,

  • a rehearsal to attend.

  • Little relationship, but a lot of action and activity

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 believers.

God bless the poor in spirit, for Jesus has promised you the kingdom. God's table is all yours. Amen.