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Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Sermon on the Mount: Poor in Spirit

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The Gospel reading for Sunday, January 15, 2017:

Matthew 5:  1-3

This Sunday we begin our study of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes.  Some have said that if you were choosing the most important passages of the Gospels, we'd do well to choose this text.  Some have called it a guidebook to the proper behavior of Christians.  Is this text an updating of the Ten Commandments or the replacing?  Or something else altogether?

As we read the Beatitudes in the coming weeks, ask yourself if Jesus speaks to you in this passage.  Which beatitude seems tailor-made for you?  Where might you be called to improve?

We should also try to listen to these passages with new ears.  If we've been going to church any length of time, we've heard these texts before, often many times.  How might we have come away with the wrong idea? 

Let's take Matthew 5:  3, where Jesus says that the poor in spirit are blessed.  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  Let's list some possibilities that come to mind:

--hypocrite

--prone to depression

--a poverty of the pocketbook

--non-believer, someone who can't believe

--a person who is toxic to others

--someone who doesn't tell us how they really feel

--angry mindset

--gossiper

On and on I could go--what does Jesus really mean when he talks about people who are poor in spirit?  Many interpreters come to the idea that poor in spirit means someone who realizes how lacking they are in a spiritual outlook, and thus need God even more.  But as we sit and ponder all the possibilities, we see that this small passage could mean many things.

For those of us assuming that the Sermon on the Mount isn't about us, perhaps Jesus begins with this calling of the poor in spirit blessed, because who amongst us can't relate?  We've all had moments when we're impoverished that way.  Jesus calls us blessed, which may not be what we'd expect.

For those of us who see the Bible as a guidebook for moral behavior, we might see ourselves challenged to approach the text in a new way.  For those who see moral behavior as our ticket to Heaven, we might also be challenged to think differently.

Christ came to announce that God's plan for redeeming the world had begun. That plan involves our pre-death world, which is not just a place where we wait around until it's our turn to go to Heaven. No, this world is the one that God wants to redeem. Christ comes to invite us to be part of the redemptive plan.

The Sermon on the Mount might be the essential teachings of Jesus, distilled into several pages.  In this early part of the text, we see an inclusive message.  We may not be spiritually gifted, but we are blessed too.

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