“Blessed are the Poor in Spirit,” A Sermon Preached for All Saints’ Sunday, Nov. 4, 1984
St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church in Coney Island, New York
All Saints’ Sunday, November 4th 1984
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
A saint has to be an atheist.
“How can you say that, Pastor? You know how much we hate Madeline Murray O’Hare, who campaigned to get prayer cut out of the schools twenty to thirty years ago. How can you say that a saint has to be an atheist? You don’t want us to believe in God?”
And I answer, “Yes.” That is the way it is, because by-and-large, the god you’ve got and the god I’ve got is Mammon! Mammon stands for money, for the almighty American dollar, for power, property, and houses packed by possessions – all of which we tend to worship Mammon by. And I say that you have to stop trusting this god. Do not cling to money, property, power, and influence as if your lives depended on it. You have to learn to be atheists to Mammon – to the almighty dollar – before you can allow your heart to trust in and cling to the Holy One of Israel – the Lord Most High.
The trouble with communists is that by the power of Mammon they want to be free of Mammon and they have merely gotten deeper into Mammon’s clutches. But we say we believe in the one true God while our lives and our actions say we really believe in Mammon – and our hypocrisy is more offensive to God than the blatant atheism of communists.
What does it take to be a saint? St. Matthew says – (you notice that I do not say, “the Bible says,”) “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” while St. Luke says, “Blessed are the poor and woe to the rich!” Now is St. Matthew spiritualizing the words of Christ, so that Mammon can still be served and with lip-talk we can confess the Most Holy God? That depends upon what we mean by spirit.
Does Matthew mean that if we are poor in spirit, we are blessed, but if we are rich spiritually, we are not? No, because although St. Matthew is not as “Pentecostal” as St. Luke, Matthew also believes that we need to be rich in spirit rather than materially rich. What he really means is that in spirit we need to be one with the poor.
I submit that is where our whole country has started down the wrong path after the election of 1980 – because in spirit we became one with the rich against the poor – and St. Matthew is saying, woe to those who are not one with, at the side of, and part of the rescue of, the hungry, the homeless, that is, those without shelter, those who mourn not only their own lust, but mourn for the way our lives have become.
Blessed are we when we are lowly – and woe to the arrogant, the superior, the prejudiced, the people who have become machines – like you have one TV set that cost $300 and one costs $1,000 and you think people come the same way.
Blessed are you when you are merciful and when you stand in your life mercifully. The other day the first woman stood to be executed by lethal injection. She is the first woman who received capital punishment in 26 years by our country. Don’t tell me that the Bible says: if a murderer kills, his hand shall be upon him – because the Sermon on the Mount says, “You have heard the call of old – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but say to you, do good to those who despitefully use you.” Have the murderers now stopped murdering people in our streets because we have introduced capital punishment? Blessed are you if you stand with the merciful. That does not mean that the law should not be brought down to bear on murderers.
What about this CIA pamphlet [in our news]. We are instructed by a certain Mr. Kirkpatrick, no relation to our dear member, Thomas Worthington Kirkpatrick, to hire criminals to kill some of our own hired Contras in order to make them martyrs for the cause. It seems that everything goes – no matter how devious and murderous, as long as it is against so-called communists. [We say it of others] but sometimes it seems to me, that life seems cheap to us Americans.
Don’t say that I am not a patriot, because there is patriotism and there is patriotism. There is love for our country that would see her envision a new city and a new way of life; a love for our country that features her best traditions – democracy, freedom of speech and assembly, of a government by checks and balances, but not the patriotism that lives on the military and militarism. The latter is the worst kind of patriotism. I’m sorry, but I am not proud that we marched into Grenada. It makes me ashamed of this country. And the limitations placed on our free press – that no reporters were allowed to go in and watch our boys kill people and be killed – is a new thing in America, where if continued, you will only get the news Washington wants you to have! Patriots have to protest that.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Blessed are those who stand with the poor, the grieving, the hungry, thirsty, with the homeless, who like our Lord have nowhere to lie down and rest their heads. Blessed are those who reject the many things they want and accept the fact that they are human beings with the same needs as the poor and that with greater justice and social mindedness and compassion – their needs could be met. [There would be no poor among us.]
Why should we live in a world where six million Ethiopians are on the brink of death by starvation? We need to understand that the times as they are, are not God’s times, but belong to the powers and principalities and it is high time that we repented and yearned for the Holy City and yearned for the new persons that God is changing us to become – in the image of Christ … so that we hunger and thirst for righteousness, instead of beer and pretzels. We need to repent so that we have hearts filled with compassion instead of stomachs bloated with overeating. That we become person-centered and reject this power and money centered culture and society of this world we live in called the USA.
See the Holy City coming down from Heaven! See the new beatific people, who inhabit it! God is in their midst. Their persecutions are ended – their life by the river that makes glad the City of God, is now begun.
Now in your hearts you can reject Mammon and become poor and one with the poor in your heart. This is the land of opportunity. Take the opportunity to become poor. Scoff at the lottery – the way Mammon lines you up to buy tickets and laughs at you and your faith. Take the opportunity to look to the cross of Jesus Christ and by the way of the cross enter the Holy City, enter your new existence, which Jesus has described:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: the reign of God is theirs. Blessed too are the sorrowing; they shall be consoled. Blessed are the lowly; they shall inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they shall be filled. Blessed are they who show mercy; mercy shall be theirs. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed too are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake; the reign of God is theirs. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of slander against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, because they persecuted the prophets who were before you in the very same way. (Matthew 5: 3-11)
Pastor Peter D.S. Krey