Blessed Poor People?

“Blessed Poor People?”

Matthew 5:1-5 (5:3) – July 3, 2022

What do you do when a friend or loved one has big feelings? I mean, when someone you love is super sad, or super upset, or super angry?

So many of us feel overwhelmed sometimes. Feelings can be oversized, huge, bigger than big! Overwhelming emotions and feelings can make a person feel like a ton of bricks has just fallen on them. What is a person to do? Does your family have a special remedy for this kind of huge, overwhelming emotional impact? What do you do if your child – or grandchild – is feeling really down and has huge feelings they don’t know what to do with?

Our Lord Jesus talks about just this kind of feeling when He gives us His first Beatitude. You remember the Beatitudes, the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, early in the Gospel of Matthew. The Rabbi Jesus has just been getting a lot of press about being a miracle worker and a marvelous teacher, and people have been flocking to hear Him and see Him from miles around.

When the Lord Jesus has the big opportunity to teach a large crowd, what does He lead off with but “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now, wait a minute, Jesus! I kind of know what blessed means, and I understand that there are poor people in the world, but what kind of a topic sentence is that? What do you mean, leading off Your big sermon with a confusing idea like this? What gives, Jesus?

Our summer sermon series is called “Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus.” That title certainly applies to this first Beatitude! How on earth are poor people blessed? But, wait. Jesus didn’t say “poor people.” He said people who were (are) “poor in spirit.”

Have you ever had a time when you were down and just wanted things to feel better, for just a little while? I suspect we all feel poor in spirit sometimes.

Our Lord Jesus was well aware of the hurts and pains of the people listening to Him. Not only their physical hurts and pains, because Jesus was a marvelous, miraculous healer! But, also their mental, emotional and psychological hurts and pains, too.

Our Lord Jesus did not place these Beatitudes in a random, haphazard manner. He was very deliberate in the order, in His placement of the different blessings God bestows. We may say there is a logical order in these Beatitudes. Jesus tells us about the kingdom of heaven, and this first blessing is a key to all that follows.

We can think of a “kingdom” as the way the world (or the country) works or is set up. In God’s kingdom, there is abundance! Everyone has more than enough honor, and food, love, power and resources for everyone – that means every single person – to live and thrive.[1] What’s more, according to our Lord, all who enter into the kingdom of heaven are poor in spirit. That means an emptying of sorts.

As the wonderful theologian and preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells us, being poor in spirit “is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian and of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven.” [2] In the Beatitudes, Jesus shows His listeners how to be filled with the manifestation of heaven – of God. But, how are we to be filled with heavenly things if we are not first emptied of worldly things? The worldly, self-centered, all-for-myself attitude?

Jesus and the other citizens of Palestine of the first century were definitely oppressed. The Roman empire was ruling over them, and the people in charge of the local and regional government demanded a lot of taxes. This was not only the money the common folk earned, but also the crops the Jewish people grew and a share of the animals they raised. People were already struggling to provide for themselves and their family. Plus, when they could not pay the taxes the Roman government expected, the Jewish people lost most of what they owned. [3] They were an oppressed nation under an oppressive regime.

Have you ever felt trapped, sad, worried things might never get better? Worried that tomorrow would be just like today, or maybe even worse? That sounds so much like what the people in first-century Palestine were dealing with, every day! Little wonder so many people flocked to hear the message of hope, healing and blessing from the Rabbi Jesus!

This Topsy Turvy Teaching of Jesus is just the beginning of the Beatitudes. Sure, Jesus tells us that the poor in spirit are truly happy, the ones who are truly blessed by God. Not the people who in this world seem to have it all, know it all, or have all the power. Those worldly, puffed up, self-centered, power-hungry people are going to be skipped over by God.

Try clenching your hands to make fists. A fist is a sign of power and strength, isn’t it? But, when our fists are closed tight, we cannot receive anything new, anything of positive value, anything to nurture and to help grow. However, let us open our hands on our lap with palms facing up. This is a physical way to remind us all that we are open to God. [4] We depend on God, and need to be open to learning, growing and changing. We need to empty ourselves of worldly, puffed up, self-centered and power-hungry attitudes that are so common in the world today.

What would Jesus do? Would Jesus be selfish, self-centered and grasping for power and attention? How would Jesus treat the people on the edges of society, the single moms, the elderly without children, the outcast ones, and the friendless? How does Jesus treat you and me? Jesus welcomes the poor in spirit. Jesus welcomes you, and He welcomes me, too.

For ours is the kingdom of heaven. Alleluia, amen!


(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)

[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1971), 42-43.

[3] Illustrated Ministries.

[4] Ibid.

What Are You Expecting?

“What Are You Expecting?”

Jesus teaching

Luke 6:17-23 (6:18-19) – February 17, 2019

Have you ever been expecting something, with all your heart? Perhaps, getting to a stadium early, and expecting a great ball game? Or, arriving at the church, expecting a wedding of two people who are dear to you? Maybe, finally going to a concert you’ve been waiting for, for many months. You are there with many other people. And, all of you have such expectations!

Expectations—of what?

We see something so similar with the scripture reading Eileen just read to us, from Luke chapter 6. Yes, this was early in the Rabbi Jesus’s ministry, but there already was talk about this promising young Rabbi. He not only teaches with authority, but this Jesus heals people’s diseases, too! And, He even casts demons out of people!

Wouldn’t that be something to travel a long distance for? Just imagine—a Rabbi, a high-profile teacher who spoke with authority. On top of that, He’s a healer and miracle-worker, too! That is something to see, indeed!

We need to step back a bit, and look at the bigger picture. Did you know that Luke chapter 6 contains much of the same information that Jesus preached in Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7? Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount—leading off with the Beatitudes—is summarized in about one third of the space, right here. In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.

Both sermons contain much of the same information, except sometimes in different phrases and from a slightly differing point of view. Matthew was one of Jesus’s disciples, he was Jewish, and an eye witness. Dr. Luke was a Greek, he was writing his Gospel some years later, and relied on the testimony of a number of first-person accounts. Just so you can see these two sermons side by side.

Instead of diving into the sermon right away, I want us to look at the people who were hearing it. Dr. Luke is quite particular in his wording: he wants us to know that people from all over are listening, from down south in Judea and Jerusalem (good, God-fearing Jews), as well as people from the coast in the north, from the cities Tyre and Sidon. This second group of people was more mixed, some Jews, but secular, pagan Gentiles as well.

Luke mentioned the disciples, specifically. These were the twelve disciples, recently hand-chosen by Jesus. Moreover, “there are the larger crowds of disciples who are followers of Jesus, who have responded to His ministry, but who have not received a special call from Jesus.”[1] Quite a diverse group, indeed. And, Jesus preached to them all.

Have you ever been in a crowd of all different kinds of people? At a ball game, or, in a crowd at a concert, perhaps. I’ve been there, and I have felt the camaraderie, the fellowship and general good nature of certain kinds of crowds.

Reading again from Luke 6: “Jesus went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of His disciples was there and a great number of people who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured.”

Expectant? I suspect that is exactly how this crowd was feeling. Even before Jesus can start preaching, people surged around Him. Listen, again from Luke: “and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.”

People not only wanted to see Jesus, they wanted a word of comfort or encouragement from Jesus. And, people wanted to be healed by Jesus most of all! Did you notice that Jesus did not just heal people from their physical problems, but also their spiritual and psychological difficulties, too? Such miracle-working activity must have brought people many miles to see the Rabbi Jesus.

As the Rev. Ernest Lyght mentions, “Perhaps there are some similarities between the crowd on the plain and the crowds that come to our churches. When you look out into your congregation, whom do you see? What are their needs? Who are the people who come to our churches? Do they reflect the neighborhoods around the church? Surely, they are folks who want to hear a Word from the Lord, and they want to be healed. They come with certain expectations.”[2]

Which leads to the next question: what are your expectations for the worship service, this morning? Were you expecting a warm, familiar service, with nice, familiar hymns, and a warm, comforting sermon? Or, were you surprised and even taken aback when we heard the testimony about a lovely ten-year-old boy with autism who wrote that wonderful poem for his English assignment? (I had tears in my eyes when I first finished reading that poem. God bless that boy, and God bless that teacher, too.)

Does Jesus challenge you – challenge me – in our daily walk with Him, or are you just looking for a nice, easy, quiet stroll with Jesus? What are your expectations?

Let’s look at some of Luke’s version of the Beatitudes: “’Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 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.’”

Whoa, wait a minute, Jesus! I thought You were warm and cuddly, like a teddy bear. At least, that’s what I heard. From Sunday school, or somewhere. Where did Jesus come up with all this about hungering, and weeping, with people hating me, excluding me, insulting me, even rejecting me. What gives, Jesus? What happened to that warm, fuzzy Christianity I thought I knew?

Christianity is not a religion, being a Christian is a relationship. It’s a series of relationships. Jesus and me, vertically. Sure! But, it’s Jesus and all of us too. Plus, it’s the horizontal relationship between you, and me, and you, and you—and all of us, with each other. That is what Jesus came to offer all of us. A radical change in relationships between God and humanity. And, in how we all relate to each other. No matter who.

Have you told anyone about this radical, out-of-this-world friendship between you and God? Have you been changed in how you relate to everyone you meet?

Bishop Lyght is now retired from the United Methodist Church. The UMC has for its advertising catch phrase “open hearts, open minds, and open doors.” Great images! Wonderful things to strive for, too. We can take that phrase to heart, and ask ourselves: do we have open hearts? Are our hearts open to everyone who may walk in to our church? Do we have open minds? Are our minds open and accepting of everyone, no matter what ethnicity, mental challenge, sexual orientation, or other kind of differences they might have?

Finally, do we have open doors? Who are the people who do not come to our church, on this corner? Do we truly welcome all people? In our church? On the street or at work or at line in the grocery store? In our neighborhoods?

What are your expectations? Check with Jesus, and see who He would welcome.


(Many thanks to the Rev. Ernest Lyght and for ideas and assistance for this series on discipleship.)


Lectionary Commentary and Preaching Paths (Epiphany C6), by Dennis Bratcher, at The Christian Resource Institute.


Generous With Our Hearts

“Generous With Our Hearts”

Jesus heals son of royal official John 4

John 4:50 – March 22, 2015

Important people are just that—important! Ever try to see one, face to face? Sometimes we go through a receptionist, or an administrative assistant. Make several telephone calls, or emails, and confirm the appointment? It can be really difficult, just getting the attention, being squeezed into the schedule of a very important person.

That’s the situation we are faced with in our scripture reading today. The two main characters are a royal official, a very important person. He was reputed to be important—a big man, regionally known. And, the Rabbi Jesus. Let me remind everyone again: this was the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the area around Galilee, so Jesus was not very widely known, yet.

Can we compare this VIP situation to any parallels today? Do we know any very important people, in our workplaces, neighborhoods or schools? How about a school principal? A very busy person! What about our town’s mayor, or the local state representative? Again, really important people. What about your company’s president, or CEO? These all are people who pull a lot of weight, who have a great deal of responsibility.

Let’s go back to this reading from the Gospel of John. The royal official here in Chapter 4 has a big problem. He has a sick son. A really sick son. No matter how important the official was, he was a father, at the same time. And his son was really sick.

How about important people, today? A school principal, a town mayor or local state representative? A company’s president? Sure, each of them might pull a lot of weight and shoulder a great deal of responsibility. But—each of them has loved ones. Any of the loved ones may very well get sick. And sometimes, get really sick. What the Gospel writer tells us about this royal official is that he was a very concerned parent. A good, loving parent.

Those of us who are parents or grandparents or uncles or aunts know about the anguish and pain of having a sick relative. Especially, a sick child. This congregation knows the concern and the time and the many, earnest prayers that have been offered for loved ones from our church. In the year that I have been here, I can think of several, including our miracle big boy, L! And, Sunny’s friend B. These children’s parents and other loved ones went all out to get help for their dear children.

This royal official in our reading today is no different. He was so concerned about his son! The Gospel reading states that the ailing son was close to death. The father dropped everything! Everything in his very busy, very important schedule! The official took the time to seek out Jesus, and travel for a whole day, way out of his way, to beg for this man’s help.

Let’s focus on Jesus, for a moment. A miracle-worker, Jesus is called. Here He is, back in His home town. Still in the area where there were people who knew Jesus’ family. I would like to remind everyone—in verse 44, “Jesus Himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in His own country.” Jesus had been welcomed back into the area after He turned the water into wine, but many people remembered Him as the boy and young man He once had been, before He became a Rabbi.

Plus, I suspect certain people merely wanted more miracles. Many just wanted to see a dog-and-pony show, and ooh and ahh over the flash and dazzle, the miracles, the signs from God.

What about this royal official? This very important man from Capernaum? Even though he may have—initially—scoffed at the reports of Jesus doing miracles, especially turning water to wine, by this point he is desperate. He dropped everything and traveled for a whole day to come and see Jesus! He had a genuine need—that is, his son was close to death. He begs and pleads for Jesus to accompany him back to Capernaum.

Today, so many of us have friends who are sick, or loved ones in the hospital or rehab centers, or at home. Sure, our world is broken. As our friends from the website #40acts mention, no one is exempt from pain and sorrow. Many, many people become ill, some chronically, even permanently ill. Death is an integral part of the human experience. We all are born. We all die. As my acquaintance Rabbi Joe said, “We all have an expiration date.”

Yet, this royal official had hope! This royal official came rushing up to Jesus. Can you just see their encounter? Perhaps in the middle of the street, or in the town marketplace.

We might think Jesus’ response is out of left field. What? What is He talking about? “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told the official, “you will never believe.” One of the most interesting parts about this response is how Jesus says it. In Greek, the word “you” is plural. Let me say it again, a bit more colloquially. “Unless y’all-people see signs and wonders, y’all will never believe.” Now, I think Jesus made this statement in a public place, with a bunch of people around. He wasn’t just talking to the official. No! Jesus was addressing a group. Y’all.

We see the official begging. He pleads with Jesus to come with him, to heal his sick son. “Sir, come with me before my child dies.” This very important person is a father with a genuine need, a father whose heart is breaking with worry and anxiety about his son. And Jesus? His internal compass always turns toward those whose hearts are breaking. Jesus’ response to the official? “Go. Your son will live.”

The official was able—through the veil of great worry and anxiety over his son—to really hear Jesus’ words. Moreover, this father was able to take Jesus at His word and go home. He may have been wondering exactly who Jesus was. A prophet? “Did Jesus hear a message from God that my son would be healed?” Or, perhaps, even, the Messiah? “Did this Rabbi Jesus cause my son to become well through a miracle?” Regardless, the official started back to Capernaum.

Let’s hear verses 51 to 53 again. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

Wow! And again I say, wow! We can see that this official did not come to Jesus with false motives, or just wanting to see a miracle-worker. On top of this, the official willingly left when Jesus told him the boy had been healed—long distance, no less! Then, when his servants confirmed the healing sometime later, this father—this official knew for sure. Jesus performed a miracle. A sign from God. The official believed Jesus, and so did the rest of his household.

Is Jesus ready to meet us in our distress? In the middle of our pain and sorrow? I think you know the answer to that. Jesus is ready to meet us, to walk with us, in all these situations. Does anyone have sick loved ones? Jesus is there, at your side. How about pain and sorrow in life? Jesus will walk next to you, keeping you company. Does the world seem broken, and as if it will never be fixed? Jesus is ready to meet us, to help us pick up the broken pieces. To encourage, support, and heal in any one of a number of ways.

Just as this official did something right–he came to Jesus when he was in genuine need! So, we are invited to come to Jesus when we have needs, too. Jesus can heal our broken hearts, just as much as He can heal our broken world. Plus, we can reach out and allow Jesus to use our hands, our feet, our voices to come alongside of others, too! We can be partners with Jesus, to help others. Just like Jesus, we can see needs around us and respond from our hearts. Respond with generosity and kindness. May it be so! Praise God, amen!


Thanks to the kind friends at – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)