Blessed are you poor

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Wir sind alle Bettler. Das ist Wahr. Amen.

We are all of us beggars, this is true. Amen.

Blessed are the poor.

But let’s get real. Not even Jesus’ followers can believe it.

Did you hear the story this week of a multi-million dollar home owned by Pastor Steve Furtik of Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He had kept it a secret until, that is, he was found out. When pressed about the 16,000 square foot dwelling place, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said he was blessed, saying, “It’s a big house, and it’s a beautiful house, and we thank God for it…we understand everything we have comes from God.”

Blessed are the poor.

Then there’s the story out of Germany. The Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has received a new name recently: The Bishop of Bling. He was so named after spending a reported $40 million in renovations for his home and offices. $475,000 on walk-in closets. $20,000 for a bathtub.

Blessed are the poor.

Here we have clear words from Jesus, and yet we believe that prosperity is our blessing. We believe that blessing comes through wealth. We believe that blessing comes by having stuff. It’s known as the Prosperity Gospel, the sense that the more faithful we are, and the more faithful we are the more we are blessed by God.

Blessed are the poor.

Blessed are the poor? Yeah right. Only if by blessed Jesus means blamed. Blamed for our country’s woes. Blamed for the economy. Blamed for their perceived laziness. There doesn’t seem to be anyone or anything that is blessed by being poor. In fact, it’s just the opposite in our culture. There are few more despised.

There is a war on the poor and this week, it has taken a surge. A while back, Congress voted to cut to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP. This week those cuts took effect. $40 billion cut from the supplemental food stamp program. 48 million Americans rely on the program, with the average recipient previously receiving $4.55 per day. Can you live on that? (Paul Krugman)

Blessed are the poor.

In justifying his vote, Kevin Cramer, Congressman from North Dakota, quoted 2nd Thessalonians 3:10 — “If anyone is not willing to work, let him go hungry.” I’m sure Mr. Cramer will be surprised to learn that many a socialist has echoed those words in history. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that he took those words out of context and separated them from their intended meaning. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul was writing against those who were so sure that Jesus was coming soon that they stopped working altogether, neglecting their jobs, their homes, their families, their responsibilities. Paul urged them to continue living in this world, even as they waited for the next.  (Adam Copeland)

Blessed are the poor, they will inherit the kingdom of God.

Yet Mr. Cramer is just one figurehead who begs a question many ask: “are the poor lazy?”

On Facebook this week I saw someone from Glyndon post: “I went to sign my dog up for welfare. They said he’s not eligible. I said he’s lazy, unemployed, and doesn’t know his daddy. He gets his check next week.”

Blessed are the poor.

There is a fear operating in Washington, as it is in Glyndon, and throughout America, that “able-bodied people” will be lulled into complacency and dependency and will choose to stay poor. But we forget that almost two-thirds of SNAP recipients are not part of the work force. They are children, the elderly or the disabled, and most of the rest are adults with children.

Who among us would take food out of the hands of the children and the elderly, the most vulnerable among us?

One-third of the SNAP recipients are part of the work force. News is coming out that Walmart and McDonalds encourage their employees to apply for food stamps through SNAP because they won’t earn enough to feed their families by working at their places of employment. We are learning that many in the program use it to supplement their low wage job or jobs. Lazy? We dare not tell that to a single mother working three jobs.

Blessed are the poor.

To be honest, I think late night fake pundit Stephen Colbert, spoke truth that could only come through comedy when he said: “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Blessed are the poor.

And woe to those who keep their riches, their fullness, and their laughter to themselves. (Greg Carey)

It is pretty clear that the poor are not blessed to us. But we must admit that the poor are blessed to Jesus and because they are blessed to Jesus, maybe they ought to be blessed to us as well. You say…some are lazy! Some are frauds! They don’t deserve it!

The same could be said about you and me and the grace and kingdom of God. We are saints on account of Christ alone. We do not earn God’s grace. We like to think it is about us and them, isolating ourselves from those we find unworthy. It’s human. It’s part of our sin-soaked DNA. But Jesus doesn’t actually say blessed are the poor, or blessed are those poor. Jesus says blessed are you poor, you will inherit the kingdom of God. We are all of us beggars, this is true. We ought not forget that.

Jesus gives blessing to the blamed, food to the hungry, mercy to the weak, forgiveness to sinners, grace to those who need it, life to those who are dead. Jesus simply gives to those who have need. especially the downwardly mobile who cannot gain for themselves.  (David Lose)

And we need to admit how offensive that is to us. We’d rather earn it. We’d rather show off our blessings as a way to show off our faithfulness to God. But God in Christ will have nothing to do with it. Instead he insists:

Blessed are you who are poor, for you will inherit the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

While the American Dream is about upward mobility, Jesus is interested in downward mobility. Down right to the cross and to the grave. But there on the cross and there in the grave grow the riches of God. There, where nothing else prospers, where death seems to finally have us…God in Jesus pours out life, abundant life.

Where is life? Grace? Prosperity? Blessing?

In the very places we would never think to find it. In the very places that find us in life. In the very things we do not choose. In the very people we do not choose: our neighbor, given to us by God. This is the kingdom of God, made up of all sorts of saints who do not deserve it. But here we are and there we will be together by the grace of God alone.

Try as we might to separate ourselves from one another, naming us and labeling them, we must acknowledge the poverty in and among all of us, we must acknowledge that there is a thin place between us.

All Saints Day affords us such a place. All Saints Day is a thin place on our calendar, when the harvest is over and the dark time of the year falls upon us. All Saints Day marks a time when we feel heaven and earth coming together.

The Celtics tell us that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even shorter. And so we acknowledge the thin place between this world and the next, between life and death, and yes, even though the gap is widening, the thin place between the rich and the poor.

As the space between us collapses in those thin places, we find ourselves gathered in the kingdom of God. As the space between us collapses in those thin places and we are no longer isolated from one another, we find a faith that takes flight. As the space between us collapses in those thin places, we truly begin to see one another.

We catch it now only in glimpses.

Pope Francis has made it known that he would like a church that is poor and a church for the poor. He recalled that Bishop of Bling and has ordered the mansion in Germany to be turned into a soup kitchen.

Blessed are you poor.

Shane Claiborne tells how he encountered a woman as she struggled through a crowd to get a meal from a late-night food van. Asked if the meal was worth the effort, she replied, “Oh yes, but I don’t eat them myself. I get them for another homeless lady, an elderly woman around the corner who can’t fight for a meal.”

Blessed are you poor.

In the kingdom of God we are all poor, all given what we cannot gain for ourselves and yet it is more than we could ever get.

Martin Luther was a prolific writer. His words filled volumes of books. But it was a handful of words at the end of his life that he held onto. The last words he wrote were found on a scrap of paper, wrinkled in his palm. Wir sind alle Bettler, das ist Wahr. We are all of us beggars, that is true.

Jesus gives to those in need. When will we believe that he is talking about each one of us?

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