The Rev’d Roger Elks
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Well, the school holidays are nearly over. And when I’m on holiday, when I go away, I rather enjoy it because there’s a simplicity about it. I have not taken all my clothes, I have not taken all the things that I could do at home and there’s less choice and I’m enjoying it. I like the ‘poverty’ of having less; travelling light. Jesus says in the passage of Luke 6, that the poor could be blessed.
20 Looking at his disciples, he said:
‘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.
23 ‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
The sermon on the Mount is this collection of Jesus’ teachings and this is part of the Beatitudes; a list of things about which people are blessed. There seems to be an inversion in the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s that things are upside down; not very comfortable for we who are already very blessed in this world.
Jesus says, blessed are the poor. I’m not sure that Jesus is talking about the destitute. It’s not very blessed when you don’t have the very basics of life. But there is something good in here about being poor. It’s hard for us to understand in our material wealth. We have all that we need , not all that we want but we certainly everything we need.
If there’s something good about poverty, there’s something bad about wealth, says Jesus in Mark 10, “It’s hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God”. It’s hard for us to understand the things of the kingdom when we are so well-off, we just can’t see them. We become blind. So how are we to be helped to understand this?
Well, let’s try poverty for a bit. How do you do that? Well, perhaps a simple holiday might help us to reflect on all the things that we have at home that we don’t really need. Maybe going on a retreat – a Christian holiday if you like – but one where we take fewer things and do fewer things; time to do less and to withdraw from the busyness of life. Maybe it’s a personal discipline of fasting, as you might do in lent, an opportunity to just do without and to miss those things, to be poor about them. Maybe it is about making space in our own lives. It’s quite hard to do when there’s so much around to invade our peace. Hard to do without when we are tempted by seeing so much that’s around.
It could be by making space emotionally from people. We don’t have to be with people all the time and loneliness and being on our own some of the time can give space for us to discover things of God, space from the noise and busyness, space from doing. We all like to do things don’t we; maybe stopping ‘doing’ for a day would be a good idea? Missing the rewards that we get from achieving things might help us to discover something of God.
Matthew’s version of the beatitudes says “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. It doesn’t ask us to be poor in spirit permanently. Perhaps there is a blessing in allowing ourselves to be a little lower than we feel at the moment, just setting ourselves away from those things that lift us up, so that we can taste what being poor is like and trusting God.
There is the course that principle called the KISS principle that often I think about when I’m planning services or projects: KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. I’m very good at making things very complex. This passage reminds me that simplicity, and poverty of wealth, and poverty of not doing to much, can be a place where God can teach me.
God says to the people of Israel,
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
‘In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30v 15
Almighty God, whose only Son, has opened up a new and living way into your presence; give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ, your Son who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now I’m forever. Amen