“Don’t believe everything you think.”
Those were the words of a Facebook post a few weeks ago. I am not really much for skimming Facebook … unless I happen to be stuck in line somewhere! But this particular post caught my attention.
I was prepared for “don’t believe everything you see.”
I have warned people, “don’t believe everything you read,” especially if it’s on the Internet!
But “don’t believe everything you think?”
That’s not what I expected to read – and not even what I wanted to read, because it challenged me to consider that just because I think it, it doesn’t make it true.
Sometimes in life, we convince ourselves that something is true, that something is acceptable, that something (while not what’s best for us) might be okay.
Just like the saying in that Facebook post, Jesus blows into our lives like a forceful storm. He’s not just the cute baby in the manger, or the sacrificial lamb on the cross, or the forgiving one who rises from the dead.
Jesus is the corrective influence who shows up and leads us in making change.
Jesus’ teachings show us that Jesus actually expects us to be different than the way we’ve learned to be, different than we expect us to be.
Sometimes, it can feel like getting pummeled — in the soul.
So, over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring the Beattitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10). These are some fundamental teachings of Jesus that speak to the way Jesus saw the Kingdom of God coming upon the earth in a real and powerful way. Obviously, they are not for the faint of heart – because they defy everything that we think we know about what it means to be human and live in society.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
These are the first words that Jesus speaks to the crowd gathered for his most famous, and extensive, sermon. It says that Jesus saw the crowd gathering and went up on the mountainside, presumably so more people could hear him. And his disciples were gathered closest, to make sure that they soaked up the knowledge of their teacher or that they got “Jesus dirty.”
See, it’s said that a disciple is one who follows behind his or her teacher so closely, that the sand the teacher’s foot kicks up ends up on the disciple. That would literally mean that the disciple would get dirty with the master’s dirt! So… what would it look like to get dirty with Jesus’ dirt, if he is not only God but also the teacher of all things about God, the one who would help us grow in our faith and what it means to be faithful?
Jesus leads off his sermon with a word about pride. Jesus says those who are not full of themselves – those who are poor in spirit – are the ones to whom the kingdom of heaven belong.
I read a story about a woman who bought a parrot for a pet. All the parrot did was treat her bad – the parrot thought he was “all that and a bag of chips.”
The parrot insulted her and every time she tried to pick it up, it would peck at her arm. One day she got fed up with the parrot and as it was insulting her she picked it up, it continued with the insults like “you’re ugly! I can’t stand you!” and it pecked at her arm as she carried it. She opened the freezer door and threw him in and closed the door.
From inside, the parrot was still going on for about five seconds and then it was suddenly quiet. She thought, “Oh no, I killed it!”
The woman opened the door and the parrot just looked at her. She picked it up. Then the parrot said: “I’m very sorry. I apologize for my bad behavior and promise you there will be no more of that. From now on, I will be a respectful, obedient parrot.”
“Well, okay,” she said, “apology accepted.”
The parrot said “Thank you. Can I ask you something?”
She said, “Yes, What?”
The parrot looked at the freezer and asked, “What did the Chicken do?”
Pride does come before the fall – or maybe a short trip to the freezer.
The Apostle Paul wrote Philippians 2:3-4 to one of the churches he had planted, when he wanted them to be like Jesus: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” He wrote that Jesus, who was God, didn’t stress his being God but rather, “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant [or a human being],…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition…”
If we saw ourselves, if we saw our worship services, if we saw our jobs, if we saw our lives as not ours, and therefore not to be held onto proudly, how would it change our perspectives?
What would it change about being open to people we didn’t know – or who weren’t like us (we think)? What would it change about opening our hearts up to others in a way that let Jesus in and allowed other people in, too?
“In humility value others above yourselves…”
C.S. Lewis wrote about humility in a way that seems amusing – but which speaks to the human condition. He wrote that in hell, everyone has a long spoon and looks emaciated trying to get their arms twisted around to get the impossibly long spoons of soup into their mouths. In heaven, everyone has a long spoon and feeds someone across from them, until all are fed.
Selfish ambition versus humility.
In our Scripture today, an angel appeared to Philip, one of the disciples and told him to go to a deserted road. Philip, one of the original twelve disciples, could have said, “Why would I go there? What could possibly be the good of traveling to a place no one in their right mind goes? I’m an original disciple! I don’t need to be going there! Don’t you know I’m already in? We disciples don’t go there!”
But Philip went. Philip is poor in spirit.
On the way, it says that Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch, an officer in the court of the Queen of Ethiopia. Philip could have said, I am a Jew, this man is an Ethiopian, and I am not to be consorting with foreigners. But when the Spirit told Philip to go to the chariot, Philip ran to it, putting himself in the lower, less honorable position by running next to a chariot while another man rode in it.
Philip is poor in spirit.
Let’s be clear: Philip still doesn’t know why the angel sent him to this place or this chariot. But when he hears that the stranger is reading from the book of Isaiah, Philip interjects himself into this holy conversation that the Ethiopian is having. Philip is willing to play the fool, to be that guy who talks to a stranger.
Philip recognizes in that moment why he is there. Philip is prepared to put his dignity on the line, to risk being dismissed by a man who would have been his own self-worth out there.
Philip is poor in spirit.
Philip asks the man if he understands what he is reading, and the man replies with a question, “How can I know unless someone explains it?”
Wait: that’s shocking! A man admits to not knowing something! Apparently, the Israelites wandered for forty years in the desert because Moses was unwilling to ask someone how to get to the Promised Land. [Seriously, a study in Britain shows that the average man drives an additional 276 extra miles per year rather than ask for directions.]
The Ethiopian is aware that he doesn’t know everything – that he needs help – that he has to ask for directions. He is hungry to know more, but he can’t answer his own questions, and he recognizes in Philip’s question that this man might be the person he needs.
The Ethiopian is poor in spirit.
And because two men are poor in spirit, because one was obedient to the call of God on his life, because one was open to hearing the good news of the gospel, a soul was saved, a man was baptized, and the church grew by one Ethiopian.
Nicholas of Cusa said that “The better a man will have known his own ignorance, the greater his own learning will be.” How true is that??!! When we admit we don’t know, someone is usually willing to teach us; when we admit we need help, someone is usually willing to give. When we see our hearts aren’t empty, we’re willing to let them be filled – it’s just like when our hands are full. If your hands are full, you can’t receive – whether they’re clenched around this or that.
We must admit our emptiness to be filled!
In the scripture, it says that the Ethiopian went away rejoicing. I imagine that he returned to his homeland and shared his newfound faith. That’s exciting stuff! Because of a momentary encounter, how many people came to have a knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ?
The flip side, the opposite, is pretty scary.
If Philip doesn’t go…
If Philip won’t run…
If the Ethiopian won’t admit his lack of knowledge…
If neither man is poor in spirit…
The kingdom of God doesn’t grow by a person that day.
The kingdom that the poor in spirit inherit…
That’s what we’re aimed at, friends, building the kingdom.
One soul at a time, through love, and joy, and faith.
But if we’re going to be builders of the kingdom, we have to get out of the way. We have to get rid of our pride. We have to get over ourselves.
So what do you need to be “poor” in today?
Is it worry about your looks? Your ability to speak?
Is it about your financial or social status?
Is it about your expectations for others in behavior or life along the Christian spectrum?
Is it about your family, or your friends?
Who are you called to share God’s love with? Who are you supposed to talk about this sermon with? Who are you called to invite to church next Sunday?
Whoever it is, I hope you embrace the poverty Jesus was talking about. When we make ourselves poor, we recognize what we are not … and we allow God to make us rich in all of the things that matter.
May God give you the grace to reach out today. Now is the time.