We just heard the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ first and greatest sermon in the Gospel of Matthew. In the very first line of his sermon, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.”
That sounds important! The kingdom of heaven is a desirable reward! It seems like we should all aim to be “poor in spirit.”
But it’s not entirely clear what “poor in spirit” means.
I plan to do my best to make sense of poverty in spirit. But first we need to take a big detour because today is our annual meeting.
Our annual meeting is a business meeting, our one business meeting as a whole parish for 2023. As you would expect, we’ll do business-meeting type things. We’ll elect a new vestry, present the budget, and review different areas of our common life. Those are important tasks, and I hope those of you who can will stay to help us accomplish them.
Thankfully, we are in pretty good shape. There’s always room for improvement. A little more money would help. A few more people would be great, especially some younger people. But our numbers are OK. The business of Saint David’s, business in the normal sense of that terms, is going fine. I am profoundly thankful for that.
But, of course, we are not a business in the normal sense of that term. The bottom line, important though it is, is not actually our bottom line. Our bottom line, that is to say, our most important goal, is to be faithful to the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ, who calls us to new life in Christ, who calls us to join Christ’s mission in the world.
Our readings this morning all speak to that bottom line.
According to the prophet Micah, God has told us what is good, what God requires of us: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”
Then there’s Psalm 15. It tells us who can dwell in God’s tabernacle and abide on God’s holy hill: those who lead a blameless life, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their hearts.
Jesus gives us yet a picture of people who are blessed: the poor in spirit, to which we really will return, I promise! Also those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers, and more.
In their different ways, Micah and the Psalmist and Jesus are all saying the same thing. We are called to live as God’s people, according to God’s standard of righteousness. We are called to put God first. We are called to live lives of love.
The big question for us as we gather for our annual meeting, the question underneath our normal business, is, how are we doing by Micah’s standard? And the Psalmist’s? And Jesus’? On annual meeting Sunday, on this day of taking stock, the most important question is, how are we living, as God’s people in this time and place?
From where I sit, we’re doing OK by that standard, too. We love God, and we do what we can to grow in that love. We love our neighbors, who are also God’s beloved children. And we show our love for our neighbors in tangible ways.
I think just about the next week or so. Tomorrow a group of us will head to the women’s prison in Chicopee for a Bible Study, to share good news with those in captivity. Next Sunday is Food for the Poor Sunday, an opportunity for us to join with the ministry “Food for the Poor” in feeding and otherwise helping poor and hungry people in the Caribbean. After next week’s services, we’ll head to the Parish Cupboard to worship with local people in need, and to provide a decent meal for them. The Tuesday after that is our free Veterans Lunch. That’s just some of the things we do as a parish, to say nothing of the many things we do as individuals.
For a modest-sized parish with modest financial resources, we do a lot of good, both here in the community and even around the world. We should take pride in that. We are doing justice, doing what is right, making peace, and so on, just like Micah and the Psalmist and Jesus tell us to do. Annual meeting is a chance for us to celebrate those accomplishments.
But there is a subtle temptation lurking here. It is easy to get so focused on doing that we lose sight of the bigger picture.
As Christian people, as people of faith, we can’t focus just what we do, or should be doing. We also focus on who God is calling us to be, and to become. Our ultimate task is not simply to do good, important as doing good is. Our task is to walk humbly with our God, to be (or to work on becoming) pure in heart so that we can see God.
We are called into the world, in Christ’s name. And we are also called to prayer and worship, to communion with Christ, to intimacy with God. Our relationship with God comes first. Only out of our relationship with God comes our Christian service to the world.
But even that may put the focus in the wrong place. It does put the focus in the wrong place if we focus on ourselves. Our emphasis needs to be on God.
Behind our actions stands our relationship with God. And what makes our relationship with God possible in the first place is God’s action, not ours. God’s action two thousand years ago in Jesus Christ. God’s ongoing action in our Church and in our lives. Christ working with us. The Holy Spirit working within us.
We are God’s people because, and only because, God chose us, God loves us, God sustains us, God empowers us. God makes us who we are. We live because God lives in us. We serve because God serves in us.
When we gather for our annual meeting, to take care of our necessary business and to celebrate the good things that are happening here at Saint David’s, we should never lose sight of the fact that God stands behind it all, and that without God we are nothing.
Now, at last I come back to poverty of spirit. And, it turns out, that’s what we’ve been talking about the whole time.
To be poor in spirit is to recognize that we have nothing of our own, that we depend on God for everything, that everything we have and everything we are comes to us from God, and comes as a free gift.
In myself, apart from God, I can have, at best, only the wisdom and power of the world, which turn out to be worth nothing.
But when we recognize our need, our dependence, our spiritual poverty in the truest and deepest sense of the word “poverty,” when we are truly poor in spirit, then Christ fills us. Christ becomes for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
And so, on this annual meeting Sunday, our primary task is to acknowledge our poverty of spirit, and to give thanks to God, who promises that in Christ we can inherit the earth and enjoy the kingdom of heaven.
My prayer for us is that we can keep focused on that primary task, today and always. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan