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Poor in Spirit

The Beatitudes are the beginning of this famous sermon, and Jesus began with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” John Wesley, co-founder with his brother Charles of the Methodist movement in England about three hundred years ago, wrote extensively on the Sermon on the Mount. Out of his 44 sermons that were and are viewed as doctrinal standards for Methodist people (at least some now!), 12 were based on the Sermon on the Mount. 

Wesley believed the Lord Jesus started with “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” because we have to acknowledge our sin, our brokenness. If we do not realize what we have been saved from, then we have a great difficulty realizing what we have been saved to.  If we do not come to grips with our sin — lust, greed, envy, jealousy, anger, pettiness, gossip, etc. — then we will never understand why the things we thought would bring us joy bring only a temporary respite. We are searching for something that cannot be found apart from God. St. Augustine famously wrote that our souls will find no rest until they rest in Thee, O Lord. We acknowledge our sin, we mourn our sin, and we are comforted. 

In Romans 7, one of the most intriguing passages in the Bible, Paul writes about the anguish the domination of sin can bring.  For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me….For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me….Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  (Romans 7: excerpts from 14-25)

This blog is about the link between discipleship and recovery. For those of you in recovery, how does this sound to you? Does that reading from Romans bring up any memories? “I’m going to stop as soon as…..(fill in the blank).” “I’m going to show my control; I’m only going to drink wine from now on.” Or the classic: “I can quit anytime I want.” And the drinking, and the drugging, continues…

Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” We have to admit we are powerless, admit our sin, admit we need help. Within a week, God willing, I will celebrate 34 years of sobriety, more than half my life. Yet at any AA meeting I will introduce myself like this: ‘Hi, I’m Frank, and I’m an alcoholic.” I don’t say that out of fear, but out of gratitude for the God who saved me, and the people God used to do it. It’s been more than half my life since I used alcohol or other drugs, but I know I could go back to where I was and to where I was headed within a few hours if I forgot who I am and where I came from and how I got out. 

Churches might be better off if we introduced ourselves like this: “Hi, I’m Frank, and I’m a sinner.” The more I realize my sin, the more I realize the darkness I once lived in, then the more of the light of Christ I can see in my life, and in the world. Wesley believed we come to changed lives by the Sermon on the Mount, walking with Jesus as he shows us the way to the kingdom of God. By loving God and loving our neighbor, there is a real chance that our lives can be changed. It’s Jesus who makes that possible. Only Jesus…

Frank is an Inspire Missioner in Texas, USA. Click here to read more of Franks blog: The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

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