How do you know when things are good with your body? Well, what you can do is go to a doctor and get a physical exam. A few weeks ago, I went in for a physical checkup because it had been about three years since I had had one. First a nurse practitioner came and checked my pulse and blood pressure, listened to my lungs and checked my skin for skin cancer. Then the doctor came in and completed the exam. And I was very glad when the doctor said that things looked good!
When the report from the doctor is that things are good, a person feels thankful and joyful. You now know that your body is functioning just like it is supposed. The worries that you had about some blotches on your skin or those uncomfortable aches that you were feeling all disappear. You have more of a spring in your step and a smile on your face because you know that things are good. That is what a state of blessedness is like. You are blessed because things are good. And you feel blessed because things are good. So when things are good with your body, it is a great and wonderful thing.
Now your body is important, but it is not the most important part of you. The most important part of you is your soul. Your soul is the inner part of you, the part that no one ever sees, except for God. Your soul was made to connect with God and your soul longs for God. Oh, we may try to fill our soul’s hunger with money, possessions, experiences or relationships, but none of it ever really satisfies. As St. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Your soul is eternal and your soul was made to connect with and rest in God both right now and for all eternity.
So how are things with your soul? How healthy is that part of you that was made to connect with God? And how do you know if things are good with your soul?
In ancient times, people would measure the health of one’s soul by that person’s wealth, or health, or beauty, the number of sons they had or the beauty of their daughters, the size of their flocks and herds, the number of servants they had and the number of years that they lived. If you had lots of all those things it was thought that the gods were smiling on you. We do similar things today, even in the Christian faith. When someone has good health, a good job and a good family, we might say, “God is really blessing you!” And that’s true. All those things are blessings from God for which we can be truly thankful. But Jesus tells us that none of those things are the really important blessings, the kind of blessings that will count both in this life and the next. And Jesus also tells us that none of those good things tell us anything about the condition of a person’s soul.
Fortunately Jesus has given us a soul health checklist that we can use to see if things are good with our own soul. And that spiritual checklist is found in the first few verses of Matthew chapter 5. We will only have time to get part way through that checklist today, but we will return to this soul health checklist again later.
The first item on the checklist is “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Now being poor in spirit has nothing to do with being financially poor. An example of someone who is poor in spirit is a person who has been told by their doctor that they have terminal cancer and there are no treatment options available. Or a person who has three children under the age of ten and their spouse has told them that they no longer love them and they want a divorce. Or a person whose has been told by someone from their bank that the bank will be forcing them into receivership and they will lose their house, their car and all of their other possessions. A person who is poor in spirit has nothing left to hold onto in life except for God. Everything else has been stripped away.
And Jesus tells us that the poor in spirit are blessed because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. What does that mean? A kingdom is the domain where a king rules. And everywhere within that domain, the king’s will is done. The kingdom of heaven, as Matthew describes it, or the kingdom of God which is the term that Mark and Luke use, is the rule and reign of God and that happens now in human hearts and one day in the future God’s Kingdom reign will extend over the entire earth. We pray for this to happen when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” People who are poor in spirit are blessed because their soul is now fully open to the will of God being done in their lives. There is nothing in their lives that is interfering with God’s will being carried out in and through them.
Maybe you are poor in spirit today. Maybe your body or your mind is irreversibly getting worse and there is nothing that you or anyone else can do. Maybe you are grieving for a loved one who has died. They meant everything in the world to you and there is nothing that will bring them back. Or perhaps you had a good job with a company car and an expense account and the boss called you into their office recently and said, “You’re fired!” and your world has come crashing down around you.
If something like that is happening in your life, take heart, dear sister or brother. You certainly do not feel blessed, but you are blessed, because the kingdom of heaven is yours. You are living under the rule and reign of God. Your prayer has been answered, God’s kingdom has come to you and God’s will is being done right now in your life. Your soul is with God because there is nothing to distract your soul from God. Everything else has been stripped away. As awful as it feels to go through what you are going through right now, things are probably the best they have ever been with respect to your soul. There are no soul-numbing distractions, no soul-poisoning idolatries, and no soul-blinding pride. There is nothing but your soul and God. It is a very hard place to be, but it is healthiest place for your soul. Things are good with your soul when you are poor in spirit.
But what if you are not poor in spirit? What if things are going well in your life: you are healthy, wealthy and wise? God gives us a prescription in James 1:10 & 11, “10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.” In other words, if you are not poor in spirit, keep reminding yourself of how brief, fragile and insignificant your life in this world is. Your wealth, your health, your good looks and all your possessions will soon fade away into oblivion like the grass that is drying up to a crisp on your lawn during this drought. It is not good for the soul to be distracted from God.
Jesus continues with his soul health checklist, “Blessed are those who mourn…” I have often thought that Jesus is referring to those who are grieving over the loss of a loved one. The word “mourning” mentioned here includes that, but it is much more than that. The kind of mourning that Jesus is referring to here is the grief and sorrow people feel over all the consequences of sin in this broken world in which we live. That includes grieving for our loved ones, but it also includes grieving over the reality that anyone has to die. It includes sorrow for both the victim and the perpetrator of a crime. It includes sorrow over all who die at the hands of ISIS, whether they are Muslims, Yazidis, or Christians. But it also includes sorrow for the people who fight for ISIS and the way that evil is working through them. The mourning that Jesus refers to includes grief over the many immense problems that we face in our world, and also sorrow over the many misguided ways we try to address those problems.
And the reason that people who grieve over the consequences of sin in this world are blessed now is because they will be comforted in the future. They will be comforted in the future because a day is coming when all of those consequences of sin will be overturned and removed from this earth so that justice will reign throughout the world and peace will be restored. No longer will children die of brain cancer at the age of eight, people won’t get shot in their homes or on the street or anywhere for that matter, every human mind will be sound and true, every human body will be healthy and whole, and every human soul will be entirely focused on and resting in Jesus. And that will be the most beautiful vision one could ever behold, for we will look into the eyes of Jesus and see the One who has been gazing adoringly at us for all of our entire lives, from our first breath to our last, and there will be no more soul sickness, and no more soul hunger, for our souls will find their rest in the One who loves us most of all. And that, my dear friends, is why we are blessed.
And with the second item on Jesus’ spiritual health checklist, he begins giving us future reasons for present blessings. There are times in our lives when a blessing coming in the future is so great and wonderful that our life is transformed before it even happens because we are already anticipating that what that blessing will mean for us. One example of a future blessing having an impact in the present is when a couple is expecting their first child. In the past few months, both of the neighbours on either side of us have had babies. And so we had the joy of watching the anticipation build in both couple’s lives and we saw their lives change as the big day drew closer. No longer were they focused on the house or the yard or the next holiday or a new toy of some kind. All of their attention was focused on the future blessing that was coming and what that would mean for their lives. Even the lives of the people in our family were changed as we looked forward to the arrival of these little babies and prayed for our neighbours in our family prayers. The arrival of a baby is fantastic, but it is miniscule in comparison to the explosion of life that will happen on the day of resurrection when Jesus calls us to rise from our graves. It is no wonder that Jesus speaks of our present grief and sorrows as being like a woman who is in childbirth. It really, really hurts now, but great joy is coming soon! In John, chapter 16, Jesus says, 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:20-22.)
Here is another example. Some of you know a friend of mine named Mark. Mark is a pastor in Southern California who is a gifted evangelist and he has spoken here at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church several times. Mark has been single all his life and while he has wanted to get married, and was even engaged for a while, things never seemed to work out. But that changed when Mark met April. Mark and April eventually got engaged and set their wedding date for August the first, 2015. A few days ago, some cryptic posts began appearing on Mark’s Facebook page as Mark began counting down the days and then the hours and minutes until his wedding. It was obvious that Mark was filled with anticipation as the day of his and April’s wedding drew near.
Now do you think that Mark’s life was changed as he looked forward to the future blessing of being married to April? Of course it was! And getting married is a really big deal, but it is microscopic in comparison to the joy of seeing the beautiful face of Jesus and having him wipe every tear away from our eyes. It is no wonder that the Bible describes the future celebration of the day of resurrection as a marriage feast. When Jesus gave John a vision of what that day would be like, John describes it in this way,
6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
8 Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)
9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Rev. 19:6-9)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, you can be certain that when you are poor in spirit and when you are grieving over the consequences of sin in this world, you are blessed. In those moments, as hard as they are for you, your soul is healthy and aligned with and connected to God. What Jesus is telling us in this passage goes against what our emotions tell us and it goes against what the world tells us, but it is true. And we will have much more peace and joy and happiness when we live according to the truth of what Jesus is telling us. When we focus on the blessings that we have in Jesus, we will not only be blessed, we will feel blessed. May the Holy Spirit help us to do that very thing. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on August 2, 2015.)