Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit. A Sermon By The Rev. Kenneth J. Alden

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1 Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit A Sermon By The Rev. Kenneth J. Alden 1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3) A. In today s sermon we will look at ways this blessing is commonly misunderstood, and gradually explore the spiritual meaning so that we can see how this blessing holds true in many aspects of life. 2. In what sense does the kingdom of heaven belong to those who are poor in spirit, as it says here, or to those who are poor, as it says in Luke s gospel? (See Luke 6:20) A. Most people reading this first of the so-called Ten Blessings probably assume that the poor will have the kingdom of heaven at some future time. B. In fact, most of the blessings use the future tense to describe how others shall be comforted, shall inherit the earth, shall be filled, and so forth. C. Perhaps the parable of the beggar, Lazarus, being comforted in heaven while the rich man was tormented in hell reinforces the idea of a future reward, for in the parable, Abraham told the rich man, 1 Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. (Luke 16:25) D. Some people, too, have supposed that the Lord favors the poor over the rich, as when He also said, How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:23) 1 But not only did the Lord clarify that He was speaking of those who trust in riches, (Mark 10:24), as He here specifies that He is speaking of those who are poor in spirit, (See Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 51:4), a. we also read in our second lesson from Exodus that He commanded You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute. (Exodus 23:3; see Leviticus 19:15) E. Nor is future reward for present suffering what the Lord was speaking of. 1 In both Gospels where He states this blessing, He links being poor with having the kingdom of heaven using the present tense: a. As it says in Luke, Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20) b. Those who are poor have the kingdom of God right now!

2 Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit 2 c. How can this be? 1) We usually think of poverty as something that causes suffering. 2) It is something we work to eradicate. 3) Clearly we need to ask ourselves what the Lord meant when He chose to embody His Divine teaching in these words. 3. The Heavenly Doctrine affirms that where in Luke the Lord said the poor have the kingdom of God, the meaning is different. (See Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 51:4) A. As taught more openly in Matthew the doctrine is that the poor in spirit are meant. 1 But in what sense are the poor in spirit possessors of the kingdom of heaven, when other passages of the Word teach us to relieve poverty, as where Isaiah says, a. Is this not the fast that I have chosen...to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked that you cover him...? (Isaiah 58:6-7) b. Or where our lesson from Exodus said to let the land lie fallow that the poor of your people may eat? (Exodus 23:11) B. Since the poor in spirit are meant, we turn our attention to the spiritual meaning of riches and poverty. 1 Spiritual wealth and riches are knowledge especially the knowledge that belongs to intelligence and wisdom. (See Arcana Coelestia 1156, 1488, 4744, 7784:3, 8628:3, 8906) 2 Surely, such knowledge is useful. a. That is why we are told to relieve the poor and needy. b. But how is it that those who lack the knowledge that belongs to intelligence and wisdom have the kingdom of heaven? 3 Here we turn to a principle that governs the very creation of the human being. a. We are taught that the Lord s end in creating people is for them to come into heaven. (See Divine Providence 27, 202)

3 Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit 3 b. Further, as we read in the memorable account from the work on Conjugial Love, man is born into ignorance so that he may come into all wisdom. (See Conjugial Love 134) 1) Animals, which were not created with the ability to be conjoined with God in faith and love, are born with instinctual knowledge whereby they function in the world but do not develop spiritual intelligence and wisdom. 2) But out of the ignorance in which people are born may grow knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom to eternity. A) It feels like our own because it is acquired by our effort and experience, and yet it can be acknowledged that it is not from ourselves, but from the Lord. (See Conjugial Love 134, 350) c. From this we see a weakness becoming a strength: compared to animals, the weakness of human ignorance is the strength of human intelligence and wisdom. 1) Being poor in spiritual things leads to great spiritual wealth. 4. In looking at spiritual poverty being a condition of coming into spiritual wealth, we are still talking about a present hardship leading to a future reward. A. Even so, wisdom is not a reward for having suffered ignorance at first, but rather the Lord created the organic structures of our minds such that they can be filled and perfected to eternity. B. To see that spiritual poverty is also a condition of present spiritual wealth, let us turn to another memorable occurrence in the spiritual world. 1 On this occasion Swedenborg was invited to come with some angelic spirits to see the paradise where they lived. 2 They told him about what they called The Temple of Wisdom there. They said, 3 No one can see it who believes himself to be very wise, even less one who believes himself to be wise enough, and still less one who believes that he is wise on his own. (Apocalypse Revealed 875:4) 4 They explained further: It is the mark of genuine wisdom for a person to see from the light of heaven that what he knows, understands and perceives is so little in comparison to what he does not know, understand, or perceive, as to be like a drop in the ocean, and so scarcely anything.

4 Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit 4 Everyone in this garden paradise who acknowledges from an inner perception and sight that his wisdom is comparatively so little, sees that Temple of Wisdom. (Apocalypse Revealed 875:4) a. Thus, those who are wise see from the light of heaven their poverty of spirit. 1) Acknowledging that they are poor in spirit opens them up to receive from the vast ocean of what they do not know. 2) We could say they are like sponges that have little moisture but are ready to soak up water in abundance. 3) The Heavenly Doctrine puts it this way: By the poor and needy are signified those who believe that of themselves they know nothing... The poor and needy are those who long for the knowledges of good and truth... (Apocalypse Explained 118:3) b. The kingdom of God which belongs to the poor actually stands for heaven and the church with respect to the Divine truth that is there from the Lord when people love to apply it wisely in life. (See Apocalypse Explained 48, 683:7, 740:10) 1) The joy they have in receiving this truth is the reason the Lord calls these people who are poor in spirit, blessed, or happy. 5. What we have been observing about the poor in spirit fits well with the context in which the Lord declared this first of the Beatitudes. A. In the Matthew account, the Lord was seated on a mountain with multitudes before Him and His disciple gathered to Him. (See Matthew 5:1) 1 Luke describes a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude who have come to hear Him and be healed. (See Luke 6:17) 2 In the one gospel it says He taught them. (See Matthew 5:2) 3 In the other it says He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples. (See Luke 6:20) 4 The theme in all this is people who wish to hear the Lord and be taught by Him. a. Disciples, in particular are followers of a teacher people who want to learn the discipline their master can impart. b. It is fitting, then, that the first thing the Lord addressed was that

5 Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit 5 acknowledgment of how little they know which makes them able to hear what He has to say. 1) It is the key to them gaining wisdom and having the kingdom of God as their own. 6. Jesus contrasted the poor with the rich in His discourse reported in Luke. A. Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. (Luke 6:24) 1 Those who are rich in spirit, in this sense, are clearly those who know it all and are unwilling to be taught further. 2 They find consolation in what they already know and believe, and don t want to be confused with facts, truths, spiritual intelligence or wisdom. a. But having closed their minds to any wisdom beyond what they believe they already possess more than others, it can only be that unhappiness or woe awaits them. 3 We see the unhappy result when a company or industry gets full of itself. a. Relying on past products or past loyalty, they neither learn the new technology that will enable them to deliver a better service, nor do they learn from their customers what they presently need. 4 The history of churches also illustrates the woe that results when people find a way for religion to bring them power and wealth. a. Their knowledge of truth hardens and they stop learning from the Lord s Word anything other than what confirms their false doctrine. 5 People getting a religious education in their childhood and youth might experience woe later in life. a. Feeling they know a lot, or know enough, or that they are self-sufficient in what they know, they cease studying the Word upon graduation. 1) Leading themselves through life without a constant return to the Word, they inevitably have interior trouble and sadness where they could have had interior peace and joy. 6 It has often been said that for a democratic republic to be a viable form of government, the people must be educated and informed so they can participate wisely in self-government. a. Even if everyone voted and participated in opinion polls and

6 Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit 6 referendums, these would not provide for useful government if people stopped learning. b. The law that no partiality should be shown to a poor man in his dispute, applies here, for the spiritual sense teaches that no favour must be shown towards the falsities that exist with those who have no knowledge of truth. (Arcana Coelestia 9253) c. Although people may feel they know all they need to know and fail to keep actively engaged in learning, they would be poor men in a negative sense. 1) Favoring the falsities of their ignorance would bring woeful times upon them and the country. d. On the other hand, if the population is poor in a positive sense, that is, if they acknowledge how little they know and continue to grow in wisdom, the country will come to be more like the kingdom of heaven. 7. Where the Lord says that those who are poor in spirit are blessed, let us not think that we must act as though we were poor in spirit now so that we may be blessed later. A. The Lord s words were spoken in the present tense because acknowledging our spiritual poverty opens our hearts and minds to wisdom and truth the kingdom of God. 1 Acknowledging that what we know compared with what we do not know is as a drop to the ocean has that effect. B. The kingdom of God is not only ours right now, it is also within us because our love for the truth allows the Divine truth to govern our thoughts, intentions, speech and action. 1 If we acknowledge our spiritual poverty we have everything to learn and we at the same time dispose our hearts to receive all wisdom, and with it, all happiness. 2 So the Lord urges: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 3 Amen. Readings: Luke 16:19-31; Exodus 23:1-13; CL 134:4-6, parts

7 Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit 7 Conjugial Love 134. [4] "We agree with our companions on the west that man does not come by birth into any love and so neither into any knowledge, but that he comes by birth solely into an inclination to love and so into a capacity for acquiring knowledge, not on his own but from others, or rather, through others. We say, through others, because they, too, did not acquire any knowledge on their own but from God. "We agree also with our companions to the north that when a person is first born, he is like ground in which no seeds have been planted, but in which all kinds of seeds can be planted, both good and bad. To this we add that animals come by birth into natural loves and therefore into forms of knowledge corresponding to those loves, and yet they do not learn anything from their kinds of knowledge or develop thought, intelligence and wisdom on the basis of them..." [5] Lastly the people on the east side spoke, saying, "We concur with what our brothers have said. A person of himself knows nothing but must learn from others and through others, in order that he may know and acknowledge that all his knowledge, understanding and wisdom are from God. "Only in this way," they said, "can a person be conceived, born and brought forth by the Lord so as to become an image and likeness of Him. For a person becomes an image of the Lord by his acknowledging and believing that he has acquired and continues to acquire every good of love and charity and every truth of wisdom and faith from the Lord, and not the least bit from himself. And he becomes a likeness of the Lord by his feeling these things in himself as though they originated with him. He has this feeling because he does not come by birth into various kinds of knowledge, but acquires them, and what he acquires appears to him as though it originated with him. "A person is also given to feel this way by the Lord, in order that he may be a human being and not an animal, because his willing, thinking, loving, learning, understanding and becoming wise seemingly on his own is what leads him to acquire various kinds of knowledge, to develop them into intelligence, and by applying them turn them into wisdom. In this way the Lord joins the person to Himself, and the person joins himself to the Lord. This would not have been possible if the Lord had not provided that man be born in a state of total ignorance." [6] After these remarks, the people were all ready to reach a conclusion from the matters discussed, and they formed the following statement: "Man does not come by birth into any knowledge," they said, "in order that he may come into every kind of knowledge and so progress into a state of intelligence and through this into wisdom. So, too, he does not come by birth into any love, in order that by applying various kinds of knowledge with intelligence he may come into every kind of love, and through love for the neighbor come into love towards the Lord; and this to the end that he may be thus conjoined with the Lord and by that conjunction become human and live to eternity." Through The Week Recall the Story The rich man s good things were exchanged for torment and Lazarus was comforted, having received evil things. If the prophets do not persuade, neither will the risen dead.

8 Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit 8 Do not show partiality to the poor in his dispute. Reflect on the Message Acknowledging how little we know is part of wisdom. The joy of being led by the truth to a happy life follows. Blessed are the poor in spirit is rewarded in the present. Take Action Pay attention when you stop listening. Is it because you feel very wise or wise enough? Identify an area where you are poor and do some learning in that area this week. Thank the Lord for the strength that comes of weakness.

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