Poor In Spirit – Letting God Shine Through Us

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

All Saints’ Sunday Sermon – 8am and 9:30am Chapel of St. John the Divine

All Saints’ RCL Year A 11/5/2017

 

Scripture Text:

Revelation 7:9-17

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12

 

Sermon Text:

I’ve been thinking a lot this week

About the Saints,

And not just in preparation for this Sunday.

Though all Saint’s Day was Wednesday,

Or as some people think of it,

Sugar hangover day . . . after Halloween.

It is an important enough day,

A major feast of the church,

That we move it’s celebration to Sunday,

To make sure no one misses out.

We remember our loved ones who have gone before,

With a particular emphasis on those

Whose lives were holy in some particular way.

All of us, by virtue of our baptism,

And participation in the church,

Are Saints, whom God is making holy.

But some of us seem to get further along that path,

So that we look to them as holy,

And it’s not just those who have the abbreviation

St. before their name.

I hope there are people in each of your lives,

Who you can point to as examples in the faith.

Who have brought you closer,

Or inspired you to get closer to God in your life.

As I was thinking about the saints,

It struck me, that while those we remember

And look to, living here and alive in God’s kingdom,

May have different gifts, different experiences

Different things that make them stand out

Or seem special,

But all of them do one particular thing

By their lives,

They draw others into God’s Kingdom,

They grow the church, by various kinds

Of invitation to a holy life.

 

And so often it seems counter to what

We would call good marketing.

While the marketing world tends to say,

Look how much this person has,

Look how beautiful, or how athletic,

Or how many friends or how much money,

Don’t you want to be like them?

With saints it tends to be a lack

That makes them irresistible.

Look how much this person suffered for the faith,

Look how little this person lived on,

While giving so much to others,

Look how this kind of wrinkly old lady,

Has so many people following her example.

With saints it seems to be more about deprivation,

And lack that point to the glory of God’s kingdom

Working in them.

It seems so counter to the way the world works.

 

I asked the preacher at our diocesan convention

About how we find the good news,

In a time when our church is declining,

And pushed to the edge of relevance by so many people.

He responded,

That the experience of deprivation,

Seen by God’s grace,

Can become the harbinger of great abundance.

 

It seems God likes having little to work with,

Creating something out of nothing great and amazing,

Is what God does.

 

Jesus said, blessed are the poor in spirit,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven,

And blessed are those who are persecuted

For righteousness sake

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It’s that Kingdom that we are striving for.

And if it’s the poor in spirit,

And the persecuted for righteousness sake

To whom that kingdom belongs,

Then we’d better get in with them,

To get part of that kingdom.

That’s what it means to follow the saints.

 

And if we’re following them,  

Then we need to look at where we’re poor in spirit,

Or persecuted for righteousness sake.

Now many of us don’t have the chance,

To really be persecuted for righteousness sake.

That doesn’t happen here as much as it does

In other places.

But being poor in spirit.

That’s something that’s available to everyone.

 

It’s like we have to get ourselves,

And our world out of the way,

In order for the hidden kingdom of God

To shine through.

Poor in spirit means lacking in our own spirit

In our own force, in something that is ours.

Empty that out which is ours,

And there is a place for God to pour in

the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

It’s kind of like the celtic notion of the Thin Place.

A thin place for the Celts was a place in the world,

Where the kingdom of God,

The spiritual realm, seems nearer than

In another place.

A thin place is where the distractions are fewer,

Where the veil that seems to separate us

From the spiritual world is drawn thin.

For me a thin place around here

Is the bridge over the Genesee Swamp

On the William O’Neil Bike path.

It seems whenever I ride there,

I get off my bike,

And can take a deeper breath than usual.

I sigh, breathing in spirit as well as air.

Maybe it’s because I have ridden through

Busy villages, and thick woods

So that by the time the water of the swamp,

And the bare trees open up the view,

There is an emptiness in which

the Kingdom can be viewed.

Maybe that’s not what causes it,

But it is a thin place to me.

A place where my prayers seem more directly connected,

And my thoughts more easily turn to gratitude.

I bet you can relate to the idea of a thin place,

Many people can.

You probably have a place or places in your own life,

That are thin places,

Places where you find the veil drawn thin,

And you can get a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

 

There are thin people as well,

And I don’t mean in terms of body shape,

I mean spiritually thin people.

In terms of connection to the Kingdom.

The ones we think of as Saints

Are those thin people, people whose lives

Somehow reflect the kingdom of heaven,

In a clearer way than other lives.

Oftentimes those people seem to have the spiritual world

Closer to the surface.

Maybe it’s because they have less baggage

That covers it all up

Less that would distract us from seeing God in their lives.

It is because of their lack,

That God’s greatness shines through.

They draw people closer to God,

For the lack of themselves getting in the way

They make the invitation to Church,

To be a part of his people that much more irresistible.

People might meet them and say,

There’s just something about her, or

There’s something about him

That seems true, right, good, better

Than you would think since there’s nothing

Particularly big about who they are.

But they point to something more,

And I want to be a part of that which they’re pointing to.

I hope you know or have known some people like that.

You know how people will say,

Follow a charismatic leader,

And people will say that there is a cult of personality

Around that person?

These people, spiritually thin people,

Are the opposite of that.

There are people like that in every congregation.

 

For each of us, there was someone

Who brought us here,

Someone either by their direct invitation

Or by the example of whose life made us see

That the Gospel of Jesus was real.

The church depends on spiritually thin people,

For its very existence.

And the good news is,

Much like in the hymn “I sing a song of the Saint’s of God.”

They’re folks just like you,

And you can be one too.

But you might think,

“Surely not me,”

“I can’t be a Saint.”

“I’m not that special.”

But that’s exactly the beginning

Of being poor in spirit,

It’s when we recognize our lack,

That we can allow God to shine through more clearly.

 

It is the experience of deprivation,

That can be, by God’s grace,

The harbinger of great abundance.

 

It is exactly because we don’t seem to have much to offer,

That God’s kingdom can shine through us.

And in fact that is God’s plan.

We can say to God,

I don’t have much to offer your people,

Make something of me that shows your kingdom.

 

As we remember the saints in our lives today,

Those spiritually thin people that we have known,

Or followed in our lives.

Let us pray for the grace,

To be such spiritually thin people to others as well.

That God’s kingdom will shine through us,

So that God’s kingdom will be made greater,

By our lives.

God has great abundance in store for the world,

And if we are just willing

To offer to God our own spiritual deprivation,

God will bring

That abundance through us.

 

Amen

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details