- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

The following are excerpts of a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Mark A. Johnson at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt.

As Luke tells us about the teaching ministry of Jesus, the Christ, he introduces the actual body of his teaching with the passage we read this morning. It’s similar to the beatitudes that we read in Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount.

There are similarities between today’s text and the more familiar Sermon on the Mount, which we read in Matthew. It is nuanced differently in Luke.

It’s significant that this teaching is addressed to those who are his disciples. To those who would follow him, he gave a series of four blessings, followed by a word of encouragement, followed by four dire warnings.

We live in a world system and under a value system that is corrupt and seems genuinely to believe that the one who dies with the most toys wins.

Recently, I looked at a listing from the November 2002 issue of Fortune magazine of the wealthiest people under 40. Brad Pitt was on the list and combined with wife Jennifer Anniston has a net worth of close to $180 million. You would think that this man has it all money, wealth, good looks. Recently, he was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine.

He said, “Man, I know all these things are supposed to seem important to us the car, the condo, our version of success but if that’s the case, why is the general feeling out there reflecting more impotence and isolation and desperation and loneliness? If you ask me, I say toss all this we gotta find something else. Because all I know is that at this point in time, we are heading for a dead end, a numbing of the soul, a complete atrophy of the spiritual being. And I don’t want that.”

Rolling Stone then asked him, “So if we’re heading toward this kind of existential dead end in society, what do you think should happen? Pitt: “Hey, man, I don’t have those answers yet. The emphasis now is on success and personal gain. I’m sitting in it, and I’m telling you, that’s not it. I’m the guy who’s got everything. I know. But I’m telling you, once you’ve got everything, then you’re just left with yourself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it doesn’t help you sleep any better, and you don’t wake up any better because of it.”

Brad Pitt is coming to understand some of the truth of what Jesus told us, oh, so long ago.

Jesus takes the value system of this world and stands it on its head. He says blessedness is not in wealth and fame and status and accomplishments. Rather, it is the poor of this world who are blessed because the Kingdom of God belongs to people such as them.

There is an interesting contrast between Matthew and Luke. Matthew seems much more inclined to spiritualize the whole issue of poverty. Matthew says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Luke says, “Blessed are the poor.” Matthew says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” We live in the affluent West and it is possible for us to try to overspiritualize issues of poverty, not realizing that we have great wealth. Perhaps the greatest need for us as an American church is to deal with the dilemma we’re in because of our great wealth.

Wealth isn’t inherently sinful in and of itself. The Scripture does teach that it is the blessing of God that allows us to earn wealth and that once we have received material blessing, we are accountable to God for how we use it. Wealth also increases our pride and our self-sufficiency and makes us less aware of our dependence upon and need of God.

At least part of what Jesus is saying is that the poor have a detachment from this world’s goods that allows them to trust in God.

There seems to be a preferential option in the Gospel for the poor. That extends to the blessedness of those who hunger. Those who are hungry. Those who really know what it is to be in need and to feel their need acutely and to know that they cannot meet it themselves. Those who will be more willing to recognize that they need someone beside themselves and their own self-sufficiency.

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