Do you remember opening your first bank account? My father took me to Richmond County Savings Bank, the local branch a mile or so down the street from my house when I was maybe 12 or 13. I remember feeling like an adult as the teller handed me my first bank book and I signed my name to the account that probably held at most $100.
We were pretty open about money in my family. My father felt it was important for us to have a realistic understanding of how finances worked so that we could realistic put together a family budget and invest in our future. Our conversations about money also gave us the opportunity about what it meant to be rich or poor and how relative those terms really were.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to focus on a piece of Matthew’s gospel known as the Sermon on the Mount; more specifically, a section known as the Beatitudes. This is the part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus lists 10 different blessings. I’d like to spend time each Sunday focusing on a different blessing. The one we’ll look at this week is “Blessed are the spiritually poor – the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
What does it mean to be spiritually poor? And why would that be a blessing? When we think of someone who is financially poor we may picture a person who is struggling to make ends meet; having a hard time finding enough food or shelter; not able to provide the basic necessities. In order to try and avoid such a situation, many of us were taught early on to save our money, to put funds aside for a rainy day in order to invest in our future.
When I think about being spiritually poor, I think about struggling to have a closer relationship with God; having a hard time understanding what God wants me to do; not being able to find a basic connection to God in my daily life. The blessing of being spiritually poor is that there are countless opportunities to invest in our future with God.
How do we do that? How do we invest in God?
All relationships take an investment. We don’t always acknowledge that committed, connected, deep relationships take work. Whether it’s with a spouse, a friend, a parent, a sibling, or whoever, we have to invest time and energy to strengthen and maintain healthy relationships. We invest in our relationship with others when we take the time to listen deeply, to speak our truth in love, and to be open to change and growth.
How do we invest in our relationship with God?
I think of myself as spiritually poor. I suppose it’s a relative term, like being financially poor – my relationship with God may be richer than some and poorer than others. Either way, I don’t see being spiritually poor as a bad thing but as an opportunity for growth. As with many things in my life, I look to Jesus to try and understand what my relationship with God should be. There are probably not many Christians who would say that Jesus was spiritually poor. The gospels tell a story of a man with an almost intimate knowledge of God. Jesus had an understanding of God’s hopes and dreams for the world, he could articulate God’s vision for humanity, Jesus could tell us, with authority and confidence, how we are meant to create God’s kingdom on Earth.
But the gospels also tell the story of Jesus’ struggles with God. Jesus had to invest in his relationship with God in the same way that we all do. He faced the temptations in the wilderness struggling to choose a relationship with God over his human desire for power and prestige. In the garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest, Jesus reached out to God in prayer, pleading for understanding, trying to find a way to avoid his own death at the hands of other humans. I’m sure that there are countless unrecorded private moments when Jesus spends time struggling with and investing in his relationship with God.
All relationships take an investment that spans the life of the relationship. We never reach the point where we are the perfect parent or the perfect spouse or the perfect friend or the perfect Christian. The journey of growth is much more important that the hoped-for destination.
How do we invest in our relationship with God? Like Jesus, we can spend time in prayer; intentionally putting aside moments to speak to and listen for God in our lives. We can invest in our relationship with God by paying attention to the world around us, recognizing God at work in big and small ways. Our relationship with God becomes stronger when we see the holy presence in the smile of another, when we feel a divine embrace in a friend’s hug, when we welcome new friends into our community of faith.
Just like Jesus, we invest in our relationship with God when we invest in our relationship with other humans. Jesus knew that God’s love was most evident when we are in community with each other. We are blessed with the gift of one another’s company, blessed to be surrounded by others who are also seeking a closer relationship with God, blessed to be on a journey together where all of God’s ways are, thankfully, not yet known to us.
We can invest in our relationship with God by investing in our relationship with each other. We can explore our understanding of God by opening up to another person about our beliefs and our doubts. We can share stories of the moments when we felt a holy presence. Together, we can delve into the stories of our faith through Bible studies. In this community, as Memorial Congregational Church, we have a safe place where we can practice of faith. Here we can try out difficult things like speaking the truth in love, admitting that we have struggles, forgiving others and forgiving ourselves so that we can live out our faith outside of these walls.
Learning to invest financially is a lifelong practice that started when my father helped me open my first bank account. Learning to invest in God, in ourselves and in each other is also a lifelong journey. At this moment n time, we are walking that path together. Every time we meet with one another in church, we continue to invest in the future – a future where the kingdom of heaven is created on Earth, through our work. When we feel spiritually poor, we can invest our time and love in each other, being blessed in our relationships and continuing to learn how we might invest in our relationship with God.
I invite you now to take a moment and consider what you will do in the coming week to invest in your relationship with God.