Rev. Kit Billings
Nov. 7, 2004
There are certain passages and chapters in the Lord's Holy Word that seem to raise one's soul into an especially golden and brilliant Light, passages that enrapture us and draw us into the core, central teachings of our wondrous God. This morning's New Testament lesson that takes us into the Lord's Beatitudes as Christ gave His great Sermon on the Mount is just this sort of spiritual experience. For these first twelve verses of Matthew's fifth chapter are simply Love itself speaking. They make it so abundantly clear that to be in a spiritual relationship with the Lord our Savior is one of deep bliss—not the kind of joy one experiences when starting to descend down the thrilling slope of a huge rollercoaster, but the kind of bliss that comes our way when we are living life on God's terms, in deep, spiritual goodness and humility. It is the kind of deep fulfillment that comes when a human being is experiencing the ultimate well-being and distinctive spiritual joy of those who share in the salvation of the kingdom of God—and this kind of joy comes only when the warm fires of love have been lit in our hearts by our Father in heaven for those who are not waiting for the life beyond to step into heaven, but who courageously want it now (who are open to it now).
Anyone who may have mistakenly learned that Christianity was meant to be a gloomy experience of the heart surely must not have ever read the Beatitudes. For if we were to read them in their original Aramaic tongue we could easily interpret them in English to read in this kind of way: “O the bliss of being poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And, “O the bliss of those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” To be “blessed” by the Lord in these ways is to feel an incredibly special feeling in one's soul—the kind of goodness that comes only when we are deeply in tune with the grace of the Divine. And I praise our Father in heaven who makes it possible at all times of life for us to be capable of this depth of openness to His love.
The word “Beatitude” refers to the Lord's declarations of blessedness, and indeed, your Lord wants you to feel and understand what kind of life we were meant to have that brings us into union with real blessedness. We are to understand that the Sermon on the Mount reveals the standards of what it means to be a member of the Lord's kingdom. To join spiritually with the great spiritual emanations of genuine Christianity, one must be willing to journey into the kind of spiritual depth and character revealed within the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount as a whole. Thus, indeed, it is more than worthy of our deep attention.
The context of this sermon is equally heartwarming, which takes place on a mountainside, which may have been either Mt. Carmel (on the Mediteranian seashore, due west of Cana) or one of the gently sloping hillsides at the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee, not far from Capernaum. It is very significant that our story this morning shows Jesus leading His disciples up and onto a mountain. Ascending higher in geography, by the way, corresponds to the interior, heavenly state into which the Lord was leading people, in order that He could teach them these deep, spiritual gems of wisdom. This is helpful for us who worship the Lord and learn from Him on Sundays, since this reminds us that in preparation for entering worship we too need to let Him lead us humbly and gradually up a spiritual state of being that rises above the naturalness we may often stand on, which holds a lower degree of conscious closeness to the Divine.
Whether it was Mt. Carmel, which is a gorgeous, fertile promontory that juts out wonderfully above the Mediterranean Sea, or some other mount in the Holy Land, it does the soul good to imagine the Lord God incarnate bringing His disciples (and the crowd that followed) to these rich, fertile soils and then opening His Divine heart and soul to them, releasing these deep words of love. I find it noteworthy that God chose a mountain scene yet again to reveal deep, divine secrets; the Ten Commandments were also given at a mountain, and with that story as well there were many people gathered to hear the words God came to impart. However, while the revelation of the Ten Commandments was a much more thunderous experience, with smoke and lightning flashes (not to mention a form of wording that was more “truth from love”), with the Beatitudes we have a sense that in Jesus Christ God's Love was somehow more pronounced. New Church theology reveals that the real “make up” or nature of God is that in essence He is pure Divine/Infinite Love pouring forth forever into life with grace and mercy, and from this Infinite Love shines the Truth of that Love. Indeed, in Jesus Christ, God brought His Divine Love more fully and personally into the natural degree of creation, and the great opening of this sermon reveals the immensity of Divine Love pouring its heart out into life!
There is debate, by the way, as to whether the full text of the Lord's great Sermon, which encompasses chapters 5, 6 and 7 in Matthew, is really all one sermon, or one sermon infused with a number of the central teachings of the Lord's ministry. Either way, this morning we may focus our worship of the Lord upon the goodness, gentleness and mercy revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” What are these words really saying? Quite simply that Christianity, God's Kingdom, requires us to discover great spiritual character and strength—the kind that is centered in a great perspective of humility. Thus, we are talking about much more than being willing to bend one's body down and prostrating before God Almighty. We are talking about what that kind of physical humbleness toward God represents on the spiritual degree of our lives. Is it not true that poverty of the spirit is about prostrating one's ego before the Lord and acknowledging within one's own mind that the Lord is the “All in all” and I am but a vessel that receives life from the Great Spirit. A great requirement of heavenly character and substance is for us to get to the point where we reach a state of willing humility—where we actually find and experience life's greatest joy (deep, oceanic spiritual bliss) at reveling in the truth that God is the Infinite, eternal presence of outpouring Divine Love and Wisdom and I am a fortunate receiver of the Father's greatness and life.
This truth is one of many deep spiritual mysteries that is given by the Lord within an amazing puzzle, indeed. Just think of all the fundamental powers you have that make you what you are. Would you say that you are a spiritually “wealthy” individual? Yes, you are very rich indeed! You possess many knowledges about God and heaven, about the church (or about the Lord's Kingdom). But where do you get your knowledges from? From our Lord and Savior, who gives them to you as if they were your own. Are you a very wealthy being? Indeed you are! For you possess many great powers, am I correct? You have your power of thought, of affection, site, hearing, smell, touch…your power of breathing, and much power of learning and holding so many things in your mind. And you also “have” so much power to do almost an endless number of tasks and uses.
Goodness sakes! You are a very “wealthy” being indeed!
You are rich. For you can use your many powers to help bring meaningful “stuff” into life. And all of these riches are things you can enjoy as if they were your own. But for true, who is it that really owns all powers or graces…who owns everything in existence…who owns your very life?
For the Divine is the Source of all good things, as Scripture reveals so beautifully.
And so, are not all women, men and children “poor” in comparison to the Lord? Yes. Yes, we truly are. So, why is it, then, that the Lord in the very opening of His great Sermon indicate that not all people are poor in spirit? Because, quite simply, not everyone wants to be. Many people believe that they know things from themselves. They believe that they are rich, that they own their knowledges from themselves, and thus their spirits lack a pervasive quality of humility. This is why at his one and only General Convention sermon given at the closing Sunday of an Urbana, Ohio convention, the Rev. Dr. Horand Gutfeldt (whom I had the special pleasure of knowing somewhat) preached that the greatest virtue of all is that of humbleness. And indeed he was right. Yes, to be “poor in spirit” in this way fundamentally places one's spirit into the wonderful region of spirit known to us as Heaven, which leads the way into so much more learning and discovery. Indeed, the spiritual “possessions” of those who come to fall in love with being humble in spirit before the Lord discover that what they have will never be taken away. In fact, more and more is added as life moves on, and ever more so when we leave behind our natural bodies and enter into the fuller Light and warmth of the Kingdom of Heaven. More and more is added because we are truly the Lord's servants, and there is never any other form of living more enjoyable than such servitude—serving the will and design of Infinite Love and Goodness Itself. There is no end to the wisdom and knowledge of God, which He forever imparts to His servants.
Thus, we might say, we then “have all the kingdoms of the heavens.” But those who believe that all that they have stems from themselves, will discover that after death pretty much everything that they “owned” will be taken away from them. Swedenborg saw first hand many times how the most learned people of his day, who had large egos while on earth, found their vast knowledge taken away from them. For in the light of the spirit world, the knowledge and love that makes us intelligent and sharp in thought is what lies within the spiritual degree of our humanity. I met a wonderfully warm and sweet sort of person like this yesterday at the wedding we had here at our church in the afternoon. He is in his mid-40's and has been a lifelong trucker, so to speak. His ego has steadily been chiseled out over many years, especially through the tough road of dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction. He lives in a small town north of hear some two and a half hours away, and he belongs to a quaint little country church up there, which is a little bit smaller than our own. He had such a warm and loving spirit, to be sure, and has learned now for some time how good it is to be “poor in spirit” and enjoy the greatest riches life has to offer. Jesus says that to such a poverty belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.
I will be addressing the rest of the Lord's great spiritual Beatitudes in upcoming sermons. I pray that today's message for you has helped you to more deeply appreciate what “O that great bliss” is that we may feel when we realize we are poor in spirit, which dissolves that tempting disquietness that the hells enjoy sending our way—that common egocentricity that permeates our land.
May you one morning, perhaps some beautiful, sunlit afternoon, come to weep with soft, deep spiritual joy at the profound meaning of being meek before the Lord, your Savior. Amen.
Mt. Carmel is a promontory that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea and helps to create the Bay of Acre and modern port city of Haifa. Mt. Carmel is the northwestern end of a 13 mile long range of hills extending into and dividing Palestine. The range of hills varies from 5 to 8 miles in width and in height from Mt. Carmel's 556 feet to a high point of approximately 1,800 feet near the southeastern end.
The name Carmel means "garden, vineyard or orchard" and probably reflects the fertility of the slopes. The limestone hills weather into rich, red soil and the slopes of Mt. Carmel catch the rains which come in from the Mediterranean Sea. Today the olives, grain, and grapes grown along the slopes and the beautiful Bahai Garden Shrine reflect the fertility and beauty of the area. The Hebrew Bible compares Mt. Carmel to other productive parts of the Palestine (Isa. 35:2, Jer. 50:19) and uses Mt. Carmel in its description of the beautiful woman in the Song of Solomon (7:5).
According to the division of the land in the Book of Joshua, Mt. Carmel was the southern boundary of the tribe of Asher (Josh. 19:26). During the divided kingdom Mt. Carmel may have formed the boundary between Tyre and Israel.
Egyptian texts from the latter third of the second millennium B.C.E. refer to the mountain as the "Holy Head" implying the mountain may have been a cultic site or sanctuary. In the biblical text Mt. Carmel is the scene of Elijah's contest with the prophets of Ba`al to determine whether God or Ba`al was the true, powerful deity (1 Kings 18:20-40). During the Hellenistic and Roman periods the mountain remained a sacred site with a temple to Zeus and sacrifices to the deity Carmel. In the Christian period the site has been associated with the monastic tradition, particularly the Carmelite movement, and with the Bahai faith.
Quoted from: http://cc.cumberlandcollege.edu/acad/rel/hbible/HebrewBible/hbphotos/mtcarmel.htm