We are Beggars
6th Sunday after the Epiphany
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
In the post office, a sign printed on a standard sheet of paper is taped to the wall where the many rows of post office boxes line the walls. The sign reads, “NO SOLICITATION. Do not ask customers for money.”
People all around the world, in small towns to large cities, have beggars. People in poor countries and people in rich countries have beggars. It seems Christ’s words, written in Matthew 26:11, ring true, “For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.” Can we be poor in spirit or faith and be rich in worldly things? How rich can we be without Christ?
On February 18, 1546, a man lay dying. At 62 years old, the man was weary of the many demands of his life and in this weakened state, he fell ill. His last will and testament began with these words, “I am well known in heaven, on earth, and in hell…”
A month earlier this man had traveled to his hometown in Eisleben, Germany in order to arbitrate a dispute between two brothers, the counts of Mansfield. The man was successful in the mediation and the two brothers reconciled.
This man was home. A short distance from where he lay was the font in which he was baptized as an infant. Seeing death was near, a close friend asked the man, “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” He answered emphatically, “Yes!”
You see, this dying man was a former Augustinian monk and priest. His name was Martin Luther. On the table in his room was a slip of paper with the last words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther. The first three of these six words were written in German and the last three written in Latin: “Wir sind Bettler; hoc est verum” – “We are beggars: this is true.”
Written in the book of Jeremiah chapter 17 verse 5 is the following:
“Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.” [Jeremiah 17:5]
Do we have a God that curses His creation? No. The Lord does not say, “I curse you.” He says that we curse ourselves and remove ourselves from Him when we rely on our own strength and reason. He says that when we put our trust in human flesh instead of God’s right hand, our hearts depart from Him.
How do we curse ourselves? We depart from God when we reject God. When we put earthly wealth above our spiritual wellbeing, we do not receive a blessing from God. When we put physical pleasures above holy thoughts and deeds, we laugh for the moment but it is a fleeting joy with no meaning. We seek the accolades of others in this life and think it will earn us respect in heaven when it is really sealing our judgment to eternal separation from our Lord and Master. Jesus knows this. This is why he pronounces woe to those who trust in man instead of God.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” [Luke 6:24-26]
No one wishes to hear our loving Lord and Savior chastise us. We do not like to hear that we are sinners. We would rather hear the happy blessings!
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” [Luke 6:20-23]
This is what we want to hear. We want to hear that we are okay no matter what we do. We want to know in our hearts that we have earned the right to be called children of God. We say to ourselves, “I go to church on Sunday. I am a good person; Jesus will surely bless me. I give money to the church, when I can afford it. I read the Bible every once in a while. I may not know everything but I know the important parts.”
The Apostle Paul tells us that no one becomes pious and righteous by reason of his own works but solely through faith in Christ. He tells the church in Corinth:
“…I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… [it is] by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” [1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 10a]
Now why would St. Paul put so much emphasis on Christ and the Scriptures? Because he knows that it is through the Word of God that we know Christ and by Christ we receive the grace of God. He knows that it is the work Christ did for us that saves us. It is not by our own reason or strength. It is not by our faith in ourselves but by faith in Christ Jesus.
Martin Luther had it right; we are beggars. For what is a beggar? A beggar is a person who has nothing. A beggar is a person that is so poor in money and in spirit that he or she cannot lift themselves up from their own lowly condition. This is a person who has fallen so low that even pride and dignity have left them. It is a most humiliating state and the only way out is by the work of someone other than themselves.
One day, in Colon, Panama, I was walking from the bus-stop on the outskirts of the city to the city center. It was early in the morning but the sun was already shining brightly and warmly on the streets and sidewalks.
I came to a long stretch of avenue about three blocks long. Immediately, beggars came rushing up to me asking for money. My Spanish was not very good, but that problem was easily resolved by one of the beggars who spoke English. “Give us money!” he demanded.
“I have no money” I said.
“Yes, you do. You’re an American. All Americans have money.”
I asked him, “Why should I give you my money?”
He replied, “Because you have it and we don’t”
There were too many of them and I could not possibly satisfy all of them. I used the oldest trick in the book. I grabbed all the coins in my pocket and threw them in the opposite direction I wanted to go; then, I ran.
I could not help all these people because I did not have the means or the power to do so. But Our Lord and Savior does have the power to save us. This is exactly what Christ does for us. We are beggars who have no way to raise ourselves up from our sinful condition. We cannot rid ourselves of our sin. We cannot pay the price to remove the sin that keeps us from God’s righteousness. Our will of mind or strength of body cannot remove the curse we have brought upon ourselves.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is speaking to his disciples. He is not teaching them what they must do to be saved but how they may live to receive the blessings of God through His loving mercy.
True Christians realize they have no riches to give to God. They know that they are so poor that they must beg. They know their thoughts, words and deeds do not merit God’s favor. Rather than depend on their own riches, they beg for God’s mercy. In this way, they receive God’s blessings such as – forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
As we learn more about Jesus Christ the closer we come to him. This satisfies our spiritual hunger for him. We will never understand him fully as we are still bound to this broken life, but we will fully know him when we see him face to face in his kingdom.
We weep now because we see the results of our sin. We see the sin in our brothers and sisters. We see the evil in our neighbors and in ourselves. How can the rejoicing in the passing of laws which allow the murder of children be a happy thing? How can the persecution of our fellow Christians around the world bring joy?
Even worse and up close & personal is what we see in our own lives. We mourn for our own souls when we see the many times we have had a chance to do God’s will, but didn’t do it. How many times have we done things we know are contrary to God’s will? How many times have we failed to live as a child of God? Just thinking about it makes us weep with sorrow.
Yet God has blessed us with His Son, Jesus Christ. Because of his death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave, our faith is not in vain. In Christ we have hope in this life because by his death and resurrection we will now be raised on that last day. Through Christ we shall all be made alive to live with him in his kingdom. There we will not feel pain, we will not cry or mourn, and we will never be hungry again because we will know Christ fully.
Yes, we are beggars. We are poor in spirit so we must plead with our Lord to save us from our iniquity. Our sin is our curse but Jesus Christ is our blessing. He has taken that curse from us forever. We have been redeemed through his body and blood. We now have a sure and confident hope; not only in this life but in the life to come.