Sunday, November 13, 2005

Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday, when we meet to remember before God all those who gave their lives in war that we might know peace.

We remember especially the dead of the two Word Wars – but we must never forget those who died in countless smaller conflicts, some of which are all but forgotten by any but those who served, or who lost relatives: Aden, Radfan, Suez, The Falklands, Northern Ireland, Omar Dhofar, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, two Gulf Wars... the list goes on...

“Blessed are the poor in spirit...” (Matthew 5 - the Beatitudes)

But who are the poor in spirit?

If you know your OT you will know how often God’s people, people after God’s own heart, are called “the poor”: “Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay.” (Psalm 40:17 NIV) – “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.” ( Isaiah 41:17 NIV) In Hebrew they are the anawim, the ones with nothing...

Clearly God is talking about the economically poor here – and that’s not inappropriate: “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5 NIV) God plainly has a soft spot for the hard up, and we’d better not forget that when we pull up in our new car alongside some tatty old heap, and are tempted to give them one of those Clarkson looks...

But not just the economically poor... there are those like the poor in Isaiah 61 (the Hebrew is 'anaw – the same root as anawim – that Jesus famously came to preach the good news to, and the ones in Rev 3:8, whom God knows have little strength, but who have kept his word, and have not denied his name.

We have to know we are poor, that “before God we are void of everything” (JFB). If we don’t, our hands can’t be open to the riches Jesus wants to pour into them – if we do, then we are in the fitting state for receiving all spiritual supplies... like the people Jesus met who were at the ends of their tethers – Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46ff), the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3ff), the tax collector who became a Gospel writer...

So the poor in spirit are those who know they have nothing ultimately worth having, nothing they can “take with them when they go” as the saying goes. And it is the economically poor who are so often open to know that – those of us who are more comfortably off all too often cover over our emptiness with good food, good wine and good times, not to mention “cool stuff”! (I have a weakness for cool stuff myself – usually it’s either musical or electronic – ideally, both!)

But what about those who have lost what made life worth living for due to the cruel hand of war? The just-married lads who walk on a landmine (you know the main explosive force, and the spread of shrapnel, is directly upwards?), those blinded, with no hands, the mysterious Gulf War syndrome sufferers, who have to live with not being believed, on top of their debilitating condition? The wives without husbands, sisters without brothers, fathers without sons... Some live out lives of unrelenting bitterness and anger, some lose their minds, some lapse into despair... but some realise themselves as Biblically poor, the ones who have given all they had, lost all they’d longed for, laid down their lives for their friends...

When we sign up, or are called up, to serve our country in wartime, we lose the freedom to decide our own lifestyle. We are no longer “masters of our fate, captains of our souls...” to misquote William E Henley. We are men or women under authority, frail in the face of fate we cannot master... and our only strength lies in our ability to do our duty, to obey other captains entirely... we are suddenly anawim... and God is with us, if only we will know it.

So today let us remember all the poor, all the anawim – yes, especially those who gave their lives in war that we might know peace – but also all those who have nothing, those Jesus said he had come for, when he unrolled the scroll to Isaiah 61 and read:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.

Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

Don’t let us ever forget the poor, whether poor in economic fact or poor in spirit – or both – and never ever let us forget that they, not the fortunate successful, are the ones God will call his “oaks of righteousness”. God knows their deeds. He has placed before them a door that no-one can shut (Rev. 3:8). It is through them he will display his splendour – it was on Jesus at his poorest, as he hung on the Cross, that God’s glory fell – and still falls today.

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