By Paul Koch –
We like our beggars to be ashamed and humble. We don’t want them to be overly excited, bold, or desiring to have a conversation with us. When we come across the beggar on Main Street in our city’s downtown, we prefer that they just slide their hat or cup out asking for some change without making eye contact. After all, they aren’t offering anything to us. They aren’t providing some great blessing to society. They’re beggars—parasites sucking off the kindness and generosity of others. If they’re gathered in a group, laughing and joking around, we’ll likely pass them by. If they’re showing anything but abject humility and poverty, we don’t want to see it. And the worst of the worst is the beggar who doesn’t act like a beggar, the beggar who seems proud even boastful that he is a beggar.
It is recorded that, when Martin Luther died, in his pocket was found a scrap of paper upon which was written, “Wir sind bettler. Das ist wahr.” “We are all beggars. This is true.”
What a beautiful summary of the Christian life—a life where we bring nothing to our God. We come with empty hands, unable to change or better our situation. Everything resides in the hands of our God. All hope, confidence, and assurance comes in the form of gifts from a gracious, giver God to emptyhanded beggars.
This means we have a lot more in common with the panhandlers downtown than we first thought. Yet, as beggars, what should our posture be? Should we keep our eyes down? Should we remain humble and unseen, content to remain behind closed doors as we drink deep from the fount of God’s blessings? Because we are beggars before our God, does that mean that we need to be beggars before the world? Is there a place for pride, even boasting, among beggars?
I think there is. In fact, I think that the preacher ought to lead the way of the proud beggars. He ought to be the one to inspire the boasting and to lead the march.
If we are truly all beggars before our God, then a preacher, no matter how charismatic, brilliant, or good looking, has nothing of themselves to offer you. They, like you, are beggars. They are taking from the hands of another and handing it on to you.
Now, there is a danger, of course, in being a bunch of beggars with the pastor, who is also a beggar. The danger is that not everyone will go begging at the same place. Some will beg at the hands of the Father, and others will beg at one of the thousands of other hopeful givers along the landscape promising relief. After all, there are many avenues of “success” for the church, from business strategies to impactful, incarnational, and missional experiences to be encouraged and shared by all. And they all promise to provide what is lacking in any given fellowship of beggars.
But the only thing that will actually fill our beggar’s hands are the gifts of our Lord himself. Everything else will leave us empty handed, hungry and cold. So if the preacher is begging at the source of our Lord’s blessings, begging at the Word of God and the life giving Sacraments, then that beggar has something that changes things—something that we ought to rejoice over, something we should even boast in.
The preacher who goes begging before our Lord’s gifts has his hands filled with the promises of God—promises that stretch beyond this vale of tears, beyond the worry and torment of this age; promises that echo in the courts of heaven and boom into the depths of the sea; and promises that speak of paradise, of a world without death or tears or heartache.
And here is where the boasting comes in, for here the preacher ought to stand tall and proud and boast in the promises of God. Boast in the good news that God is faithful. Our God, our God who fills the beggar’s hands with good things, is faithful to those good things.
Our preachers ought to be proud beggars, boasting in what they are called to hand on to others. And all of us ought to follow suit—a vast army of proud beggars boasting in the Lord.
“Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’” – 1 Cor. 1:31