Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Jesus Guide To Happiness (3).... Blessed are the Meek (matthew 5:5, Psalm 37:1-11)

The image above is of a lunch counter, like one you might see in any café or diner the world over, yes it’s a bit dated, maybe you’d find it in a trendy place with retro 1960’s styling . It may seem strange but it is a prized exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum of American history in Washington DC. It holds a very important place in American and world history, and helps us to get our head around this unusual word Meek that Jesus says are blessed and will possess the land.

On February 1 1960 four students walked into the Woolworth’s in Greensboro North Carolina. Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr and David Richmond. They bought stationary for their studies, they were scholarship students at North Carolina A&T state University. On the way out of the store they decided that as they had bought stuff from the store they should also be able to buy and eat food at the stores lunch bar. They sat down and ordered sodas, coffee and doughnuts. Because they were black they were refused service, the dinner was segregated. The four decided they would stay seated until they were served. They didn’t protest or complain or get angry they simply sat and waited. The store owner is recorded as saying “They can sit there all they want, it’s nothing to me”. Next day twenty black students came and sat at the lunch counter and asked to be served. Crowds came and they were harassed by pro-segregationists. The day after over 300 turned up, many were arrested for disturbing the peace and their place was taken by another student. The movement spread through the South and in the North picket lines appeared outside Woolworths and other chain stores segregated in the south. The students were always dressed in Sunday best in Nashville the rules for sit-ins were
“Do show yourself friendly on the counter at all times. Do sit straight and always face the counter. Don't strike back, or curse back if attacked. Don't laugh out. Don't hold conversations. Don't block entrances. They were to think of the non-violent teaching of Jesus Christ Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr

Well over 70,000 people participated in the non-violent  sit-ins and they generated over 3,000 arrests, the house of a prominent black lawyer defending students in court in Nashville was bombed. Woolworths had to change its policy because of the impact it had on their profits and the Civil Rights Bill in 1964 declared such segregation illegal.

Blessed are the Meek says Jesus for they will inherit the earth…

Meek is not a word we are familiar with these days… we tend to equate it with weak or timid. There is no way that we see people who are meek as those who would inherit the earth, AS those who would effect such sweeping change as those four black students. We see that as the province of the strong the forceful and the powerful. Those who promote themselves that climb to the top doing whatever it takes. But Jesus says Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.

The origin of the word used in scripture for meek comes from the field of domestic animals, and it gives us insight into meekness that has nothing to do with weakness.

If you’ll excuse the product placement and no we are not getting any sponsorship,  behind me is a picture of  the magnificent Budwiser Clydesdales. They are animals that are specifically breed for their strength. They are capable of pulling huge weights. These days they only get to perform this task in ceremonies and shows and parades. Around them is the cheer of the crowd, fireworks and other loud noises, flash bulbs going off, people wanting to touch them, they are so meek, well disciplined, that they are able to calmly continue doing what they are trained to do in that chaotic environment, they don’t freeze they don’t react, and you could imagine the damage they could do if they go spooked and stampeded. They are blinkered and focused. Their strength is in check and used appropriately, harnessed for a common goal, a common good.

“Perhaps”, says columnist Carolyn Arends, “Meekness is strength that is submitted to an appropriate authority.”

AS we wrestle with what it is to be Meek we are fortunate that Jesus is quoting from the Psalm we had read out to us this morning, Psalm 37, a Psalm which Martin Luther calls “the real commentary  upon this passage”.

The Psalm deals with one aspect of the problem of evil wrestled with in much of the Jewish wisdom literature … that bad people prosper and the righteous are left to suffer and struggle. The psalmist starts by telling his readers not to fret about this, In fact he says it three times, Don’t fret, Don’t fret, don’t fret… Don’t react with anger or rancour or jealousy, rather that the meek, the humble are to put their trust in the LORD, to trust God’s justice and righteousness, that God is sovereign. To find their delight not in the things of this world but in God and God’s provision. They and we  are to rust our ways to the Lord and to wait on the LORD.

“When we believe that God is in charge of the World” says Mark Woodley, “it’s easy to be meek, to patiently trust God for his way and his timing to set the world right.”

Waiting of course is not a passive activity. It’s not just sitting round on a park bench steering off into space. In Jesus other memorable message form a mountain the Ollivette discourse, on the mount of olives outside Jerusalem, recorded in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Jesus tells his followers in a series of parables that to wait for God’s kingdom was…   to  treat their fellow servants well, to love one another, to keep their lamps burning, to nurture their spiritual walks, to invest their talents and gifts in the kingdom of God,  and to sheepishly care for the least. Psalm 37 does the same it says in the face of the supposed prosperity of the wicked and their unjust ways to keep on doing good. You get a foretaste of what Paul will tells the Church in Rome in Romans 12 “do not return evil for evil but overcome evil with good.” And Jesus  “Love your Enemies”, from later in the Sermon on the Mount, both widows into what it means to be meek.

To also assist in understand what it means to be meek, it’s good to look at the two people in scripture who are described as being meek and humble, neither of which can be seen as weak people. The first is Moses, in Numbers 12:3 Moses is said to be the most Humble or meek person on the earth. His own siblings Aaron and Miriam had criticised him publicly and it says that Moses did not respond by lashing out at them or defend himself. He is silent before them. He is more interested in God’s glory than his own, God’s will for the people not his own ego. God calls Aaron and Miriam to account and instead of a fist pump from Moses, a yes God, we see him pleading with God on their behalf.

Jesus is the other person who is called meek, or humble and lowly of spirit.. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light

The Jewish religious leaders had seen the law as a burden for people to carry and a whip for people’s backs. But Jesus says that his burden is light because he is that perfectly domesticated animal who trusts God and despite all efforts to stop him from doing so, commits his ways to the LORD. Therefore we can accept his Yoke because it means Jesus walks with us and teaches us to walk in that way as well. He does not want to Lord it over us he is the lord alongside and with us, the servant king who calls us friends not servants.

Probably many of you tuned into to watch the royal wedding last year. Even you blokes out there, maybe because the rugby wasn’t that good or to plicate the lady in your life and well let’s be honest because deep down most of us are romantics. Right? It was amazing to see all the pomp and ceremony and adulation that went along with the wedding of the future heir to the throne. Glistening carriages, horses, thousands of dollars’ worth of trees carried into the  cathedral, world leaders politicians celebrity footballers and their pop star wives, months of palates so the brides maid would look great in her dress. The most relaxed and down to earth moment was Wills and Kate   driving back to their residence for a bit of rest and to change into new cloths for the not so formal reception, they drove in the Aston Martin they had borrowed from William’s brother Harry. It is an example of what we equate with monarchy.

Next week is Palm Sunday and we see another King, inaugurating his kingdom, parading into a city, this time humble and sitting on a donkey. Not a conqueror on a white charger coming to take over at the end of a violent campaign, not a king who comes to a palace to waited on hand and foot. This king came not to be served but to serve; he would wash the feet of his disciples, a task reserved for the most menial and lowly. A king who did not come to impose his will by force.  But in the garden, when faced with death and defeat, prayed not my will but yours be done. Whose coronation was not with a glittering crown but a crown of thorns? A king who did punish his people for their transgressions rather he took their sin on himself and made a way for them to come and know life in all its abundance. Who as the writer of Hebrew’s will say for the joy that was set before him, you and I fset free from sin and restored to life in Christ, suffered the shame of the cross. This is meekness.

Why do the meek inherit the earth or as Psalm 37 puts it the land, refereeing to the land promised to Abraham and entered by the Israelites coming out of captivity in Egypt?..  Because the land was always an inheritance that was to be given by God. It was a land of promise given by God. Likewise the kingdom of God is not for the proud and the haughty, it’s not to be grasped or won by human endeavour, it is a gift given by God and it is God that will see it given to those who trust and depend on him: The poor of spirit who know their need for God, those who mourn and look to God for comfort. They will possess it because of God’s grace and because they will not be put off trusting God and waiting on him, they won’t be put off by personal glory, they won’t be put off by personal slight or suffering, They won’t be put off by the glistening   lure  of fame and fortune. They will sit at the lunch bar in the face of injustice and will look straight ahead and not respond negatively… rather keep their eyes on the prize. They will trust in the Lord and wait on God.

How does that apply to our lives and our church? Two ways

Firstly, like the rest of our western culture, the church is not immune to being caught up in celebrity culture, in what is aptly called worshiping pop idols. There is a tendency to see the big strong mega churches as the epitome of success, to equate God’s presence and blessing with high Attendance and buildings and cash flow. As if it God’s blessing was as easy as ABC. We can put the successful pastors of such churches on pedestals, attend their seminars, buy their how to books and their motivational DVD’s. ..and forget that maybe in the kingdom of God there are others who we should value for their faith: They are not those who Jesus might say are blessed. Rather the minister and congregation of a small church who have for years kept faithful to the gospel and loved the people God has put across their path. The woman who is praying for her non-believing husband and children day after day, trusting the situation to God. The widow’s mite in Mark and Luke’s gospel, where it seemed a small amount given but was a massive gift and faith. The paraplegic man who is able to say with utmost conviction, my favourite hymn is “count your blessings, one by one”.

Secondly, often the church does not face change with meekness.  We can be very good at saying we want things our way,  the way we want them. We want the music and the traditions we like that are meaningful to us. We do it like this and it ain’t going to change. Equally it can be well we’re going to do it this way because it’s the new way, we can worship innovation, its new so it’s got to be right and better… and you’d better say right, right. Instead of people coming together with the attitude of meekness not my will  but yours be done… how are we best to reach out to the least and lost and welcome them home to Christ. How will a new person connect with what we do here? Sometimes I fear we do not possess the Promised Land and its harvest because we are all too possessive of what we’ve got and what we like. We're possessive our our way... not the way.

Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth, they will inherit the land. Knowing our spiritual poverty turns us toward Jesus, mourning for our sins and the suffering of the world causes us to look for the comfort of God’s presence and being meek causes us to trust God’s sovereignty, trusting that he will do what has said he will do. So we keep on waiting and doing the things that we know God calls us to do; deepen our love for God deepen our love for one another and deepen our care for justice and the least. It allows us to treat people with grace and forgiveness, gentleness and patience. We find meekness leads to peace because in the end it deals with trusting God to be God and with not trying to do his job.

No comments:

Post a Comment