Matthew 5:5 / January 26, 2020
Westminster by the Sea Presbyterian Church
Radford Rader, D.Min.
Looking at the lectionary readings when I had to choose sermon scriptures and titles a couple of months ago, I came face to face with the Beatitudes. Now the problem is that there are 8 beatitudes in Matthew. No one can do justice to all the Beatitudes in one sermon. I have this week and next to preach and I am not up to even doing four each week. They are just too rich and too important to skim the surface and not dive deep into them. My solution was to choose two, one for each week. This week is “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” I chose “meek” because it is so foreign to the way we think in our world today.
The problem with “meek” is it sounds like “weak”. We mix the two together. In a newspaper column, Bill Farmer wrote about J. Upton Dickson, who founded a group of submissive people. It was called “DOORMATS” and it stood for “Dependent Organization of Really Meek and Timid Souls”. Their motto was “The meek shall inherit the earth – if it is ok with everybody.” For us, meek describes doormat, pushover, one who never stands up for self, overly submissive and compliant bending like an overcooked stalk of asparagus, spiritless. None of us want to be the child who, every day, hands over his lunch money to the bully. Our society rewards: strong, shrewd, standing up for oneself, striving for success whatever it takes, never accepting a slight and striking back whenever wronged. Of course, this image of meek isn’t biblical. Moses, who stood up to Pharaoh and led recalcitrant Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness, is said to be “very meek, more than all mortals that were on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3)
Meek, in the Bible, is not weak. Rather, it defines a right relationship with God. Meek is to know God in all God’s greatness and goodness, power and love. It is to know who we are in comparison to God and that we are not God. Meek does not count equality with God a thing to be grasps but humbles oneself before God. Those who are meek have given themselves into the care of God and guidance of God. They do not need to prove themselves or justify their worth, for God gives them worth as a beloved child. We may be mortal and of little status in the world but in the eyes of God we are precious and of great worth. The meek are not swelled with pride but humble to be chosen. There was a story in the Ormond Observer this week about Jack Simpson, an elementary student who was one of only 200 students of the over 1,000 who auditioned for the Florida All-State Elementary Choir. His teacher said, “He’d sung in class, but he never really was the kind of kid that’s like, “Hey, look at me, I’m this superstar singer. He never wanted the attention. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
Jack Wellman, has written, “Everyone who has humility has meekness and everyone with meekness is likely to be humble.” The two go together. Meekness with God breeds humility in us. Humility is an attitude about us gained from of our knowledge of God. We don’t have to be a superstar. We don’t crave attention. We don’t make a big deal about ourselves, making sure everybody knows it. We are proud but not boastful. We are confident but do not demand attention and applause. We can stand in the shadows and be happy; we don’t need to be always in the spotlight to be satisfied. Humility is not self-deprecation. Frederick Buechner writes that humility does not say, “I am not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well you are.” He goes on to say, “If you really aren’t much of a bridge player, you’re apt to be rather proud of yourself for admitting it so humbly. This kind of humility is a form of low comedy.” In humility we know our gifts with gratitude to God and seek to use them for God’s glory not our own. We can acknowledge achievement and accept applause but always without hubris. In other words, we do not think too highly of ourselves, yet we also know that we are gifted and talented.
There is something of a progression that happens. It starts with meekness in relationship to God. Humility, based on meekness, becomes the attitude we have about ourselves. The Greek word translated “meek” is translated just as many times as “gentle. Where humility is the attitude, we have toward ourselves; gentleness is our attitude toward others that comes from being meek. Jesus describes himself a “gentle and lowly in heart.” Gentleness comes from a quietness of spirit that is at peace with God and oneself. Gentleness rest in humility that doesn’t need to lord it over others or control every situation because God is in control and the Spirit is at work. Gentleness does not react in anger; it may not respond at all come back in love and compassion. When others get loud; the gentle remain quiet according to the proverb, “a soft answer turns away wrath.” Gentleness understands that others are not perfect any more than we are perfect and therefore does not have the need to be harsh and condescending but can respond, gently in calm, caring ways that disarm and diffuse. The Letter of James says, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty and insincerity. Certainly, in our day and this time we need more of this language and behavior that what we are seeing, hearing and practicing.
Abraham Lincoln was not weak, but he was meek, and humble and could be very gentle. He knew that he was not a handsome man. When told that someone called him two-faced, he did not lash out but simply replied, “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” He did not let his appearance bother him, but others used it to attack him. When they were both practicing law, Edwin Stanton would often call him “gorilla” in public debates. Yet Abraham Lincoln was above the fray and did not let insults get the best of him or alter his opinion of others. Lincoln respected, Edwin Stanton, and when he became President asked him to join his cabinet as Secretary of War. Those close to the President objected but when pressed, Lincoln said, “He’s the best man for the job.” When Lincoln lay dying, Stanton was there and looking on his rugged face said, “There is the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.”
Meek, humble and gentle changes us and others for the good. We are blessing and a blessed for we both help build the kingdom and have a place in it.