Communion Meditation delivered by the Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens at The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, Pentecost 11, August 4, 2002, dedicated to the loving memory of my "Uncle," Neil Conver and always to the glory of God!
(Part III of VII in the Summer Sermon Series: "Seven Lost Keys to Understanding the Misunderstood Jesus")
Isaiah 11:1-6 and II Corinthians 10:1-6
Law, Grace, Meekness, Anger, Sanity, Contentment, and Touch are seven lost keys to understanding Jesus. Today, I will explore "Meekness," having preached on Grace and Law already. I continue throughout August and into September with Anger, Sanity, Contentment and Touch . . . I hope you can join me in worship for these keys of understanding Jesus.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.
Jesus said, "The meek shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). That may be true. But are the meek able to enter I-71 at the Broad St. entrance, headed North? How many of the earth inheritors have slipped hesitantly onto I-670 West and headed to the airport because they were too meek to move through traffic lanes on I-71 at Broad Street? How many of you find that the meek get the big pay raises, or that the meek win marathon road races (or the Tour de France?), or that the meek score goals on your children's soccer teams or lead your company to new heights of greatness and success? Let's be honest, if there is one virtue of the Christian life from which most of us flee in this culture, it is meekness. In fact, some may say to Jesus' admonition about earth inheritance, "Let the meek have the earth for now, for the powerful will prevail and get it back in the long run!"
But, I contend that while the bold may inherit the freeways, the misunderstood meek of the earth, will be in charge of all that really matters in the end! The culturally operative definition of meek is "weak" or "harmless" or "spiritless." When Charles Keating was leading the Lincoln Savings and Loan in the great Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980's (comparable in its generation to the corporate scandals this year!), he sent an in-house memo around about the good clients who trusted his institution, "Remember, the weak, the meek, and the ignorant are always good targets."
As you see, the Meek are targets in the eyes of the freeway inheritors! But, the biblical culture and heritage from which we are hewn sees things differently. Throughout the Bible, meekness and humility are prominent concepts with powerful connotations. Israel itself is a nation knit together by God with 12 tribes and a history of being the poor, the meek and the humble of the Middle East. Living virtually its entire history in bondage to either Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, or smaller oppressor nations, God nevertheless promised to bless His servants and deliver them to the Land of Promise! Scripture tells us that God chose a people who were "no people," to be the chosen people of God! And they were led by meek people.
Moses was meek. When called by God to lead his people from slavery to freedom, he declined! Even a burning bush (which was not on fire) through which God spoke to him, was a power and light show from which he almost walked away. Reluctantly taking his place of leadership, he challenged the Pharaoh of Egypt (the most powerful leader of his times) with a stick and was laughed at! But, in the end, God delivered the people as promised. And Moses, the deliverer, after 40 years of battling and wandering, died on the heights overlooking the promised land. Meek Moses never entered the land with his people and was buried in a place unmarked and unnamed, for God felt that such a burial place would become a shrine and turn the people's focus from the purpose of their calling - to glorify God!
The greatest leader and hero of Judaic scripture and culture was Meek David. David was a small, insignificant twelfth son Jesse, the Bethlehemite who was out in the fields tending the sheep when God told his prophet, Samuel - "that boy is the one to lead my people!" (Samuel must have thought, "you have got to be kidding!") But the wisdom of God always outwits the brilliance of humanity! David was chosen because he wasn't kingly (and because he was still a few sandal sizes short of adulthood) and he rose to lead his people - overthrowing the arrogant oppressors known in that generation as Philistines! (Remember Goliath? The guy with the extra hole in his head? Now, there was a warrior who would have matched the great Road Ragers of our Times! But, he went down for the count with a shepherd boy's stone.)
In later days, the prophet Zechariah speaks of a lowly and meek messiah, a triumphant king who comes as a humble and peaceful monarch (Zech. 9:9-10). He is the prince of peace, not war, because God's nature is of peace, not war. In Luke 1:48ff, we read of a handmaiden of the Lord, known as Mary. This young teenager sings with joy of the grace of God which has come upon her. God has exalted the "lowliness of his servant", and through the one she is carrying, will bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift the lowly up! When God announces the Messiah's arrival, it is the humble shepherds who stumble to his side (while King Herod is plotting his execution). When the Christ is Raised on Easter, it the women who are entrusted with the good news of the resurrection (I suppose God in God's infinite wisdom thought men might exaggerate the resurrection a little too much). So the two greatest pieces of Divine News in our Christian story are entrusted to the lowliest and most humble ones in human society at the time.
Jesus taught many lessons related to meekness and humility. "The first shall be last and the last shall be first!" The greatest among his disciples must be the servant of all (Mt. 23:11). It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 19:24). This one even shook up Jesus' closest followers! He was saying it is humanly impossible to enter heaven, but with God, all things are possible! Only through humble trust in God, could the rich (or anyone) enter heaven. It was Jesus who said we must become like little children to enter God's realm. Again, humility outstretching privilege and power! While the Pharisees, scribes and religious leaders of Jesus' generation had all the words about righteousness figured out, it was the Tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners who confessed their sins, who Jesus said had a path to heaven cleared by God!
After Jesus, Peter and the other apostles bear the mantle of Biblical meekness when speaking to the Sanhedrin after they had been arrested for preaching about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Peter says in Acts, "It is our duty to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). That says it all! The meek obey God rather than human mandates and human rules and regulations!
The meek are not doormats or wallflowers. The meek are not weak, spiritless, or harmless. The meek are not timid souls who live in mortal fear of offending fellow creatures. Meek Moses, meek David, meek Mary, meek Jesus, meek Peter are people who surrendered their wills to God's will and were transparent reflections of God's grace and God's power.
I love the words of Meek Amos, the prophet when prophesying to the people of Israel, who are not heeding his prophetic warnings and admonitions. "Look folks, you need to know I am in middle management in the sheep-herding business. God called me away from that work for a while to bring you this message. If you don't feel like listening, that's your problem, because a) I'm not making this up and b) I'd rather be back with my family, doing my job!" (A loose paraphrase!). Again, there in Amos, as in all the others, is this mysterious ingredient that baffles the high and mighty of this world. They yearn to know it's secret. They seek to own it somehow - but they can't.
Soon after Peter makes his statement to the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel stands up and advises all his brothers in the power elite of Israel, "Stay away from these fellows and let them alone, because if what they are saying is manmade, it shall fail. But, if it is of God's will, you won't be able to stop them! And you will be fighting against God! (Acts 5:38-39). He got it! The meek surrender their will to God so completely that God's will becomes their will. They become God's workhorses on earth! And that's why you can't stop them. That's why they inherit the earth!
Consider this story of true humility and meekness in our Christian faith. There was a Christian doctor in India named Dr. Aroli. Dr. Aroli's spirit, much like the spirit of Rev. Bhaskar Onawale and his wife Dr. Neela Onawale (Who we will share our morning offering with today), was a humble spirit. Dr. Aroli opened a clinic in a poor remote area of India in which Hindu and Islamic people lived in relative peace. He chose not to put a cross on his little hospital. Quietly, humbly he served his people for many years, bearing witness, not often in word but always in deed to the healing power of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. One day, he was alarmingly called by his attendants to the front porch of the clinic. A mob was approaching the entrance. Hundreds of people were marching and chanting. They were Hindu and Muslim and they were carrying something in the midst of the mob. As Dr. Aroli came forward to meet them on the road, confused and bit frightened, the crowd parted in two. From the midst of the crowd, a large cross was brought forth and was placed on the ground in front of Dr. Aroli. The Hindu and the Muslim leaders of the community held the cross and spoke. One spoke for all. He said, "Dr. Aroli, for years you and your clinic have served our people. At first we were not sure how we would respond to a Christian doctor. But, you have witnessed to Jesus Christ through your life and actions. Now, we want to honor you and your Christ by placing this cross on your clinic. And the words beneath the cross will always read, `Here works a humble servant of Christ. Come for healing.'" Hesitantly, Dr. Aroli agreed to have the cross placed on the clinic.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, please make room in your heart for the humility of Christ to reign in your life. Make room for meekness, which is a transparent and complete yielding to the will of God. And come now to the table of grace, for here our humble Savior awaits us. Come for healing. Amen.
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