Living in Meekness

ibrahim-rifath-0Vp3t_3lPaI-unsplash

Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

[Sermon preached April 26, 2020 at Avenue United  Methodist Church]

There is a well-known scene in the 2002 Spider-Man movie where Peter Parker is having a heart-to-heart conversation with his Uncle Ben. Peter, has been bitten by a radioactive spider and developed super-hero abilities. In response to his new-found power, Uncle Ben says,

“These are the years where a man becomes the man he’s going to be for the rest of his life. Just be careful who you change into. You’re feeling this great power, and with great power comes great responsibility.”

 Power is intoxicating. We live in a culture that is often drunk on its own desire for power. People want to climb the ladder; look out for #1, and believe that second place is just the first loser. While we know the dangers of power, we live in a culture that puts people in power on a pedestal.  We can see powerful people as those who have won at life. Those who have succeeded where others have failed.

This morning, as we continue our series on the beatitudes, Jesus says:

“Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”

 I have to admit, that apart from my faith and my own reading of the Bible I would write this beatitude another way. From the evidence that I see around the world, I would have written:

“Blessed are the powerful, the rich, the successful and the beautiful for they will inherit the earth.”

This seems more in line with what we see in movies; what we watch in our TV shows; the values that are on the internet and communicated through other forms of media. We highlight the successful, powerful, and rich. We make case studies of those who achieve their dreams. Our politicians, who are supposed to represent the average person, are rich beyond most of the wildest dreams.

As we look around our world, it is easy to believe that it will be powerful who inherit the earth.

The beatitudes are the introduction to Jesus’ Master Class on Kingdom Living that we call the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes and the Sermon, Jesus is helping us to redefine what life that is truly life really is. The beatitudes provide the basis for our spirituality, for what our relationship with God entails. Living in the kingdom requires that we recognize that apart from God that we are the poor in spirit. We are spiritually bankrupt apart from God. When we realize our spiritual poverty, we can fully depend on God for everything we need. The second beatitude invites us to mourn and grieve the spiritual poverty in the world. We should be moved by the brokenness with see in the world apart from God. This leads us to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness- for God’s justice to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The beatitudes teach us that Kingdom Living looks different than living in the world. This is most clear in Jesus’ blessing on the meek and the promise that they will inherit the earth.

In order to understand the beatitude, we have to have a better understanding on what meekness is. If you were to ask me what meekness is six months ago, I may not have been able to give you a good idea. When I would picture someone who was meek, I may have said that they were weak, spineless, and someone who had no power.

When we read through the Bible, we should note that MEEKNESS IS NOT WEAKNESS. When we think of someone who is meek, we should not see them as pushovers. We should not see meekness as something that is undesirable. We should see meekness in the person of Jesus.

MEEKNESS IS STRENGTH SURRENDERED

 Meekness is can be a quality of the strong who could assert themselves but choose not to. We see this clearly in the life of Jesus.

There is an episode in the Gospels where the religious leaders and the crowd want to kill Jesus by throwing him off a cliff. But Luke tells us that Jesus simply walked through the crowds to safety. Jesus, though he had a higher status than his disciples got down on his knees and washed his disciple’s feet. When the religious leaders came to arrest Jesus and Peter drew his sword and cut off Malchus’s ear, Jesus told him to put the sword away. When Jesus was mocked and beaten on the way to the cross, he did not fight back. Later, Jesus certainly could have come down from the cross and taken care of those who put him there- but instead Jesus cried out to God to forgive those who do not know what they do.

Jesus exemplified humility and meekness while having the utmost power and authority. We believe that Jesus is God in Flesh. Simply put, Jesus is God and has all the power and authority as God. But Jesus chose to live differently. Paul writes,

“Jesus, who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage.
Rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant.
Being made in human likeness
And being found in appearance as a man
He humbled himself further
By becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross.”[1]

Jesus has all the power and authority as the Creator of the Universe. All the rights and privileges that come from being God- and instead humbled himself to the position of a servant who died for others. This is the ultimate picture of meekness.

MEEKNESS IS STRENGTH SURRENDERED

I recently finished leading a Bible Study on the Beatitudes here at Avenue and the study guide we used was by Maxie Dunnam and Kim Reisman. The study as a whole was insightful. They gave a picture of defining meekness. They said that the image of meekness is a large draft workhorse that is obedient to the bit.

I grew up in Amish country in northwest Pennsylvania and some of the horses that our Amish neighbors had were huge. If the horse ever decided to kick or stomp someone, they would have their way with that person. Instead, the horses have surrendered (in a sense) to be obedient to the bit and where the farmer leads them.

To be meek is not to deny strength. When one looks at a draft horse, its strength is evident and unquestioned. To be meek is to surrender that strength to the will of God.

Peter writes of Jesus:

“When they hurled their insults at him he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”[2]

 Rather than fighting back, arguing, or enacting on his rights as God-in-flesh, Jesus entrusted himself to God who judges justly. Jesus surrendered his will, his power, and his rights to God. To live in meekness is to live humbly. We may even have the right to do something; we may have the power to do something- but we live our lives in humility, surrendered to God.

In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien tells the story of a powerful ring that was passed on to Frodo Baggins as part of his inheritance. The ring could give ultimate power to whoever possesses the ring. There are evil powers seeking the Ring, and even some of Frodo’s fellowship are tempted by the power of the Ring.

At the Council of Elrond, a gathering of the leaders of Middle Earth, they debate what they are to do about the ring. It is decided that they only way to destroy the ring is to take it back to where it was created and throwing it in the fires of Mordor. This is at the heart of enemy territory.

One of the leaders declares: “One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the great eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust. Not with 10,000 men could you do this. It is folly!”

 The leaders argue and bicker about the future when Frodo stands up and declares, “I will take it! I will take it! I will take the ring to Mordor.

Frodo, the smallest, the least powerful, and the humblest emerges as the greatest because he is willing to do what needs to be done. His humility and meekness make him the only person in the Fellowship capable of not being seduced by the Ring’s power.

The invitation to live a meek life is the call to resist the seduction of power. It is a life that sets aside our privilege and our rights in order to serve those around us. It is the invitation to impact the world through service- and inheriting that world as the life we live leaves a sweet flavor in the mouth of the world compared to the rotten taste of corrupted power. Living meekly is embodying Jesus’ teaching that “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

Can you see with me what a meek life will look like in the church? It will look like Christians who believe it is better to be in right relationship rather than being right. It will look like Christians who refuse to get caught up in petty arguments online. It will look like leaders who will be the first to serve, the first to get on our knees and wash someone’s feet. It will look like meetings where our preferences are set aside for what is best for the church. It will look like laying down our lives for our enemies.

But there is more- it will look like power. The power that comes when our lives are modeled after Jesus and take the shape of the Cross. The power that comes when people see Jesus in us rather than seeing us. The power that comes when the church’s influence grows, not through hip leaders but through sacrificial living. The power that comes when people wonder why we live differently and we are able to point them to Jesus Christ.

God is on the side of the meek- those who live with their strength surrendered to God’s will. When we live meek lives, God’s power and presence are made manifest in our lives. Let us seek to live the life that Jesus modeled for us.

[1] Philippians 2:6-8, NIV.

[2] 1 Peter 2:23, NIV.

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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