The Small Life: Blessed Are the Meek


Twice in my life, on a bus in a foreign country, I’ve had a moment where I understood how big Americans really are.

In Guatemala, I rode a chicken bus (called chicken buses because people transport everything, including their chickens).  Latin America is where North American school buses go to die:  chicken buses are reclaimed and only slightly refurbished school buses, usually painted bright colors, and usually decorated with religious slogans…appropriate since the ride often feels like you are taking your life into your hands.

I got on early in the day, and within a few stops, the seat I had to myself was occupied by me and a much shorter Guatemalan woman and her children.  As I crammed my body farther into a seat that would have fit me best when I was in third grade, I took stock of my seat mates, and marveled at the fact that there were 4 of us in the seat:  the woman, her daughter between us, and a small son on her lap.  Wow, I thought, 4 of us in the seat.  Then the mother shifted a little and I noticed that there was a small baby slung on her back.  5 of us in the seat?  I was impressed, but honestly felt a little bad for this family when I realized that this surely had to be the least desirable seat, occupied as it was by a giant of a “gringa” (and let me assure you—I am a giant, a freakish giant, in Guatemala!)

Space, though is not always physical.  In college, during a year in England, I remember a bus ride through a smaller city with a group of a few American friends.  A few minutes into that ride, we realized that everyone from the dear old lady coming home from the market in one seat to the soccer-hooligan looking tough guys in another, were all staring at us.  What had we done to get such rude stares?  Well, we were talking and laughing at a very American volume.  And even though the bus was half empty, we were taking up much more than our fair share of space.

Americans live large.  We are the country of the Big Mac, Big Gulp, Grand Canyon, Lip Plumpers, mega churches, multi-plexes, Boob jobs, manifest destiny, big guns, McMansions, blockbuster movies, SUV’s, Great Lakes, Big Screen TV’s, Big Sur, sky scrapers, big ideas, mega millions. 

We live bigger than the vast majority of people in the world.   Even those of us who are below the US poverty line live well above the standards of the majority of people in the world.  We each use, on average, 5 times the carbon resources per person as the rest of the world.  We are admired for our bigness, but we are also resented when we take up too much space.

Some of us try to simplify, to live smaller, to view ourselves in appropriate proportion to the whole world.  But it’s hard to do.  We may say, “More is less,” but the truth is that we live and move and have our being in a culture and climate causes us to step back and think, “If more is less, then how much more must more be?”

None of the beatitudes are easy.  They are not supposed to be.  They are supposed to challenge us to our very core.  If you find that they are easy to swallow, you are not hearing them right.  I won’t say that meekness is the hardest one.  But meekness is an uphill battle when you sit in the place where we each sit as North Americans.  Bigness is in our blood.

Meekness is not bigness.  It’s not the exact opposite, but it’s close.  Meekness is about taking up the space that is allotted to you, and no more.  Meekness is about getting out of the way when God needs to be in the forefront.  Meekness is the quiet strength that comes when you know God is behind you.  Meekness is the humility of being able to reconsider yourself, your position, if the Spirit so moves.  Meekness is about our posture in the face of God and in the context of the creation.

Now, we often get uncomfortable with the idea of meekness because it sounds like a person who is a doormat, someone who gets kicked around and beat up, stepped on and muddied.  Someone who does nothing about it when they are used and abused.

That’s not what the Christian virtue of meekness is about…the Christian virtue of meekness is about knowing who you truly are, and living into the reality.

Meekness is not about making less of ourselves…it’s about understanding who we really are.  And we do not understand who we are in isolation…as Christians, our identity is tied up in God, and tied up in each other.

When Paul writes about meekness in Romans, he talks about it in context of the community, and in the context of the community’s relationship to the world:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer

your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing

of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his

good, pleasing and perfect will.

For the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more

highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in

accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

What makes us meek is the place we have in God, the place we have in the world, and the place we have in the community.

Meekness, says Paul, must seep down into your very being, into your gut, so that it is, in fact, a spiritual act of worship.  This does not mean that you start to slouch and try to physically make yourself smaller.

Meekness means that you recognize your whole self: spirit, soul, and body, as an offering to God, so that in everything you do, in everything you say, in everything you are, you live in the context of God’s mercy.  And in the face of that mercy, you only offer your whole self.  It’s about accepting, through and through, that you are God’s own.

You are God’s own—that is the way to think of yourself.

You are God’s own, loved and redeemed and called out to be part of the community of saints.

Imagine, for a minute, that you are in a place where baby Matilda is this morning.  There you are, at the font, and at this very moment, as the water pours down your head, as you hear words you do not even understand, at this very moment, all eyes in this church are on you.  But so is the eye of God.  And as God calls you through the water, God could not possibly love you more.

A preacher friend of mine (Jack Roeda) says, “Imagine the heartbeat of your mother.  Multiply it by infinity.  That is how much God loves you.”

This is the delicious irony of meekness.  If meekness is seeing yourself in your proper place in the world, taking up the appropriate space, thinking of yourself in the right way, it is not about being a doormat.  It is not about getting pushed aside and stepped on and ignored.

It is about getting your self-conception out of the way so that God can break in with infinite love.

And in that thought, you cannot think of yourself more than is appropriate.

The presence of the community is what keeps us in check here…because the further irony of this is that God loves you infinitely, just as God loves the rest of the creation infinitely.  In the book, The Shack, a man spends a weekend on a cabin face to face with God.  And God has this delightful habit…whenever the man mentions any other person in the world, God chuckles fondly and say, “Oh, I am especially fond of her.”

If you think you are the only one who God is fond of, you don’t understand infinite love.  You are not less than others, you are joined with others by God’s amazing love, all-encompassing compassion.  You belong to God, along with the whole creation.  God looks down at you, at you, at you, and at you, and says “I am especially fond of him…I am especially fond of her…I am especially fond of him,” and on and on and on into infinity to the whole creation.

Meekness in the context of community reminds us of God’s infinite love.  There is always enough.  We are not at the center:  God is.  And the gift of God’s love includes the presence of a community where we are all valued for our individual gifts, and for the infinite love God places on each of us.

You cannot be a doormat if you know who you are:  God’s precious child.

Often, when people are asked to cite examples of meekness, they go for great leaders in civil rights struggles.  Even though we struggle with the idea that meek means weak, we still cite people who showed incredible strength:

Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus. 

Nelson Mandela telling a judge that he was willing to go to prison or even die for protesting against Apartheid.

Martin Luther King, Jr. leading marches not just in the south, but even dodging bricks while marching down Cermak Avenue in Chicago.

Fannie Lou Hamer (I know this one is unfamiliar, but it’s such a great story), at the Democratic Convention in 1964, standing up to party leaders when she felt a compromise was selling short people fighting for their rights, standing up to Hubert Humprey and saying, “Senator Humphrey, I’m going to pray to Jesus for you.”  (If that is not gutsy meekness, I don’t know what is!!)

It is no coincidence that all of these people had a deep sense of their worth in the eyes of God.  Not one of them was a doormat, because they knew what they were worth.  But even though they are among the most famous names of the 20th century, even with their individual human foibles and short-comings, we recognize a greatness in them that was about taking up the place that God had set for them. 

When you know that God loves you, you can stand confidently and meekly in the face of adversity.  In some ways, that knowledge is where a Christian ethic of non-violence comes from.

Psalm 37, on the surface, makes me a little skittish.  

Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,

for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil…

For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.

But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

(Verses 1-4, 8-11)

Isn’t there a little too much of God’s people against the rest of the world in this Psalm?  Imagine Psalm 37 as a freedom song—free from fear, free from injustice because we know God is behind us.  Imagine Psalm 37 as the song that Christians sing together as they link arms and face a world where things are not always the way they are supposed to be.  Imagine the power of that.  And imagine the meekness of that.

Meekness is a perspective of hope.  It means that we look forward with confidence to what God will do, what God is already doing.  Hopelessness is often paired with a sense that there is nothing we can do (a sense that we are a doormat).  Meekness comes with a generous side of hope.  We don’t hope in ourselves because of a false, over-inflated sense of hope.  We hope in a god who works in us and through us even when we don’t take up that much space in the grand scheme of things.

We have a hope:  a new heaven and a new earth realized and brought about by a God who loves us infinitely.  Inheritance is something we hope for, something we look forward to, and what God promises is that we inherit a world where our smallness is transformed into God’s glory.  Already in our meekness we see the world in a new way.  The last are the first; the weak are the powerful, the small becomes big.  Because we see through the Lamb of God in Jesus.

But in the meantime, while we wait for the promises to be fulfilled, what does our meekness look like? 

If we are meek, we scoot aside to give someone a seat on the bus or the train or at the lunch table.  We find ways to take up only the space and resources we truly need so that other people can have the space allotted to them, so we think about turning lights on and off, when and how we drive, letting others into a conversation, remembering those we are ignored, how our nations uses its resources. 

Meekness is taking the time to care about someone who seems less in the eyes of the world because she is more in the eyes of God.

Meekness is about asking our leaders to think not just about our personal needs and priorities, but the needs and priorities of the whole nation and the whole world.

As a church, meekness is about growing not just for the sake of numbers, but so that we can get out of the way and show the world the all-encompassing love of God.  Meekness is about being a good neighbor to the community, and standing up as a group for the people who get forgotten.

Meekness is about living a small life.  A life contained in a drop of water, the drop that hits our bodies as we are baptized, and sealed as God’s own beloved one, one who will inherit all that God promises to his children.

For all that is small, intricate, and beautiful, for all that is hopeful and God-filled, thanks be to God. 



One Response to “The Small Life: Blessed Are the Meek”

  1. Heidi Says:

    Thank you, Erica, for this beautiful and true sermon – it’s taking up just the right amount of space in my soul right now.