July 9th “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s lesson from the Sermon on the Mount centers on a word that we don’t use much.  “Meek” is usually defined as “quiet, gentle, easily imposed upon, or submissive.”  That is not exactly the meaning from Jesus’ point of view.  For modern Americans you might define a meek person as a team player.  To be meek is to be helpful and useful without being pretentious.  So, the blessings says a big “yes” to quiet and gentle living, but “no” to being weak.

Here is today’s passage:

Matthew 5:5

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

To help explain this idea, we consult our good friend, the Apostle Paul:

First Corinthians 12:12-27

There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ.  We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink.  So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.

Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body.  And suppose the ear says, “I am not an eye. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell?  God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be.  If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body?  As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.

The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without.  The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care.  The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honor to the parts that didn’t have any.  In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy. You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.

So, the “meek” are people who do what they can with the gifts and opportunities they have to live according to the Gospel.  The church is family, but it is also team, and body.  Just as you can’t have a Navy ship entirely manned by cooks or captains, you can’t have a body that is all eyes or all mouth.

This lays a heavy emphasis on the idea of a vocation “or calling.”  This doesn’t feel so right in a society that different jobs have different pay and respect.  Paul’s metaphor of the body suggests that we need to seek to be the best we can be at what we were meant to be. 

As a human being, you have a body.  You want your eyes to work as eyes.  You want your pancreas to do whatever it ought to be doing.  You want all the parts of your digestive system to be dedicated to the work they have been given.  You want your brain to think.  You want your ears to hear.

So, the meek are working toward the common goal of sharing God’s love with the world.  For example, there are many people in missions work to disaster-ridden countries.  These people are hands doing God’s work, but they need someone to make their supplies, someone to pay for their supplies, and someone to put supplies in their hands.  Every missionary (religious or not) requires other people in support, organization, and partnership.

As Americans, we put a huge emphasis on individuality and financial success of the individual.  Freedom is wonderful, but freedom without teamwork is anarchy.   Freedom without community, family, and mutual care is pointless.

Many of us aspire to be wealthy and/or famous, but we know that there isn’t enough money or opportunity for everyone to be rich and famous.  We tend to believe that we should always want more.  We ignore the biblical idea of thankfulness and “being happy with what we have.”  There is an old song that includes the words, “only fools are satisfied,” but that is wrong:  Fools always want more and more. We all want to be brain, mouth, eye, or hand.  No one wants to be knees, lungs, or kidneys.

The Bible is very consistent in this idea.  We are called to show honor to all people (see Romans 12 and James 5). We should honor and love people for using their God given talents.  The body needs ears, the body needs strong muscles, and the body needs strong bones.  Like the children’s song, it is good to pay attention to “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes” and remember that all things that are part of the body are needed parts of our identity.

So, what does the blessing of inheritance mean?

Matthew 5:5

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

It means that the people who work together for good will receive God’s creation as their own. An awkward sort of comedian once said, “I have a huge collection of sea shells… I keep them displayed on the beaches of the world.”  The idea is right.  A meek person receives the world as theirs as a reward for not seeking to own the world.  If you try to buy the world you will fail, but if you can be happy with what you have, you can be happy with everything (including mountains, streams, oceans, and forests).

Again, we need to take a step away from our emphasis on individuality.  We are individuals, but more than that we are families, congregations, and cultures, and the vast human race.  The meek inherit the world together, not one by one.

So the meek are not merely submissive people who do what they’re told or “know their place.” A meek person is someone who responds to God from their own circumstances and personal gifts.  These personal gifts could be things as varied as compassion, bravery, patience, idealism, humor, determination, kindness, discernment, and wisdom.  Sometimes we also have some gifts that we might see as curses, but I have seen people use anger, anxiety, impatience, depression, criticism to the help of others.  There are curses that don’t help anyone (like apathy, paranoia, violence and narcissism), but many things can work for good.

And now a few words for a different perspective on today’s passage.

There is a lot of self-hatred in the world.  There are many people who feel inferior because their skills and work is never celebrated.  Part of our life as Christians is to show honor to all people.  We live in a country where we depend on foreign workers to do jobs that are “beneath us.”  Personally, I think we should honor farm workers and the huge numbers of immigrants who care for our elderly.  We live in a country that imports massive amounts of goods made by people whose poverty would offend us (if we thought about them).  I think we should honor the people who make our clothes and other products for a few dollars each day (no matter their home country).  We should honor all the people at the lowest levels of society and give them enough respectable work that they do not need to face despair or personal threat.

After all, some of the meek people in the world have been imposed into submission. If we could give them the world, we should.  If God wants to give them the world, we should say “amen.”

Questions to Consider: What have we done with the skills God has given us?  How can we do better at honoring others?

Blessings,

Pastor Rick