The high point of our worship gathering this morning is the celebration of Communion. But before we move to that, I want to spend a few minutes with you considering the final piece of our focus statement, our call to walk humbly with our God.
Before we get too far into it, let’s look again to our sacred text. This call to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God is ancient wisdom. It comes straight from the Old Testament prophetic book of Micah, chapter 6. The prophet Micah was not part of the privileged class living in Jerusalem. He was a man on the margins, not someone who benefitted from the system. What those of us with more privilege need to remember is that God speaks from the margins. God’s critique of our society is not coming from us who do benefit from the status quo. It’s coming from those who don’t benefit from the status quo. Those folks are not just complaining. God is speaking through them, speaking through their complaints, and we have to listen. Especially when it makes us uncomfortable. God is speaking through the marginalized. So let us listen in the reading of scripture for the Word and wisdom of God.
Hear what the Lord is saying:
Arise, lay out the lawsuit before the mountains;
let the hills hear your voice!
Hear, mountains, the lawsuit of the Lord!
Hear, eternal foundations of the earth!
The Lord has a lawsuit against his people;
with Israel he will argue.
“My people, what did I ever do to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
I brought you up out of the land of Egypt;
I redeemed you from the house of slavery.
I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam before you.
My people, remember what Moab’s King Balak had planned,
and how Balaam, Beor’s son, answered him!
Remember everything from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you might learn to recognize the righteous (or saving) acts of the Lord!”
God is calling the people to remember all the ways that God has rescued and cared for them in the past and asking, in light of God’s care for them, why they don’t care for each other and honor God.
Here comes the people’s response. They know they’ve done wrong but their response is not contrition; it’s over-the-top bluster. They are going to be to try to bargain with God, to buy God off.
With what should I approach the Lord
and bow down before God on high?
Should I come before him
with entirely burned offerings,
with year-old calves?
Will the Lord be pleased
with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Should I give my firstborn for my transgressions;
the fruit of my womb for the sin of my spirit?”
But listen to this. Instead of answering the question, “What does God want in exchange for my transgressions?” this speaker reminds the people of what God wanted in the first place. Apparently God is not interested in being bought. God is interested in something else altogether.
God has told you, human one, what is good
and what the Lord requires from you:
to do justice,
to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
We’ve already talked about the need to find ways to actually do justice and not just talk about it, and also about how we need to hold on to our joy as we do justice, guarding against pride and judgmentalism. Last week we talked about the continuum between justice and mercy. And although we find them at either end of the spectrum, we don’t choose one over the other. The call for us is to hold on to both of them, to manage the tension between them, to live in that energy each day, wrestling and discerning how to find the balance. There’s not one hard and fast rule about when to lean into justice and when to lean into mercy. As individuals and communities, we look to reason, experience, scripture, and tradition to help us decide what to do in each situation.
Which is why the final piece of this formula is the call to walk humbly with God. Because even after we’ve thought about what makes sense, what our personal life experiences have taught us, what the Bible says, and what our ancestors have done — even after we have prayed and discussed and asked for advice and listened to God and trustworthy advisors — even after all of that, we might still be wrong. Managing the tension between justice and mercy is hard, and so it is best done with humility.
In my opinion, humility is the characteristic that most indicates spiritual maturity. People who are humble remind me of Jesus as I understand him from the Bible and as I imagine him.
First of all, humility can’t be faked. In fact, fake humility is even more obvious and even more offensive to us than blatant pride. Humans can smell false humility 100 yards away and we do not like it. If I think I’m all that, it’s pretty obvious. And if I think I’m all that and try to pretend like I don’t, it’s even more obvious. Yuck, right?
So if you can’t fake it, that means that true humility must be deeply genuine. We can be most humble when we are most truly ourselves. Being genuine, being true to ourselves, doesn’t mean that we have to be prideful. And being proud of ourselves isn’t the same as being prideful. We are each and all beloved children of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of reality; we are each and all created in the divine image; we are each and all sinners saved by grace. We should be proud of ourselves. This week I was at an event at Disciples Christian Church up in Cleveland Heights, and on the wall of their bathroom, right next to the mirror, they had painted these words: “I am as my Creator made me, and since He is satisfied, so am I.” I am as my Creator made me, and since He is satisfied, so am I. Being humble doesn’t mean denying our worth or minimizing our gifts. It doesn’t mean being down on our ourselves. If you don’t think you are anything special, let me tell you this morning that you are incredible. Not better than anyone else, but amazing in your own unique brilliance. Heaven forbid we deny the glory of God reflected in us.
Being humble does mean that we remember that glory is a reflection. Being humble means that we direct the praise where it’s rightly due. I have worked hard to develop some of the skills and talents I have. And yet, I did not get here on my own. I did not create myself. I am the product of God’s creation and the cultivation of many other people. I literally, physically didn’t make myself. And I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am now if people hadn’t helped me along the way. If I’m good at anything, it’s thanks in large part to God and others. That’s what it means to be humble.
If we are confident in who we are and to whom we belong, if we are honest about and proud of our gifts and graces, then it will not be threatening for us to also be honest about our shortcomings. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, both on accident and on purpose. The book of Romans says, “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and we are all justified freely by God’s grace.” That’s humility. Not denying our good parts, but also not denying our bad parts.
Am I a glorious reflection of the Divine? I sure am. Am I better than anyone else? Nope. Do I have some skills? I do. Did I get those all by myself? I did not. Should I be proud of myself? I really should. Do I end each day completely thrilled with all my choices? No way. Humility.
We are all equal before God. If you think you’re something special, then you have to admit that everyone else is something special too. We are all equal before God. If you think everyone else is worthy of love and belonging, then you have to admit that you are worthy of love and belonging too. We are all equal before God.
Humility is about balance. Most of us slip to one side or the other. Either we’re too hard on ourselves, always focusing on our failures. Or we are too easy on ourselves, always focusing on our amazingness. Neither is healthy. Humility is about balance. We are all equal before God. What God requires of us is to manage the tension between doing justice and loving mercy, and to have any hope of being successful at that, we must walk humbly with our God.
I think that if we, as individuals and a congregation, if we focus on doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, if we do those things to the best of our ability, we will find lasting joy and we will heal the world. Find lasting joy as individuals and participate in God’s work of healing the world.
As we come to the Lord’s Table, what I think this all comes down to is grace. True humility comes with a deep experience of grace. Grace is the balance between justice and mercy. Grace says that God’s love and acceptance of us is not based on what we do. Are there standards for what it means to live in God’s way of love? There are. Does God reject us and do we reject one another when we don’t meet those standards? No. God does not reject us and we do not reject one another. Grace. Because we are all equal before God. Grace. Equally precious and equally fallible. Grace. When we can sit with the knowledge that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and also rejoice that we are justified freely by God’s grace, we find the doorway to humility. Glory and guilt held together, not letting go of either because if we did something vital would be lost. Grace.
The celebration of Communion is a sacrament, or a way that we physically experience grace. I believe that grace is being extended by God to us all the time, and yet there are certain moments when we are better positioned to be aware of it and receive it. This ritual is one of those moments. Grace is here, in this bread and in this cup. As we take them physically into ourselves, we have an embodied reminder of grace. This is a chance to take in grace. Which is why our ancestors in the faith have insisted for hundreds of years that this is the joyful feast of the people of God, where people of all ages, races, and sexes – people in all types of bodies — come from the north, south, east, and west, and gather around Christ’s table.