This morning’s message is a sort of musing about Stuart’s most recent article in the Times, considering it in the light of the first lesson from Micah. In particular, the last part about walking humbly with your God.
“Gospel work,” Stuart wrote, “is hard work and we need to support each other and hold each other accountable in a faithful, supportive, and encouraging way. We need to move from being partisans to being theologians.” This proposed movement from focusing on ideologic differences to looking for the presence of God in the world is not easy. It’d like to say I can do both at the same time, but I’m not so sure. When I focus on my party ideas, I realize I am championing my feelings and my welfare over considering everyone else who Christ also died to save.
However you may feel about the present situation in our country and the world, it seems to me that we will all find ample opportunities in the coming years to develop a counter-narrative to what may frequently be perceived as a celebration of a series of individual achievements that tends dangerously toward what the King James version calls “vainglory” and what most of us would probably characterize as arrogant pride.
Just to be clear, I am not referring to only the current political climate. Nor am I against individual achievement. Quite the contrary, I’m all for it. At least in so far as it helps to create a climate where “mutual benefit”
is not an oxymoron, and there can be a healthy balance between competing ideas. A climate where debate is employed as a tool to help us refine our ideas toward to the common good and not as an opportunity to demean or belittle someone who disagrees with us or cannot talk as fast as we can.
In the heady atmosphere of scientific achievement, technological advances, and a world stage with several players arranging themselves to play a deadly zero-sum game, the invitation to “walk humbly with your God” feels eerily powerful to my ears.
“Humility” too often gets a bum wrap in our society for a couple of reasons. First, because we associate it with letting someone take unfair advantage of us, or mistreat us while we meekly allow it to happen. And second, because of the pressure to be something we are not, pushing ourselves to live disproportionately to our means, humility is often perceived as an inauthentic parody of virtue.
With these characterizations, “humility” is unlikely to experience much of a comeback as a virtue with contemporary applications. But, perhaps we can look more closely at it this morning and see whether it might just be the ticket to move us closer to God and further away from letting half the world starve to death in refugee camps and the other half of the world blow itself up trying to stay safe.
Five short words: “Walk humbly with your God.”
WALK — A morning workout may suffice for challenging our bodies toward health, but if we didn’t keep moving the rest of the day, that morning workout wouldn’t count for much in the big scheme of things. The same goes for our morning quiet times of prayer and Bible reading. We are meant to think on God throughout the day, to carry the morning quiet time into the rest of the steps we take all day, expecting to see God’s presence in conversations, mundane chores, even in relationship challenges.
HUMBLY — Our attitude must always be one of self-aware honesty during that daily walk. We cannot do everything, nor are we called to. But we can generally do more than we first imagine. An honest assessment of what our individual gifts and skills are, including an honest assessment of what we do not do well, can actually make us more effective, rather than less. Knowing our “right size” maximizes how we use that size. God could’ve given us any number of talents; we have the ones we have for God’s purposes. It isn’t “prideful” to make the most of what God has given us. It is “needful” that we do just that. Figuring out our right size moves us inevitably toward the righteousness of God.
WITH — However much there may be times during the day when we feel alone, we never are. “Immanu-El” – “God is with us.” This is the foundational piece of the bedrock on which everything else we experience is laid. When we feel suddenly quite alone, we might recognize this feeling as an opportunity to stop moving and look closely at what is happening and where we see God’s activity through the spirit’s movement. When I get to feeling like I am all alone, talking to another person about it can not only help me see the present situation through a different lens, but experience the comfort of God through the person to whom I am talking. There is a reason that we are sent out “two by two”. It’s just the way we work best.
YOUR — It is tempting to substitute someone else’s experience of God for our own experience. But, in the end, nothing but our own engagement with God at the moment of our darkest despair can help us make sense of who we are and what our lives are about. This isn’t about each of us creating an individual god that resembles whatever we need it to be to suit us. It definitely is not about the idea of “my god”. But it is about recognizing that we will constantly be comparing our lives to the lives of other people until we literally have our own “come to Jesus” meeting and accept that the only competition we need to take on is for the golden ring that is our unique identity as God’s beloved, a vital player in a larger drama that simply won’t work if I try to anyone but myself.
GOD — Finally, the whole walking thing, the whole honest self-awareness thing, all find their sense in God. Life in community is understood as community in the context of each of us being the light of Christ in every situation and seeking and serving Christ in each other at the same time. Be the light and seek the light.
In this Sabbath Year for Grace, this year when we are focused on looking at how we use our time and other resources, and recognize our need to breathe I hope that the pace we keep can be consistent with Micah’s reminder of what it is that pleases God, what it is that God expects of each of us. This can happen in our time here together in this building and out in the communities where we live.
St. John Chrysostum wrote something to his students in the year 400 that remains timely: “Church is not a theater where people come to sit and admire actors on a stage and either applaud or denounce them. It is the place where together we commit ourselves to learn the things of God.”
I believe that “walking humbly with your God” is a holy tempo we should aim to maintain. If we are faithful to it, and don’t rush ahead all alone or forget our right size, we will be in a position to enter 2018 refreshed and strengthened to participate at our fullest capacity in whatever comes next, not to mention the deep appreciation we will have gained for the gift that God has given us in the idea of Sabbath time.
Gospel work IS hard work; but not impossible if we do it together.
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Park
January 29, 2017