Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10
The Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Stand up straight! Fix your posture! These may be words you grew up hearing from your parents or a teacher. Stand up tall. This is not something I have always learned in my life, even though my mom would often remind me of this. Posture does tend to be an important thing to consider. In fact, I read recently that in the early nineteenth century, posture was a way to differentiate between the “moral” and “upright” upper classes from not only the slouched and tired working classes but also from an earlier, morally loose upper class. I never knew that. Posture also indicates how we will stand. Will we stand in a healthy way or a negative way?
Our posture really indicates how we react or experience another person, how we stand toward another person and really toward ourselves. Do we stand in a defensive way? Do we appear afraid in the way we react? Are we trying to stand in a place of authority? Remember, I didn’t ask where you stand, but how do you stand.
As we continue in our series, one month to live, we have considered how to live passionately and love boldly over the last few weeks. If we really had a few weeks to live, how would that change the way we stand? If you consider your relationships, what are you holding onto that keeps a full healthy relationship at bay? If you consider your own life, what are the falsehoods about your life that you are holding onto, those things we hope people believe or think about us that are holding us back from a full and abundant life?
It’s amazing that when a person moves into the second half of life, how those things that used to be important seem to fade away. There is something about facing the end that forces us to consider what is worth holding onto and what’s not. Often our pride keeps us from reconciliation with others and ourselves.
Last weekend, I was in sunny, but cold Florida for a conference. There’s something about a pastor’s conference being held in Florida during January that just makes sense, but before you get too jealous, it was cold, around 60 degrees last weekend, which is like 10 below to people in Florida.
Anyway, the keynote speaker for the gathering was one of my favorite writers and theologians, the Franciscan Catholic priest, Fr. Richard Rohr. In his book Falling Upward, he writes, “The only people who grow in truth are those who are humble and honest.” He goes on to refer to how we find these two qualities, humility and honesty, in places like Alcoholics Anonymous, way more than we find it in church. There’s a lot of truth to this.
In a meeting like AA, everyone comes recognizing their need and challenge. I can remember going weekly to our local jail to lead worship. I would often share an abbreviated message, but most of the time was taken for prayer requests, which was part story, part confession, yet completely honest and humble. There was no time for falsehoods. I would often say that those of us coming from the church into the jail are not bringing God with us, we are meeting God who is already present and found in every person. We gathered in the same need for grace, forgiveness and love. You could tell how this changed the posture, the stance of the men and women who would come for worship in jail.
How do we stand with others and with ourselves? Are we real with ourselves, where are weaknesses are and how we stand? Paul reminds us that it is in our weakness that we find our strength. Chained in his jail cell, Paul later writes to the Philippians and dares them to say “What I once considered an asset I now consider a disadvantage.” Why did Paul write these words?
Paul recognized what Jesus was trying to show us. There are many ways to the top, to be among the stars, to break the record, seek fame and fortune. Yet the way of Jesus is radically different. The priest and spiritual writer Henri Nouwen often referred to the way of downward mobility. Going to the bottom, choosing the last place; the first shall be last the last shall be first; because it is the way to the kingdom.
The lectionary text, which is assigned for each week in the church calendar year, was Micah 6: 8 last week. I’m sure you know these words, “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.” While each of these are vitally important to our journey of faith with God, I wonder if we really lack humility in our walk.
Without humility we can’t really love kindness. Without humility we can’t do the work of justice, which is often defined as equality and bringing to life God’s perfect kingdom on earth.
To truly walk in humility, we must understand our weaknesses, which often come in the form of our opinions, judgement and pride. We have to let go of our agendas to walk humbly with God. We have to let go of our opinions, our truth claims about what we believe to be true about our world and even our relationships. Our perception of reality is not always based in truth. Going back to Father Richard Rohr for a moment, he shared last week that we live in a post truth society. There are only competing truth claims, where everyone claims truth.
Fr. Rohr wrote, “Truth is only discovered by the release of our current defense postures, by letting go of fear and our attachment to self-image. Then the inner gift lies present and accounted for! Once our defenses are out of the way and we are humble and poor, truth is allowed to show itself. Being so certain that “I know” won’t get you anywhere, spiritually speaking. The truth is, “I don’t really know anything!”
To learn humbly is to recognize how we stand. Do we take the time to truly listen to someone else, even if we disagree or do we act like we know everything, that we carry the fullness of truth? Do we reflect on our weaknesses recognizing our need for God’s grace and forgiveness or do we buy into the illusion that we have it all together?
I recently read an article by the title “How to be Humble.” Now, I’m not sure if the author practiced these disciplined and was humble or not, but I thought they were applicable to our topic this morning. Here are seven things you can do nearly every day to practice humility: 1. Avoid taking credit. 2. Praise others. 3. Help others succeed. 4. Admit your mistakes. 5. Learn from others. 6. Go last. I’m pretty sure Jesus said something like this. And 7. Serve someone. The only way to be humble is to allow ourselves to be humbled.
Life gives us many opportunities to learn humbly and grow from our setbacks, challenges, disappointments and failures. Booker T. Washington was a renowned American educator and author. Shortly after he became the president of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was walking in the white section of town when a wealthy white woman stopped him. Not knowing who he was, she asked him if he would like to earn a few dollars and chop some wood for her. Professor Washington smiled, and since he had no other pressing business that day, rolled up his sleeves, and began to do the humble chore she requested. When he was finished, he brought the chopped wood into the home and placed it next to the fireplace. While in the home, a little girl recognized him and later told the woman who he really was.
The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized. “It’s perfectly all right, Madam,” he replied. “Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.” She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his meek and gracious attitude had endeared him and his work to her heart. Not long afterward she showed her admiration by persuading some wealthy acquaintances to join her in donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute. Washington once wrote that “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
As we face challenges and successes, as we continue in life and death, will we learn from all that comes in life or will we allow those things to define us? I suppose the best posture we can have toward life is to recognize that in our weakness, we are made strong. As Christ said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Stand strong, but stand humbly, for it is in how you stand that everything else is determined. When we stand in our weakness, we can humbly fall fully into our God. Amen.