Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Happy are the Meek and those who seek Justice
Happy, Lent 2 of 5, the paradoxical blessings of the beatitudes as we walk with Jesus toward the cross. Preached March 13, 2022 at the 930am worship
It’s the second Sunday of Lent, the season of 40 days where we walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem. People often think of Lent as a bit of downer, but this Lent, we are talking about HAPPY! That’s what we say we want for our kids, our spouses, even ourselves. “We just want to be HAPPY!”
Our journey, though, is toward real happiness, not false promises and shortcuts and quick fixes that the world promise, but Jesus’ wisdom and teaching about true happiness. As signposts on our journey, we are using Jesus’ Beatitudes. We often read them “Bles-sed are the…” but another common and appropriate translation is “Happy are the…” and then we are reading stories from Luke on Jesus’ way to Jerusalem to unpack those lessons.
Last week, happy are those who are poor in spirit and those who mourn. In our story last week, the younger son was poor in spirit and ran away to find quick happiness. When he finally came to himself, his mind, heart, body, and spirit aligned in love, and he found a path home. The dad in the story mourned his son when he left. To mourn is evidence we have been loved, we have known love, and love never dies. Dad kept looking up the road and was comforted when they embraced once more.
Today, we hear two more Beatitudes:
5 “Happy are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (or justice), for they will be filled.
For our first beatitude, Happy are the meek, here’s a story Jesus tells on his way to Jerusalem.
Scripture Luke 12:35-40
35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, the master will fasten his belt and have the servants sit down to eat, and the master will come in and serve them, 38 if he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so. Blessed, (happy), are those servants.
39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.
40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Sermon Happy are the Meek?
Hey everyone, find someone you did NOT come to church with today, make sure to introduce yourselves to each other, and take 90 seconds each to tell each other, what does MEEK mean to you? Ready? Go!
Okay, 90 seconds! Switch if you haven’t already!
Okay, what are some of the definitions for MEEK you came up with? Shout them out, and I will try to hear and repeat them for others listening in church or online…
Great job, yall. Thanks everyone for playing along and sharing. It is interesting how many of our definitions of meek have a hint of smallness, subduedness, passivity, or even weakness to them.
Each Sunday evening, I try to read the scripture passages we’ve planned for the next Sunday. That way, they stick in my mind all week, and I look and listen for hints of them as the week goes by. This week, with “Happy are the meek” on my mind, and the war in Ukraine being covered constantly, I kept hearing politicians and pundits debate the difference between weakness and strength. To one Texas politician, Putin attacked Ukraine because he sensed American weakness.
I wondered, if meek is weak, then are we saying strength will take advantage of weak? Power wins over meek? Violence defeats meek? Then, I looked again at Jesus’ lesson. The meek will inherit the earth, not the strong, powerful, violent.
In our first scripture, Jesus tells us, be alert, prepared, like a servant in a master’s house waiting for the master’s late return. When the master knocks, be ready, open the door, not with sleepy eyes in your PJs, but dressed, lamps trimmed and burning, ready to serve. Those who are alert, prepared, and quick to respond find themselves surprised. The master will sit them down at the table and will serve them! The servants don’t show weakness, but it might be meekness.
In her 2002 poem, “Who The Meek Are Not” Mary Karr writes about what it means to be meek. She writes:
Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep in the rice-paddy muck, nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles make the wheat fall in waves they don't get to eat.
My friend the Franciscan nun says we misread that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.
To understand the meek (she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop in a meadow, who— at his master's voice—seizes up to a stunned but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that great power in check, the muscles along the arched neck keep eddying, and only the velvet ears prick forward, awaiting the next order.”
Jesus is teaching us happiness does not come in using power or strength however we wish. Happiness comes when we use power, strength, resources in ways that grow God’s kingdom of justice, love, and peace. It isn’t weak to be meek, and isn’t strong to attack or conquer. Those who attack in violence might win the fight, or even some territory. But violence, force will never win the hearts of people, and will never win the peace. Happy are the meek, they will inherit the earth.
For our second beatitude, 6 “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (justice),” let’s read…
Scripture Luke 14:15-24
15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to Jesus, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
16 Then Jesus[d] said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant returned and reported this to his master.
Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 Later, the servant said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the servant, ‘(Then) Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel anyone to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you,[e] none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”
Sermon Happy? Hungering for Justice?
Okay, turn to your partner again. We still have 90 seconds each. This time, think locally, right here in this community, Chestertown, Kent County, northern Queen Annes. See if you can think of one injustice in our community that you hunger to see made right? Ready? Go!
Okay, 90 seconds! Switch if you haven’t already!
This time I need a minute to write your answers down as we go. I am sure our Session and Missions committee will be interested to hear the injustices you see, and hunger to repair. What do you see?
Great job, again yall. Thanks for sharing and playing along.
In our second scripture passage, God is making a new community. Lots are invited and some have more important things to do for themselves. One needs to check out their land. One needs to take care of their business. One needs to spend time with their new family. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of land, business, and family. But when its time to show up together as one united community of God, that’s our higher priority.
God’s party is so open, everyone is invited. Odd how those with land, work, family choose not to show up. So the poor, crippled, blind, and lame enjoy the benefits. They are HUNGRY for a good meal and for a new community of healing and hope, justice and love. But those who had plenty, they miss out. Their hunger wasn’t for righteousness, justice, for everyone. Righteousness, justice is not a personal thing. It’s communal. That’s why Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Another way to say it might be, “Injustice to anyone is a threat to justice for everyone, including me and you.”
The happiness we get from working on our own yards or houses, or businesses, or family and friend relationships, those are legitimate sources of happiness. But disciples of Jesus will not use those to disctract us from hungering and thirsting for justice in our communities. The great banquet God is hosting invites everyone. How can we change the racial dynamic and divisions around us? How can we change the systems that push people into poverty and trap them there? How can we do church in such a way it isn’t just a party for us, but a place of justice and righteousness for the hungriest around us?
Happy are those who hunger and thirst for justice. They will be satisfied.
The Session of this congregation voted at the end of last year to become a Matthew 25 congregation. Our denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA invited all congregations to consider this commitment. The invitation prioritizes three areas.
1) Racism – Matthew 25 churches are invited to see the racism in our communities, and fearlessly confront any system, policy, or thinking that exhibits prejudice.
2) Poverty – Matthew 25 churches are invited to see the poverty in our areas, and to change laws, budgets, or structures to give everyone in poverty the additional help they need, and
3) Evangelism – Matthew 25 congregations are invited to see the state of our churches, and then to stretch and grow and change and share what we have with others.
Let's stay meek, and seek justice, and in so doing, find true happiness.