“Hurry up and wait”
Message preached on
November 4, 2018
Hurry up and wait. I’ve been doing quite a bit of that lately. Those who have accompanied me downtown to the hospital have been my guides along the way. I’m learning the process of enjoying the journey, paying attention to the scenery, not getting stressed out by the traffic and the possibility of being late. Actually, most of the time we arrive early, which involves more waiting – especially when blood work appointments fall over the noon hour when fewer techs are available to take blood and move you along late to a scheduled doctor visit and an IV infusion. It’s a process of hurry up and wait, growing anxious as you do so. And then there is the waiting for a bed to free up to begin in-patient chemotherapy, sometimes taking up to three days - followed by the waiting in a boring hospital room for Methotrexate levels to come down so I can return home. Yes, hurry up and wait. I’ve been doing quite a bit of that lately. It’s a growing process, a grace, if you will.
(Matthew 5:5 NRSV)
This is the third beatitude Jesus spoke on the hillside to his disciples as they sat with him, according to gospel storyteller Matthew. I decided that his “sermon on the mount” was a good place to turn as I faced into cancer, and it begins with all these blessings. They are intimate blessings, shared not with a crowd but with the twelve disciples he called to accompany him. The purpose of Jesus heading uphill was not to provide a pulpit for him to preach to the multitudes below, but for him and his small band of followers to get away and sit and share in a more intimate setting. That’s really where blessings happen, you know. In a small ways. We’re tempted to think too big, which can get in the way of our ability to see joy, happiness, blessing, grace. In my experience, blessing sort of nudges in between the lines. It arrives when you least expect it, like a surprise, in small ways. Do you find that to be true?
If you’ve traveled with me through the previous two beatitudes in Matthew’s order, you know how I’ve wondered about this word “beatitude,” which sounds an awful lot like the word “beauty.” How on earth is “poverty” (as Luke recorded it) or even “poverty in spirt” beautiful? Likewise, “grief”? These tend to get filed in the folder marked “tragedy,” not “beauty.” And yet Jesus said to his disciples long ago (and says to us today?) “blessed are the poor in spirit,” and “blessed are those who grieve.” Even in the midst of tragedy, beauty emerges. It comes as a grace, often unexpected, a surprise. It grows in a garden we may have tended, but this growth does not happen due to our efforts, though we participate in the process. More often it involves us getting out of God’s growing ways, that true happiness may happen – that the “poor in spirit” possess now “the kingdom of heaven” and “those who grieve will be comforted.”
This third beatitude also makes us wonder. I guess it’s the word “meek,” which tends to make us think of what rhymes with it: “weak.” Are “meek” and “weak” synonymous? That’s how it often seems. Our dictionaries can make such connections, defining “meekness” as “docile; overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame.” Or, in other words, “weak.” And there may be a bit of truth to that. The apostle Paul played around with this word “weak” in his second letter to the folks in Corinth who thought of themselves as the opposite of “weak.” They saw themselves not as “weak,” but as “strong,” faith and wealth and gift-wise. To turn the matter up-side down (or right-side up) Paul boasted to them of his own weakness, concluding that in Christ, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:8). He did so to help them see that – when it comes to God - things are not always as they appear.
“Meek,” for instance, is not really “weak.” Think, for a minute of persons of faith in your life who have borne or do bear this sense of “meekness.” Perhaps, if you’re like Charlie Mueller (one of the folks who has accompanied me recently to and from the hospital), you think of a father-in-law who was a thoughtful person, not quick to speak, and when he did so, offered quiet wisdom in few words, offered not in an over-powering way (Did I put that rightly, Charlie?). Maybe the rest of you have other examples from your own experience of “meek” persons of faith. If this were not a video I’d pause here and open it up for you to share, if you were bold enough to do so. Can a “meek” person be bold? I believe so. You?
When I think of “meek,” certain other words come to mind, like “humble” and “gentle.” In fact, in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, in a verse I believe our youth immersed themselves in this summer in Colorado, he called folks to clothe themselves in “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience,” “meekness” also translated as “gentleness” (3:12). Of course, putting on, or clothing yourself in “meekness” or “gentleness” assumes this is already in your drawer. Sometimes, however, when you turn to your dresser that drawer may be empty. Where is “meekness” or “gentleness,” let alone “compassion, kindness, humility” or “patience?” I venture to say that they are God’s gracious gifts – this deep seated, walk a mile in my shoes love known as compassion; this kindness that is more than being nice, this being grounded to the earth, the soil, the hummus humility; this pausing patience, this gentle meekness – all a blessing that surprises us along the way, often in small ways.
As I studied this beatitude about the “meek” recently, I discovered that it is connected to the first blessing about the “poor in spirit” Jesus spoke on the hillside, according to Matthew. One commentator calls these two beatitudes a “couplet,” meaning they are “two lines of verse, usually in the same meter and joined by rhyme, that form a unit.” 1 You may know that I enjoy writing poetic songs that share a similar number of beats to each line, which also rhyme at similar points. I can do this in English, however, but not Greek. Apparently there is a poetic meter and rhyme between the first and third beatitudes in the Greek language we find in Matthew which alerts us to these two beatitudes saying something similar. As the “poor” or the “poor in spirit” stand empty before God, aware of their dependence upon the One who provides their daily bread, their sustenance, what they need to keep on keeping on now, so also do the “meek.”
When fed, the “poor” or the “poor in spirit” grow strong – “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They become rich in what truly matters. So also the “meek.” Those who are not meek don’t really grasp that they are the ones who are – in reality – “weak.” They may depend upon their own muster and bluster. They may think they don’t need anyone else, that they are the ones who dispense the strength everyone else needs, in fact. What’s missing is humility, an awareness that – like everyone else – they are in need of being grounded. From dust to dust. From God’s good earth we came, to it we shall return. God’s good ground provides. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Listen to some other translations and paraphrases of this promise:
- “God blesses those people who are humble. The earth will belong to them!” (CEV)
- “They who are gentle are his people, for they will he his partners across the land.” (Cotton Patch)
- “The meek and lowly are fortunate! for the whole wide world belongs to them.” (Living Bible)
- “Those who allow others first claim on everything have got it made, because the whole world will be given to them.” (Laughing Bird)
- “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.” (The Message)
The prophet Isaiah said something similar. “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (40:31, NRSV).
Hurry up and wait. Yes, I’ve been doing quite a bit of that lately. It’s a growing process – not so much the hurrying, but the waiting – waiting with a sense of humility, gentleness, meekness – knowing that (as the old hymn sings out) “All good gifts around us are sent from heav'n above. Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love.” It’s a grace, if you will. It takes time, and yes, some effort, as we participate in the process. But it is not dependent on our effort. The blessing from God is a gift. Our awareness of it comes like a surprise, usually revealed to us in small ways, like all these beatitudes. Amen?
1 Robert A. Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding, ©1982 Word Publishing, p.83.