Meekness is Not Weakness
MEEKNESS IS NOT WEAKNESS
“I got this!” I thought as I got down on my knees to fight the scrawny guy in front of me. As I have probably mentioned to some of you, I have studied Martial Arts since I was eleven, and for the past eight months I have been enrolled in Relentless Martial Arts Academy in Warsaw, studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Since I was eleven, I have studied a variety of martial arts including American Freestyle Karate, Shotokan Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and some Judo. I am not exactly the Kung Fu Master, but some of you have seen my Tornado Kick, and I know, I know, you are just a little impressed. I was never at the top of my class in Karate, but I think one of my personality traits is that I am persistent, the tortoise who wins the race in the end, so I prided myself in my years of study and being decent at my hobby and sport. I sort of joked that if being a Pastor failed, my back up plan was to be a cage fighter. You know, like a Lucha Libre, one of those Mexican Wrestlers with the funny costumes. I am guessing that does not come as a surprise to many of you; I do have a flair for the dramatic and the slightly absurd.
But after being in Jiu Jitsu for eight months and meeting actual cage fighters, I no longer joke about wanting to become a cage fighter (fun fact: the Wagon Wheel used to be used for cage fighting back in the day, FYI). You see, everything I did before Jiu Jitsu was about the use of direct force, punches, kicks, sparing, etc., to defeat my opponent. Jiu Jitsu is a Brazilian fighting style that is transplanted from Japan. Brazil, by the way, has a large Japanese immigrant population.
Jiu Jitsu is more akin to wrestling than it is to the martial arts you might see in Kung Fu movies. According to Wikipedia, Jiu Jitsu “is a Japanese martial art and a method of close combat for defeating an armed and armored opponent in which one uses no weapon or only a short weapon.” The article goes on to say, “‘Jū’ can be translated to mean ‘gentle, soft, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding.’ ‘Jutsu’ can be translated to mean ‘art’ or ‘technique’ and represents manipulating the opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force. Jujutsu was developed to combat the samurai of feudal Japan… Because striking against an armored opponent proved ineffective, practitioners learned that the most efficient methods for neutralizing an enemy took the form of pins, joint locks, and throws. These techniques were developed around the principle of using an attacker’s energy against him, rather than directly opposing it.”
Jiu Jitsu is the gentle way. It is about using your opponent’s force against them, while Karate is all about taking your opponent by force. I went into Jiu Jitsu thinking that with my many years of experience, it would be easy. But the secret of being a white belt in Jiu Jitsu is learning how to get beat gracefully. And in the past eight months, I have gotten my butt whooped. Chocked out, submitted, arm locked, thrown around like a rag doll… you get the idea. I take pride over the little victories. Even if it is against teenagers half my size.
And thus it was with the kid I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon. I fought him about a week ago. He was a lanky and scrawny dude. And I am built like one of those dwarves from Lord of the Rings. I am not one to toot my own horn that often, but I got to be frank: I looked at the kid and I was like, “I got this!” The guy seemed meek. I had a distinct weight and strength advantage. I thought I would get a little victory to ease the sting of the many defeats I had endured during the past eight months of training.
Some of you guys have probably guessed by now that the fight did not go my way. The guy was like a skinny little Cobra, slipping out of my grasp, striking when I least expected it. I came at him with everything I had. I came at him with my brute strength. But he responded with gentleness, using my own force against me. Though the kid seemed meek compared to me, I didn’t stand a chance. I’ve learned a hard lesson in my study of Jiu Jitsu. It is the lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us in today’s beatitude.
The lesson is this: “Do not confuse meekness with weakness.”
For as Jesus says, “Blessed are the Meek for they shall inherit the Earth.”
To put it in laymen’s terms, “Beware because the scrawny guy might just give you a whooping.”
It is interesting that the Greek word for meek in this passage translates as “gentle, humble, considerate, not thinking too highly of oneself.” Jesus uses this word to describe himself in Matthew 11:28 where he says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rests for your souls.”
Do you hear that? Jesus – the Son of God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Word Made Flesh, the one whose name is highly exalted, the one whom through which all things were made and all things hang together, the worthy lamb who was slain, the Prince of Peace, our Messiah, Lord, and God – that very same Jesus did not think too highly of himself. As Jesus said before the religious leaders who questioned his identity in the book of John, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:54). The Jews screamed out, decrying him of blasphemy, making himself equivalent to God.
But the Divine name Yahweh, which translates into “I AM WHO I AM,” the name that God gave Moses at the burning bush and which Jesus invokes here in the Gospel of John and in the other Gospels as he walks across the raging waters to meet his disciples in the storm… that very name, I think, is simply him saying, “I am a God who is known by many names. I do many things for you. I am your provider, your redeemer, your defender, your peace, your healer. But all these names that describe what I do are simply insufficient. For truly you will know me by my presence, that I was, I AM, and I will be that which gives you life and binds you together. I don’t have to blow my own horn and go around saying, ‘Hey guys, guess what? I am God! Worship me!’ I don’t have to blow my own horn because I made the horn, the air that blows through it, the waves that make the sound, the notes that collide together to form the magic that is music. When you meet me, you will know who I AM. For I AM gentle but I AM not weak. My gentleness has a strength that overcomes the darkness.”
In our changing room at my Jiu Jitsu Dojo, there is a painting of a Japanese man fighting a flaming demon, throwing the demon over him with his legs, using the demon’s own force against him. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, my friends. And I am convinced that Jesus is a Jiu Jitsu master and we do well to take on his yoke and learn from him.
Erik Kolbell, author of What Jesus Meant: The Beatitudes and the Meaningful Life, describes biblical meekness as “quiet perseverance in the face of brutal rage; it is our staunch refusal either to lay down in submission or to rise up in violence before those forces that oppress us” (pg 59).
This perseverance of faith requires patience, the patience that Psalm 37 describes, the patience to let the Lord fight our battles for us. Patient and enduring faith in the goodness of God as our loving Father is the stream of living water that through the ages carves a canyon out of solid granite. The best illustration I could find about the power of persevering faith is the movie Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, an accountant wrongly imprisoned for the murder of his wife, and Morgan Freeman as Red, a lifelong inmate imprisoned for a crime he committed in his youth. The film depicts their struggles in the inescapable prison of Shawshank run by the corrupt and ruthless Warden Norton.
Dufresne is a quiet and meek man who does the best he can in the face of impossible odds to show decency and humanity to his fellow inmates, all the while planning his eventual escape with all of Warden Norton’s laundered money. In the final scene, the prison guards do their regularly scheduled morning check of the cells and Dufresne isn’t there. Red explains in narration how Andy escaped:
“In 1966 Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, worn down to the nub. I remember thinking that it would take a man 600 years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than twenty. Oh, Andy loved Geology. I imagined it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, a million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really, pressure and time. That and a big poster” (to cover the hole in the wall).
But after Andy’s friend Tommy was killed because he knew who really murdered Andy’s wife, Andy decided that he had been at Shawshank long enough. Red goes on to describe how Andy crawled through a drainage pipe to freedom:
“Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of foulness that I just can’t imagine. Or perhaps I just don’t want to. Five hundred yards, that’s the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.”
The movie then shows Andy emerging from the filth of the drainage pipe into a thunder storm. He takes off his shirt and he laughs, the rain cleansing him literally and figuratively of the pain and suffering he had gone through those twenty years.
We all find ourselves in prisons in our own lives. Prisons of addiction, prisons of failure, prisons of doubt. We were born with such hope; you can see it in a child’s eye. But the world, the flesh, and the Devil have dragged us through the mud and have convinced us that only the strong survive, that it’s a dog eat dog world, that it is foolish to truly put your trust in another. But if we persevere, Jesus gives us the opportunity to walk free, to be washed in his blood, to be washed in the waters of baptism, to be filled with his Spirit, to declare that we shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
My prison, my doubt over the past eight months has been questioning my own leadership abilities. I am a tender, gentle, and kind hearted man, and sometimes I feel ill prepared to face the trials of leadership that come with even leading a small church. I am not exactly the Rick Warren figure, the popular and charismatic mega church pastor that people flock to, the person that someone might pick out of a crowd and say, “There, there is a leader!” I am inexperienced, that is true. I may not always do things right, but I hope you all see that my heart is to always do the right thing, even if that costs me. For I am your shepherd guiding you with the staff the Lord has given me, protecting you with the rod the Lord has given me, leading you on the gentle way of Jesus which has the power to overcome whatever trials we may face together. Do not confuse my gentleness, my compassion, my inexperience with weakness or a lack of spiritual authority. For I am committed to fulfilling the vows I made to you as a congregation at my installation and ordination service.
And in your own lives, do not succumb to the ways of the world. The ways of cynicism and fear. As Jesus said, we must be wise as serpents but gentle as doves. People will perceive our gentleness as weakness, but let them think what they will. For as Psalm 37 declares;
Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.