We continue our journey through fifty or so words of scripture and faith that are (or should be!) significant for our lives. Our word this week is “Humility.”
Thinking about a couple of CPC folks about to go hike in the Canadian Rockies, I am reminded of the story of a young mountaineer making his first climb in the Alps. For the steep, hazardous ascent, the young climber had two guides. The fellow felt secure with one guide ahead and one following. They climbed for hours. Finally they reached for rocks protruding through the snow above them – the summit.
The guide ahead wished to let the young climber have the honor of the first view from the top. He moved aside to let him go first. Without thinking about the gales that blew across the summit, the young climber leaped to his feet. Immediately the chief guide dragged him down. “On your knees, sir!” he shouted. “You are never safe here except on your knees!”
“On your knees!” That is an apt way to get at humility, and our texts for this week. Especially Micah’s word for us.
Micah was written at tense time. Yet another covenant had been broken, and Israel was on trial. So corrupt had they become, even the mountains and the hills are witnesses of what the people had done (again).
God had been there for them, but they had forgotten. When things were going well, they were no longer praising God and telling God’s story. In choosing not to remember their own struggles leading up to liberation, the people grew complacent, apathetic and even arrogant. They had become a people willing to bargain, to bribe, trying to buy off God. They calculate their scheme: “With what shall I come before the Lord?’ (In other words, with what shall I buy off God.) Narcissistically they proclaim, “Surely God will take my burnt offerings, my young calves. Certainly God will be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil, my firstborn for my transgressions.”
To that, Micah responds, "What does the Lord require?" Better yet, in prophetic voice, "HELLO?! Can you hear me now? Are you paying attention at all? God has already told you what is required. Get a clue.” The exasperation in his voice doesn’t translate well from Hebrew to English, but it’s there.
We miss this when we just read verse 8. That’s the verse that gets printed on t-shirts, coffee mugs and Facebook posts. I even have it cross-stitched on my office wall. It is a nice saying. But again, we miss the prophet’s exasperation when we take the verse out of context. We make it sound like a sweet half-time commercial voiced by a twenty-something famous actor with a full orchestra accompanying him. They are beautiful, stirring words, and there’s nothing wrong with following them, but Micah was a radical prophet. He took the messages from Amos and Hosea and Isaiah and made them timeless, but he’s screaming at the top of his lungs to people who have forgotten God and their promises to God, and they’re not paying very close attention.
The shock of Micah’s words is that while the people are willing to throw anything at God, to buy God, to placate God, the answer to what God wants is not a thing. The answer makes clear that what God does want is you! For what God has done for us, God would have God’s people walk humbly with God.
Walking humbly with God is to live a life of humility. Like the young climber, recognizing that we are not the center of our lives, God is the center. And those moments, those times, when we live as if we are the center, we are knocked to our knees by the winds, floods, and ravages of life.
Yet humility is more than living as if God, and/or everything else is better than we are. In each use of the word, in Micah, in Philippians, a deeper sense of the word is “wisely, circumspectly, carefully.”
In the biblical use of humility, then, the more important word in Micah is “walk.” Micah is stressing the whole orientation of our lives. Every moment, every step of our daily walk is to be so guided. Jesus’ most often used invitation was not to “believe,” but to “walk” to “follow.” Humility then is following God, living as Jesus would guide us. In reality, then, humility in daily living, is walking alongside. Recognizing that we are not exempt from the dark places of life. Instead, taking each step with the full, humbling assurance, that our walk is not taken alone. As the psalmist notes: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me.”
Our greatest humility comes when we walk alongside another, just as God walks with us.
Young Charlie understood this. Charlie was one of those kids who the Sunday School teachers just could not reel in. He probably would be diagnosed ADHD these days. When it came time for the Christmas pageant, the teachers thought it wise to give Charlie a simple part. His classmates had solos and got to be Mary and Joseph, but Charlie would be the innkeeper. This would mean saying, "No room" three times. They rehearsed on Sunday mornings. Charlie did just fine. On the day of the pageant, two of the children dressed as Joseph and Mary came to the inn. "No room," said Charlie. The couple knocked on the door a second time. "NO ROOM!" Charlie shouted. Banging on the door even harder, desperately seeking space, Joseph and Mary pleaded with the innkeeper, "Please, is there any room in the inn?" Moved with compassion, Charlie forgot his line. "Oh," he said, "why don't you take my room tonight?" With this, the pageant came to a complete halt. Some parents were upset. But for many who had come in the spirit seeking the presence of God, Charlie's words of kindness had taught them something about loving tenderly, about walking alongside another in need.
What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?