What God Expects – Humility
January 28, 2018
In 1881, Booker T Washington became the President of Tuskegee Institute. Early on in his tenure, he was walking down the street of the town when a woman stopped him. She didn’t know who Washington was and mistook him for a day laborer. She told Booker T. Washington that she needed some wood to be chopped at her home and asked if he could assist her. It just so happened that Washington had a rather free calendar that afternoon and so he said that he would be glad to help.
And so it was that Booker T. Washington, the President of Tuskegee, went to the woman’s home and chopped her wood. In fact, before leaving, he went so far as to bring some of the wood inside and neatly stack it beside the fireplace for ready use.
According to the story, at some point a little girl recognized Mr. Washington and revealed his true identity to the the woman who had asked for her help. Completely embarrassed, she went to Washington and asked his forgiveness to which he shrugged her off and said that he was glad to help a friend and that he enjoyed the chance to do some good, manual labor. Washington’s kindness and humility struck the woman in a profound way. So much so that not long thereafter, along with some friends, she donated several thousand dollars to Tuskegee which was no small gift at the time. (As Told in Our Daily Bread)
I am reminded of this story today as we focus on the third leg of Micah’s three legged stool of Christian discipleship and obedience in which the great prophet calls the Israelite people to “walk humbly with God”.
As we have said now for three Sundays, in the midst of recognizing the Israelite failures in their relationship with God, Micah also took time to remind them of what it was that God was looking for from them as His followers. In essence Micah had done a good job of describing the problem and so chapter 6 and verse 8 offers Micah’s attempt to provide a solution to the problem.
In this one verse, Micah says that God requires, or God is looking for, those who will “do justice, love kindness and for those will walk humble with Him as their God”.
Two weeks ago we talked about doing justice. Last week we spoke about loving kindness. Today, we come to the question of what it means to be someone who “walks humbly with God”? This morning, let me suggest that the story of Booker T Washington and his encounter with the woman who asked for his assistance with cutting firewood helps us to get our arms around this idea of “walking humbly with God” in a very meaningful way. In making the connection between the Booker T Washington story and the call to walk humbly, let me divide Micah’s challenge into three words.
First, the phrase begins with an active verb – “to walk”. As we have said every week, Micah 6:8 is not an invitation to simply be people who embrace the virtues of justice, kindness and humility as noble as that might be. No, instead, this same verse connects a verb to each idea. We are to “do justice”. We are to “love kindness”. We are to “walk humbly”. The call is to behave or live out certain ways of being in relationship with God and with each other.
In the Booker T. Washington story, he practiced humility. This lady who encountered him didn’t attend a lecture at Tuskegee where Washington pontificated for an hour on what it meant to be a humble person. Instead, she experienced in real life a president of a University who never told her who he was or reminded her of his title while willingly coming to her home and doing a very menial task of chopping wood.
I love the phrase that one Christian writer has used in talking about words that “the life has been drained out of”. What is meant by that is the recognition of how often our Christian conversation, teaching and preaching have no behavior connected to them. Instead, we are engaged in sharing words that the life has been drained out of. It is into a situation just like this that Micah calls us to “walk”. (From Eugene Peterson in As Kingfishers Catch Fire)
The second word to see here is the term “humbly”. This is the obvious part of the Booker T Washington story. He embraced a lowly place with a willingness, a joy and apparently as if it was a privilege.
This I think is really embedded in the idea of “walking humbly”. The call is to be people of faith who are willing to lower ourselves, to be people who serve and to act as those who are not better or let me add more holy than anyone else. Likewise, we are not called to live this way with a scowl on our face or as if it is a necessary evil in the life of faith but rather to do so with joy and to see it as a privilege.
In many ways, today is the perfect day to talk about this. We have commissioned a large group of people today to go and serve in Haiti. They are going because they see missions as part of our Christian responsibility. But, they are also going with joy, willingly and because it is a privilege to serve and to serve all of God’s children, in all places. It is our responsibility but it is also our joy, our pleasure and it is one of our greatest ways of joining God in God’s work.
The final word I want to emphasis is “with”. Micah doesn’t call us simply to “walk humbly”. Instead Micah calls us to “walk humbly with God”. I have little doubt about where Booker T Washington’s ability to be a person of humility in the story that we started with today came from. Washington was a deep person of faith and Tuskegee Institute where he was President had a deep spiritual underpinning including regular Sunday evening conversations between Washington and students on matters of the intersection between faith and their lives. In turn, his humility with the woman in the story was born out of his attempt to walk in humility with God.
It is interesting that the word that we translate from Hebrew as walk in English carries the two ideas in the Old Testament when it is used. At times, where we see the idea of walking in the Old Testament, the idea is of the act of being with someone in a leisurely, unrushed way such as God strolling in the Garden in Genesis. The other idea of walking in the Old Testament, is connected to behavior or a lived out principle. Thus Micah 6:8 offers both – when we walk with God in a humble, unrushed, unhurried way in relationship, we can’t help but find our lives as a result walking in humility with others. (This perspective is offered by Eugene Peterson in As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire)
Said another way, our humility with others doesn’t happen by accident. We can’t read enough self help books on the subject or will ourselves to be humble people. Instead, humility with others is born directly out of living in a humble relationship with God. The one leads to the other. The school of humble walking with God leads us to find proper footing in our relationships with one another.
When we acknowledge our need for God, we are affirming God’s superiority. When we listen to God, we are acknowledging God’s authority. When we make worship and study regular parts of our lives, we are affirming God’s priority. Through these ways and many others, this walking with God, is a part of our humbling process and if it is done regularly it begins to feed into other areas of our lives – not in words that have had the life drained out of them but in real – clear obvious, daily ways.
Having said all of that, let me make one final observation and it is something that I have alluded to before. Humility is a desperately needed trait among believers today in our interaction with the world. I believe deeply that the world’s willingness to hear our message, find a relationship with Jesus and return to a place where the church has value in civic life depends at least in part on our ability to approach the world with a clear message but also with a humble message that doesn’t feel arrogant, condescending or as if we have things figured out.
As most of you know, Ann Marie and I went to a Baptist College. One of the aspects of Samford at the time was mandatory chapel requirements. Now, they were not really as stringent as some students liked to insinuate but they were requirements nonetheless. Each semester, students had to attend chapel at least 8 times or 64 times by graduation. As a result, mandatory chapel led to folks attending chapel not because they wanted to be there or to worship but because they had to do so.
Every time I think about chapel at Samford, I think about Jay who was a friend and fellow student at the time. Some of you have heard me tell about Jay before, so forgive me, but his story bears repeating today.
Jay was going through a spiritual renewal during our college years and as a result, he became very burdened regarding fellow students who went to chapel but paid no attention in chapel. In turn, he self deputized himself as the Barney Fife of Reid Chapel at Samford University. He would tell fellow students to stop studying during worship. He would chastise them for looking at the newspaper rather than the hymnal when it was time to sing. And, he would sternly remind them that this was “God’s time, not their time”.
Jay had a point. He wasn’t wrong. But, he wasn’t very nice about it either. In fact, he was downright confrontational and sometimes mean. I appreciated his heart, but, I can’t tell you a single student that stopped studying or reading the newspaper as a result of Jay’s demands. He was right, but he was also self-righteous. He wanted holiness but he wasn’t very humble about it.
Micah invites us to walk humbly with God – it is an important lesson. A lesson that will grow our relationship with God and that will grow and deepen our relationship with one another.
Let those with ears to hear, listen… Amen.