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Humble and Proud of It
I SAMUEL 16:1-13
The old preacher Samuel had political power. It was he who had anointed Saul as the first king of Israel, and now he was looking for a new king as Saul was disappointing. The Lord told Samuel to go to Bethlehem to the home of Jesse because the Lord had chosen one of Jesse's sons to be the new king, the new messiah. You heard the dramatic story read this morning.
Jesse nervously took his sons to the sacrifice. When Samuel saw the eldest, Eliab, and in those days the eldest was always first, Samuel was very impressed with Eliab who, evidently, was strong, handsome and tall. Why are the tall so often favored? But, the Lord told Samuel Eliab was not the one he had chosen. The Lord said, "The Lord does not see as humans see. For people look at the outward appearance of a person, but the Lord looks at the heart." So Jesse called his other sons, and one by one, Samuel examined them, but the Lord rejected them all. Seven sons were examined.
Samuel was confused. He was sure the Lord had guided him to Jesse's family, but yet none of the sons were satisfactory. So Samuel asked Jesse, "Are these all of your sons?" "No," replied Jesse, "there is one more--my youngest, but he is out watching the sheep." Someone had to do the work! In those days, the chores usually fell to the youngest. They sent for David, the youngest. Samuel took one look at him, and the Lord said, "This is the one." So Samuel anointed David, poured olive oil on his head, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David.
David was the youngest. David was a humble shepherd, doing his chores, doing what he had been assigned to do. David was at the bottom of the totem pole. He was the one left in the field, the one to do the work; yet he was the one called, the one chosen, the one who would become king of Israel. David was a humble man. Some might call him proud because he certainly was not a meek, mild, self-effacing person, but he wholeheartedly, enthusiastically gave himself to his call. Without counting the cost, he responded with his all.
Our theme this Lenten season is "From Humility to Hallelujah." What is humility? What does it mean to be humble?
The current issue of Weavings, an excellent journal of the Christian spiritual life published by The Upper Room, tells the story of John Woolman, born in 1720 in New Jersey, one of 13 children in a Quaker family. A serious illness at the age of 20 turned him to God and he resolved "henceforward to walk humbly before God." He was a tailor and one day his employer sold his slave and asked John Woolman to write out the bill of sale. John did, but he was very uneasy about it. Sometime later he was asked to produce a similar document and this time he refused. He was asked by a customer to write out his will, including the disposition of his slaves. Even though he was afraid of losing his business, Woolman refused.
By this time, John, without counting the cost to himself, was becoming a strong voice against slavery. He began traveling, speaking in Quaker meetings and directly to slave owners. It was not easy to be controversial, nor to commit himself to such a controversial cause. He wrote in his journal in 1757, "The prospect of so weighty a work brought me very low." After much prayer, he wrote, "I felt a Deliverance from that Tempest..and in Calmness of Mind went forward...trusting that the Lord Jesus Christ...would be a Counselor to me in all Difficulties."
John Woolman is credited with the elimination of slavery among the Quakers of colonial America. He made a significant impact upon the colonies. John Woolman was a humble man, a shy person, unwilling to speak out until he was compelled to do so by the Holy Spirit. He walked humbly with God, yet some might call him proud because he was strong, firm, resolute, passionate in his determination, in his commitment to the freeing of slaves.
Jesus was a humble person. During this Lenten season, we remember how Jesus, without counting the cost, set his face to go to Jerusalem to confront the authorities, to confront the religious leaders, to confront the temple hierarchy, a confrontation which resulted in his death. Jesus was a humble person who some called proud because he was far from being meek, mild and self-effacing. He refused to be intimidated, refused to acquiesce, refused to surrender.
What is humility? What does it mean to be humble? Humble does not mean meek, mild, and self-effacing. A humble person, using all the skills, talents, and gifts he/she has been given, responds to the call, responds to a cause or need, without counting the cost; responds not for reward, recognition or acclaim, but responds solely because God calls, because it is the right thing to do and it needs doing. It's a matter of seeing what is needed.
Bob Hope once presented an award to Charlie Boswell, who was an outstanding blind golfer. There are blind men who golf. They have an assistant line the club up, but they do the swinging. Of course, Bob Hope couldn't resist kidding, so he said, "Outstanding blind golfer, huh. I'd like to play you sometime." Charlie Boswell replied, "Mr. Hope, I would love to play you a round of golf." Hope said, "But, I only play for money." Boswell said, "I like to have a little side bet going, too. It makes things more interesting." And Hope said, "But what kind of a handicap would I have to give you?" Charlie said, "I'll tell you what, Mr. Hope, I'll play you even up." Hope said, "Great! What time shall we play?" Charlie Boswell said, "Midnight!"
At midnight a blind person is at an advantage and "sees" better than the rest of us. A humble person, not possessed by or preoccupied with self, sees more than the rest of us. A humble person is sensitive to what needs to be done, and does it, not for acclaim, and not counting the cost. A humble person loses concern for him/herself. Jesus said, "They who lose their lives for my sake shall find them." Humility is not a matter of being humble or proud. A humble person is not thinking about whether he/she is humble or proud. A humble person will just do what is needed, what is right, without counting the cost.
As you know, the church is dependent upon volunteers to do the ministry, to do God's work. This past week, I had two occasions to ask for humble angels to do God's work. Adelaide Vollert received a call from the hospital telling her that her daughter, Joan, was dying. Adelaide had a doctor's appointment, so I went to the hospital alone and had prayer with Joan. Later in the day, when Adelaide was ready to go to the hospital, I asked her about transportation. She replied, "Oh, I'll call a taxi." I didn't want her to go to the hospital by herself so I told her I would find someone to take her. I asked the Jensen sisters, Alice and Florence. They said, "Of course, we'll go get her and take her to see Joan." It proved to be the last time Adelaide would see Joan.
Friday I called Adelaide to see how she was coping, and learned she hadn't been able to sleep, her fingers weren't dialing the right numbers, and she needed some companionship. This time I called Esther Liuzza who visited the Vollerts regularly as one of our Pastoral Care Team. Esther replied immediately, "Of course, I'll go down and spend the day with Adelaide." I asked, "When shall I tell Adelaide she might expect you?" Esther said, "I can leave right now."
Those of you who know Alice, Florence, and Esther know they are not meek and mild! But, they are humble. They respond to the call of God with humility. Not counting the cost, not for recognition, reward or reimbursement for there was none, they responded solely because they were needed. They put themselves out. They changed their plans. They were inconvenienced. Without counting the cost, they said, "Of course!" That's humility and I'm proud of them. I'm proud of our church, for they are only three of so many in our congregation who respond instantly and joyfully when there is a need. You are humble, and I'm proud of it!
What does a humble church look like? A church that walks humbly with God responds to needs, responds to the call of God, without counting the cost, usually at inconvenience to the procedures, or the cleanup, or the maintenance. Our church was presented with the need to help house the homeless. So that some of the homeless can have a roof over their heads and go out into the day to work or to look for work with a warm breakfast in their stomachs, in cooperation with other churches, one month a year, our church humbly turns Fellowship Hall into a dormitory.
Our church was presented with the opportunity to open a Children's Center. The city program was changing. The need is out there for quality, safe, loving child care while parents work. Without counting the cost, our church humbly took on the challenge. At great risk--for new programs, like new businesses, can go bankrupt while they are waiting for recognition--our church responded. It was reported the other evening that as of April 1, our Children's Center will be self-supporting, in just nine months from the day it opened.
To be humble means to walk humbly with God, without pretense or notoriety, without counting the cost, to see a need and hear the call of God to do something about it.
I invite you this morning to set aside concerns for yourself, open your eyes to the needs around you, hear God calling you to do something about them, and walk humbly with your God, not counting the cost.
I also want to thank you for your response to your church's financial needs. Many have responded with pledges and with increases in previous pledges. A budget will be presented to the Administrative Council Tuesday evening which, though cut back from the original, keeps us a strong church. This morning you also have an opportunity to respond with an offering to the United Methodist Committee on Relief which is immediately there when a natural disaster occurs.
© 1990 Douglas I. Norris