Salt of the earth: Part 9

Christian humility gives us the opportunity to show our love as we faithfully serve him and others. 

James A. Mattek 

“Jim, it’s not about us,” the old man blurted out from his bed in his abrupt style.  

No truer words had ever been said. But who it was that spoke them led me to marvel again at the character-sculpting diligence of the Spirit. I had known him for over 40 years. Now, at age 96, he waited as death’s door began to crack, and he knew “it is not about us.” He was an example of humility for me. In a world that numbers accomplishments and rewards those who achieve much, humility is a rare quality. 

It would have been easy and perhaps expected that this man would find some pride in his life’s accomplishments. He was gifted and had been successful in life. He had traveled the world and had an expert’s knowledge of the historic places he visited. He had a photographic memory. His grasp of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions often amazed me. He had interrupted his seminary years to teach at the high school level and later taught for decades as a college professor. He had studied at major universities, including Oxford. During and after his working years the lecture circuit kept him busy. He was also an author and musician. Not a bad resumé. 

Yet he believed “it is not about us.”  

The apostle Paul would agree: “Do not be proud. . . . Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:16). “It’s not about us” he said, because he lived as a believer in Jesus, ready and willing to serve humbly as the Lord directed. 

Do not bproud  

He had retained so much of his mental abilities as age slowly brought him closer to life’s end. During this death watch I found myself reflecting on his life, especially the many conversations we had that made an impact on me. His comment jogged my memory. About 30 years earlier we had talked about a major event in his life. A gathering had been planned to celebrate his 40th year in the public ministry. It would be well attended by friends, family, and colleagues, some who were formerly his students.  Nice things would be said. His accomplishments would be noted with praise. He was not looking forward to all of the attention, but he agreed to attend. He was uncomfortable that his quiet life as a teacher and scholar would be interrupted by the noise of attention focused on him. 

Weeks later I asked him how it went. His response went like this: “As you know, I don’t really care for these things. Many complimentary things were said about me . . . some true, some exaggerated. They arranged for me to be the last to speak. I had dreaded the possibility of applause at the end of my talk and, God forbid, a possible standing ovation.”   

“Well, what happened?” I asked.   

“As my talk came to an end, I announced that we will now all sing the Common Doxology. I started the singing, and everyone joined in. As we sang, I took my seat again at the table. When we were done singing, it was quiet . . . no applause, just the way I like it.”  

He was a humble man who gave all thanks and glory to God for his blessings: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heav’nly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!” (Christian Worship 334). 

“Do not be proud. . . . Do not be conceited.” “It’s not about us.” A bigger event was only weeks away for this fading father figure and friend. Always, it is about someone.  That Someone is now receiving his perfect praise in his heavenly home. I have heard the lesson many times before. Luther wrote in his last hours that we are all beggars. I—all of us—bring nothing to God, but God gives us all things in his Son, Jesus. It’s not about us because we have nothing to offer. Even our best is “filthy rags,” as Isaiah reminds us (64:6). Humility arises in our hearts when we understand that God loves us, makes us his, and gives us both our talents and the opportunity to use them. 

Be willing to associate with people of low position 

When we truly believe that it’s not about us, it’s amazing how important the unimportant people become to us.   

It’s been said that church is not a country club for the elite but rather a hospital for the hurting. It’s not about our position, our power, or our prestige. After all, it’s not about us. We were lost and have been found. We were blind, but now we see. It’s about God and his grace. And God has right-sized his grace to fit everyone . . . even “the least of these.” 

At age 85, she still drove, but not at night anymore. Like clockwork, her Buick pulled up to church every Sunday loaded down with valuable cargo. Edna always arrived a good half hour early for Bible class so she could unload her cargo. She would leave after the late service with the same valuable cargo.  

At the door of church, she slowly got out of the car and helped the others do the same.  One passenger was in his 20s; the other two were elderly widows like herself. She had picked them up at their homes and brought them to hear about their Savior and the permanent home he promised. The young man would never drive a car because of his disabilities. One widow was legally blind; she sang the hymns from memory. The other had recently lost her husband. All of them dealt with loneliness, but not on Sundays. A selfless soul made sure of that. To her, they were important, ever if others didn’t agree.   

I’ll never forget one particular Sunday. It happened near the side door of church. A young woman was attempting to slip into church unnoticed. It didn’t work. Edna noticed and wouldn’t let her go. Why? Because they were locked in a tear-filled embrace. The younger woman felt low and worthless, ashamed that another marriage had failed. Edna assured her again and again, “You’re always welcome here. None of us is perfect.” She was a humble servant of Jesus ready to embrace the forgotten and lowly. 

Later, on a cold January day, Edna was found motionless on her kitchen floor. In her hand was the cross she wore every time I saw her. Her service to the “unimportant people” was over. The One who had been nailed to the cross welcomed her home.  

“Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” I believe that Jesus welcomed them both home with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servants” (Matthew 25:21). 

James Mattek, director of ministry at Christian Family Solutions, is a member at Trinity, Watertown, Wisconsin.  

This is the nineth article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: James A. Mattek
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018

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