Saturday, August 27, 2016

Joyful Humility - Proverbs 25:6-7a, Luke 14:1, 7-14

Proverbs 25:6-7New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence
    or stand in the place of the great;
for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”
    than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

Luke 14:1, 7-14   New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

14 On one occasion when Jesus[a] was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Early in the presidential election process, back when we had a dozen or more in the primary process, one of the presidential candidates was asked during an interview on “Face the Nation” about having sat through a sermon the week before.  The sermon was about “humility.”

It was an interesting topic to raise because most candidates for office do not strike me as that humble.  After all, in order to win an election, you have to go out and tell everyone, CONVINCE everyone, that you are a great person and better than anyone on the ballot.

This candidate responded by saying, “I actually have much more humility than a lot of people would think.”

Which is funny in that we don’t think of humility as being something someone brags about.  It sounds like something a second grader would say, “I have more humility than you do!”

Humility - You either have it or you don’t, and if you do have it, others notice it.  You don’t have to tell people you have it.

Humility is, time and again, lifted up as a value for Christians.  It is one of the qualities that all of us should have and if we don’t have it, we should work on developing it.

It is interesting that one large company selling shoes and clothing online has set forth ten values for their company, and one of them is to be a humble company.  One would probably not think of humility as a goal for a corporation, but what they say on their web page is this: 

"Even though a ton of companies come to visit us to learn about how we do things, we always say, 'These are some things we're doing that are working, but what are you guys doing?' We always recognize that there's more to do."

Let’s think about this business of humility.

Let’s start by considering what humility is NOT.  It is not adopting the view that everyone else is better than I am and I am just a lowly, incompetent, unskilled, meaningless soul compared to the rest of the world.

Humility is not that at all, nor is humility allowing everyone in the world to walk all over us.

Humility starts with an accurate assessment of ourselves. 

It is not seeing ourselves better than we are – nor is it considering ourselves lower than we are.

The opposite of humility is not arrogance, but ignorance.

By that I mean that the opposite of humility is ignorance of who we are and who God is.

Humility is a modest and accurate view of one’s self.

It is a state of being a life-long learner, always ready to learn from others.

It is the ability to see the value of others as our equals – even if they have less education, less abilities, less power, less money, less “stuff.” 

Humility is the ability to see life as it really is and act appropriately. 

Most of all, it is the ability to live knowing that it is God who is really in charge.

We sing “Amazing Grace” often in our worship services. 

Remember the first verse?

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”

A Christian view of the world is quite different from a secular world.  A secular world might say, “I have nothing to confess to God, I’ve never done anything wrong.”    There are even some faiths that believe that if one lives a good life, one is rewarded with an eternity in heaven.

But as Christians we acknowledge that none of us is good enough.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  We are completely dependent on God’s love and mercy because all of us have done a lot of wrong things! 

We all make mistakes, we are indeed sinners.  Left to our own devices, we will destroy the earth through our injustice and violence.  Without God’s help and guidance we will destroy everything. 

And very often when we think that we are perfect, something will happen to remind us that, “No, we are not.” 

It’s like our New Testament lesson.  If you think you are deserving of a place of honor at a banquet, how embarrassing it is to be told you have to move to a table in the corner. 

When you elevate yourself, someone is going to come along and knock you down a peg or two.

We are not perfect, and being humble gives us the insight to acknowledge our own shortcomings.

All of us are like this.

St Paul in his letter to the Romans acknowledged that even though he knew very well what God required, he often did just the opposite.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7)

That is a pretty heavy challenge to bear, but we all bear it.  And it is a very accurate view of our human nature. 

We often do the things we don’t want to do, and we fail to do the things we should do.  We are not perfect.

This is the first step in developing humility – accepting one’s own sinfulness and acknowledging our dependence on God alone.

Take this a step further.

It is not only that we confess our failures, we must also acknowledge that any success we have in life is a gift from God.

There are no self made industrialists, self-made millionaires, self-made chefs, or writers, or scientists.  We are who we are, whether we admit it or not, we are who we because of the gifts God has given us.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers,” the writer makes a point that one’s success in life often comes from the things we have no control over at all – such as where we are born.

Our success is largely made up of the opportunities that come our way come from God alone. 

We might claim that we had the intellect and knew how to use it.

We might claim that we made the opportunities and took advantage of them.

But we can’t claim to have anything to do with where we were born. 

Gladwell says in his book that Bill Gates happened to be born into an affluent family.  He grew up near a university that gave him access and practice with computers.

Now if Gates had been born in Rwanda, he would not have had those opportunities and we would never have known of him.

Humility directs us towards a better understanding of ourselves.

When we understand that our successes are due to what God has given us, we lose the temptation to be arrogant.

And we become more thankful for all the God given opportunities, the God given talents, the God given skills, the God given motivation, and the God given birth.

Humility should surround us with thanksgiving. If it were not for God putting us here in Florida rather than Haiti, we would not have clean air, clean water, a good health care.

Humility should also dispel whatever sense of entitlement that some of us may have.  You see entitlement in the New Testament lesson when the person arrogantly sits in a place of honor and is asked to sit somewhere else. 

So humility is simply acknowledging that you are not perfect.  You have failed and therefore you are dependent on God.
And it is acknowledging that your successes are not your own, but are dependent on God.
The Heidelberg Catechism was written around 1559.  It is one of several statements of belief that have been embraced by the Presbyterian Church.  One of the questions is, “What is your only comfort in life and death?”
The answer in the catechism is this:  “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ…”

Knowing who we are, and whose we are, begins our search for developing our sense of humility.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.