Humble Pride?

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the twelfth Sunday after Pentecost are here.

Name something that once we say we have it, we’ve lost it?
And something that once we say we don’t have it, we gain it?

This is one of those Sundays I wish we could all just circle up and talk together about the readings. They weave so well together and each is made more enlightening by the others. I know I sometimes question why the Lectionary group picks what they do but this is a time they’ve done their job so very well!

If we were still in the Great Hall, I might just have us circle up our chairs for a chat but since we can’t circle the pews, we’ll just have to pretend. But, you might want to get our your bulletin and follow along. If I had my flannel graph board, I’d have made a diagram so you’ll just have to imagine it.

We have Jesus telling a parable based on the short bit we read from the Book of Proverbs. And the bit we read in the Letter to the Hebrews is an excellent sermon that wraps together Jesus’ parable and the Psalm for today (yes, I know the author quotes a different psalm but the message is the same). And together all of this weaves a beautiful picture of what it looks like to live in God’s Kingdom, the very life we are asking for in the prayer for today.

Alright, let’s go through it in a bit more detail, shall we? In our reading from the Good News Story as Luke tells it, we have Jesus being invited to a Sabbath dinner at the home of the leader of the Pharisees. Now, remember that Luke tells us many times of the issues the Pharisees take with Jesus and what he does on the Sabbath. They don’t take kindly to Jesus calling into question the difference between what they consider ‘lawful’ and how we do love on the Sabbath. Jesus speaks of God’s intent of the law and the Pharisees are more concerned with the letter of the law as a means to gain power.

The laws and commands God has given through the entire history of God’s people have all been for the purpose of teaching us how to love well; our egos cause us to distort them into ways to control and manipulate.

And Jesus isn’t dumb, he knows they are watching and waiting to catch him breaking the law and yet he takes another opportunity to speak of the true intent of the law and the meaning and purpose of Sabbath. In the parable he tells he sets up this impossible scenario: to avoid being shamed by taking the wrong place, sit in a place you think you don’t belong so that you may be ‘corrected’ and ranked higher. And in giving us this odd scenario, he exposes the false idea that it is possible to intentionally show how humble we are, regardless of what Mac Davis once sang.

Once we’ve claimed humility for ourselves, we’ve lost it. To appear to be humble so that you will receive honor is not humility but pride. Humility isn’t about outer appearance or behavior but inner character. And when we let our inner character be shaped by the life of Jesus, what we discover is that there is no need for ranking in God’s kingdom. We are all beloved children of God, loved beyond measure.

Life in God’s Kingdom isn’t about earning rewards or doing good in order to be repaid, but living compassionately with all people, doing good to do good because it is how we love well. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us to, “let mutual love continue.”

Mutual Love; Kingdom Love; unconditional love. Love that is other-focused not self-serving; Love that makes room at the banquet for everyone and where we sit doesn’t matter.

In his parables and sermons and questions, Jesus drills down to the heart of the matter, what really matters, our internal motivation for doing what we do. In the difficult work of self-examination, honestly answering to ourselves why we do what we do, we are set free from the bondage of our egos that lie that says life is all about ‘me’. We are set free from the struggles that come with wondering if we look too prideful or not humble enough because our worthiness doesn’t come from other’s opinions of us or even our own opinion of ourselves. Our worthiness comes from God’s love for us.

And, learning to love others better does not in any way mean that we are to deny that we have needs or that we shouldn’t also love ourselves. Loving one’s self is not the same as being self-serving. Remember Jesus’ answer to what is the greatest command: to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as our self. True humility isn’t denying one’s self but truly knowing ourselves in proper perspective of Whose and who we are.

Just like sitting in a lower ranked place with the intent of getting moved up is pride disguised as humility, denying we have needs isn’t being humble but prideful. If I insist of taking care of your needs but do not admit I have needs, our relationship isn’t based on mutuality. When we refuse to admit our own needs, it is a false humility. When we claim we aren’t prideful, we do so only from a place of self-centered pride.

My place in God’s Kingdom is no higher or lower than yours. We are all beloved children, created in the Image of our Creator. We all are given the same purpose in this world – to love well, to love on earth as in heaven. This is the life we are created for, God’s purpose for us all, to love and be loved.

Our Psalm for today is a lovely illustration of this Kingdom centered life. Happy are they who fear the Lord. Do you remember a few weeks ago when we talked about what ‘fear-of-the-lord” means? It is living appropriately and responsively knowing who God is and who and whose we are. When we ‘fear the Lord’ we aren’t afraid of God or God’s commands, we delight in God because we live in the wisdom of God’s commands, the understanding that the intent purpose of the law is to teach us to love better.

The upright, those who seek the wisdom of God’s commands, will be blessed, their righteousness will last forever, they are full of compassion and manage their affairs with justice. The wealth and riches in their homes isn’t silver or gold but an abundance of relationships grounded in the love of God’s Kingdom. When the world seems dark, the light of God’s love shows them the wisdom they need to endure. Their heart is right because they put their trust in God’s way of living.

This is the true religion we pray for in our prayer today – to see all people as being created in God’s image, to seek the greatest good for all because of God’s goodness in us. This is how we truly, authentically, walk humbly with God.

So, know your place in God’s Kingdom, following Jesus into the heart of what matters: how to love on earth as in heaven. Amen.

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