Humility & Our Ego
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Matthew 23: 1 – 12. Focus on how humility is the only way to knowledge, growth and maturity. Check out Jody Sinkway and the choir – Down to the River to Pray.
There are no comebacks or do-overs. This life is our one opportunity on Planet Earth. Faith is not passive. It’s active. Paul says we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, which is his way of saying we go around only once so make the most of it. And the future we reap will be found in the seeds we sow today.
And this is why Jesus is so hard on the Pharisees and Scribes. They know what God requires of them. They are to do justly, walk humbly and love mercy, but instead they have chosen to love power, fashion, and dining in all the right places.
They are hypocrites who bind burdens on people they will not carry themselves. It wasn’t always that way. Back in the day when Israel was about to enter into the Promised Land, when Israel was still vulnerable and weak, the priests went ahead of the people to be their guardian angels.
So when we are offered an example of how to be what does God offer us. God offers us Proverbs 6: 6 – 8, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”
In these verses God’s telling us to do three things: First – observe. God is telling us to pay attention, but whom we pay attention to makes all the difference in the world. And in this respect there are two types of people in the world. The person who always focuses on what they think is wrong, regardless of the facts.
That’s what the Pharisees had become people who were focused on what was wrong with the poor and the lost rather than focusing on what God had called them to do, which was to love them and serve them. So when you observe – study what is humble, just and loving. When you do you will be studying the qualities that God wants you to exhibit.
An interesting example of this is Pope Francis. From day one he chose a different path from his predecessors. He refers to himself simply as the Bishop of Rome. He chose to abandon red shoes and a fancy pectoral cross, for ordinary shoes and the same cross he had worn throughout his entire career as a priest. He chose not to live in the papal apartments, but instead among the priests living in the Vatican, so that he could share life with them. He washed and kissed the feet of prisoners. Not only has he set the example he has called upon his fellow bishops to do the same, which has caused some gnashing of teeth amongst some who have come to appreciate the good life free of Christ.
Jesus’ words are simple to understand. Not so easy to follow. “The greatest among you will be your servant.”
In the world, you would think the powerful are the most successful, but what is the model God chooses? God didn’t say observe the lion. God told us to observe the ant. Observe what is humble. When God came to earth to do his best work, his hardest work, he came as a humble servant?
The prophet Isaiah called him a suffering servant. So many times we think advancement means that we should be exempt from the hardest work. But when God came to earth, he always took on the hardest, dirtiest work…like washing feet and dying on a cross.
The second thing that God tells us to observe is the ant’s discipline. It has no commander, no overseer or ruler. So when we observe the ant – observe that it has self-discipline. The Bible says, “Today is the day of salvation.” Not tomorrow. Call on the Lord while he is near. Ants are diligent. They work hard when other insects are kicking back and taking it easy. Their work in the summer means that they can thrive in the winter.
Now self-disciple also entails emotional management. The book of James tells us to “bridle our tongues lest we deceive ourselves.” We might say it like this: Engage your brain before you open your mouth.
What amazes me is that when Jesus was in front of his accusers he remained silent. Jesus was able to manage his emotions under the most stressful of situations. He was silent in front of his accusers. There are times when you will be right but you will not be able to convince people of it. Emotional management is about yielding to the Holy Spirit when it says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
The reason we work and love is to find meaning. God created us to find meaning because God’s purpose for our lives is that we make a lasting contribution to the well being of his planet and its inhabitants. Jesus said in John 6:27, “Don’t work for food that spoils but for food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give you.”
It’s amazing that ants give their lives for something that’s bigger than their lifetime. The average worker ant lives one year. However, the life span of the colony is 15 years. So an ant gives its entire life to a project that is much greater than it self.
As humans we tend to forget that. It’s easy to pick on the scribes and Pharisees because we are not them. But what we all are, are people susceptible to using our religion to justify ourselves and massage our own egos. But whether we know it or not, religion has always be incredibly susceptible to being corrupted into just another way for us to feed the unhealthy pride that lurks in the corners of our insecurities. You know, that pride that tempts us to try and make ourselves look more important or more moral or simply better than others. It’s that temptation to brand others as “sinners” so that we can be “righteous.”
Now it’s one thing to point this out but it’s another to change this behavior and belief. And if we don’t replace it with something else to think on, it becomes nearly impossible to break this cycle of easing God out of our lives. And so the alternative is to see others not as a source of competition but of compassion. To see we have been called to serve each other and not ourselves.
All of the religious words that have ever been expressed and written down are best summed up by Jesus’ single command to us – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.”
Our job is to serve God’s mission, which brings me to my final observation of the ant. Ants have this incredible mating ritual that happens after it rains. They fly around and then the male dies, which I’d like to question God about, but God says, consider the ant… people who totally sacrifice their lives for the next generation. That’s what it is about – that we give up our lives for the well being of the next generation.
And then a funny thing happens. We actually gain them back! Today we dedicate our stewardship offerings, which is just another way of being reminded we can’t take it with us, but we can leave this place better for the generation coming after us then we found it! What are you willing to sacrifice your life for? Until you can answer that question you will not be able to live abundantly or joyously! Risk your life for faith, hope and love. Amen