By the Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
September 2, 2007
Read: Luke 14:1, 7-14
There is certainly a common thread in today’s readings and it has to do with humility. But what is humility? What is Jesus talking about? Does it mean to be inferior? Does it mean to put yourself down? Does it mean to be timid? To be a mouse in the corner? To be afraid to say anything to anyone? No, it doesn’t.
Humility is the opposite of pride or conceit. According to our ancient church fathers, pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Pride/conceit is a source of evil. It is the source of greed, envy and covetousness. It is very closely related to selfishness. A conceited person, a prideful person is often a very selfish person. Such a person thinks, “I want the world to center around me”. What do you think is the result of this pride or conceit? It is division. Division and conflict.
A friend shares a story about being on a seventh grade retreat and having a wonderful time. The theme of the retreat was “cliques or community”. She asked the seventh graders what a clique was. These kids knew what a clique was. They said, “A clique is when all the popular kids get together and feel that they are slightly better than everybody else.” And what is the result of this? The kids replied, “It just splits up the group. We are not all one. We don’t feel comfortable with each other.”
Whether we are in seventh grade or seventy years old, the price is the same. The price is divisiveness, no matter what age, the result of pride or conceit or self-elevation is division within the community. There is division between outsiders and insiders, those who think they are better and those who are not.
Rev. Dr. John Claypool shares about stagecoach transportation in the old Wild West. The stagecoaches were relatively small, carrying at most, six passengers. However, even then classes were recognized. Tickets were sold just like today on modern airlines in first, second and third class. The distinction did not have to do with the size of the seat or kind of food that was served, though. It had to do with what was expected for the ticket holder in case the stagecoach got into a difficult situation like a deep bog of mud or an incline to steep to be able to negotiate.
The first class ticket, which was, of course, the most expensive, entitled the ticket owner to remain in the stagecoach no matter what conditions might be faced. A second class ticket meant that if difficulty arose, you had to get out and walk alongside the stagecoach until the difficulty could be resolved. The cheapest ticket, the third class one, called on the holder to take responsibility for the difficulty. This meant they not only had to get out of the coach when there was a problem, but they also had to, alongside the driver, get down in the mud and do whatever had to be done so that the vehicle could either get through the mud or get up the hill. It required sweat equity.
So, it’s still around. Biblical times through to today. Our human nature wanting to put people in social classes. Jesus’ hierarchy of values, though, are radically different. He turns the value system of the world upside down and dares to say that in God’s eyes the really first-class reality is not the privilege of having everything done for you, but rather lies in the willingness to do the opposite and assume the role of a servant who is willing to deal with the difficulty and is more concerned to solve a problem than to simply be waited on by others.
“In the spiritual sense, Jesus’ parable is a story about faith and love, the mind and the heart. When we first come to the table, which represents life, it is with our mind or ego. We tend to approach life initially with our rational faculties. Given any situation we survey, we size up, and we look for the best way to negotiate our surroundings to the best advantage. Our mind is the first guest at the table of life and it’s going to look out for itself first.
What Jesus is saying, is tell your mind that is so full of itself, to take a lower seat and make way for love, love which is always looking first to the Lord and then to the needs of others. Make way for Love to sit at its rightful place at the banquet table. Love is the more honorable guest. Love that would, without hesitation, offer the higher seats, is the guest that must be honored within us all if we are going to be able to truly honor one another”. (Rev. Sarah Buteux)
The word humility, like the word human, comes from humus, or earth. The basis of humility is to know that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We are created by God and all that we have is a gift from the Creator. Wayne Mueller sums it up this way, “We are most human when we do no great things. When we realize that we are not so important; we are simply dust and spirit at best, loving midwives, participants in a process much larger than we. If we are quiet and listen and feel how things move, rather than forcing life to move for us, perhaps we will be wise enough to put our hands on what waits to be born, and bless it with kindness and care for the sake of all.” (Sabbath, 176).
When we let heavenly love rule rather than self-love, we make a space within ourselves for humility to take root. Humility is a beautiful gift the Lord grants us when we let our love for one another take the lead. Because being humble is not about being put down or trampled. It’s not about self abasement. It’s not being weak or frightened. It’s not about being a doormat. Humility is the mutual love that we heard about today in Hebrews.
Humility is the miraculous ability to get outside of ourselves and truly see ourselves in right relation to others with whom we share a common humanity and received grace. Humility is the God-given gift of being able to see ourselves in proper relationship to each other and the Lord.
It reminds me of the game musical chairs. When we play musical chairs we know there aren’t enough chairs for everyone, so we push and shove and struggle to get one of the “chairs of honor” and not be eliminated. But when we play musical chairs by God’s rules, there are always more chairs than players and instead of being eliminated after each round, God invites more to play.
This is how Jesus tells us to live our life…not trying to be the last one with the chair, but making sure everyone has a chair in the presence of God. Amen.
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