Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 5, 2011
And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. I Peter 5:5-6
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” says the author of Proverbs (16:18). If indeed these wise words hold true, then there’s certainly something to be said for the unlikely power to be found in humility. The epistle for this Sunday addresses the Christian walk in times of difficulty with special words for leaders. What it basically boils down to is even in the midst of suffering and persecution, humility is a powerful trait to cultivate and exercise.
Our culture does not often support humility as a desirable trait. We are taught to pull up our own bootstraps, to toot our own horn, and to look out for number one. The best self-promoter is the one who wins the day. Who cares if a few folks get trampled in the process? To the winner go the spoils, right?
This is not the case for the Christian–at least it shouldn’t be. Our Lord teaches us that our ability to control and manipulate the details of our life, much less the lives of those around us, is a fragile illusion. In God’s reign there are no “losers” because losing one’s life for Christ is the ultimate victory. Power is not the aim, but rather a humble heart and life of service in the name of Christ.
I doubt that most of us would consider ourselves to be “proud” people. We go about our daily lives trying to do the best we can to make a living, to craft a life, to do good where we can. The people in the pews on Sunday morning are trying to be faithful, regardless of the baggage or perspective they bring to worship. Most of us figure we try to avoid overtly sinning and seek to do good.
So where’s the pride? How does this apply to good Christian folk? After all, we try to be a pretty good lot, and sometimes we wonder why our pews are not full of folks just like us all desiring the same thing. Evangelism teams ponder how to reach the unchurched masses. Stewardship committees struggle to communicate the necessity of understanding stewardship as a part of all aspects of life–not just one’s pocketbook. Surely pride cannot creep into such worthy endeavors and hopeful activities!
Think again. We’re all guilty, dear friends. The answer lies in the insidious nature of pride itself. I think of Flannery O’Connor’s story “Revelation,” and Mrs. Turpin’s epiphany about pride’s role in her life, how she’s looked down her nose for years upon others. A question to ask is who do we look down upon, or perhaps even simply ignore? We might do well to wonder whether we’re a little too proud of or too certain about our own programs and performance. Remember the religious insider who prayed a little too loudly and gave thanks that he wasn’t like the sinners and lowlifes that God surely despised? We know how Jesus ended that little teaching moment.
No matter where the Spirit leads you this week as you prepare to teach or preach and to participate in the worship life of your faith community, consider the power of humility, the subtle dangers of pride that can come wrapped so attractively and even innocently, and finally remember to immerse yourself in prayer and relationship to the Holy One. Pride may go before destruction, but thankfully the Good Shepherd goes before the sheep interceding for us and gently leading us into lives of humble service and ever-deepening faith. Blessings on your work and ministry!