Beloved Humility

Scripture  |  Mark 9:30-37  |  James 3:13-4:3; 7-8 

In a Time Magazine piece from 1963, the theologian Karl Barth was famously quoted with a quote you’ve probably heard before. 

Its the one where he advises theologians to:

read with the bible in one hand, while reading the newspaper in the other, and to always use the bible to help interpret the content of the newspaper
— Karl Barth

(paraphrase of the actual quote, explained here http://www.ptsem.edu/ )

While no one can read from two hands at once, I decided to take his advice to heart this week in preparation for this sermon. So while digging into scripture in my one hand and paying attention to the ways it was moving me, I also dug into the news, turning on the tv, reading online, and paying extra attention to the links people shared in my newsfeed…

I saw and read what probably most of you saw and read on this week leading up to Ohio’s primary election, with the newspaper in this one hand it was almost impossible to avoid the political climate of our state this last week… 

the barrage of political ads from every possible side of both issues and candidates, the voice of each candidate talking up their platforms and attempting to convince us why they are the best person for the job, why they are the greatest option, and why we should pick them.

Only, as I read and watched, I had the voice of today’s scripture stories in my other hand. 

I heard Democrats and Republicans both speaking about the superiority of their platforms, and all that I could hear was the back and forth of the disciples arguing about which one of them was the greatest...

...and then the voice of Jesus sitting all of them down and saying simply:

“Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.”

I flipped back to my other hand, I watched the debates of both parties, the back and forth, the picking each other apart. 

And then I went on to the endless follow up after each debate, as the media went through the debates frame by frame fighting in order to vocalize their opposing views on who was the favorite of each match as if it were a sporting event.

And I saw this polarized tone of the debates reverberate out from the candidates and land onto an increasingly polarized nation and all I could hear was the bible in my other hand and the advice James offers in his letters to Christian groups who were experiencing division.

“To seek the wisdom from above rather than earthly wisdom. To lower ourselves, and submit to God understanding that when we draw closer to God, God draws closer to us.”

John Calvin described scripture as the glasses we wear in order to properly interpret the created world around us, but I have to say, wearing the lenses of scripture lately have caused me to see just how distortion our world actually seems to be. (Lischer, Richard (2002). The Company of Preachers: Wisdom on Preaching, Augustine to the Present. Eerdmans. p. 362. Using his famous figure of the spectacles, [Calvin] portrays the revealed word as bringing the universal revelation of God into focus.)

Now, I know many of you are like me, you did not come to church this morning in order to hear about the political climate of our country. For me, I am grateful for church at times because it acts as a sanctuary from the backwards workings of our world. 

But with this political climate so present in our society it is important that even here in worship, in this church community where we practice peaceful dialogue and loving everyone, that we can bring it up and see how God might be moving even there. And it is not to drag all of the fighting of the political campaigns into our sanctuary, but maybe through our study and discussions of these scriptures we might drag the sanctuary out into the midst of all the politics.

Two years ago, long before any candidate announced their presidential bid, the Pew research center released its data showing that we are more ideologically polarized now than we have ever been as a country in the past twenty years. 

Democrats and Republicans More Ideologically Divided than in the Past

We are moving further away from center regardless of party, becoming more anchored in our political corners 

…but perhaps more out of focus is that number of people in each party that view the opposing party as a “threat to our nation” has almost doubled in the past twenty years.  (http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/political-polarization-in-the-american-public/

Seeing the Other Party as a Threat to Nation

As a country, we are pulling further and further away from each other, whether we are Republican, independents, or Democrats. And not only that but more and more present in our dialogue is this idea that my way is the greatest way to fix our country, and their way is threatening our country.

We see it acutely in this election cycle but this is a symptom of a much deeper malady. We are, all of us, even in little ways, finding our identity with a certain “side” andin doing so, we are closing ourselves off to dialogue and avoiding those we think disagree with us. 

Even amongst us Christians… Most of us feel more and more that the way WE see our country is the right way and we shy away from the harder work that we know deep down we need to do. 

And, I think this is why we are so in awe at the way Christ lived his life. He crossed boundaries every day, he leaned into disagreement and was still able to love the person on the other side. He not only talked about how we should be living our lives, he walked the walk, and demonstrated it first by doing it himself, and living how we all should.

And, I think the virtue he modeled time and time again, the thing he started with that changed everything for him, the thing he taught, and lived out, even to the point of his death was his Humility. “Are any of you wise and understanding?” James says “Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom.”

Jesus lowered himself constantly in humility, it was his very nature. He did innately what we have to work to do. Jesus knew who we he was …in relation to the world …and in relation to God, and yet still he listened, not to the wisdom from the earth, but to wisdom from above. He listened and he did the harder work of living it out.

He heard the wisdom from above tell him that he was a beloved child of God and that so was everyone around him, even those he was completely at odds with, even the roman soldiers and even the Pharisees and I think this is the heart of Christian humility. 

Identifying everyone by their relation to God …seeing every created being around you and beyond as a beloved child of God.

I heard a really great quote this week from the benedictine monk Albert Holtz this week, some of you may have seen it in the weekly e-mail, but I’d like to share it here too. 

He says this about practicing Humility in Lent: 

During Lent, we journey with Jesus into the truth about ourselves, trying to see who we are in God’s eyes, including both our strengths and our weaknesses–this is called humility.

To many people, humility is synonymous with self-hatred and ‘putting yourself down,’ the opposite of self-esteem.

In fact, humility is simply the opposite of the illusion that I am perfect.
— Albert Holtz, “Pilgrim Road: Benedictine Journey through Lent”

I think this is why James later urged the communities he was writing to, to take a practice of humility as their starting point for reconciliation and peace. Whatever feuds they were having, whatever division or polarization that faced them, he could see that attempting to strive for Christ’s humility would help the groups come back together.  James knows that humility means opening yourself up to the reality that God works beyond our limited view, and when you lower yourself you start to see and trust that all of the answers don’t come from within but from beyond. 

And James knows that the church should be the place where this culture of humility begins. He knows that church communities are a safe place to talk about the harder issues. To not shy away, but in loving each other fully, we are able to model Christ and love each other even in disagreement. And I think James knows that when church communities practice humility it has the power to effect change in the broader society. Just look at our own church! Through our adult education classes, especially in PRISM,  we’re able to have open and honest discussions. Dialogue,  that face the current issues of our world head on, and through humility,  we’re still able to love each other on the other side. 

In this church community, we see how we can embrace our differences, and still come together in Christ as one body, gathered around one table. And that is not insignificant. This decision we make for humility does not go unnoticed but can effect huge change.

Now, I know that none of us are Jesus, I know humility is not our nature. Its not the easy path for us! It takes work and effort. But as we as a country become more and more split, as we pull further apart, as more and more of us feel drawn to identify with a party or a candidate, I think it is more critical to hear the call from scripture, to humble ourselves, to draw closer to God, so that God will grow closer to us.

So, As you watch the continued coverage, as you see the billboards and bumper stickers, as you hear from people you completely disagree with, and as you feel more drawn to identify with a particular candidate or issue, remember first, to humble yourself. 

Remind yourself that your first identity, as well as every other person, was as a beloved child of God.

And maybe, this small act of humility, of seeing everyone as beloved, will reverberate out into this election season and beyond, and we can discover some sort of God given peace. Amen.