2022-08-28 Pentecost 12
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of the oddest phrases I’ve heard was by Margaret Atwood when she wrote that writing can be like “catching a greased pig in the dark.” Catching a normal, un-greased pig in the daylight can be tough enough believe you me. I speak from experience but that will be a story for another time. I can’t even imagine trying to catch a greased pig running around in the dark! It’s such a funny way of saying that something will be very difficult and elusive. And yet, it somehow helps us visualize exactly how tricky something might be! And today, it’s tricky business. That elusive, tough to catch and even tougher to hold greased pig running around in the dark is … the Christian virtue of humility.
Jesus teaches about this truly incredible virtue through the means of a story. A parable about a wedding feast. We’re near the end of Wedding season by now, with possibly a couple fall weddings yet to come next month. But weddings! Wow! All the planning and the fretting and the anxiety that goes along with them. Should we have the chicken or the beef supper? Who should we invite, who should we axe from invite list?! Where does one draw the line? In Jesus’ day all the wedding seating was assigned and accounted for. Not much has changed for us as most weddings in our time still have assigned seating. And certainly, there are some choice spots. The head table for one. It’s reserved for the bride and groom and the wedding party. And the next closest tables are often the V.I.P.s - folks like parents and grandparents of the happy couple. And then, way at the back, in the darkest corner of the hall with no view or sight of the buffet line, that’s where the “reject table” is. That’s where the pastor sits! Along with the photographer and maybe the DJ and all the other ‘accessory people’. But can you imagine the kerfuffle that would be caused if I decided to just march right on up and pop a squat in the middle of the VIP table? Or at the head table even? It would be weird and awkward! Nobody would dream of even trying something like that because it’s so socially inappropriate!
Our Lord’s point about humility is to precisely NOT take the places of honour automatically, but instead sit in the more humble spots. The cheap seats, way in the back beside the pastor and the photographer. Then, our friends will come and move us on up to a more deluxe spot. Sounds nice. But Jesus’ point isn’t about social maneuvering and advice on how to win friends and influence people. Instead, the whole parable is about humility. It’s about putting others before ourselves and ourselves last. It’s about not letting the weed of pride grow in our spiritual garden but getting rid of it in favor of the wholesome plant of humility.
We hear this and we think, aw, what’s the big deal? It’s good to be proud. Proud of one’s accomplishments, proud of our kids, proud of our work, proud of ourselves. It’s interesting where this innocent road of pride leads us though. The minute we think highly of ourselves and kids and work and accomplishments is the same minute we start putting others below ourselves. We compare ourselves to one another. “Ethel’s gravy can’t hold a candle to mine! I make mine from scratch.” “Leeroy can’t grow as a good a crop as I can, not even close.” “My grades are off the charts compared to Sven’s, he’s a few bricks shy of a load.” “I can’t live on that side of the bridge with that family, we’re too good for South Hill. The Pastor lives over there.” And on and on it goes. It starts out simple and “innocent” but pretty soon it starts breeding malice within us. It encourages us to become prideful and insists that we are better than others. It robs us of our opportunity to serve and help each other. And it is completely opposite of the Kingdom of God.
Pride really is like a hood we pull over our eyes to blind us to the truth. We cease to see our own sin because we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re all really great people, fantastic at this or that. Our self worth then becomes linked to our ego, our accomplishments, our fat bank accounts or vicariously, through that of our kids! Soon, we become so entrenched in our pride that we become completely incapable of saying “I’m sorry” and admitting that we are wrong. And then, like a wedge, this pride just keeps driving and driving down in our life, further and further causing more and more problems for us and those around us. We become totally blind to the fact that over time, we have become arrogant, self-righteous dirt bags!
In the winter of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of passengers died as they were hurled into the icy waters below. News of the disaster was further darkened when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident. It wasn’t a technology problem like radar malfunction – or even bad weather like a thick fog. The cause was human stubbornness. Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence nearby. Both could have steered clear, but according to news reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. By the time they came to their senses, it was too late. Their pride had brought them down.
And then, this weed of pride starts growing. It takes in nutrients and gets taller and taller. It starts wrecking our relationships. Friends are no longer friends. Family relationships become strained. This may be from a harsh word spoken, a deal gone bad, too many beers, whatever. The more pride we have in our hearts, the more difficult it becomes to have any measure of forgiveness and healing in our lives. Like those two salty sea captains, who wouldn’t yield no matter what, relationship after relationship crumbles. It’s an utter shame. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18)
But this is where the Christian faith comes to the rescue yet again. Jesus, with His teaching on humility and pride, removes the blinders from our eyes. His Word is spoken into our hearts and minds so that we certainly can truly see how dangerous and malicious the sin of pride is. Through His cross, our Lord takes that sin away too. Don’t hold onto it. Let it go. Realize that our self-esteem and self-worth doesn’t come from inside of us. It comes from God who fills us with Christ-esteem. Our Baptism washes us clean of sin and fills us with hearts that are eager to pursue humility. It makes us die with Christ and bury our pride at the foot of the cross. We realize who we are because of what God has done for us by His grace. As we repent of our pride, the Holy Spirit will help us walk the path of humility and service to others.
Humility truly is one of the highest virtues of the Kingdom of Heaven. Attaining it can be like the catching of the proverbial greased pig in the dark. The famous conductor Leonard Bernstein was once asked by a fan “What is the hardest instrument to play?” Without an ounce of hesitation he immediately replied “Second Fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second with as much enthusiasm is incredibly difficult! And yet, if no one plays second, we have no harmony.” And harmony is what our Lord would have us bring about by His grace. But we can only have it when we walk the Christ-like path of humility. “3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). Through His life, death and resurrection, Christ Jesus has put the whole world before Himself so that we may live and have life to the full. Thanks and praise be to our humble Saviour. Amen!