Let us pray: Dear Savior, cause us to carefully examine our hearts for indications of ego and pride and then move us to set all that aside and humbly bow before You in thankfulness. Yes, move us to be thankful and appreciative of Your great sacrifices for us instead of boasting about our sacrifices for You. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND FROM CHRIST, WHO GAVE HIS ALL TO SAVE YOU!
TEXT: Mark 9: 30-37
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
Since my heart surgery I’ve gotten stronger. Good! But I’ve found that if I sleep fitfully and wake up tired, well, I need to take it a bit easier that day. Friday morning I woke up tired. I could tell my body wasn’t as happy as on Thursday when I was brimming with energy. Friday tends to be sermon day for me. I had ideas blocked out in my head, but writing a brand new one for you and God seemed like a Herculean task. I was tempted to re-circulate an old one on this text which was very to the point. In that sermon I used this theme: Are You Living to Impress People Or God? But then, I thought back on a prayer I uttered to God before my surgery. Basically I said to the Almighty: “I’ve got more to say to Your people, so give me the strength and health to say it!” Well, that clinched it. So, I’m going to give you my insights into this lesson in a new vein.
The disciples were drifting toward the end of Christ’s earthly ministry. You’d think that by now they would have grasped the fundamental truths of Christian humility and an appreciation of His grace. But, no. Instead, just like us, they engaged in bickering over who was the greatest, the most important among them. They act like little kids on the school playground, don’t they? To be sure, we do the same thing albeit in a different way. We name drop when we feel insecure. We make sure to get into conversation certain achievements we’re especially proud of. It all goes back to wanting to stand out from the crowd. In fact, our celebrity-driven culture fosters and feeds the modern insecurities everyone seems to possess.
So, after Christ quizzes them about this discussion, He sits them down and says this in answer: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and a servant to all.” So much for human ego in Christ’s Church!
Of course, most of you would never engage in such silly behavior? Right? Instead, most of you have adopted a pious, humble demeanor when it comes to your relationship with God. You probably pride yourself a bit on the fact that you don’t feel the need to compare your acts of faith against others. You feel well-adjusted in your Christianity and don’t feel the need to garner overt praise from others. God’s blessing is enough for you. Well, I’m glad you’ve arrived at that point in your faith-journey! That being said, I have this question for you: Has Your Christian Humility Become the Focus of Your Faith?
The other day Pope Francis presided over a service in Washington that canonized an American priest. That is, he formally declared that priest a saint. Now, aside from the fact that every believer in Christ is a saint, one made holy by Jesus’ blood, to many people saints are extra-special holy people. And when other believers recall such saints they key in on those saints’ acts of humble service to God. In fact, in Catholicism one of the criteria for sainthood is some extraordinary deed that they accomplished in life—often healing someone or doing a miracle. Hence, all these “saints” have special stories attached to them. It strikes me that this is much akin to the disciples arguing about “who is the greatest” among themselves.
I’m sure most of these “saints” were fairly humble believers. Certainly many of them engaged in acts of heroic Christian service during their lives. So, how do you think they would feel if they knew that people today were focusing on them and their lives instead of on Christ alone Who made it all possible? What’s more important?—To be remembered by other humans, or be remembered by God?
Many pious believers make the mistake of looking inward for Godly strength. We look at our lives and conclude because we appear humble to ourselves and others, God accepts us and blesses us. So, a certain inner pride over our humbleness becomes the focus of our faith. This is really the same trap the disciples fell into, although it’s dressed up a bit. And the reason it is insidious and wrong-headed is that it appears very Christian, even to ourselves, but it shunts Christ aside and uses Him as an excuse for our actions instead of the only source and motivation behind them.
There was a little child in that house where Jesus and the disciples were staying. So, “Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.'”
The focus of those words is not being kind to little ones and thereby showing yourself and others that you’re full of humbleness and love; no, the focus of those words is: Jesus. We are to do such things “in my name” He says. And even our acts of personal praise directed to Jesus flow from Him to our heavenly Father—the one who sent Him. In other words, Jesus Himself personified true humbleness in that even He, the Son of God, gave the Father all the glory.
Ultimately, this all ties in with the 1st commandment. God is # 1. Not our faith, not our emotional commitment to Him. Not our acts of Christian service. Not any miracles we might do. He alone is the greatest. And in Christ He is also the least. He’s the One who suffered and died in our place for pay for our sins of delusional pride. And His grace, His undeserved love, is the only thing that made that little child “great” and yet humble at the same time. So, instead of focusing your faith on your Christian humility, Focus it on Christ, alone, where it belongs. Amen