(Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22, Psalm 84:1-7, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/y3uwHxsKfFw)
9[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Back in seminary, some of my fellow students had dark senses of humor. They seemed to find humor in the strangest of places and I remember one joke that was born out of such a strange place. It went like this: After resigning his pastorate to go lead another church, a pastor was approached by an endearing older member of the congregation. She wept over the pastor’s decision to leave and said, “Things will never be the same.” The minister tried to console her by saying, “Don’t worry, I’m confident you will get a new pastor who is better than me.” She continued to sob and replied, “That’s what the last three pastors have said, but they just keep getting worse.”
Now I suppose that poor pastor could take comfort in knowing that his successors would invariably be worse for that congregation, at least in the eyes of that dear old lady. But the humor lies in his having to hear that his three predecessors were better than he was! And why is that so funny? Probably because most pastors don’t really like to consider that their successors might be better than they are. Most pastors like to believe they are the best and none of their successors will ever leave such a lasting impact on a congregation as they had. So there’s this guilty little pleasure in hearing their bubbles get burst by the dear old ladies of the congregation. Pride is a terrible sin that infects so many of our relationships and we need people like that lady to teach us humility in order to keep us in right relationship with each other. We need each other and none of us is better than the other. Pride has us believe we don’t need each other and that we’re better than each other. Pride has us believe that we don’t need God, that we’re better than God. What foolishness to believe we’re better than each other and God! None of us can know what God knows, can do what God does. At the same time, none of us can truly know what another person knows nor do what they’re expected to do. We only know what we know and do what is expected of us. You and I are no better than each other or anyone else. We are just people thrown into this world, to know what we need to know and do what we need to do, and one day each of us will leave this world to be in eternity. As God said to Adam, “we are dust, and to dust we shall return.”
And Adam, our great ancestor, teaches us that we’ve been wrestling with pride ever since those early days in the garden. God taught Adam the importance of humility and He’s been having to teach and re-teach us that lesson over and over and over again all throughout history. Indeed, all of our readings assigned for this morning serve to remind us of this very lesson. Humility and keeping an attitude of humbleness IS important. We don’t know what God knows and we can’t do what God does. Yet we somehow allow pride into our lives. We hear in scripture that we were created to be like God and in pursuing this goal we fool ourselves into believing we ARE God. Adam and Eve were created to be like God but the serpent convinced them they could BE God if only they ate of the Tree of Knowledge. We are not unlike Adam and Eve! All too often we want to BE God! Being like God isn’t as good as being God, or so we tell ourselves. We fall into this prideful delusion time and time again. The Israelites of scripture were God’s chosen people. They were rescued out of slavery and blessed with the Promised Land. God was with them every step of the way, guiding and protecting and feeding and nurturing. They, too, felt that because they were God’s chosen people, they were destined be more than other people. They felt they were better than the rest of the people in this world. And pretty soon they felt they were better than God. They felt they no longer needed God to guide or protect or feed or nurture them. As God said to Jeremiah in our first reading, “truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet.” God wanted to punish them for allowing pride to consume them. But Jeremiah came to God with a humble heart and pled for their salvation. Jeremiah cried, “We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, the iniquity of our ancestors, for we have sinned against you. Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us.” Jeremiah came to God fully aware of the great wickedness of the Israelites but also fully aware of God’s great love for His people. Jeremiah kept a humble heart towards God because he knew how mighty and forgiving and loving God is. He was humbled by God’s awesomeness and this was reflected in his plea for his people’s salvation.
We hear of the same humility in Jesus’ parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. In the parable, we heard how both men went to the temple to offer up prayers. The Pharisee lifted up prayers that conveyed his gratitude for God’s blessings. He was right in giving God praise for His mercy and blessings but then he allowed pride to enter into his relationships with people around him. He prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Though the Pharisee didn’t believe he was better than God, he certainly felt he was better than those around him. So he didn’t really have a humble heart. The tax collector, on the other hand, did reflect a truly humble heart. He not only conveyed his unworthiness of God’s grace but he said nothing against his neighbors. He knew he didn’t deserve God’s grace, something the Pharisee didn’t truly believe. The Pharisee was grateful for God’s grace but he felt he deserved it for fasting twice a week and tithing. Jesus used the parable to convey an important warning: “…for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” God exalts those who are humble. God is pleased with those who are humble. God saves those who are humble.
Both Jeremiah’s plea and Jesus’ parable serve to illustrate the importance of humility. We need people like Jeremiah and Jesus to remind us of our place in respect to God and our neighbor. We are not better or wiser or stronger or smarter or healthier or simply more deserving of God’s grace than our neighbor. God’s grace and love is for our neighbor just as much as it is for us. What we know and what we do are simply different than what our neighbor knows or does. And be assured that what God knows and does is most certainly BETTER than what we know or do! Hence, why we’re called to be like God. We are called to know and do what God knows and does because it is a better way. Knowing this is cause for great humility.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored how we are to carry ourselves as we continue along our journey through Pentecost. God wants us to always be grateful for all the blessings He bestows on us throughout the year. He wants us to remember that everything we have is a blessing from Him. God also wants us to be patient as we wait for His blessings. God is patient with us as we stray from our relationship or wrestle with Him. Whether we stray or wrestle, are blessed or not so blessed, let us continue to give God our thanks…with a humble heart.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.