Walk Humbly - Sermon 01.28.18
Have you ever been to a wedding reception and sat in the wrong place? If you’re not in the bridal party nor an immediate family member then it’s always a good rule to sit on those fringe outside tables. It’s always a safe bet. If you’re supposed to be at one of the more honored spots, someone will tell you and bring you to your place. It’s never a good idea to simply assume an honored spot if you’re not among the immediate family or wedding party. Imagine the embarrassment of coming in, grabbing your hor 'd oeuvres and a drink and taking the best man’s seat, or even worse, the bride or the groom’s seat. Needless to say, taking a place of honor that does not belong to you will soon bring dishonor. Every time.
This is very similar to Jesus parable of the wedding banquet in Luke 14. Jesus, invited to dine at the home of a leader of the Pharisees, noticed that guests took places of honor. He cautioned them -Pharisees and his disciples - not to take places of honor. Because when someone more honored than you comes he and the host will make you move to the least important place. Yeah, that last seat left all by itself over there, that’s where you’re going to have to sit. Sorry.
But when you take the least important place, being an honored guest, you will be brought to an honored place by the host. And everyone will notice that you are an honored guest.
Jesus then concludes that those who exalt themselves (those who make themselves greater or feel entitled to a place of honor) will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted (brought to a higher place or esteemed).
Beyond this Jesus tells those at the dinner not to invite people to stroke your own ego or because you can get something out of it, but invite rather the poor, crippled, lame, and blind.
Both of these stories have to do with humility. Which, simply defined, is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.
The Greek word used in this text for humble is ταπεινο’ς which refers to someone who is God-reliant rather than self-reliant. And frankly, I couldn't imagine a better definition of what it means to walk humbly. Walk as someone who is God-reliant rather than self-reliant. Live as someone who does not think less of yourself but thinks of yourself less. And others more. This is what it means to walk humbly.
You take the low place at the wedding banquet, not because you debase yourself, but because you simply live from the posture that my honor is derived from God alone. Besides, I am here because I was invited. My goal is to be a blessing in any way I can and simply celebrate with joy with others. This is walking humbly.
I think sometimes humility gets a bad rap because we attribute definitions to it that simply do not apply. Meaning that sometimes we equate humility with humiliation. With self-effacement. But humility bears with it a quiet strength. A radical, unassuming boldness that stems from being God-reliant rather than self-reliant. It is a posture where the focus is taken off of our own importance and refocused upon the importance of others.
There is a great story that brings this to light from our own history at Zion. In 1899, Zion was hampered by debt. Yet, in the same year, Zion started the first synodical school in the NW, which started with 8 students and ballooned to 52 in 5 years. Later that same year, Zion designates four offerings for missions. They continued their work of organizing a mission festival that same year, with continued outreach to all of its mission congregations. One particular of note was in 1903 when Zion’s offerings were given to aid in the construction of daughter churches in Seattle and Everett, Washington, a new mission start in East Portland, while also building a home for the pastor in Mt. Angel, Ore. As a child of Trinity Mt. Angel, that one particularly hits close to home.
In the same year, a poor fund was created. In 1905, Zion decided to commit $100 annually to support Concordia academy and were intricate partners in establishing what is now Concordia Portland. The next year, relief funds were sent to San Francisco to help folks in the aftermath of the big earthquake. In all of this Zion was able to manage its debt situation.
The reason I thought so much of this pattern is because of the boldness of faith that the people of ZION exhibited as they continued their mission. And this kind of boldness of faith is only found in humility. They didn’t let lingering debt stop them from continuing in the missional agenda that God has set. And somehow, yet still, they managed to grow, thrive, and continue giving.
This posture is at the heart of walking humbly. To continue moving forward in the face of adversity. To continue to walk in the missional footsteps that God has traced for our feet to be placed, not irresponsibly, but with a quiet strength and radical, unassuming boldness. From a place of thinking of ourselves less.
Using UP, IN, & OUT to organize what it means to walk boldly - again Up - our relationship to God - IN -Our relationship with one another, brothers and sisters in Christ - the church as a whole - OUT - Our relationship with our neighbors and with our city and beyond.
UP - To walk humbly is to be God-reliant rather than self- reliant. Learning to walk humbly we have a savior who walked humbly. And we saw the power he had despite his humility. Remember Isaiah’s prophesy in Isaiah 53? He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. He constantly took the lowest place, even taking our place. The place of the criminal. The place of the sinner. Taking our death and making it his own. Because it is only He who could take on a death like ours and crush it by defying it by rising from the dead.
To walk humbly is to walk as people of the resurrection who continually draw our identity from Christ rather than our own accomplishments or our own esteem. Richard Foster calls this living a “cross-life.” From Phil 2:8 - He (Jesus) humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
IN - To walk humbly is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. Sometimes when we think of humility we think of the self-effacement sometimes practiced at times in the church. But humility is strength. Because it takes God-given strength to think of other’s interests before our own. As brothers and sister in Christ, it is our calling to serve one another in love. As Paul points out, true freedom is serving one another in love rather than focusing on the self. To walk humbly connects us to our God-reliance our cross-lifeness enabling us to see the joy and the freedom contained in considering the needs of others above our own. Thinking of ourselves less.
OUT - Finally, to walk humbly is to invite everyone to the table. Not just those who are like us. But we are sent to love our neighbors with an inclusive boldness. There is humility in reaching out in love to those who cannot give us anything in return for our love. They simply have to receive it and us give it. And if you think about it, that is where our relationship with God begins. We receive the promises of Christ. And there is nothing we do to earn his forgiveness or grace, but he gives it to us freely, calling us by the gospel, enlightening us with his gifts, and sanctifying us and keeping us in the true faith.
We walk humbly when we can give without receiving and receive without having to give in order to receive. It completely takes out the ability to control or manipulate when expectations are eliminated. And that is the antithesis of humility, isn’t it? Control. That taking the first place sort of mentality. We all fall into it. No one is exempt from those times where our needs must be satisfied first. Where we feel we’ve earned that place of honor. Or we are under the misconception that we’ve earned everything we have by the sweat of our brow and try to redefine the cross-life by the sacrifices we make, as we make a tally for each work hoping that makes us right with God. We all fall into that.
That is why we need to reminded again and again of the saving work of Christ in the Gospel. And the ability to receive what he offers begins and ends in humility. Humble submission. Humble confession. God-reliance. Thinking of ourselves less. Taking the lowest place. Pressing forward in boldness of faith despite adversity surrounding us. Living the cross-life as a sign of who saves us and sustains us rather than a sign of our own sacrifices. Walking as resurrected people who draw continually from He who gives us life.
People who walk humbly. This is who we desire to be as people of God. May Christ enable us to let our past inform our future.