Most Humble Man – part 3 of 4 in our sermon series “The Pastor Is In”

Will you play the outfield? From "The Pastor Is In" published by Hallmark
Will you play the outfield? From “The Pastor Is In” published by Hallmark

“I am the most humble man I know.

There is no one more humble than me.” Could you imagine anyone really saying that? Taking pride in your humility is the opposite of what each of those words mean. Pride is the opposite of humility. Pride is the opposite of humility. Ironically, of the seven deadly sins – pride, greed, lust, sloth, anger, envy, and gluttony – pride is the most deadly. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that pride was the great sin, the one from which all others stem. He describes pride as “spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”[1] Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense. And isn’t that true? It’s pride that stops us from apologizing even when we are wrong. It’s pride that keeps us from associating with “those people.” It’s pride that encourages us to want more than we need.

CS LewisTake for example, money.[2]

Greed certainly makes a person want more money than they need. But what is it that makes us want SO much more? What is it, for example, that makes a baseball player want to make $10 million a year instead of $5? Fear of losing their livelihood? Probably not. About 10 years ago, the US Census Bureau did a study that revealed the average American with a professional degree (like a doctor or lawyer) makes about $4.4 million over their LIFETIME.[3] A high school graduate makes about $1.2 million. And the average baseball player? $3.44 million in one year.[4] A doctor who saves lives and cares for the well-being of others, who has to worry about malpractice suits, who spends countless sleepless nights to be able to make it, earns in their lifetime a little more than what the average baseball player makes in one year. You’d think that would be enough for a person, but we see players holding out for more all the time. Why? It’s pride. To be able to say, “This is what I’m worth.” “This is how valuable people think I am.” We like to know that we are better than others. It inflates our self-esteem, but at what cost? As Lewis said, “Pride is competitive by its very nature: that is why it goes on and on. If I am a proud man, then, as long as there is one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy.”[5]

How far up the chain does that go?

How powerful do we have to be for pride to be satiated? Well, let’s look this morning at a story in the Bible about a prideful man name Uzziah. If you’ll go to 2 Chronicles 26 beginning with verse 16 this morning, we’ll begin there. 2 Chronicles 26:16. Now, Uzziah was the King of Judah and he reigned for 52 years. He began at the very young age of 16. When he was young, Uzziah followed God faithfully and all went well for his kingdom. He was able to defeat the Philistines and the Meunites and even the Arabs of Gur Baal. Because of his growing fame and power, the Ammonites came and offered tribute to him and the Bible tells us that his fame spread as far as the edges of Egypt. Uzziah was a great military leader. He developed catapults for the tower walls he built around Jerusalem to better defend the city. Because of the wealth he had he was able to equip every soldier under his command, over 300,000 of them, with armor, weapons, and shields. Keeping focused on God helped Uzziah make the right decisions and prospered his kingdom. But as often happens when people obtain too much power, he became filled with pride and this is the story of what happened next.

16 But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17 Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the Lord followed him in. 18 They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God.”

19 Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. 20 When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the Lord had afflicted him.

21 King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house—leprous, and banned from the temple of the Lord. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land.

Uzziah couldn’t leave well enough alone.

He had wealth, he had a family, he had an army at his command. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted to also be like the priests and burn his own incense to the Lord. Such a silly thing. Its like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They had EVERYTHING. God only asked them to obey one rule. Just one. Don’t eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That’s it. Eternal life. Eternal happiness. All you could ever want or need. Just don’t eat the fruit. And they do it anyway. Uzziah, by all earthly standards had his own Garden of Eden. Triumph over his enemies, peace in his kingdom, wealth and health and family. But he couldn’t resist. His pride made him believe that God’s rules were not for him. That surely God wouldn’t punish HIM! After all, he was the KING! The blessed one of God! Rules were for other people. But then he was afflicted by leprosy. Disease is the great equalizer in society because it doesn’t care about power, money, or fame. It afflicts everyone the same. Uzziah had to leave all he ever had and live elsewhere. His kingship, his family, even the temple was closed to him. And for what? Burning incense?

As a society, we don’t do a good job of tempering pride.

In fact, we encourage it. We’re told we’re supposed to take pride in ourselves, take pride in our accomplishments, take pride in our work. We’ve even changed the meaning of the word to make it more acceptable. Today, we define pride as a feeling of deep satisfaction at one’s own achievements or others who are close to us.[6] But that’s not pride. That’s happiness or satisfaction or pleasure. Pride is much more insidious than that. Webster’s defines pride as “a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people, a feeling that you are more important or better than other people.”[7] That’s what pride is. It’s the feeling that others need to recognize how wonderful you are. And it’s why we get mad when we don’t win the trophy or don’t get that promotion, because we feel we deserve it! That’s why we’re bitter when our favorite teams lose to their arch-rivals. It’s pride. Pride as Lewis said, is competitive by nature and requires us to always be better than others. To be rich, others have to be poor. To be famous, others have to be anonymous. To be worthy, others have to be…unworthy. It’s why we balk when kids get participation trophies instead of feeling good for them. We DESERVE it!

Ohio State running up the score?
Ohio State running up the score?

To me, this is best exemplified by college football.

Every team going into the season wants to be the best. The goal is to win a national championship. Now some teams are more likely than others to do that, but every team wants to be #1. It’s a source of pride for a university to say they’ve won a national championship. No matter how old that championship is, it’s a source of pride. Even if that university hasn’t won another in 50 years, they still go back to that one day when they beat everybody else. In today’s championship race, it’s more than winning that’s important. It’s crushing your opponent. The way the computer rankings work, you are rated on any number of criteria – strength of schedule, win-loss record, poll rankings – and to move up, you have to do better. It’s not enough to win. You have to crush your opponent. You have to demoralize them to the point that they are an embarrassment to the community. In the past, when a victory was in hand, the coach would let his “B” team go in and mop up the game. Not any more. Since strength of schedule is so important, you have to beat your opponent by as much as possible to insure you have the best ranking. Coaches leave their starters in even when they are up by as much as 49 points. 7 full touchdowns! Last year that happened in a game between Ohio State and Penn State. Winning 63-14 in the third quarter, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer challenged a ruling on the field. Good sportsmanship would have said to let that one go. Really. You’re already up by 49 points. But Meyer had to consider that his team was fourth in the polls. It wasn’t enough – and honestly it wasn’t – just to beat Penn State. They had to demolish them. But think about what that says about us as a society? What does that say about the kind of people we are? That to get ahead we want to completely obliterate other human beings. But that’s where pride takes us. That’s what it means to “deserve” the accolades of others.

Do you let pride take root in your soul?

Are there times you could easily solve an argument with two words, “I’m sorry.” Are there times when you could let the other person off the hook by simply saying, “I forgive you,” or “I understand?” Is it pride that gets in the way of your relationships with others? I would like you this week to challenge yourself to do one simple, but difficult thing. Put pride aside. Put pride aside. If we are to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, it won’t be by running up the score. It won’t be by rubbing it in people’s faces that our way is the ONLY way. It will only be by taking on the persona of Christ who as God of the universe humbled himself to become one of us. It will only be through humility and servanthood that we can be an effective witness for Christ in the world. So be a servant this week. Serve one another. Serve your families and your friends and your loved ones. Don’t look for accolades or compliments or any kind of praise. Just serve out of the love of God and the love of one another. If we are to avoid the mistakes of King Uzziah it will only be by remembering that we are all humble before God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 125.

[2] C.S. Lewis in his book used a very similar example and I updated it for our modern culture, but the inspiration comes from his great mind.

[3] http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/p23-210.pdf http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/moneymatters/a/edandearnings.htm

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_sports

[5] C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, p.123

[6] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/pride

[7] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pride

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