LEARNING FROM LUKE: HUMBLENESS
Luke 14: 1; 7-14
One of the hottest and driest summers in recent years brought out a couple of
items worth mentioning. For one thing, I heard a joke about baptisms.in the midst of water restrictions. But to do it, I have to ask you: “Do you know how hot it was?” And you call back to me: “How hot was it?” So let’s try it: “Do you know how hot it was?” “How hot was it?” I’m glad you asked! It was so hot that Baptists resorted to sprinkling, Methodists resorted to wet washcloths, and Presbyterians gave out rain checks! What a hot summer it’s been in Volusia County! But that is nothing compared to the heat and fires in California and much of the American West. Out of control fires brought an attitude adjustment among many who were in harm’s way. Fierce fires brought people out who were humbled by the sheer threat. I remember in the Florida fires of 1998, woods were burning near our home in Port Orange. It was not a tragic, blanketing kind of fire, but one that needed attention before it got that way. An attitude of pride and self-confidence allowed one fire truck and a couple of firefighters to think they could put out the fire by themselves. When they finally decided they needed help, a neighbor heard them put in a call for New Smyrna Beach firefighters to come help. “Why,” the neighbor asked them, “don’t you call a fire company closer?” The neighbor learned they would never call one of the other fire companies. It had to do with territorial issues and union vs. non-union firefighters. Meanwhile fires were beginning to threaten structures. Out in California, I have heard nothing about territory. The intensity of the fires has fighters working all for one and one for all. Likewise, I have rarely seen a communities behaving like families of God the way they do when natural disasters strike, or in the face of some human menace. Whether with hurricanes, or with devastating shootings like in Orlando this summer, people set aside pride, nationality, and other dividing issues and choose to just help a fellow human being. In Amatrice, Italy this week, the devastating earthquake has everyone helping others, through dirt, and tears, and pain. A spirit of humbleness set in in all of these situations. “We’re in this together” was the way people were thinking. And the world rallies to these devastating events. Prayers, clothes, and food get offered. In earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, or tornadoes, we are humbled before the forces of nature. God’s comfort and tears are often felt in those moments of panic. When someone sees a man with a gun; or a school or a clinic has a bomb threat called in; one may find neighbors helping neighbors. But the threat of nature brings out some of the greatest feelings of helplessness and humbleness in the midst of shock. The world has felt compassion for the little Syrian boy in Alepo, with his face and hair caked with dirt, blood dried in a trickle by his ears, and his eyes staring out, just occasionally blinking. What a sight. It makes some say “Whatever fighting or hatred that brought this bloodshed needs to stop!” It is an ageless problem. Even the Bible has plenty of lessons about brother rising up against brother and looking out for number one: Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers; Saul and David; Herod and anybody else! But humbleness was never the crown of the conqueror. A conqueror may be cunning, clever, or ruthless, but never humble. If we contrast them with those God chooses to lead, they are great because they serve their Lord; they are humble to be chosen by God and obedient to him. They end up in the hall of holy fame because they were faithful. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, Mary, Jesus, Paul. They were humble people because they faced human struggles. Humbleness, humility, servanthood; people with those qualities don’t often make the Fortune 500 list. Our world may clamor for polished cars, gleaming towers, streamlined offices, or Martha Stewart perfection in hospitality. Our world may also honor those who sit on thrones of the world or at the head of Board room tables. But what touches God? Who does God seem to notice, and to use to reach others? Think about who Jesus blessed. In today’s text Jesus noticed how some guests invited to a dinner chose to sit in the best seats. Then he told them a story. The story is about the human race. And it is about the people who God spots, through whom God chooses to work; like the small woman from Calcutta who chose to do God’s work with the poorest of the poor. The world called her “Mother Teresa.” Sister Susan of Grace Episcopal Church here in Port Orange worked along side of her for a period of time and will offer a presentation and retreat the Sunday afternoon of 9/11 at her church at 3:00 p.m. called “My Experience with Mother Teresa in India.” Susan saw a woman of humbleness and service. Humbleness and service sometimes look like simple things: like a church member who will give up a day to help comfort another person who has lost a loved one. It’s when an able bodied person decides to stand up in a crowded shuttle so a person struggling to stand can have a seat. It’s about the hostess who serves the guests first before taking a portion for herself, relieved that there is enough food. It’s about not hurrying to be ahead of everyone else in a food line. Treating others as guests, the way Jesus told it in the parable, is also about humility. Sometimes it is even about persons who suffer the humility of embarrassment.
There was a minister years ago who attended a big mission conference in Chicago. He was in a big, downtown church, the kind with the long center aisle that slanted down toward the front. It was time to see the film in the days when churches used a projector and a screen. The host pastor asked the film to be started. But the projectionist hadn’t arrived. He asked the minister who brought the film: “Can you, Pastor, start the film?” “Sure!” he said confidently. Hundreds of people had gathered by that time and were waiting for the film to begin. The projector was in the back of the church and the large screen was set up at the end of the aisle at the front of the church. The master of ceremonies gushed over how grateful he was to have a minister who knew how to handle such equipment. As the minister put the film reel on the projector, the missionary gushed over him, calling him “the audio-visual expert from New York.” The man beamed with pride. The giant reel was in place and the film was threaded to the take up reel. Everything was set; the lights were dimmed, and the movie began. Some of you will remember that on those old movie projectors, some had a little toggle on the stem to hold the reel on the projector. Guess who forgot to latch it? With a quick thwang, the reel with the film fell to the ground and began rolling down the slanted aisle to the front of the church, unraveling film as it went. The flustered minister charged down after it with the movie showing on his backside as he tried to catch and re-roll the runaway reel! Providentially after the film, the program that December evening called for a reading from Mary’s Magnificat. One of the lines was: “God has put down the mighty from their thrones!”
Humility in our day must have set in as some of the Space X rockets they sent into the air blew up or landed and tipped over. But they keep trying! I remember the chagrin at the Cape years ago when two shuttles in a row did not launch successfully. The Space X team will all do their job better next time because the rug of self-assurance has been pulled from under them. In 1912, the White Star Line kept building ships after the Titanic sank, but they added a double hull bottom and stopped allowing headlines like “God himself could not sink this ship.” Smugness and arrogance in part sank that ship. J. Bruce Ismay, head of the company, would not approve having enough lifeboats for all passengers as engineer Thomas Andrews had urged because “too many boats will frighten the passengers and it would give the promenade deck a cluttered appearance.” God brings down the proud, and undergirds the humble. Jesus told parables to back up his words: “Whoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Old Testament has one of the greatest stories of humbleness. You can read about it in 1 Samuel and it includes two main characters: Saul- the tall, handsome, people-pleasing man who had a tarnished character, and the man God chose to succeed, or rather, overthrow him. A humble man with a heart that was true. David was the youngest son of Jesse. He was out tending his father’s sheep when God’s appointed people came looking for a king. After David was asked if he would agree to be king, he was anointed and the Lord’s spirit began to fill him. He who is faithful in the smaller things can be trusted with the greater things: Jesus taught it; God knew it; and David exemplified it. He didn’t go out to run a campaign, or buy new clothes, or hire a manager. He responded with humbleness. Later Saul was jealous and sought to murder David. And at a time when he returned to the land of the Philistines, the one whose giant he killed when he was a boy, David was a desperate man, faking insanity and drooling to escape capture in 1Samuel 21:13. David was panicked. David, the king-elect, retreated to the cave of Engedi. He did what I have done, and perhaps you have done, when he was struggling: he called out to God. David’s cry to God is recorded in Psalm 142. Try reading that lament one night and see if you feel a kindred spirit with David. When you are truly in the cave of your life, humbleness is that quality that starts you back toward God. Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll writes: “some of us are living in an emotional cave, where it is dark and dismal and damp and disillusioning. Perhaps the hardest part of all is that we cannot declare the truth to anybody else because it is so desperate … so lonely. I weary of the philosophy that the Christian life is just one silver-lined cloud after another—just soaring. It is not! Sometimes the Christian life includes a deep, dark cave. The conversion of a soul is a miracle of a moment, but the making of a saint is the task of a lifetime. And god isn’t about to give up [on you.] (Swindoll, DAVID, p. 78.)
Marks of true humbleness: are they yours? Can you give a gift without needing credit for it? Are you expecting God to bless you or choose you for a task, or are you just busy with the tasks of life? Do you push to be first or to be noticed? Do you have an entitlement attitude? As the fires of California and the earthquake in Italy have taken away most of the “I can do this on my own attitudes” there, may we join them, come to our knees before the Almighty, and know that God will be there, for you, and for me.