Philippians 2; Matthew 23: 1-12


One of my colleagues in Port Orange is the Rev. Jeff Summers. Really! He is the Pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church. I like him and have enjoyed his stories. If you can believe it, while I was working on my doctor’s degree at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, he was working on his degree there too! So the directory listed Jeffrey Sumner from Port Orange Florida and Jeffrey Summers from Port Orange Florida! One time I asked him what church he served before coming here. He paused for a minute, and then said:

“Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains Georgia.” “Oh do you mean ….” I started to ask. And he interrupted and said, “President Carter’s Church.” He went on to tell me that Plains is a town of about 700 people, and the church has a membership of less than 200. But when Jimmy Carter is in town, he teaches Sunday School! This happens many Sundays of the year and there may be more that 400 people in attendance! Jeff said the former president is just as devoted to Jesus and to the Bible as you might have heard, and he is one of the most humble men he had ever met. He builds Habitat for Humanity homes and shakes the hands of the new residents, the same hands that have shaken hands with Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama. He has the hands of a carpenter; the hands of a good neighbor, the hands of a disciple. And at age 93 he still builds, teaches, and travels.


Who do you know who has those traits of humbleness? I know that Jesus, in Matthew 23, was talking especially to scribes and Pharisees, but I’d image he had to teach that trait to his apostles too! They were from different walks of life and could certainly have gotten impatient with government and taxes and waiting as we do! Getting 12 men to be humble and not compete with one another can be quite a task! In fact even after Peter, James, and John came down the mountain where Jesus was transfigured before them in Luke 9:46, “an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.” Then, if you can believe it, immediately after Jesus gathered his apostles for the Last Supper, “A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” {Luke 22:24] Come on men! Do Jesus’ teachings not sink in?  Who among us, even today, continue to push to be first in line for food, or for recognition, or in traffic? Even the 12 had trouble assimilating this teaching.


Have you thought of a person who is a good description of humbleness? Maybe he or she is one of your balcony persons, that is, ones who have gone before us; one of the saints who is joining us for this communion today?  The one that comes to mind for me was my grandfather. He and his three brothers owned a men’s clothing store. They were equal partners, but when the man who tailored the new suits for their customers died, they searched for a new tailor and found no one. My grandfather said he had watched the tailor do his work, so he would learn the skill. While his other brothers were in front selling clothes, he learned the art and skill of tailoring. He would sit at the back of the store, in the corner between shelves of shoeboxes, at a heavy table with a built in old, heavy duty Singer sewing machine. The tools of this white collar business partner became scissors, different colors of thread, a thimble, a hot dry iron, and a bowl with water where a roll of cloth he sewed together could be dipped in to dampen the fabric and make the iron crease pants nicely. I spent hours back there with him; and we would talk. He was his church choir director for decades, a Shriner, and 33rd Degree Mason, but he never talked about what he was doing. He just did it; and he gave generously to his church and to many charities. He died at 99 years and 10 months. I think of him as we celebrate those who are in their nineties today! What a man; what a friend to others; and what a follower of Jesus.


The apostle Paul had his life changed by Jesus when he appeared to Paul, then Saul, in a vision; after that, Paul so admired Jesus. One of the qualities that he most admired, and most promoted, was his humility; his humbleness. He wrote a piece of poetry that some think could even have been a first century hymn. He wrote it to inspire a group of new Christians and others deciding whether or not to follow Jesus. First he wrote: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.” Then he wrote:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he  humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2: 3-8)


Of all the leaders in the world, or in your school, or in your Google searches, or in your books, this is the one we will want to emulate. He was born into humble, even rude surroundings according to Luke 2:16, where a feeding trough for animals—a manger—was his baby bed. And his mother Mary showed such humility when she, perhaps overwhelmed with the news from an angel, said “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; let it be according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38) We will find out why we will want to have those qualities when we gather at the river in heaven that flows by the throne of God; when we gather with the saints by the river; saints who didn’t get there by pushing or shoving or blowing their own trumpet, but ones who got there by choosing Jesus as their Savior, and thereby finding the grace of God. This is the Lord who invites us to dine with him today; and when we do, we may get a foretaste of being with him in glory.


Let’s look at one final biblical example; of the choice God made for Moses over his brother Aaron or his sister Miriam. He seemed to be free of arrogance and God knew his heart. This is what the Bible says about Moses and his humility:  With every instance according to Numbers 26 and 27, Moses took each case of justice before the Lord, finding the answer, and giving out the decision. After leading the people for 40 years, he still relied on God! From the beginning went Moses humbly and rather reluctantly accepted God’s call to deliver his people from slavery—a Herculean task. He said to God: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the people of Israel out of Egypt?” Who indeed; the man of God’s own choosing; Moses; and the man of God’s own choosing: Jesus; and perhaps preachers over the years, and church members, or people on the streets serving meals, building Habitat homes, or helping men or women turn their lives around.  Are there things you can change in your life to live more like that? As Jesus said: “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled. And those who humble themselves will be exalted.” There could be a place for you, by the river … that flows by the throne of God.”


Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          November 5, 2017