We live in a world of mixed messages and competing ideas.
Every day we are bombarded with messages, images, advertisements, stories, pictures, quotes, passages, and, yes, even sermons that attempt to influence our lives and how we interact with others. Part of life today is about trying to understand these messages and what they are saying to us.
Sometimes we do not know how to evaluate these messages. It is challenging to try and understand what the world is telling us. My Sunday School class, which starts next week, will help us in this task. No, I’m not beneath making a plug for something in the sermon.
To be sure, culture speaks to us daily. As followers of Christ, we must wrestle with our faith and what it affirms or challenges about the world around us. One of the places where culture speaks to us has influenced all of us in one way or another – how we view the self. Perhaps the most overwhelming message of our culture today is that the individual person is at the center of everything.
We are the center of our lives. The individual self is the most important. This is the message we hear from our culture, and we hear it over and over again. Social media sites encourage us to promote the best of ourselves. Advertisers spend millions trying to convince us that life is all about trying to make us feel better, which, of course, happens when we purchase their product. Modern day writers and, yes, even theologians often tell us that happiness is found when the self is cared for above all else.
When we put all of this together, it is not difficult to see that there is an overarching theme to these messages. We are the most important player in the game of life. It is all about us. Life is about me. Life is about what I want, what I get out of it, and what I need to do to achieve success. This overarching message is so engrained in us that we have allowed our culture to tell us that it is OK to ignore another person, so long as we get what we want out of life.
The self-focused life is at the center of how our culture informs our days. But, is it at the center of how Jesus desires for us, as his followers, to live out our lives in response to our faith in the Lord?
This question speaks to us as we study today’s passage from Luke 14:7-11. Jesus is at a dinner party with a group of Pharisees. They were watching Jesus closely to see how he would interact with them. Would he be on his best behavior or would he continue teaching in ways that challenged much of what they and the culture of the time thought to be true? So far, the dinner had not gone as the Pharisees had planned. It was held on the Sabbath, and Jesus had already violated one rule by healing someone who was sick. Imagine a dinner party filled with lots of tension and you have the scene that was already apparent when we come upon these verses.
It is a tension that is not going to ease anytime soon. This is because Jesus witnessed a very normal occurrence that inspired a deep moment of teaching. In those days, you would sit around a table and recline on sofas that were U-shaped. These sofas circled the table. The guests, upon their arrival, would fight for the best seat. That seat was at the center of the U, because this seat meant that you were the most important person at the party. Everyone wanted this honor.
Jesus notices this and says kingdom living is not about fighting for our place. Kingdom living is not about trying to secure something out of this life. Kingdom living, Jesus says in this parable, is about something else. Something deeper and truer to the life of God and what God has for us. Kingdom living is about living lives of humility. If we truly want to follow in the footsteps of Christ, then we will be people who sincerely and daily practice humility.
What does Jesus mean by humility? Jesus means for us to take on a posture of self-sacrifice. Humility means to let go of having our focus strictly upon ourselves and turning our attention towards others. It is not, however, about saying that we are not worthy or good enough. Instead, humility is about living in recognition that someone or something may be more important than us. The best picture of humility comes to us in Philippians 2, where Paul echoes an early Church hymn that speaks of Christ humbling himself to take on the form of a human as Jesus. It is the picture of letting go of the focus on self in order to focus on others.
Jesus says those who practice humility will be blessed. It is the opposite of what many in the party experienced. As they fought for the best seat, often they experience shame and embarrassment when the host comes and tells them someone more important has arrived. Jesus says those who practice humility daily would not experience this. They would receive the reward and blessings from God’s kingdom. Humility is a characteristic that Christ desires of all of his followers.
Humility, letting go of complete focus of the self, is a radical concept. It was a radical notion then, just as it is today. In Jesus’ time, humility was not a valued characteristic. We see this in how they fought over the best seat. To be a person of humility was to be considered weak. It was an uncomfortable practice.
To be honest, it is something we are uncomfortable with today. Humility for us, sometimes, is more of a tool that we use to get what we really want from someone. For instance, we will say that we’re not the right person for a task when deep down we know that we’re the best person for the job. We may even act humble only so that someone will feel obligated to brag about how great we know that we truly are. So often, humility is used to turn the attention back on us.
Humility is not something we might practice on a regular basis, but it is something that Jesus calls us to in our lives. So how do we begin? If we truly want to practice humility, then we must look upon Christ as our example. Jesus’ earthly ministry was about humility. Nothing Jesus did was intended to put the focus upon himself. The miracles, teachings, and acts of love were all intended to give glory and focus to the Father. Jesus continually surrendered himself so that the Father would be made known through him and so that others could experience the grace of God.
Jesus was not about himself. Indeed, Christ, by his very nature, is a servant. Jesus could have easily made everything he did in this world about himself. Instead, he continually chose the posture of a servant who went to his knees and washed the feet of others. Jesus routinely took upon himself the tasks that seemed “beneath him” in order to give attention and focus to the Father.
If we want to be humble, if we truly want to live lives of humility, then we must be willing to practice the life of Christ in our daily lives. We must be people of humble service who daily choose to walk and live as Jesus would live. Servanthood, giving of ourselves in order to focus of others, is at the heart of what it means to be humble and to live lives of humility. It is about giving of ourselves so that others may experience God’s grace.
Humility also mean that life is not about us. We are not the center of attention. We are not the stars in the game of life. Christ is the star and our focus. The way to living lives of humility is by continually keeping Jesus at the very center of who we are. If Christ is at our center, then nothing else will keep us from our focus. We will not be about serving our own selves, but about serving Christ and the other, both of whom we so often ignore.
Humility is difficult, because we just cannot let go of being at the center of it all. We want all the attention and glory. Jesus is the one who deserved all glory, yet he never sought the attention for himself. He sought it for the Father so that we may all have a relationship with him through faith in Christ and the life of the Holy Spirit.
A humble life will produce the blessings of God. It will lead us closer to what God desires for us and bring us into a deeper relationship with the Lord. Through grace and by humble living, we experience more of what God desires for us. This is what I want for you, for your lives, for myself, and for our church.
Living a life of humility is to take on the deeper life of Christ by allowing the Lord to be at the center of who we are. That is humility. To recognize that this life is not about us, but about Christ working in us, is a very important declaration of faith. What if we all made this declaration of faith today to live lives of humility, to live as though Christ is at our center and not ourselves? What would be different about how we engaged the world? What would be different about us? What would be different about us here at Trinity? What if we were willing to truly live as if Christ was at the center of everything we are, everything we do, and everything we seek to be?