Archive for humility

Greatness and Awkward Silences

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2018 by timtrue

Delivered to St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Temecula, California on September 23, 2018.

Mark 9:30-37

1.

Who’s the greatest among us?

No, seriously, look around our world. What kind of person more often than not comes out ahead? Who fills the top leadership positions? Who wins?

Isn’t it all too often the pushiest, most self-promoting people? People in other contexts we might call bullies?

It happens on school playgrounds all the world over. It also happens in corporate America. In our individualistic and highly independent society, people don’t rise to positions of leadership by being meek and mild. Rather, they get there by fighting their way to the top.

After all, vying for the top job means you’ve got to compete against others; to make yourself look better than the competition.

I’ve said it before; the beatitudes is not a list of attributes anyone would want to include on a résumé. Vying for that top job requires a certain amount of self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and relentlessness.

Even my former seminary dean—one of the meekest, mildest, and humblest men I’ve ever known—admitted to having to fight his way in order to get there.

Like it or not, it’s how we rise through the ranks. We figure out who the most important people are, we catch their attention, and we make ourselves look good in their eyes.

And it wasn’t much different in Jesus’ day.

A common Roman citizen could become a member of the equites, or even a senator—with enough hard work, networking, catching the attention of important onlookers, and a good dose of shameless self-promotion—to come out looking better than everyone else he was competing against.

Except . . . Jesus was a great man, perhaps the greatest man of all—no argument there—but he didn’t fit this definition! At all! Jesus didn’t compete with those who were in line to be the next synagogue leader. Jesus didn’t vie for social or popular position, hoping to catch the eye of the important persons in his community.

What do we do with Jesus?

2.

Which leads me to think about another way we sometimes argue about greatness. And I think this other way is what we find in today’s Gospel. Here’s what I mean:

So, today’s Gospel is structured around two awkward silences.

The first happens because, the text says, the disciples were afraid to respond to Jesus.

Jesus had been telling them some hard things; and they don’t understand what he was talking about.

But they don’t ask him to clarify. Instead, they remain silent. And it’s awkward; because, the text states, “they were afraid to ask him.”

I wonder if this has anything to do with last week’s Gospel. Last week, remember, Jesus started out by asking the questions, “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?”

And after Peter answered, “You are the Messiah of Israel,” Jesus said then almost exactly the same things he says now:

The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.

But last week, when Peter tried to clarify, Jesus called him Satan!

So this week, apparently—I’m guessing—the disciples are afraid to say anything because no one wants to be called Satan again.

And thus: Awkward Silence Number One.

The second occurs some time later, when Jesus and his disciples have arrived at their destination, a house in Capernaum; and Jesus asks them, “What were you arguing about along the way?”

Well, no one says anything because they were arguing about who was the greatest. That would be an embarrassing admission.

And thus: Awkward Silence Number Two.

And here’s how we want to interpret it. We hear about this second awkward silence and we, from our modern-day point of view, assume that the disciples must have been bragging, spouting off their credentials to one another, vying for position, competing, justifying why Jesus loves me more than he loves you.

3.

But I don’t think this is the right way to interpret today’s Gospel. Rather, I’m pretty sure this argument about who is the greatest directly relates to the first awkward silence.

The disciples were afraid to ask him to explain himself because no one wanted to be singled out.

Still, they must have been concerned. Jesus would be betrayed, killed, and resurrected? These are disconcerting statements. What in the world did he mean by them?

So, you know how it is when there’s a task that no one wants to do; one person says something like, “I’m not gonna ask him; you ask him!”

And a second disciple retorts, “Why should I ask him? I’m not even a part of his inner circle. That’s Peter, James, Philip, and Andrew. Why doesn’t one of them ask him? Why, all four of them are greater than me.”

And so the first disciple answers, “Good idea! Yeah, they’re greater than us. One of them should ask. I’ll go talk to Philip.”

But when Philip is asked, he feels in no greater position than anyone else—never mind that he was the first disciple ever called—what does that have to do with anything anyway?—and so he protests.

And so on.

Until most if not all of the disciples are in an all-out argument along the way about which of them is the greatest and therefore obligated, as the appointed spokesperson, to approach Jesus.

Which, when it all pans out, is really kind of embarrassing; and awkward silences result.

4.

Arguing about greatness can go both ways.

When it works to our advantage to be greater than the next person—competing for a prestigious position or whatever—we tend to promote ourselves, to tell everyone around us how great we are and why.

Or, when it works to our advantage to step out of the limelight—because there’s a hard task ahead that no one really wants to do or whatever—we tend to shirk it off, to tell everyone around us that we’re nobody special, really, and would therefore rather not be bothered.

Either way, however, after we boil down all the arguments for why we are or are not the greatest, the one substance remaining in the petri dish is ego. At the end of the day, we humans are wired to look out for number one.

And so Jesus calls over a small child.

Small children in Jesus’ day were thought of as sub-human, technically the property of their fathers.

Small children, in Jesus’ day, were insignificant shadows in their world.

In our day, thankfully, we pay a lot more attention to small children—in some ways. In public education, foster care, sports leagues, and many other ways we value our small children.

Still, in our arguments about greatness, have things changed all that much?

The relentless pursuit to become something or somebody greater, to amass more wealth, to acquire more clients, to increase in status, to become more well-known and respected—is a small child concerned with these things? Is a small child impressed by how much money you make, or how socially connected you are, or how beautiful you are? Is a small child the person we call on to do the hard tasks no one else wants to do?

Well, no, no, and no.

And so, sadly, for many people in our day, small children are just insignificant shadows.

But to welcome a small child in Christ’s name—to take the time to say hello to, read to, play with, spend time with; to welcome a small child not for any kind of personal recognition but for the simple joy of sharing Christ’s love—this is true greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven.

In short, to welcome a small child; to put a small child ahead of oneself—there is no ego in that.

The Kingdom of Heaven turns our world upside down.

Today we want to recognize some in our midst: commission the preschool teachers and staff. . . .

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How Much More Humility?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2016 by timtrue

maccari-cicero1

Luke 18:9-14

This past Thursday I attended Fresh Start: a monthly gathering of clergy new to the diocese, or to a new position in the diocese. Father Paul was there, as he has just started a position as Priest-in-Charge in El Centro and Brawley.  Some newly ordained priests and transitional deacons were there too.  It’s a collegial group, whose purpose is to gather and discuss issues pertinent to our unique calling to the ordained ministry.

On the docket this month was a somewhat provocative question: How should we preach about politics, especially in light of the upcoming election and recent feelings of increased polarization?

It’s a good question to consider.  The election is less than three weeks away.  Which leaves me only today and two more Sundays to address it.  Should I name the political elephant in the room?  Or, on the other hand, should the church be the one haven in our world where we can still find a vestige of refuge from the political circus all around us?

Of course, different preachers take different approaches.

You may or may not know that in 2004 the Rev. George Regas preached a sermon in All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, which led to an investigation by the IRS.  Regas explicitly stated he was not endorsing one candidate over another.  Yet in his sermon—an imagined conversation between Jesus, John Kerry, and George W. Bush—he very much advocated for issues supported by Kerry and opposed by Bush.  And thus, yes, despite him saying he did not endorse one candidate over another, it sure seemed otherwise—to the IRS anyway!

And the IRS matters!

For, according to IRS code, if a preacher tells his congregation how to vote, that preacher’s church can lose tax-exempt status.  To be sure, if I were to stand up here this morning and tell you why you should or shouldn’t for one candidate or another, the IRS would consider St. Paul’s in violation of church and state laws: we could lose our tax-exempt status.

In fact, in recent months our own bishop raised some eyebrows in a diocesan letter in which he named Donald Trump and argued why we shouldn’t vote for him.  Concern was raised over whether the entire Episcopal Diocese of San Diego might fall under the IRS’s scrutiny, and what that would mean for congregations in the diocese (including St. Paul’s).

Preachers in favor of naming names in letters or sermons, including the bishop, rightly argue that as ministers of the Gospel we need the liberty to preach the full Gospel of Christ.

To which other preachers, including me, say, yes, we do need such liberty; but can’t we have it without naming names? Without endorsing or opposing a specific candidate?

To muddle the waters just a little more, during his earthly ministry even Jesus himself named a political figure, Herod; and called him a fox!

Anyway, such was our clergy discussion on Thursday. And thus we come to today’s Gospel: a thoroughly political text.

For, in the first place, I can’t help but associate at least one of the major candidates of this presidential race with the Pharisee.

Two men went up to the temple to pray.  One, a Pharisee, said (essentially), “Dear God, thank you that I’m better than everyone else.”

I mean, doesn’t this sound similar to the political debates?

Just for fun, what if the moderator of the final debate, Chris Wallace, would have asked, “Candidates, as this debate begins, I’d like you each to offer an opening prayer.”  What would that prayer have been?

It’s not hard to imagine the words of the Pharisee: “Dear God, I thank you that I’m not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like that [other candidate], right over there.”

It doesn’t matter which candidate you happen to favor.  It’s the same for both sides.  One prays, “Thanks that I’m not a thief, like her”; whereas the other prays, “Thanks that I’m not an adulterer, like him.”

And, if you’re like me, you’re left scratching your head wondering when anyone’s going to give a reasonable answer to any of the issues at hand.

But we don’t really identify too closely with the Pharisee anyway.  Or at least we don’t want to.  Isn’t he the real reason the system is so messed up in the first place?

He’s a leader in society, in the established system.  But what is his position of leadership but to enforce the rules and regulations established by the system in the first place!

The Roman Empire’s really messed up when you sit down and think about it.  There are masses of people led by smaller and smaller groups of leaders until finally you reach the top of the pyramid: the emperor.  The Jewish leaders are really just one layer, about halfway up the strata, orchestrated ultimately by the system in order to keep the masses in check.

The Pharisee’s in a position to do something about it.  So why doesn’t he?  He’s a community leader.  Why doesn’t he then lead his community out of the oppressive system that enslaves them?  Why does he instead keep the system in place, perpetuating the bondage?

At any rate, that’s not us.  We really can’t identify with him.

Instead, we really just want to associate with the tax collector. After all, he’s the one who said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and beat his breast and repented and went home justified by God.

So can’t we just focus on him today?  Can’t we just come to church and forget about the political circus?  Can’t we just gather with others, pray and sing together, listen to a normal sermon (for once!), gather at the Lord’s Table, and just go home justified by God?  Can’t we?  Please?

Oh, I wish it were so simple!

But here’s what happens when we come to church and focus just on the tax collector.  We meet, pray, sing, and commune; and we go home justified by God; and we turn on the news or open our computers or look at our phones; and all of a sudden we’re thinking, “Dear God, thank you that I am not like these ridiculous presidential candidates.  Thank you that at least I have the discipline to go to church.  Thank you that I pray and give.  Thank you that. . . .”

And we end up proud.  We end up justifying ourselves.  We become the Pharisee.  And we forget the point of this parable: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

And yet, even so—even if we focus just on the tax collector—I’m sorry to say, here too, in the second place, we can’t avoid politics.  For the tax collector is part of this oppressive Roman system too: tax collectors were employed by the powers-that-be to control people economically.

Think of the modern credit card economy we live with.

Do you ever feel enslaved to it?  Do you ever feel as if the powers-that-be calculate interest rates to be just the right amount—just enough to keep you in debt but not so much to bankrupt you?

That’s how the masses felt towards the tax collector.  Except it wasn’t a big company to be mad at, like Chase or Capital One or the Emperor’s 1st Bank, but at an individual person.

So this made the tax collector wealthy, sure; but also very alone, a kind of middle-manager outcast.  You can almost imagine him waking up one day and asking himself, “How did I get here?  Back when I was going to college and decided to major in finance, I never dreamed I’d end up here.  Yeah, college!  Those were the days!  Back then I lived on $600 a month.  Now, what with two kids in college and ever-increasing medical costs, I can’t even make ends meet with six figures!  I’m trapped forever in middle management!”

No wonder he leaves the temple humbled instead of proud!

The Pharisee is more like an executive, a more active player in perpetuating the system that’s in place, a system of rules and regulations; a system of boundaries which keep people in their place.

Either way, though, the present system has both the Pharisee and the tax collector in a kind of bondage!

Maybe you relate more to the tax collector.  How did you get here?  Now that you’re here, what can you do about it, if anything?  You feel trapped.

Or maybe you find yourself more able to relate to the Pharisee.  You’re a leader of society, a public figure.  Everywhere you go you’ve got to mind your Ps and Qs—lest some sort of Yuma scandal break out!  From time to time you wonder about issues of social justice and whether you can do anything to change injustice or maybe if in fact you’re part of the injustice.  You feel trapped too.

Either way it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t really matter who we are or what we do—whether we’re presidential candidates or parishioners in a pew; whether we identify more with the Pharisee or the tax collector.

God is after a broken spirit and a contrite heart.

God justifies the humble Pharisee just as much as the humble tax collector.  On the other hand, God humbles both the proud presidential candidate and the proud parishioner in the pew.

God calls us to be humble. We learn this from the tax collector who teaches us to focus on individual humility: he beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”; and went home justified by God as an individual.

But there’s more to it than just individual humility.  This we learn from the Pharisee.  He turns our thoughts outward, to society.  He’s not just an individual working within an oppressive system (like the tax collector), but a representative of the system.

And thus, turning our thoughts outward, a question confronts us: What about our systems?  Is God humbling us not just as individuals but also as a society?

Think about our immediate system, the Church.

We lament over the Church’s decline of the last four decades.  Attendance has been steadily falling.  Budgets have been continuously shrinking.  Many congregations around the country and the world are finding that they can no longer sustain their programs and buildings.

Is this decline God’s doing?  Is God humbling the Church’s pride?

Maybe.

Whatever the case, this so-called decline, which so many people see as negative, has a positive side: the Church is asking important questions that have needed to be asked for a very long time—questions about gender, sexuality, race, and authority.

In essence, the Church is looking around and saying, “How did we end up here?  Back in the early days we lived on $600 a month.  Now we can’t even seem to make ends meet on six figures!  God, be merciful to us sinners!”

We see a corporate humility.

Nevertheless—I don’t have to tell you—much pride remains in the Church.  All too often, the word bishop is interchangeable with ego.

How much more humbling needs to take place?

Now, let’s look at the bigger system: What about our nation?

With this election cycle, American democracy seems to have changed fundamentally.

Is this God’s doing?  Is God humbling our nation?

Maybe.

As a nation, we’ve begun to ask the right questions; questions that have needed to be asked for a long time; questions about gender, sexuality, race, and authority.  Attempts are made at righting past wrongs.  Strategies are developed to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.  Thoughts are turning toward the common good.  These are all signs of national humility.

Nevertheless, there’s quite a lot of ego floating around.  And I don’t just mean in the presidential race!  Our whole country is wound tight around pride and self-justification—around ego!

How much more humbling needs to take place?

I won’t tell you how to vote.  But, when you vote, please, consider this very important question.

Wisdom Is as Wisdom Does

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , on July 6, 2014 by timtrue

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds (v. 19).

Have you ever considered how nonsensical nursery rhymes can be?

Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top,

          When the wind blows the cradle will rock;

          When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,

          And down will come baby, cradle, and all.

I mean, come on!  Who’d even put their baby in such a precarious spot in the first place?

Or how about,

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

          Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

          All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

          Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Sad!

Or, one more:

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick;

          Jack jump over the candlestick.

Okay, kids, now that I’ve told you that one, don’t try this at home.

Nonsense, right?

Well, as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, there’s nothing new under the sun; for in today’s Gospel Jesus makes a reference to a nonsensical children’s rhyme.

His generation, he says, is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to each other in game-like fashion, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”

Now there are a number of questions that come up if we try to make sense of Jesus’s words here:

  • In the first place, what are children even doing in the marketplaces—the agora, the forum—places in the ancient world generally inhabited during the day by adult males?
  • Supposing the children in the marketplaces are in fact working. Well then, what are they doing playing games—playing when they should be working?
  • Or, supposing it’s a day off, when the agora is closed for business. Supposing the community children have indeed gathered to play. Well then, why aren’t all the children dancing to the flute or joining the dirge; why are only some of the kids playing?

Any way we try to look at it, it’s nonsense.

But that’s Jesus’s point.  Nonsense!  This generation, he says, is responding to John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah in ways that amount to nonsense.

For John came fasting and wearing a camel shirt, and people say he has a demon; whereas Jesus came eating and drinking—generally rejoicing in the coming of the New Kingdom—and people say he’s a glutton and drunkard, a friend of riff-raff.

What nonsense!

Then Jesus says these words: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Right here, right after stating that his generation is being nonsensical—or, to use another word, foolish—right after stating that his generation is being foolish, he drives his point home with a stark contrast: wise vs. foolish.

You see, his generation—especially the religious leaders of his generation, those men who would have conducted business day after day in the marketplaces—considered themselves wise.

They had studied the Torah since early childhood, working through the ins and outs of Jewish history, memorizing the subtleties and complexities of the law.  They had been schooled in their present cultural context—able to worship their own God in a temple built by that Roman, Herod.  They were looking for a militant savior to free them from Roman domination, a savior they just knew would come.  They knew all these things and more.  They were savvy in the knowledge of how to get around in their world.  They were wise.  And they knew it!

Yet Jesus calls them foolish!

Their wisdom is folly.  Real wisdom—the kind of wisdom shown by people like John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth; the kind of wisdom we too can possess—real wisdom will be vindicated by its own deeds.  Or, to put it even more simply: wisdom is as wisdom does.

Today, we are a lot like the “generation” Jesus addresses here.

We live in a world where expertise is highly valued.  We challenge little kids to think a lot about what they want to be when they grow up.  We encourage our college-bound adolescents to pick a field of study that will make them money when they enter the workforce.  As adults, we like to hear what the “experts” have to say on a given topic; other voices are less trustworthy.  We value expertise.

But godly wisdom is not the same thing as expertise.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Expertise is a good thing.  Without it, we would not have the technology, comforts, conveniences, and arts we all enjoy.

But none of this expertise is necessary for a person to possess true wisdom.  That’s what Jesus is telling the experts of his generation; and that’s what Jesus is telling us.

Godly wisdom comes only to whom the Son chooses to reveal it.

And here’s the really good news: Jesus’s yoke is easy and his burden is light—not like the yoke and burden of pursuing expertise in a chosen field.  Jesus is gentle and humble in heart; in him you will find rest for your souls.

So then, what does this godly wisdom look like?  How do we acquire it?  For the answer I turn to Jesus’s prayer in our passage, which begins:

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Two things stand out to me.  The first is thankfulness.

“I thank you, Father,” Jesus begins.

The significance here comes when we realize just where Jesus is in his earthly ministry.  Things aren’t going well, to be sure.  Jesus has begun his ministry, he’s preached some sermons and performed some miracles.  He’s sent out the twelve on an early mission.  And now he’s being persecuted.  The religious leaders of his day, his generation, do not like what he is about.  They do not like the non-violent changes that Jesus demands.  Jesus finds himself, then, in the midst of a great deal of inter-personal angst.

But he’s thankful!

Which leads me to wonder.  How thankful are you?  How thankful am I?

When life seems to be caving in around you, when a project at work or school doesn’t go the way you planned, you’re about to miss an urgent deadline, a client isn’t happy with you, or you’re being reported by a disgruntled co-worker—or whatever—I wonder: do you thank God?

What do you mean, you ask, do I thank God?  How can I thank God in these situations?

Well, I answer, have you ever tried?

Just last week my car broke down.  My whole family was with me in the car.  We drove to MICC, for Family Camp.  Just after arriving, however, the car wouldn’t start—dead battery!  So, ugh, major hassle.  I called a local parts supplier, who had a battery in stock and the tools to replace it.  And, half an hour later, the job was done; we were back in business.

That’s when it occurred to me just how many little blessings had occurred.  The breakdown happened at the conference center, where my family could sit comfortably inside an air-conditioned room—not up the road, in the middle of nowhere, where we’d stopped for gas.  We had arrived early, so that I could go through some pre-camp training; as it turns out, I had enough extra time to fix the problem without interfering with my other obligations.  And so on.  The more I thought about it, the more I found myself thankful and grateful, until I heard myself say out loud, “God is good.”

Turn a bad situation good.  When things go wrong, look for the blessings in it all.

And the second thing that stands out to me: humility.

“Father,” Jesus prays, “[you] have revealed them to infants.”

Wisdom to infants.  But what is an infant?  Perhaps you’ve heard this statement before:  “Of all mammals, the only one that cannot swim on its own shortly after birth is the human being.”  Now I don’t know if it’s a true statement or not.  But it does convey the idea of just how helpless an infant is; or, another way to look at it, just how utterly dependent an infant is.

This infant-like dependency is the attitude God is looking for.  For here there is no theological sophistication; here there is no illusion about powers of understanding.  A heart that is teachable, a mind that is not already made up—this is what God asks of you.

And what is this but humility?

God is not looking for you to be an expert theologian.  God does not expect you to learn Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek as you grow in your understanding of the scriptures.  God does not require you to be a spiritual leader of hundreds of souls in order for you to grow in your own spirituality.

Instead, whenever you meet Christ, whether here at the altar, in daily prayer, in reading the scriptures, or in spiritual conversation—whenever!—come in an attitude of thankfulness and humility, asking him to increase you in godly wisdom.  You may be surprised at what happens.  In fact, your newfound wisdom may even confound some of the “experts.”

2014 Lent 1

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , , on March 5, 2014 by timtrue

Today is Ash Wednesday, thus marking the beginning of Lent.  I try to create and follow a Lenten discipline for myself each year–something I will do, or something to fast from, etc., through the season, always different than last year–as a way to do some introspection.  How have I grown in my faith over the last year, or not?

Anyway, to get to the point, this year I’ve decided to write something each day during Lent, a short reflection on a passage of scripture drawn from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.  There’s a lectionary in the back, with assigned daily readings.  We are in year two; so the readings for Ash Wednesday are found on page 951.  My options for contemplation today are therefore psalms 32, 95, 102, 130, and 143; Amos 5:6-15; Hebrews 12:1-14; and Luke 18:9-14.  Surely I ought to be able to come up with something, yeah?

So I’ll do this each day in Lent (Sundays excepted): look at the lectionary, decide on a passage, and write a short reflection.  I have no idea what the result will be.  It’s a small journey within the larger pilgrimage of life, one from which I hope to learn a new thing or two about myself and my relationship with Christ this year.  Consider joining me if you like.

So then, Day 1, Ash Wednesday:

Luke 18:9-14

Two men are contrasted in Jesus’s parable: a Pharisee and a tax-collector.  One prays and thanks God that he is so awesome.  The other is obviously humbled, asking God for mercy.  Jesus then concludes this story with a well-known statement: “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

And I think, “Okay, so I need to be humble.  That’s the key!  Then things will go my way.  Then I’ll make ends meet; then people will respect me; then my prayers will be answered; then I will be exalted.”

But here’s the thing.  No one notices the humbled state of the tax-collector in Jesus’s story except God.  Humility is the characteristic Jesus is emphasizing, sure.  But nowhere is there a lesson here that people will treat the humble person respectfully, or that the humble person’s prayers will be answered, or that the humble person’s financial ends will meet, or that the humble person will enjoy good health, or . . .

Nowhere does Jesus say that people won’t push the humble person around.

Since moving to San Antonio I’ve noticed a lot of pushy people.  I don’t really know why.  Maybe it’s because the mountains of Tennessee fostered a slower, more considerate lifestyle; and relocating has brought some hitherto unnoticed observations to the surface.  Maybe the culture of material consumerism around here is epidemic.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been bullied a time too many and I’m now over-sensitized.  Maybe I’m just getting old.  Whatever the reason, there seems to me to be a high percentage of pushy people around here.  And being humble, as Christ encourages, does nothing to alleviate this percentage!

So the temptation, at least for me, is to push back.  Someone tries to push me out of the way and I fight to keep my place.  Otherwise, if I let that person in, three or four others are right there to capitalize on my moment of yielding–three or four others push too and I’ve just lost my place in line altogether.

Get the picture?

So what does it mean that those who humble themselves will be exalted?  Or that those who exalt themselves (pushy people?) will be humbled?

Yet, true as all this may be, Jesus still encourages personal humility.  And nowhere does he say that the humble person will get his way, or that the humble person will make ends meet, or that she will have all her prayers answered.  So, how exactly will the person who humbles himself be exalted?

I’m not sure of the answer.  But a thought occurs to me that Jesus more than any other person humbled himself.  Pushy people pushed him around.  The mocked him, struck him, and spat in his face.  Then they exalted him: they lifted him up–on a cross!

But look at him now.  Look now at how the whole world views him.  Whether Christian or not, the whole world knows his name.  Despite the fact that he walked the earth 2000 years ago!  He has not been forgotten.  Rather, he has been exalted higher than any other.

If nothing else then, this thought is a good reminder to me to let pushy people go about their business; but as for me, I’ll try to follow the way of humility.

But I said, “If nothing else.”  I believe there’s not nothing else to this thought; indeed, there’s much more–more that I will never see or know.