Humility Through Grace

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Who all remembers these lyrics:

“Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day.”

That was by Mac Davis back in the eighties… He was quite the superstar. He sold lots of records, played in large clubs, and even had a TV show. Anyone remember his show? I loved it as a kid. I think it came on right after Hew-Haw, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, he tells the story about one time the owner of a club put him up in a hotel and in a huge hotel room called the “star suite.” And said he woke up at 8 am that first morning and realized he was all alone. He was on top of the world but all alone! That morning he wrote the song to poke fun at himself and his loneliness. You see, back in the early eighties humility was still considered a virtue. Today, we live in a world where an individual is measured not by their virtue, but their identity.

We are living in what is called a Post-Modern society. This is a bit confusing to describe, but the most significant change has been in the definition of morality. The Bible is less likely to be looked upon as the source of morality. For many, it has become just another book that sits on the shelf. Right next to the Harry Potter and the Self Help and Diet paperbacks.

Morality is now defined by. However it best fits into a communal consensus. More importantly, morality is now hostage to one’s personal identity. In the past our identity was measured by the goodness we could do. Even the Mafia opened inner-city food banks. They were criminals but still understood the importance of a morale core somewhere deep inside them.

In today’s world, one does not need morality to have an identity. You see, the post-modern culture has completely changed how we obtain our identity. We are now living in a culture that is redefining God. Our Government has separated all function away from God. This is formally called secularism. The absence of God!

The broader secular world has immersed us in a new mantra – that each of us needs to be our own genuine selves. We’ve been indoctrinated into believing that if we work hard enough, work long enough hours, make enough money, put our kids in the best schools, climb that ladder of success then we can finally stand tall and say “look at me.” “This is who I am.”

In this secular age, identity is defined by what we’ve accomplished. Not who we are! If you see a man in a nice suit or in luxury car you’re likely to think to yourself – that person is successful. But if you see a homeless dude coming out from under a bridge, few of us would call that person a success. What was the difference between them? It was how they looked at us! See, we are all guilty of this redefining individual worth.

In the secular age, this measure of success is used to form an identity. Today, success is the yardstick by which a post-modern culture allows you to define your own identity. Society is teaching our children that “’only they” can decide what is right for themselves.

Let me borrow an illustration from the pastor Tim Keller. How many here have seen the movie Frozen? I have granddaughters, so it’s mandatory. I’m highly entertained by Disney movies, but it’s no secret that the Disney message is intended to condition children to the current culture. Let me read a few words from the song Elsa sings:

I don’t care, what they’re going to say (this is pride)
It’s time to see what I can do. To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free! (this is moral relativism)

If you have seen the movie, you likely left feeling it had a great message, that love sacrifices self for the good of another. And that message is a good one – it almost follows Jesus’ teaching. But the song I just quoted, (Let it Go), is nowhere close to the same lesson as Christ taught. And, it was the biggest hit of the movie.

To show you my point – we can read  blogs on the internet to see what girls thought this song meant. And most understood it exactly how I feared – one said.

To me it means to walk away from a society (that’s self-preservation) which judges people and expects everyone to be perfect (that’s moral relativism), it means follow your own path and to live your life by how you want to live and not to worry about what other people think of you and your life choices (that’s Pride with arrogance. And it’s wrong in so many ways – Our Life choices affect more than just ourselves.)

In the secular world, your personal identity is critical and pride the most essential attribute. Humility doesn’t mean temper pride – it merely means be kind to other people and try not to be arrogant. Pride is good!

Let’s pause for a moment now and think about how most of us were raised. I want to turn now to what that dusty book on the shelf says about identity, humility, and Pride. The entire gospel it seems discusses the danger of Pride. Christ talks about pride more than any other topic.

In Luke 14:8-10 Jesus teaches us that “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place.

And from Ephesians 2:8-9, the Apostle Paul says this about humility and pride:  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Do you all see the contrast here as to how scripture says we, as Christians, come by our identity? In the secular world, one cannot be both Bold and Humble. It’s impossible to have a character that fits both. The Bold secular’s fake humility!

As Christians, we don’t work for an identity. Christ gives it to us freely! Through the means of Grace, our character comes from God – not by how hard we work. We are given a new status, our new selves, renewed in the spirit of our minds. THEN we get to work.

But here, at this point in my conversation with each of you, let me ask you all a question. How many here are genuinely humble? How many of us will truly descend into places where the people who need help exist?

How many of us say we are willing to march in a protest for some social justice cause, maybe get arrested, but we don’t because we don’t want to stir up trouble. How many of us are willing to forgo our material comforts, like air conditioning, and good food, to be with those that are without? I am going to tell you about some people that walk among us today who will.

We have an entire generation of young adults – those that were born between 1984 and the year 2000. They are often called the Millennials. There are thousands of jokes about millennials. They all still live at home with their parents, they don’t want to work, they need their naps each day. They will cry if you hurt their feelings. Does this sound about right? We joke about the snowflakes. Here are some more.

They were told if they finish college there will be a job waiting. They think the founders of this country were privileged slaveholders. They believe Native Americans were targeted and wiped out by white colonial expansion, and that Christopher Columbus is responsible for Genocide. They do not believe in American exceptionalism.

When people hear that list of attributes, some have little respect for this cohort of whiney snot-nosed kids. After all, someone must work hard, keep us all safe, keep the economic engine running. Right. We have our Pride. And who are they to minimize all the right things we have done. Look at what all we have done! USA! USA! USA!

That right there – is pride talking. I have a lot of pride in my country, but sometimes our Pride makes us unable to have a conversation with that generation. Ego trumps humility! In fact, some of you here would probably just as soon that those people not come inside this church. Well, don’t worry. They won’t. Few have an affiliation with any church. And that is by their choice, not ours!

This morning I want to talk about some things you may not know about this demographic of young people. I was guilty of telling the jokes and dismissing the most important growing generation. Until I started to talk to them. And then – I began to listen.

Social-scientist have taken to calling them the New Copernicans. For those that do not remember who Copernicus was – he was Polish scientist that went against the church and said – No the universe does not revolve around the earth. You see, like Martin Luther, Copernicus was at the same time trying to tell the Catholic Church – you have it all wrong! The New Copernican’s are telling today’s churches, you and I, that we are not doing it right. But before we judge this cohort let me tell you a bit about their history: This list is from David Seel’s book The New Copernicans, Millennials and the Survival of the Church. I also added a few.

  • They were born at the same time as the first personal computer (1981)
  • MTV started in the mid-80’s. Cable television became our babysitters (Mine)
  • Hooking-up became acceptable and had no moral implications – 1990’s
  • The World Trade Center was attacked in 2001
  • Iraq War was fought, and no WMD’s were found, though they were promised.
  • Facebook launched in 2004
  • Wall Street Collapsed in 2007
  • The first Black President elected in 2008
  • Black Lives Matter movement started 2013
  • Wikileaks exposed massive government breaches of personal privacy
  • Same-sex marriage legalized in 2015.
  • The Methodist Church is in chaos – 2016

These social events shaped the mindset of these new Copernicans. Do you realize this generation has never lived in an America free of crony capitalism – instead they grew up during of the longest periods of economic recession. Most had soccer moms who were anxious wrecks and became helicopter parents to protect them. To them, the entire world was unsafe.

They look at the older generation and blame them for all the things that have gone wrong. Are they wrong? They see what they inherited and are not happy. For these New Copernicans – they do not see the Church as solutions to the problems. The church was supposed to be about emulating Christ – feeding the poor and tending to the sick. But they did not see that happening. So, guess what? They left. They turned their back on our false promises.

But here is the good news. These New Copernicans did not become Atheist. Most social scientists say they self-identify as “religious none’s” – because they do not know what to believe. They are highly spiritual, and most will drift off and try various a New Age spiritual journeys. They are going to go and find another way to rectify what they see as injustice all around the world. Since we didn’t do it. They will!

They also do not believe a traditional job day is essential to happiness. Instead, they find pleasure in social justice causes and helping others – sounds like the missionaries we send out around the world.

They are more likely to recycle and repurpose material-goods – just like so many of our elders did during the depression. They do not believe they need to own a car if public transportation is available because burning fossil fuel is harmful to the environment. And, unlike the millions of homeowners of the great housing bubble of the 1990’s, most won’t buy a house if they cannot be responsible and pay for it. Wow!

They are not worried about being comfortable – they’d rather spend more time looking for how they can transform the world into a better place.

Wait – isn’t that exactly like what our Methodist mission is? To transform the world by making disciples of Christ? They are doing what Christ said to do without even knowing about Christ!

From Luke 10 we read – 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals, and do not greet anyone on the road.

Who are the lambs and who are the wolves?  This sounds like those millennials who aren’t worried about a regular job. Instead, they volunteer in shelters.

5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

Sounds like a millennial moving from cause to cause. Protest to protest. They will gladly accept your charity – because they plan to stay as long as they are needed for the fight! They fight for what they think is unjust. Even though we may not.

10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you.

Almost every week we hear about these children of God in the streets! You don’t have to be on their side – but you have to admit they are doing something!

Do I believe that everything they are doing is right and wise? No way. Do I think that they don’t fully grasp some of the more complex problems in the world that we also need to be mindful of? Yes.

You know what else I know? That generation is not planning on coming into our church. Why should they? Is there an example here that they can follow?

I’d say yes – but how do they know?  Have they stood next to us as we feed and clothe the homeless?  Have they been beside us as we climb under the bridges looking for those that are sick and crippled?  Have they been to the jail when we went in there and happened to visit their brother or sister?

Did they find us at the Library this Friday at 6:30 because we are concerned about Opioids in the town?

If they are not seeing us out there – why would they want to come and see us in here?

All of our local churches need to rethink what is right outside our doors, in our community, waiting for us to show we care. Those churches that value this generation are growing. We ignore them at our own peril.

In closing, I will remind you what Jesus told his disciples –

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

God gave us his Son, who died on the cross so that we could be free from our sin of pride. So that we could be living examples of what he did to transform the world.

And he said – do this in remembrance of me.

Let us all do what we can to honor his call – to live for the Glory of our God, his Father.

Amen

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