By Linda Rex
September 1, 2019, Proper 17—A while back my ministry team and I were invited to attend the 150th anniversary banquet of the Stones River Missionary Baptist Association from whom we rent our church building. My outreach ministry leader, Pat Brazier, and I attended this event as a gesture of gratitude and goodwill toward the association and its members.
As we entered the building, I was hoping we could find a table at the back which would not be conspicuous. I tend to be shy at large gatherings like this, especially if I don’t know anyone—I describe myself as an extroverted introvert. I prefer to hide rather than open myself up when there are a lot of people around me in a room whom I don’t know.
On this occasion, though, I could not have my wish of anonymity. Even though we were the only people there of white skin, the harmony of God’s Spirit made us one with these brothers and sisters in Christ. Pat and I were escorted to the front of the room to a special table reserved for guest pastors. We ended up seated across from Tennessee Senator Brenda Gilmore and two other pastors and their wives. It was a wonderful, inspiring experience for Pat and me.
During the event, I learned a lot of things I did not know about this group of fellow believers and their journey with Jesus. And I learned some things about myself as well. I experienced what it meant to be faced with challenges to my beliefs, preferences, and opinions. Whatever hidden prejudices I have, they were also brought a little closer to the light, as such encounters often expose those things we try, consciously or unconsciously, to keep in the dark.
Our interactions with other human beings are the place where the Holy Spirit does its greatest work, bringing us face to face with others and by doing so bringing us face to face with ourselves and Jesus. It is in relationship with others that the Spirit works to transform hearts and minds, specifically in teaching us about the Father’s love for us in Christ expressed in our love for one another. We are broken human beings, often due to significant relationships which have demonstrated to us and taught us everything but God’s love. Our way of doing things is often the exact opposite to the way God does things, and our broken world with its broken people clearly shows the result of trying to do it our way instead of his.
One of the greatest struggles as human beings sometimes is this whole question of self-exaltation and humility. We live in metropolitan Nashville, a place where musicians and singers come when they want to make their mark in the music world. Often I talk with people who tell me they moved to Nashville from somewhere else in America and when I ask why they moved here, they tell me they wanted to get a job in the music industry and maybe even to be a star. Almost every one of these people is not working in the music industry today but in some other job entirely unrelated to it.
Were they wrong in coming to Nashville and seeking to make their mark? I doubt very much that any of these people were seeking self-exaltation. I’m more inclined to believe most of them were seeking self-expression, to obtain some personal significance, worth, and value through their music. I imagine they wanted to do what they loved and make a living at it. The real world often stands in the way of people being able to achieve their dreams in this way.
The issue, I believe, is not in the desire to take one’s talent, abilities, and gifts and use them to their fullest expression. In God’s kingdom life, we receive all of these things as gifts from God and pour them back out to him in gratitude and in the service of others. We are meant to shine with the glory God has given us as his adopted children and if that includes our musical gift, then it is meant to be fully expressed as God guides and provides us with the opportunities.
The problem seems to be more in what our motive is and why we do what we do. Christian musicians and pastors can very easily care more about their popularity, prosperity, and getting noticed than how they go about being a follower of Jesus Christ. Even while they are up in front of the audience talking about Jesus and his ways, they may be drawing their worth and value from the applause and approval of others rather than resting confidently in the grace and love of their Abba. We are broken human beings—we do these things, whether we are willing to admit it or not.
In Jesus Christ we see exemplified the epitome of humility. The One who was the Word, who had all power, glory, and honor, set the privileges of his divinity temporarily aside to take on our humanity. He who lived in inapproachable light joined us in our darkness, in the tiniest cells in Mary’s womb, so that we could be lifted up from our abasement and drawn up into the Triune life and love.
Jesus told his followers that when they were invited to a banquet, they were not to take the prominent seats, but to sit in the lower places and to allow themselves to be moved up by the host. Jesus did not seek his own exaltation, but sought the exaltation of humanity. When challenged in the wilderness by Satan, he rejected his offer to give him ultimate human power and rule. He refused to stop identifying with us as broken human beings and serving us by offering his life for us in our place and on our behalf.
There is no place low enough that Jesus was not willing to enter. Even though the most shameful death for someone in Christ’s day was to be crucified, Jesus intentionally walked toward the cross throughout his ministry. It was not beneath him to enter the realm of the dead nor to become sin for us. His whole purpose was in lifting us up, not in promoting himself.
The kingdom value of true humility as exemplified in Jesus is countercultural. It opposes everything our culture and society work toward. It stands in stark opposition to any leader who promotes himself as being a messiah or savior to his people or someone to be revered. It resists the human pull to self-promotion, arrogance, and pride which often afflicts those in the public eye.
To follow this value of humility is to open up oneself to crucifixion, to being negated, harmed or destroyed. And yet, when we seek the way of true humility, we find that our relationships begin to be healed, our life moves away from darkness into greater and greater light. Leaders who are truly humble and seek to serve those under them rather than manipulate, control, or manage them create a healthier community which more closely resembles God’s kingdom life.
But being humble exacts a price. The price we must pay to be truly humble is to share in Christ’s death and resurrection, and in his sufferings. In this life we may never experience our exaltation, but we can trust in the exaltation of Jesus. We will be exalted in his presence as the adopted children of Abba, fully glorified and reigning with him forever—this is our hope and expectation as we walk in humility before him. In the meantime, our challenge is to live counterculturally in in a world which venerates self-exaltation, self-promotion, and self-interest, by participating with Jesus in his true humility.
Thank you, Jesus, for demonstrating so wonderfully the grace of true humility. Abba, please grow this in us by your Spirit, enabling us to participate fully in your humble nature. Give our human leaders hearts and minds which are truly humble. If they are stubbornly resistant to your humility, may you take them through the consuming fire of your love and grace that they may learn humble servants. We are grateful that you are the true Lord of all and have included us in your life and love in and through Jesus. Amen.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11 NASB
By Linda Rex
I was looking at some of the responses to the recent event in Charlottesville and was appalled at the numbers of people who hold to the belief of the superiority of the white race. I understand from personal experience how insidious these lies can be. But what concerns me most is they are drawn from a misreading of the Bible. They twist the Scriptures which when read with integrity and spiritual wisdom point us to the Christ who united all humanity with all its variety in his own Person.
Indeed, Jesus laid the foundation in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and in the sending of his Spirit. But he also calls us to participate in this reality which he created in himself. We can live in the truth of who we are in him, or choose another path. Living in the truth of our humanity allows us to participate fully in the harmony and oneness of the Triune life, while choosing this other path creates what we see, hear, and experience today in these situations which involve violence, death and suffering.
In contrast to the living God, who is willing to lay himself down for another (and who did so), the evil one sets himself up as superior to others. He wants to elevate himself to a place where others must submit to him. He believes he is the one with the right understanding of how things really are, even though his logic is twisted and his motives are selfish and impure. Rather than assuming full responsibility for his shortcomings and misguided ways of living, he casts shadows onto others, making them at fault instead.
The error of this twisted thinking violates the oneness of the Trinity, where Father, Son, and Spirit live in a harmonious union in which each is unique, not the other, and yet is equal. As children made in this image, we as human beings were created to live in this same harmony as equals and yet as uniquely ourselves.
This oneness is not a forced sameness, but a celebration of what each brings to the table, making room for one another. The reality is there are certain things we cannot bring to the table if there is to be room for everyone. These are things such as hate, greed, lust, pride, selfishness, and indifference.
Making room for all means we need an attitude of unselfishness, of humility, of service, and of giving. It requires a willingness to submit to another’s way of doing things when we would rather use our own. Necessarily, there must be communication, encouragement, trust, and generosity—all things which are not the usual way most humans function. But these are the attributes of the God in whose image humans are made.
Unfortunately, our common way of creating harmony and oneness as humans is to create some form of sameness. We all must have the same clothes, the same behavior, or the same creed. We have to obey the same rules, and follow the same leader. We must be the same color or the same ideology. But sameness eliminates the distinctness God created in the human race.
It is unfortunate the universal church has broken into so many facets. But even broken glass when it reflects the sun creates a pretty pattern on the wall. The oneness of love and harmony between people of all different faiths teaches people about the love of God for us as demonstrated in the gift of God’s Son. It shows there is room for everyone at the table—we are all God’s children and called to be members of the Bride of Christ.
The variety within the universal church makes room for people with different needs, interests, and understandings of scripture. I have come to see that each person has a unique worship personality. Some of us connect best with God through the sacraments and through traditions. Others of us connect best with God and others through social service. Others of us find it is most meaningful to connect through the study of theology in a more intellectual way. God has made room for all in Christ to come into a meaningful relationship with him by his Spirit.
Those of us who follow Christ and who trust in him for salvation must never get to the place where we shut others out of their inclusion in God’s love. Even though many do not see, or if they see and they choose to resist their inclusion in Christ, we must never assume in any way they are excluded from the invitation to share in God’s life and love. There is room for each and every person at the table—there is a seat with their name on it waiting for them.
Nothing about any person is enough to exclude them from God’s invitation to life. The color of their skin, the way they comb their hair (if they have any), their age, and not even their past is sufficient to prevent them from God’s offer of grace and renewal in Jesus Christ. To divide up the human race into separate sections is to divide up Christ himself, and it must not be attempted.
Some may even be offended at the use of the name of Jesus Christ. To talk about everyone and God in the same breath is okay, but to mention Jesus Christ too is to become exclusive, they believe. But the whole point of the Christian faith is that all humanity, every race and ethnicity, has been swept up into Christ, and thereby reconciled with God. Jesus Christ is not a point of separation between us—which is commonly believed and criticized—but is the point of unity between us all. He is our oneness, our harmony with one another.
In Christ’s sending of his Spirit, he made it possible for us as humans to live together in ways we ordinarily cannot live. The Spirit changes hearts and minds, and enables us to find our commonalities instead of focusing on our differences. When the Spirit goes to work and we are receptive, what normally would produce discord and division all of a sudden becomes harmonious. I have seen this first-hand in meetings which I thought were headed toward a free-for-all and ended up being experiences of compassion, repentance, and renewal. We all walked away newly joined together in a deep understanding and acceptance of one another.
But the path toward this type of oneness is necessarily, as Jesus Christ demonstrated for us, through death and resurrection. We need to die to our ungodly beliefs and our unhealthy ways of living and being. This is repentance. We need to rise in Christ to our new life he purchased for us and begin to make room for one another. We need to surrender our prejudices, our hate, our evil, and embrace the grace and love which is ours, while sharing it with each and every person we meet. This is faith. We turn from ourselves and turn to Christ. He is our oneness with God and each other in the Spirit.
Abba, forgive us our hate, our prejudices, and all our failures to love. Forgive us for ever believing we were superior to another, or more important than them. Grant us the grace to humble ourselves and make room for others, allowing them to be the people you created them to be in Christ Jesus. Give us courage and faith to resist anything which is not the truth about who you meant for us to be—to recognize evil for what it is and to bravely condemn and resist it, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26–28 NASB