18th Sunday after Pentecost – September 23, 2018 Theme – “Being God’s Kind of Humble” Text – Jeremiah 11:18-20; James 3:13-4:10; Mark 9:30-37
James 3:13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. This is my jumping off point this morning as we unpack the scriptures for today. Humility is a thread that unites them.
Let’s begin with Jeremiah. His name most likely means, “The Lord throws,” either in the sense that he was “thrown” into a most difficult and hostile time in Judah’s history or that he was called to “hurl” God’s judgment up a sinful, rebellious, loveless and prideful nation. He was born into a priestly family and prophesied in and around Jerusalem during the final 60 years before its destruction. He never married or had children and had very few close friends. Jeremiah is the most vulnerable, the most real of the prophets. He shared much about his character, personality and struggles. Although he saw himself as timid and reserved, he lived and worked in the strength and courage of his Lord. The section before us today provides deep insight in Jeremiah’s soul and is an encouragement to us.
18Because the LORD revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing. 19I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree and its fruit; let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” 20But, O LORD Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.
What did Jeremiah discover? (A plot to kill him and wipe his name and his work off the map)
What was Jeremiah’s initial reaction? (surprise; he was likely aware people were unhappy with his message but not ready to kill him; the plotters were from his home town – see vs. 21 & 12:6)
Have you ever been a victim of people talking about you or plotting against you behind your back? How did that make you feel? What did you want to do when you found out? (I have been there numerous times in ministry, even threatened. I felt shock, sadness, betrayal)
What was Jeremiah’s “thought out” reaction? (v. 20) (He “tested his heart and mind,” paused to examine the charge honestly before God thinking he was in the wrong; that’s humility) What do you make of “committing his cause and vengeance to God?” (God’s domain; humility) Our takeaway is to follow Jeremiah’s lead and respond humbly, not an easy follow.
James tells us why. The real enemies of humility are: 14You have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart . . . [sic] You are arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual (natural), of the devil. 16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. When we find out someone is talking about us behind our back or when someone disagrees with us, challenges us or even accuses us, our first reaction is from the flesh, from the devil—we react defensively as we try to protect our ego, our turf, our pride, our rights, our perceived goodness and reputation. That is jealousy, a protective instinct. Watch two toddlers playing. What happens when one takes the other’s toy away from him/her? There’s instant anger caused by jealousy. What happens when you put one new toy down between them? There’s instant grabbing and the “I want it” of instinctive selfish ambition. How does one overcome that “natural, devil wisdom?”
It begins with the realization of the truth that “God opposes the proud.” He stands against them. He frustrates their plans and they can’t handle it. That’s why prideful, stubborn, selfishly ambitious, jealously protective people are miserable people. That’s why they whine, complain, shout, pout, stomp, lie, deceive, cheat, plot are disorderly and the source of all kinds of evil practices. I’m part of the “they,” are you?” Or don’t you get all clucky when your feathers are ruffled? The problem with this divine opposition as we see from the Old Testament is that while the Law of God exposes, convicts and even punishes it only humbles a very few, it only leads a very few to cry out to God for mercy.
God has always had a better way to humble people and that has been to humble himself before us. Since Adam and Eve first dug in their heels and refused to admit any responsibility for their actions in Eden God has chosen the way of grace. For sure he did oppose their pride and selfish ambition and stripped them of the bliss of the garden and a pain free, toil free and death free life, but he humbled himself, clothed them and promised them a savior from their seed who would crush any evil that would rule their hearts. For the next many thousands of years God did not remain aloof but spoke with his people, acted on behalf of his people, called individuals to speak for him and accomplish his purposes, established a nation of his people and continued to prepare for the moment when he would visit all mankind as Emmanuel and humble himself in the most impossible and remarkable way, God made man, Jesus.
God knew from the beginning that the only way to overcome the totally corrupted hearts and souls and flesh of mankind was by creating a new man with a new heart with new wisdom that would understand the better way to live. He chose to do that by humbling himself, by the Son of God emptying himself of his glory, being born and living as our brother. Why would he subject himself to the curse of the law, the hopelessness of death and hell, the horror of sin and suffering? Because it is simply in the nature of God to humble himself, to walk with us, to bear our griefs and sorrows, to be our overcomer and to offer to dwell in us, creating new hearts and right spirits within us so that we might be like him, overcomers and living humbly for the sake of others.
When one honestly considers that remarkable act of grace, why wouldn’t one appreciate it by welcoming it wholeheartedly into one’s life? We don’t because bitter jealousy and selfish ambition rule our hearts. We believe the lie that we are sufficient. We, like Jesus’ disciples, want to be first, we want greatness and when he opposes that, we, like them, become silent because there is nothing we can say in the presence of God. Our guilt is exposed. Our only options are to walk away or “welcome the child.”
Why does Jesus respond to his disciples’ arguing about greatness and refusal to talk to him about their argument by saying, Mark 9:35“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” and then placing a little child in their midst before taking him in his arms and saying 37“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me?” Could it be that prideful people want to be noticed and want to be welcomed rather than notice and welcome others? Could it be that this is a most basic need of children who are too often brought into this world and ignored? Even more basic is Jesus’ assertion that God is hidden in a child and that when a person puts aside his/her own pride and welcomes one of the unwelcomed, he/she is actually welcoming God. Jesus said the same thing a little differently later on: “As you have done it to the least of these you have done it unto me.” We become humble, we become persons with eyes that see and arms that welcome children only through Jesus living and ruling in our hearts. That happens as it did for his disciples, when were exposed to him, through Word and Sacrament, through fellowship with one another, prayer and service. We need Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God and one another to keep walking the way humility, the way of welcoming children. When you see a person do you see a child? Or a crowd of people do you see children? Do you see God hidden in each? Someone with Christ’s humble heart does and when the opportunity is there, is ready to welcome.