I have mentioned before in sermons that on my desk at home I have what I call my “God Box”. It is a simple cardboard box that I use as a tangible way to turn people, places, things, events, worries, etc. over to God. As I was scribbling some words on a piece of paper about a situation I was fretting over and then put that paper in my God Box I was suddenly struck with a new insight about what I was doing. In that moment I realized that the situation I was fretting over was already in God’s hands, and my fretting was a symptom that I thought I was supposed to be the one in control – I was supposed to be the one to figure the situation out. I was in some way supposed to be the authority on the matter with the full vision. But the reality that hit me in that moment was that what I needed to surrender to God what not the situation itself but this prideful illusion of my own place in the situation. In short I needed a good dose of humility not unlike Job, in our first scripture lesson for and James and John, sons of Zebedee, in our Gospel lesson.
Humility is a virtue that has often been misunderstood and confused with humiliation. Humiliation is not virtuous – it is an attack against our, or someone else’s self-esteem. Humiliation is about belittling, discrediting and devaluing a person. Humility is something quite different.
The great Anglican writer, C.S. Lewis, once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Another definition of humility I find useful is this – Humility is being teachable.
Both definitions of humility are in action in our lessons this morning. Job has spent several chapters just before the passage that is our first lesson this morning railing against God about the situation of his life – he a righteous man has lost everything that he loves and he can make no sense of it. And he pours out his desperation and despair to God – the ultimate God Box offering! And then God speaks, not to humiliate Job, but rather to draw him past his limited perspective to the larger perspective – to the fullness of God’s vision. God speaks to bring Job to a teachable place, where he will see that he fits into a greater picture, a larger context – one in which God is fully present. Job is suffering, but he need not suffer alone, nor feel responsible for the situation. God is there as the foundation of life and will act with power and in ways that are well beyond Job’s – and our understanding. Indeed the psalmist sings about this perspective too with eloquent words that illustrate God’s presence in and through all of reality.
Then there are the sons of Zebedee. They have given up home and family to follow an itinerate rabbi who set their hearts on fire with his preaching about God’s love and God’s realm, and now he is predicting his own death and their suffering as his followers, and it is just too much for them. They need to get control somehow – so they ask to be put in authority in the kingdom he keeps mentioning. Like me at my “God Box” this week they are brought up short. He reaffirms that they will suffer as he himself will, but he alludes to the saving grace in it all – that God is at work with a larger vision. What looks like death will in fact break the power of death. What looks like the end will be something startlingly new and amazing. They can’t take it in now, but he urges them to trust him. It is all being worked out in God’s way and time. And then Jesus redirects them and us. Here is how is words are translated in the translation of the Bible known as The Message. Jesus told them:
“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served- and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”
Humanity is so easily held hostage by our limited perspective that tells us we are the masters of our own destinies and rulers of creation. God longs to teach us otherwise. Not to humiliate us, but to help us think of ourselves less and of God more. When we can surrender our illusion that we are in charge, or have to figure life out – when we can put that illusion in God’s hands – we find so much more that is good is poured down upon us. When we affirm that all of life as we know it is gift from God, entrusted to us, then we can begin to trust more of life to God. A simple discipline is to simply stop several times a day and pray – “God show me my next steps – what would you have me do?” Then our hearts and minds are to God’s inspirations. My experience is that when I stop and ask for Godly direction, if I am on the right track, I often feel a sense of peace and harmony. If I am off track I often get a sense of how to move back toward God’s purposes. Sometimes I don’t get a read on what to do or how to proceed – those moment have taught me patience, and I find that if I wait – God will speak in some way or another. In all cases when I pray this way, I feel a deepened sense of God’s presence which makes my joys and triumphs sweeter, and my failures and losses more bearable. For what more could I ask? There is not treasure of greater value. In the name of Christ. Amen+