This Week’s Sermon

Here is the video from this week’s On-Line Worship time.  Below it is the text of my sermon.  To see this and all previous weeks’ videos, go to “On-Line Worship” or click HERE.

~ August 7, 2022 (Contemporary Worship) ~
~ August 7, 2022 (Traditional Worship) ~

If My People
II Chronicles 7:11-18, James 4:1-10
August 7, 2022

I’ve been thinking of what Kari said last week.  In fact, I’ve learned to wait until after she preaches to decide what I’m going to say the following week!  Because I’m always inspired by something she says!

Last week she said that we are broken, and we recognize our brokenness, and then we can realize that we are filled by the Holy Spirit.  That sounds a lot like Paul’s words to the Corinthians.  He said that we have the glory of God within us, but “we have this treasure in earthen vessels – jars of clay – to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.” (II Corinthians 4:7)

As I thought of all that, the passage that came to mind for me was this this passage from James.  “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  There’s a song with those words that we used to sing at Kirkwood!  And it’s one of my favorite camp songs!

That’s what Kari made me think about.  And that’s what I want us all to think about today.  “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  Humbleness – humility – is something that used to be thought of as a Christian virtue.  It was something we aspired to.  But humility is a word that is becoming more foreign to our world all the time.  People don’t know what it means, and they certainly don’t see any virtue in it.

In our world, it’s all about winning.  “You’ve got to win!  At all costs!”  “And second place, is ‘first loser.’”  Have you ever heard that?  We live in an “Me first,” “I can do now wrong” world.  “It’s my way or the highway!”  And if we think about it, we all know the problems associated with those kinds of attitudes.  We all know the heartache and stress it causes when we all expect to win, and then we all don’t.

James tells us!  “What causes war?” he asks.  “What causes fighting among you?  It’s your passions.” he says.  It’s your desire to be first, to have everything, and win all the time.  That’s the worldly attitude.  And as he says, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.”  That’s pretty strong stuff!  But he gets his point across, doesn’t he?  If we strive to take on the attitudes and ambitions of our world, we can find ourselves living contrary to how God would have us live, maybe even fighting against God!  God calls us to a different way of living!

Think about it.  In our world, people aren’t being taught how to fail!  Or more accurately they’re not being taught what to do when we fail.  Children in our world are not being taught how to be “gracious losers.”  Mind you, being a “gracious loser” doesn’t mean you are a “loser.”  Being called a “loser” is a terrible “put down” in our world, isn’t it?  “You loser!”  Sometimes my wife will hand me a box, and she’ll say, “Can you put this box down over there.”  And I’ll set it down and jokingly I’ll say to the box, “You’re no good, and you’ll never amount to anything!”  (I’m putting the box down.  Get it?)

This is not that.  Being a “gracious loser” doesn’t mean you’re a loser.  It means, when you do lose, you lose gracefully.  There’s a learning process about that, isn’t there?  And it involves this thing called “humility.”  You have to learn not to be upset and angry.  You have to learn set that aside and maybe even to congratulate the winner.

When I was a kid, I played a lot of baseball!  And whenever we finished a baseball game, no matter who won, the coaches would have the two teams would line up and face each other, and then we’d pass by each other and every person on both teams would shake the hand of every person on the other team.  And we’d say, “Good game.”  Sometimes we’d even talk.  “I thought I had you on that play, but you were too fast.”  Or “Man, your curveball was awesome today!”

That wasn’t easy to do.  It wasn’t easy to learn to do!  We had to learn to take a breath and set aside our feelings of disappointment about losing the game.  But learning that kind of graciousness was so important!  And I hope they still do that.  Although lately in the big leagues, I’ve noticed teams lining up with themselves and shaking each other’s hands, rather than the other team!  Have you seen that, too?

Life isn’t about winning all the time.  Life is about knowing what to do when you lose.  And that has to do with so many things in our lives.  And it has to do with humility.  As you know, when I was younger, I ran a lot of races.  10K’s, triathlons, marathons.  And I remember one triathlon I was in, and my son Paul was there watching.  He was very young at the time.  And when it was over, and we were walking back from the finish line, he said to me, “Dad, you didn’t win.”  And I said, “I didn’t expect to win.”  And the expression on his face was “Then why did you run?”  And of course, it’s about the competition and the accomplishment.  It’s not about winning.

I say all of that to remind you of something today.  And this is something we all need to be reminded of – all the time!  We follow a savior who said, “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.  And whoever would be great among you must be servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”  And that is so opposite of what we hear in our world!  And in their world, too, by the way!

Think again about the passage we read from James.  James was a very practical guy.  He’s the one who said, “If your brother is in need and all you do is say to him, ‘be of good cheer,’ what good have you done?”  Well, in this passage he says all this about our passions and our egos leading to fighting and even to war, and then he concludes with these words.  “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and he will exalt you.”

Now, I want to make a distinction here.  Being humble is not about “beating ourselves up.”  I love the way Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans.  And this comes right after the verse about “presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, and “not being conformed to this world.”   Listen to what he writes next.  “By the grace given to me, I bid every one of you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.”  (Romans 12:3.)

Humility is not beating ourselves up!  It’s not putting ourselves down!  It is a matter of not thinking too highly of ourselves.  It’s about thinking of ourselves with “sober judgement,” as Paul says.  It’s about taming the ego!

That’s something I try to model.  I’ve seen too many big egos in pulpits over the years!  And I’ve learned that the pulpit is no place for a big ego!  (I believe Kari would agree.)  We don’t do this because we like the sound of our own voice.  (Especially MY squeaky voice!)  We don’t do this because we like standing up in front of people and having everyone’s attention.  If we do, we should stop it right now!  We do this because God calls us to do it.  (And I believe God gives us a passion and a talent for the things he calls us to.)

We are all called to a different life in God’s kingdom.  His is a kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first, where those who would be great are the servants.  We are called, as Paul told the Ephesians, to live a life worthy of our calling, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-2)  That is the life God calls us to live. 

I want to close with these words I read this morning from II Chronicles.  And yes, this is where I got my sermon title for today, “If My People.”  It was the time of the consecration of Solomon’s Temple. And as a friend observed recently, the people had a history of forsaking God, and going off after other idols.  And God brought them back again and again!  And here, God said to Solomon these words that come down through the ages, to us.  “If my people who call upon my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face… then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.”

That’s what God wants from us!  We don’t have to win all the time.  We don’t have to be first.  We don’t have to get our way all the time, or elevate ourselves above others.  Instead, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Prayer

Eternal God, help us to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though he was one with you, he emptied himself, taking on human form.  Help us to follow his ways of humility, of Grace, and of love.  And help us to know that, through him, you have lifted us up, you have filled us with your spirit, and you have made us the light of your love to the world.  For we pray in his name, Amen.