Rev'd Cameron Pickering
Humility in Christ
One day when time permits, and our attention spans are not being overloaded with new ways of living and being, I will tell the story of how C. S .Lewis brought a university graduate in theology back to the body of Christ – the church, from a six year wilderness. For today, and you can say what you like about his lack of scholarship in things theological, his seemingly trite, and antiquarian ways, I want to start with a quote, or misquote at least. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, its thinking of yourself less”.
Palm Sunday, and the readings set for today point to an archetypal humility of character we as Christians are called to follow in our imitation of Christ.
I feel, had I had met Jesus in 1st century Palestine he may very well have been very close to the sort of person Lewis describes in the full quote attached. Jesus meets people in the Gospels and is intensely interested in who they are and who they are becoming. Jesus in the Gospels is at the centre of party life, not as some annoying sherry infused ranting uncle at Christmas, but as someone who knows how to have a good time, and who others want to be in the company of. Jesus in the Gospels it seems spends a good deal less time talking about who he is, though he asked many times, than he does in talking, teaching and acting, and being present to and with others. He not self-deprecating, acutely aware of the significance of his life, which in the coming week we remember as ultimately is given up in an act so significant, it has changed the lives of everyone.
Today, in the entry into Jerusalem, amid the clamours and tumult Jesus enters, the final days of his earthly life - the passion, riding on a donkey.
G K Chesterton wrote a verse or two on the Donkey. Suffice to say we are aware, a donkey hardly represents – the prophecy of Zechariah aside, the conquering hero entering in triumph, and victory. There is a juxtaposition between what Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to do, and this humble entry.
If we think of our present scenario globally there is something like an enforced humility in the way we are going about, or not as the case ought to be. And make no mistake this humility will be with is in the coming months and years as we renegotiate living our lives, the parameters have changed. What do we do with it?
Each of us in our bubble, anxious fears of our Kiwisaver in freefall, our businesses forever changed with a long road back, our travel, our gatherings all these things so changed, are to an extent to protect us. They are happening to keep us safe; they are happening to keep us alive. They are also, perhaps more so about the ‘other’, not our self. The sacrifices we make, the disadvantages we presently and will certainly endure in the coming years are also about others. We put, ... through the enforced confinement to our homes and bubbles, ... others before ourselves. The vulnerable, the elderly, the immune compromised. In this way we are called to think of one another before ourselves.
The material hardships which will inevitably flow out of this time are about saving lives. Our Prime Minister has named it squarely. That is why we are doing what we are doing. That is why we tune in to the less than ideal service on YouTube. It is about saving lives.
The road to calvary by Jesus which is, if not initiated, clearly signalled in our readings this morning is a journey of humility. It is a journey of saving others’ lives. Even, at the cost of his own.
St Paul reminds us in Philippians Jesus “empties himself…humbles himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross”. And that in so doing his was exalted and raised by God the Father to the name above all names (Philippians 2:6-11). Furthermore, our scripture tells us Jesus does all this so that we, others, might have eternal life (Romans3:25, Hebrews 9:5).
Do not conflate at this point in my analogy of our present forced humility with that of Jesus’ voluntary humility some sort of fatalism, or resignation. I believe there is all the difference in the world to resignation, and in trusting and aligning our lives with the will of God in humility. Far from weak and resigned so we see Jesus immediately after his humble ride into Jerusalem entering the temple and driving out the money lenders, and hawkers. Humility in the case of Jesus embraces neither weakness nor indecision. He is not resigned to his fate. He does not self-efface and recede into the background. But strides into the temple and where rebuke is merited gives them more than the lash of his tongue.
For me where the analogy is in how the humility of Jesus, as a man, is acknowledging his lack of self-sufficiency.
A humanist could say at this time amidst covid-19 our self-sufficiency so challenged, we need to acknowledge our dependence on one another, our brothers and sisters.
But as Christians at a time where our self-sufficiency is so challenged, we, more perfectly and ontologically, humbly need to recognise our dependence, and being in God.
Soft soap and sweetness you shout. All very well you might say coming from me, privileged as I am. But if you think I will be, am already immune from the creeping doubt of future security. If you think my self-worth is somehow heightened at such a time as this because there is a need for a pastor to his flock, then you do me, partly at least, an unfairness.
Though I battle with it daily, I like you concluded years ago the universe does not exist to cater to my whims and wants. But convicted of this truth I still must reinforce it every day. That is why I pray, the remembrance of that conviction, is if nothing more certainly no less than what I pray.
Palm Sunday brings into focus the self-sacrificing humility of Jesus where he lives and dies for you and I. Greater love hath no man. And Palm Sunday points, as do all the scriptures, tradition, and thought of the last two thousand years, to EASTER. God’s faithfulness to humankind – the resurrection. The reconciliation of our flawed, imperfect, selfish, frightened lives to God’s eternal company, and love.
It does not focus us on a whimpering, weak shouldered, fatalistic, victim, but rightly so on the very sort of man – the new Adam, which we as followers are called to follow and imitate. You can be humble and strong, if you remember what humility is about. You can and must make your humility an active one. Searching for ways and means to serve one another, to serve God, and in the act of so doing realise in concrete actions and results the truth of the Christian Gospel. Because the flip side of realised and lived un self-sufficiency is the Hope of God who is steadfast and faithful and loving. It is his body on earth the church which bids His Kingdom come in every phone call, every prayer, and in every self-sacrificing act of genuine selfless love. The paradox of which so much scripture and theology speaks is that dead we may live, in the resurrection and the life which is Jesus.
There is humility in the Christ we profess, where we are called to have agency. Where we are called to ride our donkeys of humility with the heart of Jesus through the gates of the city into a world in turmoil and distress.
That is the hope of Easter.
Hosanna in the Highest – Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.