April 14, 2019 – O Lord, it’s hard to be humble


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O LORD, IT’S HARD TO BE HUMBLE!

By Rev. Victor Kim
Matthew 21:1-11; Philippians 2:1-11
(04-14-19, Palm Sunday)

The view from the Mount of Olives is perhaps the most iconic one of Jerusalem. From the Mount you can see the Kidron Valley below you and across that valley; you can see the Temple Mount rising up on the other side.  It’s a majestic vista, one that will not have changed all that much even after 2000 years.  While the city has no doubt grown since the time of Jesus and the buildings are different, if you’ve been to Jerusalem, you can almost picture Jesus, looking down from the Mount of Olives towards Jerusalem and you can imagine him riding that donkey through the crowds and into the city.  It must have been something to behold.

Matthew the gospel writer communicates a vivid image of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  He quotes from the prophet Zechariah who foretells of the entry of Zion’s king, humble and riding on a donkey and on a colt.  Matthew is clearly presenting Jesus as the king who was prophesized, but he’s also setting the stage for unmet expectations, disappointment and ultimately the revolt of the crowd when they discover that this king is nothing like the king they had been expecting.

But for the time being the crowds are still on Jesus’ side.  One scholar has estimated that the number of people in Jerusalem during this time would have been around 2½ million, since it would have been Passover and Jews from all over the area and around the world would have come in pilgrimage.  That number seems rather high, but the point is that the city would have been bursting at the seams when Jesus rode into town that day.

Perhaps tens of thousands, maybe even more, would have lined the streets that day, spreading their cloaks on the road and cutting branches from the trees and spreading them before Jesus.  They ran ahead of him and they followed him, all shouting,

“Hosanna to the son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest heaven.”

It would have been a parade fit for a Stanley Cup winning team; I know we’ll have to use our imagination on that one, or maybe a World Series Champion or a Super Bowl Champion team, a reception fit for the best of the best.  The crowds surged with anticipation, Matthew records that at the entry of Jesus the whole city was in turmoil.  Everything was electric. The question rang out, “Who is this?” “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,” came the answer.

This is the one who healed the sick and lame.  This is the one who turned water into wine, the one who walked on water and stilled the storm; this is the one who fed thousands from a single lunch bucket meal, who cast out demons and, it was rumoured, had even raised the dead.  And this Jesus, he wasn’t just a man of action; he was also the most eloquent of speakers.  He taught as no one had taught before.  He had silenced the authorities.  He spoke of hope for the little people, for the down and out, for the powerless.  He spoke of things that were revolutionary, that called for people to turn their lives inside out, upside down.  He was the total package. And so why wouldn’t they come out and line the streets?  Why wouldn’t the crowds think that he was the one long ago predicted, the liberator king who would release his people from oppression and restore the kingdom of his ancestor David?  So, they paid him tribute, they shouted his name, they chanted their hosannas.

But did they kneel? 

Thomas K. Watson, writing in the Clergy Journal, says that it was true that if the crowds had been silent the stones themselves would have shouted out, but did the people kneel? 

Watson writes, “It is easy to cheer.  It is harder to kneel, to imitate the humility of Christ, to follow Jesus.  It’s harder to kneel before him, to humble ourselves and confess him as our Lord, not as our friend, not as our role model, but as our Lord.”[1]

 

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Philippians spells it out clearly for us. If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top.

Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, ecame human!

Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honour of God the Father.

The crowds cheered, they shouted their hosannas, they ran before him and followed after him, but did they bend their knees, did they kneel?  O Lord, it’s hard to be humble.  You know the song, don’t you?  O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.  But it’s not our perfection that makes humility so difficult, it’s something else.

It’s hard to be humble when we have been raised in a culture that places success, power and ability above all else.  It’s hard to be humble when our televisions and newspapers and social media are full of stories of people who chase after success at any price.  It’s hard to be humble when humility is seen as weakness and an open invitation to be walked on, trampled over and taken advantage of.  Our world operates on strength, power and might.  And when our messiahs fail to live up to our expectations, we can turn on them in an instant.

The crowds that lined the streets of Jerusalem chanting their hosannas, are the same crowds that would later cry out, “crucify him, crucify him.” The same people who couldn’t get enough of him would later choose to set a convicted criminal free rather than Jesus.  It’s remarkable how quickly we turn on those who fail our expectations.  We put people up on pedestals so high that when they fall, they usually don’t survive.

And that’s the way it will be as long as we continue to misunderstand what it is Jesus came to show us and teach us.  As long as we are like the crowds of Jerusalem those many years ago, as long as we see Jesus as our ticket to power, as our conquering messiah, as the one who not only is empowered himself, but empowers his followers to win, to succeed, as long as we run before him and follow after him, but don’t kneel at his name, we will be disappointed and too many of us will give up on him. 

 You see friends; the church is not created to be victorious in the worldly sense. How can it possibly be when our founder and creator, the one who is king and head of the church died the tortured death of a criminal on the cross?  But for too long, and for too many people, the church is seen to be a way to power, influence and success and Jesus is seen as the superstar at our head.  And so, we will shout his name, we will blaze the path for him and we march behind him, expecting that with Jesus on our side we cannot fail.  But we forget that we also need to kneel, we also need to remember the one we follow is the model of all humility and servanthood.  O Lord, it’s hard to be humble!

 Why are you a Christian, why are you a follower of Jesus? Some of us may answer, because Jesus offers us salvation, others, because believing in Jesus is my ticket to eternal life, to heaven.  Still others may say that it’s because Jesus is Lord.  But how many of us would answer, we follow Jesus because we want to serve, because we want to humble ourselves and be the servant of all?

 Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  The crowds soon discovered that he entered Jerusalem as a very different kind of king.  He came, not to conquer, but to serve, not in strength, power and might, but in humility, servanthood and obedience.  The world did not change outwardly when Jesus died and it did not even change outwardly when he was raised from the dead.  The Jews were still under Roman oppression, the religious authorities and structures were still in place.  The corrupt were still corrupt, the weak were still weak, the poor were still poor.  But remember when Matthew wrote that the whole city of Jerusalem was in turmoil when Jesus entered, well that word turmoil is used in the Greek to usually signify a violent change, such as a result of an earthquake or a destructive storm. Though to the visible eye nothing seemed different, the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem did signal a fundamental change in the structure of life as we know it. But it didn’t happen on the outside, it didn’t happen in a change of government, in a change of regime, in a change of economic or cultural systems.

The fundamental shift in the reality of life happened in God, in the relationship between God and a creation that had wandered from God’s good intent.  Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, was the beginning of a series of events that would lead to the cross, that God loved us so much that he came into our life as one of us, willingly, humbly, selflessly giving his life for our sakes so that we would know just how much we are loved, so that we will kneel before the name of Jesus and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  

It wasn’t a king’s crown that changed the world, it was the cross.  We will not change the world by shouting our hosannas and expecting that Jesus will lead us to victory over the forces of the world.  If God will use us to change God’s world, God will use us in our humility, in our servanthood, touching people, one life at a time, one heart at a time, repairing and restoring relationships between God and God’s beloved creation.  O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, but it’s the way of our Saviour. 

 If the church is to be faithful to our Lord, we need to be imitators of Christ’s humility.  If we find any encouragement in Christ says Paul, do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who emptied himself, who humbled himself, even to death on a cross. 

Do you know why it’s so hard to be humble? It’s because it’s so hard to let go of our wants and our desires.  It’s so hard to regard others as better than ourselves and look to their interests more than our own.  It’s so hard to be humble because we want to retain control, because we want to have it our way, because we, ultimately, want to worship ourselves more than we want to worship God. 

Once a great religious leader was asked, “Why must we worship God morning, noon and night?  Surely the great God Almighty does not demand constant adoration.  Why must we worship God constantly?”

“Because,” replied the great leader, “the moment we stop worshipping God, we start worshipping ourselves.”  The moment we stop worshipping God, we start worshipping ourselves.  It’s so hard to empty ourselves of ourselves.  But true servanthood empties itself. To be truly Christian, to be truly the church means that we can’t be about triumphalism, at least not in our worldly sense.  What bothers me about so much public religion these days is that it still seems so bent on either gaining or regaining power.  How else can we explain that a group of people who profess to follow Jesus Christ, the one who emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, can rationalize that a man who seemingly knows nothing about humility,

about servanthood, about emptying of himself,  a man who is full of selfish ambition and conceit and seeks his interests above the interests of all others, how else can we explain that these self-professed followers of Jesus Christ think that a man such as this deserves to hold the office of the most powerful man in the world, other than that if they support him, he will offer them a return to power, influence, authority and control?

 But is that what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, is that why you’re a Christian?  If the example of Jesus means anything, doesn’t it mean that we as the church and we as Christians might have to worry less about being powerful and in control and more about serving the needs of those who are hurting around us?  Sounds mighty idealistic, and it is, because it’s the ideal that Jesus set for us. 

If we will live in humility and servanthood, the world may laugh at us, those who seek power and influence may abandon us, but the truth is that Jesus was laughed at, taunted and tortured, he was abandoned and rejected; he was put to death because he emptied himself to the very end.  And if it ended there, I would be inviting you to be disciples of a masochistic god, to follow the ways of a dead-end religion.

But you and I know that it doesn’t end there. You and I know that because Jesus emptied himself, because he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, therefore God has also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

There will come a time when God’s rule will be the only rule, when Christ will rule over a new heaven and a new earth.  It will happen at God’s command and in the time of his choosing, but it will happen.  We may not be able to see it, but the victory has been won.  Jesus Christ is Lord and we need to kneel before his name. 

We need to follow his humility and we need to know that in Christ, to die is to gain, the last shall be first and whoever is humble will be exalted.  It’s not the world’s hope, but we are not the worlds.  We are God’s and we stand or fall on God’s promise.  O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, but it is the way of Jesus our Saviour, and it must be our way as well. 

Thanks be to God, Amen!

Written by Rev. Victor Kim
preached on 14 April 2019
at Richmond Presbyterian Church.

 

[1] Thomas K. Watson, Jesus Christ, Superstar.  The Clergy Journal 2005