St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, 2015

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 There are two parts to the lection set for us as the Gospel for this morning. The first six verses contain a record of a confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. In the second part, verses 7-11, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast after “he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour”.  A parable, as you know, is a practical illustration that communicates great spiritual truth. Jesus did so in order to show that pride brings humiliation and humility brings honour. 
Jesus mentions a man who was invited to a wedding and sat in “a place of honour”.  The man did what so many people do. He was not told to sit there but deemed himself worthy of a place of honour.  By selecting such a place of honour at the wedding feast, the man conveyed to everyone else at the party that he was one of the most important people there.
This man, who exalted himself, was humiliated when the host came and said, “Give this person your place”.  The man with pride was humbled and we are told that “in disgrace” he went to sit in the lowest place at the wedding table.
Jesus says pride brings humiliation.  Consider what the book of Proverbs, in 11:2, says about this: “when pride comes, then comes disgrace”, and also in 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”, and then in 29:23, “A person’s pride will bring humiliation, but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honour”.
Here is the important truth in this lection: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled”.  This is not what I think or you think, this is a promise from God himself.  God opposes the proud, as we read in any number of places in Scripture, one of the most telling being from 1 Peter 5:5, where we read: “all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” The rule could be expressed therefore:  if you exalt yourself God will humble you.
Think again about the parable.  Jesus said, “when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.”  Jesus said we must humble (not exalt) ourselves before others.  When the person sits in the lowest place, he conveys to everyone else that he does not consider himself any better than anyone else.  In this parable the host comes and moves him to a higher seat and honours him before others.
Jesus says that humility brings honour.  Consider what the book of Proverbs says about this: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble.” (11:2). 
Having heard this, a reasonable question we might have is how we should go about cultivating humility in our lives? I would like to suggest three aspects of Biblical humility: 1) think of yourself less often, 2) think of others more often, and 3) think of God most often.
First: Think of yourself less often.  C.S. Lewis once said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  One way to foster humility in your life is to stop thinking of yourself so much.  Sadly, our television shows, movies, and magazines flatter us by telling us that we are wonderful. We, being human, tend to believe what we are being told. Ann Landers, which was the pen name of the Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ruth Cowley in the early 1940’s, once commented on this saying. She said, quite wisely: “Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.” I could add that there are those who would say if you want a true measure of your worth, get a cat!
God does not call us into his kingdom in order to set us up as kings, but as servants. Having established that we are not as great as we may think, let us not move into another dangerous area which is that of thinking badly of ourselves.  Jesus did not walk around sounding like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh and neither should his followers. We are redeemed, we are set apart, and we are children of God.  The gospel should not make us full of pride but humble.
Second: Think of others more often.  The amazing thing is that once you stop thinking of yourself all the time you have room in your mind to begin thinking more about others.  It is the humble person who does not focus on what he does not have, but considers what others do not have.  Pride says, “I want!” and humility says, “You need!”  True humility thinks about others more often than oneself.
You may be thinking that this sermon sounds nice but it will not work in the real world.  Or you may be thinking that you tried this before and it didn’t work.  You just could not stop focusing on yourself.  
The key which you may not have used to unlocking humility in your life is contained in the third aspect of Biblical humility, which is: Think of God most often.
If we think of God most often we will find that we will submit our life to God.  True humility comes from confessing your sin to God and asking him to forgive and save you.  True humility begins by focussing on the model of humility: Jesus Christ.  Jesus will transform you from a self-absorbed person into a person who thinks of God most often.
God has made it clear in the Scripture that if you choose to exalt yourself you will be humbled.  Will I be the person who strives daily to advance my own cause or kingdom with my wants, needs, and feelings? Or will I be the person who will deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Jesus?
If we exalt ourselves we will be humbled, but the blessing of the gospel is that if we humble ourselves we will be exalted.  
May God bless you in this week of our Patronal festival.


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