October 02, 2022
• Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross
True Story. I was at the airport this week and I flew on Southwest airlines. Now Southwest has a different system of boarding than some other airline companies. They don’t do a lot of assigned seating, they call you up by groups. So when its time to board, they will group A, 1-30. Group B, 31-60…
Here’s the temptation. When you are on a full flight and you want to make sure they room for your luggage or you want to make sure that everyone in your group can sit together, there is a temptation to bypass the system and hope they let you through. I’ve never tried it but I have been tempted.
Well, some woman tried it this week and it was a lesson learned. She tried to scan her ticket and the ticket agent was so smooth about it. He said, “I’m sorry. I apologize I probably wasn’t clear about which group was next. So he said if you just wait right here for one moment, we will make sure that you get to where you need to go. I watched it happen! So she stood off to the side with a look that could kill as she watched person after person go in front of her. Church, she was literally the very last person they let on the plane!
Needless to say, I am never trying to skip the line at Southwest, but I know what’s it like to be humbled. Can you think of a time when you’ve been humbled. And if you can't think of one, we are going to pray for you because it's coming…. While these moments don’t often feel good I think they are essential to our faith. As we continue in our series, we looked at the required valued that God gives us about being Just. Being Kind, and the one that seems a bit off is walking humbly with God. Humility is often seen as a value that is more personality driven. However, how we relate to God and to other people is largely determined by our willingness to walk with God humbly or have those experiences where life humbles us….
Our text today sheds light on this forgotten value of our culture. For some of you, you’ve met this King before. If you’ve heard of three Hebrew boys that were thrown into a fiery furnace, well this is the King that was responsible for putting them in and turning up the heat! The highlight of that story wasn’t just that the boys were unharmed, but that the King was astonished at the fact that he threw boys into a furnace and yet he saw a 4th figure in there that he could not explain! So this gentile King makes a decree that anyone how speaks against the God of these Hebrews will be put to death!
So when we get to chapter 4, we find him overlooking his kingdom and he makes some observations. Listen to what he says. “Is not this the great Babylon “I” have built as the royal residence, by “my” mighty power and for the glory of “my” majesty?”
What do you notice? Everything is about HIM. I, me, and MY! We live a culture that is driven by I, Me, and MY. One study in the psychology today found that as country becomes more economically developed, there tends to be a rise in individualism. More affluence for a nation leads to a greater sense of self-reliance and self-centeredness. One outcome of many societies shifting toward individualism is a lack of empathy. People tend to care more about themselves and their own welfare then they do about others. We hear it all the time. “How is this going to affect me? What does this mean for me? It’s about what I believe. What I think. The impact on my money. Before we know it, we can be in a crowded room or in front of an entire kingdom and everything is still about “us.”
What we are seeing is an unhealthy or disproportionate view of self. Let me show you the importance of something being in right proportion. “Any good thing that’s out of proportion can be a liability. (Slide)”.
Let me ask you something. And I want to think about it. This will really give me an idea of where we are as a congregation. I saw this question on social media over the last year or so. It was a huge debate that really caused a lot of friction. If you had to choose, if your life depended on it, would put sugar or salt on your grits?! Which one?!?! So for the sugar crowd, if I made you a serving of grits and put a pound of sugar in, would you eat it? Why? Because it’s too much. It’s not in proportion. Salt? “Any good thing that’s out of proportion can be a liability. (Slide)”.
Confidence is not a bad thing. Self-worth is never a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with recognizing your own gifts. The world needs you to recognize y our own blessings. No one needs you to play small. These are all healthy attributes. But it gets dangerous when it gets out of proportion.
“Humility is developing a healthy proportion of ourselves in relation to the sovereignty of God.”
It’s easy to think this doesn’t apply to us. It’s tempting to absolve ourselves from the conversation, but arrogance and pride just doesn’t walk around with golden crowns and impressive titles. It's found in everyday people with an overinflated or a disproportionate view of self. Anybody can fit the description. Here’s how destroys relationships. Because it’s not just in relation to God but also in relation to other people.
We look out into the self-proclaimed kingdoms we have constructed and approach certain people and certain groups as though we were Nebuchadnezzar himself. Our over inflated view of self is on full display. It's subtle. It goes almost unnoticed. I know what's best. I can fix it. I can save it. I have all the answers. My idea is the best. Look at my accolades. My house. My kids. My needs. My concerns. My preference. I. me. My.
People around us are hurting, but we filter their tears through I, me, and my. People are in desperate and dire need of compassion, but we hear their cries through I, me and my. Nebuchadnezzar looks at an entire kingdom and only sees one thing! Himself!
While the personal indictment may not be applicable to some, we must guard against communal arrogance. It’s often communal pride that paints a distorted view that we are somehow better, more blessed, more righteous, more evolved, more special than those of other cultures and communities. Self-centeredness can be a communal disease.
Humility is developing a healthy proportion of ourselves..
Here’s what I am not saying. I am in no way suggesting that living with a humble disposition is synonymous with being a doormat. Humility is not operating from an inferiority complex. It is not self-deprecating. It is not devaluing ourselves in the presence of others. This is often what people of faith believe.
We have a difficult time balancing strength and humility. Because most of the images of leadership, ambition, and success that we see are the complete opposite. Think about what people say to each other when running for an election. Think about the irony of gaining people’s trust by displaying one’s ability to tear down another individual. Let me show you what a great leader I am and how I will care for people while I spend millions of dollars trying to destroy the reputation and credibility of another human being. That’s what image of strength that we see!
It takes strength to be humble. Humility is not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less.
For most of us, thinking of ourselves less is a daily practice. In fact, the academic world does an amazing job at teaching students the consistent practice of recognizing the value, the words, the ideas, and even the wisdom of others. I think it has spiritual implications. They don’t use spiritual language to define the practice, they simply call it, “siting the source.” What they mean by citing the source, is developing the discipline of publically recognizing the works and value of someone else and how their works have influenced yours. Its recognizing that somebody else was behind this idea and being humble enough to point to someone else.
It's so important that the inability to not do this correctly has serious consequences. In fact, a good teacher or a good profession, will tell you, “When it doubt just cite the source.” It is an egregious act to take credit for something that was not an original thought. It is that important!
Whether you are in the season of your life where are writing and grading term papers is not the issue. But it is an invitation. It's an invitation to get in the habit every day of our lives to cite the source. It is developing the discipline of being humble enough to look into our own lives, to stand out and look at our own kingdoms, to look at our churches, look at our jobs, look at our families, look into our communities and humbly proclaim, this is not because of me, but it's because of the hand of God working and moving in my life. Site the source.
The gifts that we have is because of God. The positions that we have is because of God. The life we have in our bodies is because of God. While we often think it is because we so great, its not. We think we are self-made and made the right decisions to get where we are and while a slither of that might be true, there are people that are more gifted, make a better decision that has not been able to receive what you have. Your gifts mean nothing without God’s grace. Site the Source. Your decisions are pointless without God directing in your life. Site the Source.
So let's replay the scene. Imagine if Nebechudnezzar had looked out and began to assign credit to the one that was really responsible. Here’s the real challenge of humility. Because for some it's easy to thank God, but harder to thank other people. We can see the hand of God moving and orchestrating things in our lives, but can we be strong enough and humble enough to see that hand moving through other people.
Nebechudnezzar realizes that this kingdom would not be possible without the soldiers that sacrifice their lives. Site the source. You don’t get a glorious kingdom without the ingenuity of the architects and the builders and brick layers that risk their lives. Site the source. What if when he looks at the Kingdom, he sees the hard-working people that make the economy possible. What if he sees the value in the farmer, the doctors, the teachers, the cooks, the traders, the midwives, and everyone else that had hand in this impressive Kingdom. Site the source. Give credit where credit is due. Because when this becomes a habit, I not only see the splendor of what’s in front of me, but I see the intrinsic value of everyone’s role. Which leads us passed a place of just public acknowledgement. Because humility is valuing the needs of others above our own. (slide)
Here's how he learned that….Sometimes to have humility we have to humiliate. (in a constructive way that God uses, not by the insecurities of other people..) Let me know you what I mean..
King Nebechudnezar has a dream that he can't quite make sense out of it, and one day it's fulfilled. One day he is overlooking the Babylonian Empire and then finds himself at the very bottom. None of are immune to the harsh realities that life presents. But the hurt should humble us. Show me somebody that was sitting on top of the world and I’ll show you somebody that’s fallen really really really hard. Think….Kevin Spacey. Mike Tyson. Tiger Woods. Brittany Spears. Here’s why this is important because now Nebedcudnezzar knows what it’s like. Humility deconstructs the mirage of invisibility where even the best of us fall prey.
He is driven away from people and has to eat grass like oxen. His hair grew like feathers of an eagle. His nails were like claws of a bird. He’s Homeless. Food and housing insecure. The text even hints at his mental….He looks disheveled. He is isolated. The bottom has dropped out. But now he knows what it’s like!!!! It’s a very humbling experience, but know he gets it. He knows what’s it like to be forgotten. He knows what it like to not know where his next meal is going to come from. He knows what it is like to struggle with mental health. He knows what it's like for a vast majority of the people in that Kingdom! He can't value their needs until he experiences them. He knows what it is like to sit in a palace, but knows he has to learn what it is like to walk humbly with God.
I can’t value what I intentionally or intentionally fail to understand. God exposes us to different experiences to recalibrate our values.
This is often the turning point to moving from a place of arrogance and pride to one of humility and compassion. Now that he knows whats it like, he cant lead the same. He cant treat people the same. He cant walk with God the same. Because know he gets us. And what people desire from a God and their community for someone to get it.
For about year, now I've really been living in a call and passion to resource other churches. I've felt this call early in my ministry but no one listens to you when you have a church of 50 people. But apparently, now they do. I learned an important lesson. I was speaking with a group of Pastors and I began by telling them about St Luke's, all the great things we were doing, and my role here at the church. I thought this would impress them. Until one lady was brave enough to share her thoughts with myself and the group. She said, you know I'm getting a bit frustrated with people from larger churches always giving us advice on how to do church. Rightfully so, she said your context is so different than mine, I'm not sure this is going to be helpful. You don’t get it she said. She was almost right.
I said well maybe I started at the wrong place. I said let me tell about the 27 people that showed up my first time pastoring my first church. I said let you about the choir that always sang off key. Let me tell you the musician that claimed he could read music. let me tell you about the budget we never had. Let me tell you about the building that falling apart. Let me tell you about But let me also tell you how in the midst of that God did some great work!
After that, they were all ears. Why because I got it! I could value their experience because I had lived it. Humility protects us from the common mistake of overvaluing our experience over the experiences of others. Slide.
The experience changes him so much that God restored him to his position and he became even greater than before. But know he can lead with humility. Now he can relate to people with humility. Now he can walk with God humbly
The same man that started off with I, me, and my and by saying,..
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
Let us be just. Let us be King. Let us be humble.