The Refreshing Blessing of Humility

October 24, 2010

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church


Luke 18:14

14 I tell you, this  man went down to his home justified rather than the other, for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.



Jesus Invites Us

            In our Gospel reading this morning, it seems to me that Jesus wants us to have a big gift. He is giving us a gift of the spirit. He is challenging us to take on a certain attitude.  The attitude that Jesus is urging us to take on is one of “healthy humility”. 


Two Kinds of Pride, Two Kinds of Humility

            There are two contrasting attitudes that we are looking at this morning: humility and pride. There are two sides to both of these attitudes. Pride is sometimes thought of as a negative thing.  Negative pride ranks among the so-called "Seven Deadly Sins": Pride, Greed, anger, gluttony, lust, envy and sloth. There is a story told of a minister who was preaching a series of sermons on the seven deadly sins. After he went through all of them, it seems that two ladies, who were sisters, came up to him after the sermon series.
            They said,” Reverend we enjoyed your series very much, and have something to tell you.”
            He said, “Oh, what would that be?”

            With a certain little smug smile, they replied, "Well, we don’t know how it is for the rest of the people in the congregation, but as far and my sister and I go, we wanted you to know that we have never, ever committed any of the seven deadly sins.”  (Congregation laughs)

The minister said, “Well then, - you must be very proud.”

They replied, “Yes, we are!”  (more laughter throughout the church)


            There are two kinds of humility and two kinds of pride. There is a healthy variety and unhealthy variety of each.  Let’s talk about healthy pride and unhealthy pride, healthy humility and unhealthy humility. Let’s look at the treasure of an insight that Jesus is trying to give us in the Gospel today.


Over-the Top Unhealthy Pride

            "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector."  Back in those days, a devout Jew was supposed to pray three times a day, at nine, at twelve and at three. It was fine if you prayed in your home or wherever you were. But if you were near the temple it was especially effective if you went there to pray.  Jesus tells us that two men went up to pray in the temple.  One was a Pharisee, the other, a "Tax Collector".


            The Pharisees were the practitioners of the letter of the law. They believed that they would get God to love them by practicing the law to the letter.


            The tax collector was a public employee and not regarded very highly in society. 


            The Pharisee was standing by himself and praying out loud:  "God, I thank you that I am not like other people." Wow, what kind of pride is that? "I am not like the thieves, the rogues, and adulterers - or even like the tax collector over there." Can you imagine? What a thing to say!  "I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income. The Pharisee was telling God exactly why he was a good person and exactly why he should feel balanced and justified in the Spirit. He was telling God!


Humility By Contrast

            On the other hand, the tax collector stood far off and would not even look up to Heaven. He was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner." Notice: in the original language, he calls himself not just "a" sinner, but "the" sinner, the sinner par excellence.   He was saying in essence, accept me as I am, dear God; I have hit rock bottom. Please accept me as I am, have mercy. Jesus went on to say, I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other. This man had peace in his heart.


The Big Difference

            So - what was the main difference between the two men and their prayers?  Here is the big difference, and Jesus is coming at us full steam with this idea: The Pharisee’s prayer was full of comparisons to other people, while the tax collector’s was not.  


Comparisons are Odious

            Jesus is teaching us this lesson: Comparisons are odious. Our dear church secretary, Jill, shared that phrase with me. It was a phrase that Mason’s Mom always used to say, "comparisons are odious." My dear friends, they really are! Especially when we are comparing ourselves to other people and we are somehow putting people down by virtue of comparison.


            If you forget everything else from today, please take this home with you. Let us shy away from comparisons. If a woman marries a man who was a widower and she bakes him an apple pie, do you think she wants to hear about how good the apple pies were that were made by the departed wife?   I don’t think so, and I will bet that she doesn’t even want to hear about how much better her pies are than the ones made by the departed wife.  Comparisons are odious. What she needs to hear is, “Thank you, dear. That was delicious.”


            Duke Ellington was once asked who his favorite lady jazz singer was. He said, “The one that is singing now, because she is singing really beautifully.”  Isn’t that a great answer? He shied away from comparisons, and that is great.


            We have this phrase; the grass is always greener on the other side. We are always looking to compare, but true humility is saying that my patch of grass is just great. Let us shy away from comparisons.  Comparisons belittle everyone.


            Now let’s talk about pride, there are two kinds of pride - the unhealthy and the healthy kind. Unhealthy pride makes comparisons. A story is told of a man who had a dream. In this dream he was told to bring all of his worries and troubles into the center of a circle along with everyone else’s. Then everyone had the chance to take some one else’s worries and troubles. Would you do it? Or would you just reach back for your own?  I think most of us would quickly take our own back.


             Healthy pride means not comparing. No child wants to hear a parent say, “If only you were more like your brother, or your sister.” No one wants to hear that. Everyone wants to hear,” Honey, I love you just the way you are. I love everything about you. I love you for you.” This is the kind of love that God gives to us. Healthy pride says, “I am proud of you. I am proud of you for the wonderful things that you do.”


The True Meaning of Humility

            Humility has its root word in “humos”, which means earth and soil. I used to think that humility meant dragging yourself down in the dust and saying, “I am not worthy, I am no good.” That is not healthy, it is unhealthy humility. If someone compliments a person by saying that the coat they are wearing is nice and they reply, “No, it is only an old rag.” That is unhealthy humility. Perhaps a person receives a compliment from someone saying that they did something well. If the complimented person replies, “No, it was terrible, just awful”, that is unhealthy humility. Healthy humility says, “Thank you, thank you very much!” It allows the other person to have the dignity of sharing a gift.  A person with healthy humility says, “I am a child of God, and so are you.”


            I found a wonderful definition of humility and it is also related to its root word. Humility means being grounded, being solid with both feet on the ground. Humility means "down to earth." As a minster I have met so many wonderful people over the years. Sometimes (although I don’t know it at the time) I meet people of great influence or worldly power. Although I don’t find that out until later, to me they are just great and interesting persons! They are down to earth, and healthy in their humility. 


Characteristics of Healthy Humility: Balanced, Kind, and Worthy

            My dear friends, I invite you to consider this. There is refreshment in adopting an attitude of healthy humility. A person with healthy humility is balanced. They say, “I have made mistakes, I am not perfect, but I have got a lot to offer. And what I have to offer, I will.”


            A person with healthy humility is kind, they have a conviction in their heart that most people are fighting a hard battle on some front.  They are willing to give others the benefit of the doubt. A person with healthy humility says, “I have my brokenness, and I accept that you may have yours. God accepts me as I am, and I accept you, too, just as you are.”


            A person with healthy humility knows that they are worthy, notice the person in the parable, the tax collector who was in the corner. He knew that he was worthy to pray to God. He knew that he was a child of the Most High, he didn’t shut God out of his life.  A person with healthy humility knows that they are worthy and that they have the blessings of Almighty God surrounding them. They know they are not perfect, but they know they are loved.


Humility Knows There is a Helper

            As you go into the week, I invite you to take on the wonderful refreshing blessing of healthy humility. Please know that you don’t have to do it all on your own, you don’t have to carry the world on your shoulders. When it is time to rest, rest fully. Know that God is ever ready to help you and aid you and come to your support. You don’t do it alone, you are a child of the most High God.

God is supporting you.  And God loves you. I do, too.

            I wish you a blessed week.  Amen.


2010 Anthony J. Godlefski