Nova’s Values.4–Humility

by admin on May 24, 2013

Reflections for 19 May 2013
Luke 18: 9-14

Homework from last week: generosity. More than money. Less to do with fund raising and everything to do with faith raising. Any reports about generosity?

This week humility.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate in every church I’ve served to have had my own voluntary humility committee. There is always someone self-appointed who is just eager to point out your failures, flaws, mistakes and otherwise obscene and intrusive behavior. If you’ve ever offended someone chances are you’ve got a humility committee.

What’s up with all that? And why would humility be a value?

Boston Marathon terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s unclaimed body and his secret burial have raised the ire of many in Virginia. He lies buried in a small Muslim cemetery outside Doswell, VA No one wanted the dishonor of hosting this body, nor do others wish to be buried beside him. Martha Mullen became the target of public protest. Were any laws broken in all this? What was her motivation in reaching out to such a despicable total stranger?

She cited these words from some religious teacher: love your enemies. Yes, Martha said she helped this family out of the love of Jesus. It sounded like a case of humility to me.

Another case: Since Dallas Willard died a week ago I have watched online vids of his last conference in February. It’s readily apparent that he was in treatment and suffering. John Ortburg also shared the platform with Dallas and related this story: Once at the end of a rather rambunctious philosophy class at USC, Dallas closed the lecture with an invitation for student inquiry. One such young man laid out a long protracted and hostile retort to Dallas’ instruction.

It was a cue for a brilliant retaliation. Isn’t that what professor are supposed to do? Correct the uneducated and sophomoric assumptions of students? Instead Dallas quietly said: “Well, that’s a good way to end today’s class.” And dismissed the whole group.

What’s up with that? When asked why he deliberately pushed aside a wonderful opportunity for superior scholarship, Dallas replied: “I’m trying the practice the discipline of not having the last word.”

Third story. Dallas Willard spoke these final words as he died, surrounded by his family. “Thank you.” What’s up with all that? In all three of these piercing vignettes I see the spiritual value of humility at work. Think of it as a value which motivates us into a higher standard of thinking and acting. It isn’t necessarily something to be intentionally sought after, but is the result of a spirituality that views God and life from a far different perspective than most of us are used to.

Luke 18:8-14
Begins a wider context of narrative scenes held together by the common theme of the division between those who have faith and act on it and those who are self-possessed and position themselves over against the active graciousness of God. This wider context is asking: who gets what Jesus is teaching and living? Namely, that God and any relationship with him is characterized by compassion, forgiveness, generosity and faithful activity on behalf of Gods children.

V9 Jesus told this parable. Already alert to an upsetting scene. Here is Jesus favorite teaching method. Penetrating story designed to be worked out in the mind of the hearer. Gnawing effect. Directly aimed so those who trusted in their own quality of spiritual high achievement. And out of that were able to justify their contempt of others.

Contempt is a powerful tool of relationship destruction. Dr. John Gottman cites contempt as the number one reason marriages fall apart. It’s long term justified resentment and hostile engagement. The other person is always stupidly wrong.

V10 Already there are right and wrong sides: Pharisee and tax collector. You can hear the silent cheering and picking of sides. They go up to the temples to pray. Here prayer represents one’s total commitment and behavior to Yahweh. There were prescribed rituals of prayer. Here is one example, another is in Matthew 6.

Vv11-12 God, I’m grateful (to whom is not clear although I would suggest it’s self-congratulations) I didn’t turn out like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers. And in a worst case scenario: like this tax man. I perform religious functions with utmost in scruples. Fasting twice a week and tithing my income. Check mark.

V13 By contrast in a single sentence—the tax man doesn’t even enter into the main crowd, off to the side, looking down at the ground, beats his chest in sorrow and cries: God, be merciful to me a sinner. This is the heart of the so called Publican’s Prayer of the Orthodox Church, commonly referred to as the Jesus Prayer. Irony!

V14 Jesus judgment: this tax man went home right with God. Being humble leads to great advance in one’s life: you get the proper perspective of reality.

1. Isn’t humility about being Caspar Milquetoast? Being spineless, a wuss? Was the tax man that? Or was he just being honest?

Dag Hammarskjold, Markings. Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exultation. To be humble is not to make comparisons. Secure in its reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger nor smaller, than anything else in the universe.

To be humble is not to make comparisons. Where do you go when you compare yourself to others? How does that get in the way of your ability to function is a healthy, God pleasing way? What happens when you begin to place your self-identity at the hands of others’ opinions?

2. Humility, human, humor all have the same root—Indo-European ghom……Latin: humus—dirt. Better still: down to earth, ordinary. Ordinary what? Often caught at cross purposes. Paul in Romans 7/8 speaks this way: the good stuff I want to do, I don’t; and the stupid things I know I don’t want to do, I do those. What’s up with my thinking?

Good old crusty, down to earth Martin Luther: simul Justus et peccator. You really have to have a sense of humor. Humor is the juxtaposition of incongruities. Can you live with your own imperfections and find them a source of humor? What was I thinking?

Humor, humanity, humility. We cannot work on one without working on the others. We cannot have one without having the others. To attempt to any of the three begins a process of bringing us home—home ourselves, to the mixed-up-ed-ness of our human be-ing. Home is the place where we can be ourselves and accept ourselves as both good and bad, saint and sinner. Home is the place where we can find some peace within all the chaos and confusion. Where we are accepted and cherished by others precisely because we so mixed-up and ordinary. Humility allows us to find a peace in our imperfection.

Lincoln: God must like ordinary folk—he made so many of us.

St. Therese of Lisieux: Ordinary folk, like you and me, must be greatly loved by God since there are so many of us, always have been, and most likely always will be.

St. Therese again: our faults cannot hurt God. Nor will our failure interfere with our own holiness. Genuine holiness is precisely a matter of enduring our own imperfections patiently.

3. Maintaining balance. It’s hard to imagine that the Pharisee here didn’t return to home thinking that same way he showed up. Does having prayer life with God make a difference in one’s outlook in life and indeed, one’s self-evaluation? Israel’s prophetic tradition is big on “walking humbly with your God.” If humility begins with the acceptance of oneself as imperfect then it will not be interested in judging others, as well.

St. Paul admonishes his young protégé, Timothy, with these words: Tend to thine own self and doctrine. Mind your own business and work on you. The working out of you, of course, is done in the context of plain old ordinary everyday life.

This is why prayer is so essential. The publican prayer is the essential prayer of Jesus’ apprentices. This was so in the first three centuries of our movement. It is the only clear way to maintain balance amid the distraction of “enemy territory.” (C.S. Lewis)

How would the discipline of not having the last word get worked out for you?

Is the last thing you think about and say at the end of the day before you shut your eyes – thank you?

How does loving your enemies get played out in unpopular and threatening ways?

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