This sermon is based on chapter 5 of ‘Good and Beautiful and Kind’ by Rich Villodas.
One reason the world remains fractured is because of defensiveness, particularly within us. We build up walls that are too deep and too high to root us in love. Humility is (among other things) a life committed to lowering one’s defences and living from the true self in Christ. When our false selves run the show, our souls become fragile and we see those who disagree with us as threats.
Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by saying, ‘blessed are the poor in Spirit.’ The person who is poor in spirit doesn’t live a self-protective life, because for them there is nothing to protect, nothing to possess and nothing to prove.
- Nothing to Protect – Being poor in spirit means there is no need to cover your weaknesses or failures to protect an idealised version of yourself.
- Nothing to Possess – This is not saying we don’t own property or save for the future, but it is saying the life of the poor in spirit is a radically detached one. It means we do not count on the opinions of others to feel good about ourselves, and this enables us to be truly present with others.
- Nothing to Prove – To be poor in Spirit is to live free from the need to prove or justify ourselves. It means not having to have the last word. It also means refusing to be defensive, as we see modelled in Christ as he headed to the cross.
A biblical example of humility comes form the life of Naaman. It took a great deal to get him to lay aside his self-importance and humbly submit himself, but he did get there in the end and he was physically, emotionally, and relationally restored. Following the instructions that God gave through Elisha meant Naaman had to reject the identity he had carefully built over years. For us, it means the same.
The way of humility means not taking ourselves too seriously, not needing to project as something and not needing to be in control. Naaman’s body was healed on the seventh dip, but his soul was transformed on the first, when he set aside his entitled ways and humbly said yes to Elisha’s instructions.
Humility doesn’t happen by accident. It is something we can cultivate. Two particular habits that cultivate humility are:
- Praying the Jesus Prayer – Jesus told a story in Luke 18:9-14 about a pharisee and a tax collector going to pray. The tax collector prayed a prayer that is known as ‘the Jesus prayer’: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer helps us confront our own duplicitous ways, grounds us in our own inconsistencies and awakens us to the dark secrets we harbour within. Sometimes we can pray this repeatedly through the day. Others times we might pray them before a difficult meeting. Still other times we might soak in just one or two words from the prayer.
- Receiving Correction – Each of us has blind spots, and the humble person recognises this and is ready to receive input and correction from others. When Jesus healed the blind man in John 9, he pointed out that it is those who can confess being blind who truly see, and those who claim to see are blind. We each need an outside perspective to see ourselves more accurately. We can find correction difficult because of shame and insecurity. Shame can stand for ‘Should Have Mastered Everything Already’. The gospel reminds us that we are not made whole by our mastery of everything; we are made whole in the love of God.