Back to series

Good morning, church. Please go with me in your Bibles to the book of Psalms, and we’re going to read chapter one this morning together.

This is the second sermon in a miniseries on humility through the season of lent. Humility is having a right view of yourself and others, having a right view our value and worth as humans, especially in light of the glory of the Lord. Notice I said the right view of yourself, not a low view. Having a right view of yourself includes knowing your faults and failures, your sins and struggles, but every time you do look your sin in the face, you should know that in Christ you are deeply loved, forgiven, and welcomed. It’s a both/and. If you never admit anything is wrong in your life, you can never enter into help and healing in Christ. If you never know the depth of your own brokenness, you’ll never see the depth and beauty of the redemption of our God. Your worth doesn’t come from what you do or who you are, it comes from God, how he sees you, and what he is able to do in and through you.

This means not thinking of humility solely in terms of how you view yourself. In truth, humility is not an inward contemplative discipline, meaning you don’t typically learn humility by yourself, you learn it by practicing humility in a community seeking collectively to walk in the light of the Lord. Understanding yourself rightly has a way of making you forget yourself, moving beyond a right view of yourself into a right view of God, humanity, and his church. You don’t realize how dim the lights are in a room until you step out into the sun, and so humility comes from stepping outside of ourselves into the light of the Lord, and experiencing what all of even our most brilliant and best moments and qualities are imitating.

Last week we talked about obedience. Obedience and the fear of God. Like children, we need to learn what it means to obey our parents, to fear what might happen to us if we don’t, to understand what it means to have rules and laws above you to keep you safe, to let you know what is wise and what is foolish. Every authority on earth is unjust, at least in part, but God is good. Learning to obey him is like learning to obey a good parent; it’s learning to thrive, to pursue right ends in healthy ways within loving community, knowing to your core that even though you make mistakes you are worthy of love and help. That’s humility.

Today, I want us to learn the place of three virtues: perseverance, repentance, and serenity in walking humbly with our God. Let’s read our passage for today, Psalm 1. [] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly.

My brother, Will, is one of my absolute favorite people in the universe. He’s incredibly skilled at very many things. He’s an exercise enthusiast, for example, and a mathematician. His wife grew up in Norway, and they lived in England for a while. They have four kids, all of them wildly different. He wakes up every morning around 5am and reads books with his oldest daughter but his youngest daughter is more likely to use a book as a weapon. His greek is better than mine and he’s currently reading through the septuagent for the second time. He builds furniture and roasts his own coffee, plays piano and makes his own hot sauce. Going to spend time with them in Charlotte is like going on vacation into the healthiest and most passionate parts of my own mind and soul.

But if you’ve known a truly brilliant person, you know there are usually some spots in the solar radiance of their lives. Like blinders on a horse, their ignorance in some areas almost seems to help them focus and run in those lanes where they are brilliant. My brother rarely drives anywhere, for example, partially because is great at math, but terrible with directions. We’re all grateful he doesn’t drive much, because when he does get behind the wheel of a car, we worry. There was one time when we were both in high school when he got lost. Really lost. He had a cell phone, but this was long enough ago, it didn’t have the ability to give him directions, so instead of being able to pull up maps, he did what we all used to do in those days when we were feeling a bit lost: he called my dad, who’s here today, which is how I ended up listening to one side of a conversation as a dutiful younger brother, I’ve never let him live down.

We lived in Memphis, at the time, and Will had gone to a knowledge bowl meet across town—knowledge bowl is like sports, but for nerds. By the time he called he’d been lost for a while, and he was panicked about it, so he had no idea even what neighborhood he was in. My dad kept asking him to give street names and landmarks, something to be able to know where he was, because if you don’t know where you are there’s no way to know which way to go.

My dad got frustrated, because nothing Will was saying sounded familiar, and he kept telling my brother just to stop driving and give us a minute to find him on the map, which of course he wouldn’t do because he was panicked. This whole conversation took about thirty minutes, Will’s phone’s almost died, and my dad started to panic, until this lurching pause in the back and forth, and my dad said, “wait, what water?” I heard my brother on the other end repeat how he vaguely remembered going over water.

A few more questions and we figured out, he’d gone over a bridge. A few more questions, and my dad figured out, it was maybe a large bridge. Until finally we realized something that for anyone besides my brilliant brother would be impossible: he had gone over the Mississippi River without noticing. That was the reason we couldn’t find him on the map. It was a map of Tennessee, and Will was in Arkansas. The brilliant idiot had gotten so lost he was in the wrong state. All the younger siblings in the room with impressive brothers will understand just how good it felt to me for him to do something so dumb, and how often I’ve brought it up since then, including now publicly, in this sermon. It feels really good. This is being recorded and will be on the internet for as long as I can legally keep it there.

In this series, I’m borrowing heavily from a book called Humility Rules about the rule of St. Benedict, and his twelve-step ladder to humility. Two of the steps of this ladder go inextricably together: perseverance and repentance. You need both, and at the same time. Because to attempt perseverance without repentance is almost always driving down a road that won’t bring you home. In the best case of that scenario, the road is literal, and you cross the country’s largest river without noticing and drive two hours out of your way, and your little brother talks about it for the rest of your life. That’s best case scenario. Kidding aside, though, the worst case scenarios of perseverence without repentance will ruin your life and make a wreck of your faith. Love and kindness in this case looks like rebuke, intervention. This is a truth about love lost in our culture. We’re all so afraid of giving offense, we’ve stopped giving directions, and we just let people drive and drive without ever turning toward the right ways.

We’ve probably all known people in our lives who struggle to admit they’re wrong. They don’t apologize, and they don’t ask for forgiveness. They just keep driving. Sometimes they go way too far, they’re off the map in Arkansas, and no one can really even find them anymore. Not only will they go over the bridge, sometimes they’ll burn the bridge behind them. You wonder if they know there are other ways besides their own. Our Psalm this morning uses the word “scoffers,” and I love that. A scoff is a laugh and an insult at the same time, like when you invite someone to church, and they laugh and say, “I’m not really the church type,” as though there’s one type of Christian in the world, or as if you believe the 86% of the world who believes in some sort of god are all idiots, and you’ve got life figured out, when really you went off any map you had a long time ago. Some people mistake movement for progress.

Humility oftentimes is just stopping to figure out where you are. To say it again, if you don’t know where you are there’s no way to know which way to go. Most of the ways I see people going into ruinous places in life, it wasn’t big mistakes that brought them there. It was thoughtlessness, persistence without repentance. I remember a conversation when I was teaching, I was talking with a coworker about faith, and he told me he grew up in church but doesn’t go now, and I asked him what caused him to leave. He said, “Nothing. I just didn’t see the point.” Sometimes we just kept driving, even though we had no idea where we’re going.

Humility is figuring out where you are and where you want to go. As a pastor, I’ll plead with you, to go towards the way of Christ and wisdom, because he is our true home, our good father and the wellspring of everything we desire. This image in our passage of the wicked being like chaff is so true: chaff is, basically, the husk of the wheat which falls off in threshing, it’s empty and purposeless. People used to toss the wheat in the air and just let the chaff blow away. That’s the picture of wickedness in our passage—not cringeworthy evil, no big crime, just emptiness, purposelessness, waking up one morning forty years later and realizing you have no idea where you are or how you got here. That’s perseverance without repentance.

Humility, on the other hand, uses the life of Christ as a kind of keystone. A keystone in sailing or hiking is when you can pick out some large landmark on the horizon. Usually the keystone is not a thing you can actually reach—it’s a star, or a distant mountain, or the top of some enormous tree. You may not be able to get there, but you know if you walk in that direction you’ll be going the right way. As long as you can see your keystone you can tell if you’re drifting, or if you’re on course.

If Christ is our keystone, then we need to be moving toward personal holiness. Not that we’ll get there in full, but because with Christ as our keystone we can know that’s the right direction. Part of our purpose as Christians is to live in such a way that we and people who know us can experience redeemed life, even if it’s only in part, to participate in our father’s work of redemption in this world and give people a taste to see God is good. Through humility, through repentance and perseverance, we can start down that road. Admit what’s wrong in your life, what mistakes you’ve made, and do something about it, asking God and his people to help you. That’s a good step to take.

If Christ is our keystone, we need to move toward a place where we are pouring ourselves out for the sake of the people around us. As in our text last week, we’re not meant to try to fill our own cups with things we think we need, we’re meant to pour out and allow Christ to fill us. We’re meant to empty ourselves, to give and to serve within the context of a local body, to dig in to individual people’s lives, and into our society at large to find the beauty which needs to be preserved and celebrated, but also find real ways of helping what needs to be helped. Heal the sick, bind the broken, set the captives free. If Christ is our keystone, that’s where we need to go.

The truly humble people in my life seem to come into every conversation wanting to learn and wanting to change. It’s a kind of curiosity that recognizes, no matter how strong you are, no matter how much water you can carry, Christ is the rain, and everyone else around you is able to take in and carry the wisdom he pours down, so everyone else around you has wisdom and truth, too. Christian truth and knowledge is not secret, it’s generously poured out. Pride wants to talk about itself, humility is listening. Pride doesn’t look for insight from others, it wants to show off. Humility is willing to listen, even when it’s coming from someone younger, less experienced, less informed. When’s the last time you stayed silent and asked questions when you could have been talking? When’s the last time you went into a conversation with someone who knows less than you still expecting to learn? So much of humility is just stopping to realize, even if you’ve had your eyes on the keystone for years, we all drift, and we all need correction.

Repentance without perseverance is just as damaging as perseverance without repentance. Imagine my brother driving through Arkansas suddenly realizing the right way to go, turning the car around but then only driving half the way back home and leaving the car on the side of the road, trying to make a new life on the side of the road. If you know where your life is, why would you not do everything you could to get there? But we do this in our lives in pursuit of Christ. We move in stops and starts. We declare fasts for a month and keep them for a week. We pursue a new discipline or a new reading plan until exams hit, or sickness makes us miss a week, and we just drop the routine. We relapse and decide, instead of calling our friends and admitting we messed up, we check out.

We’re always trying to convince ourselves, in Christianity, there is going to be a shorter way to Christlikeness than what Eugene Patterson called “a long obedience in the same direction.” We want to read the right book or pray the right prayer, hear the right sermon, and reap the benefits of life in Christ all at once. But God doesn’t require results from us, he requires faithfulness. Perseverance teaches us, and our psalm teaches us, life in Christ is like a tree being planted by a stream of water. It’ not get rich quick, or a new weight loss plan, it’s a new way of living that will yield fruit in its season.

We planted our garden from seed this year. We started back in January, in the middle of winter when everything froze. Since then we’ve been waiting, like the Lenten season, paused before any kind of harvest watching and waiting for fruit in its season. Humility begins in repentance, grows through perseverance, and in time it yields fruit. Benedict teaches, much of the fruit of humility is serenity, contentment, the peace that comes in knowing you’re pointed in the right direction.

In this life, none of us are home. Some of us are stopped, some of us are moving. Some of us know Christ and know our direction. Others of us are lost, or adrift. We’re all longing for home. Serenity and contentment in this life come from knowing both the direction and the distance between where we are now and where, in the kingdom we will be. There’s nothing beautiful or humble about being stuck in the waiting place or adrift, directionless, resigned to just drive until a breakdown. Serenity comes from knowing where we’re going, and also that we’re not there yet.

Knowing you’re not home yet helps you accept the pain of our world, and knowing our direction, heavenward, helps you not to accept the evil and foolishness of this world. Humility is finding a path through both. I want you to notice in the Psalm we read, how you start off walking, then you stand still, then you sit down on the ground along the way. But in meditating on the law of God and following it, pursuing righteous ways, by the end of the psalm, you’re walking again with the Lord beside you.

I would invite everyone who’s lost to look toward Christ this morning, and everyone who finds himself drifting to stop, admit that you need to adjust course, and begin to move again with your eyes and lives oriented toward him. For those of us who are stopped standing in the way, or in our weariness stopped sitting in the road, I would invite you to lean on the people around you, let us lift you up, and get going again. For all of us this morning, I would invite us into humility, and into a recognition that this is not our home. In this lenten season may we learn again to long for what’s true until we rest forever with him, planted like trees next to living water.

Print your tickets