Humility or Humiliation
The name of this sermon changed over the week, from "A fault in the plan,"...kind of ironic wouldn't you say;)
Earlier this year, I watched this great movie, now I’m not going to tell you the title, because I want to talk about the end. Whether you’ve seen it or not, I think you’ll get the point, and I don’t have to spoil the story for you. There’s a group of young girls preparing a dance for a competition. One of them has a bedwetting problem…actually it’s an all the time wetting problem, because out of her own control, when she gets really scared, her body pees. Humiliating right? Well, you can imagine that most kids would be terrified to leave the house, but not this little girl. She even goes up on stage, but some mean girls blow her focus, she gets nervous, stops singing and in the silence, she starts to pee. So, humiliating. And that’s when her friend steps up and changes the situation. She walks up to her dance team partner and starts singing and pees her pants. Then the next girl does it and so on, until the whole dance team is standing on stage in front of a hundred people, with wet pants. Humiliating, yeah? You’d think so, but they were singing louder and better than ever before.
And this is where we get to the difference between Humility and Humiliation.
Being humiliated is out of your control. It is a loss of control where you don’t have a choice.
Humbleness is a choice.
An expression or lifestyle of humility means excepting limitations out of sacrifice for someone else to experience freedom or a greatness unavailable to them, outside of their limitations. limitations are not the same as hatred or despising something. When Jesus became a human he was making himself unworthy of God‘s love, but he did it out of love, and he was accepting the limitations of being human so that we could receive the honor and privilege that comes with being a child of God.
When you choose to be humble, you might experience humiliation, but you are also empowering someone else.
We discover our own strength when we give others what could be ours.
We discover new truths when we wrestle with the mysteries of life.
We find the freedom of God’s love when we accept the limits of death and through suffering.
Paul had taught these truths to the people of Phillipi and many scholars feel like this chunk of scripture is more like a statement of faith. Whether or not this is something they repeated over and over, it tells the story of Jesus with a concise description of who he is and what he has done for us. Even though he could have come into the world with all of the power in the universe, he was born as a child and grew up like an average human being. Even though he could have traveled like a king, he came into Jerusalem on a donkey. Even though he could have taken power by force, he gave up his life in the extremely gruesome death on a cross.
No matter what translation you are reading this morning, there are a few words that seem to be familiar, even if we have no idea what that means.
Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God as something to exploit.
"But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and becoming like human beings."
It’s kind of funny to me, the one who has an endless stream of living water empties himself.
What does that even mean for me? Does it mean burnout? Am I supposed to give all of my energy until I can not give anymore?
This line can be very dangerous.
Are human beings supposed to be slaves to one another? Does humility to death mean we are to accept the fate put before us?
Again, this line can be very damaging.
In the Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight encourages us to stay with these verses and keep wrestling with the mystery. “'Let the Bible be the Bible' is my motto," he says, “because teaching the Bible has taught me that the Bible will do its own work if we get out of the way and let it.”
When we look at the words a little closer, we do not find lessons on expelling all of our physical energy for God and accepting the ridicule and orders of people in power.
This phrase “being equal with God something to exploit” is a bit tricky, it can mean that sharing the same qualities with God is something that cannot be stolen or taken by force, and it also means holding the same power of God can not be retained or kept by the use of force. Did he mean one of those ways or both? Jesus sure demonstrated both when he willingly gave up his access to the power of God, by being born as a brother to humanity. This is not a story about the humiliation and self destructive habits of Jesus, it is a story about power released and given, power received and granted by association.
Jesus accepted the human limitations of not knowing, learning, growing, being in one place at a time, suffering and dying.
From his gift of welcome into the kingdom of God, we find peace in the mystery, grace as we learn, strength for growing, communion with our great cloud of witnesses, endurance for our struggles and eternal life with God.
Earlier this year, even before our current Coronapocalypse, I heard a speak talk about Compassion Fatigue. Already by January in 2020, we were all so tired, exhausted by the weight of all of the problems in the world. So much devastation and so much out of our control. We get so consumed with caring so much about the people around us and around the whole world that we become frozen with compassion fatigue.
Now that we are fighting this strange war with a virus, we are approaching Humility fatigue. At the beginning of this week, I was so ready to preach this sermon, but by yesterday, I was dreading it. We all spend our days making sacrifice after sacrifice to the point that we can’t give up any more.
If humility means accepting limitations and sacrificing our power to choose our circumstances—we have been accepting more obedience every day.
We are giving up our choice of what to eat, when and where.
Our choice of how, when and where to exercise
How, when and where to maintain our hair.
Where to shop, what to buy and most of the time the power to select our meat and produce.
In some cases, we have lost jobs or closed our businesses.
We give up going to our comfortable offices and classrooms, but we still work full-time for our vocations of work and family members, teachers teaching their own children as well as their students, parents attending zoom meetings while trying to keep the kids from killing each other, kids trying to do your homework while your brother, sister, or parent for that matter, is doing something more fun in the other room.
Some people give up their choice of staying home, by continuing in their work stocking shelves or serving customers in our grocery stores and restaurants, by maintaining our pharmacies, and serving in the many varieties of medical professions, fighting on the front lines of this war.
Giving up these choices to empower
—our hospitals to care for those who really need help, rather than caring for us if we can avoid it.
—our co-workers, by protecting their health
—our teachers, by not putting them in danger
—our loved ones, by not putting them at risk.
Each day, we give up more and more, to the point that we are exhausted, because even though we have been working so hard to protect and care for one another, things have only gotten worse.
In our work and families we are doing so many new things and being so flexible that we feel like we are going to break like a fragile container that ends up spilling everything on the floor when we just can’t handle it all.
We can’t empty ourselves anymore, because we are empty.
How do we refill ourselves once we have been emptied? How do we find rest and renewal to be passionate and compassionate again?
We must remember that our first choice is really to accept the calling of Humility from Jesus. So, we come back to the source and repeat the story of Jesus. We follow his example and start small, with baby steps, you could say, we let go of our powers, and we let go of our need to be in the know.
1. When we can stay present in the day and focus on one challenge at a time, we can begin to notice the beauty of each moment.
2. When we can acknowledge that we are accepting the limitations out of a choice to give power to others, we will discover that there is enough power to go around.
3. When we can take the position of a student and listen to the voices of people who have less power than we do, we can find the faults in our fears, the good in our moments of regret, and a hope for the growth to come.