Saturday, February 4, 2017
This Sunday we conclude our exploration of five core Christian virtues, which are at the heart of a distinctive Christian lifestyle. These virtues are the values that define our character. They are the attributes, which others see reflected in our outer life of words and deeds. Think of virtues as “habits of the heart.” Virtues become habitual, so ingrained within us that they guide and inform our actions, even though we may not even be aware of their influence. These five Christian virtues strengthen us as Christians to live ethically in a way that reflects Christ in what we say and do—and, this leads to distinctly Christian lifestyle.
Over the past weeks, we have examined the virtues of hope, love, justice, and frugality. This weekend, we look at a fifth and final virtue: humility. As was the case last week with frugality, I believe that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the virtue of humility. Popular culture tends to portray humble persons as weak, nobody losers. By contrast our culture tends to respect and idolize ambitious, powerful, affluent persons who are winners and celebrities.
In a sermon on “Humility” preached some years ago, the Rev. Eston Williams also points that the Church has probably also contributed to the disparaging view of humility as well. Rev. Williams pointed out that historically pastors may have over-stressed how sinful and worthless humans are. As an illustration, Rev. Williams cites the traditional “Prayer of Humble Access” in The United Methodist liturgy for the Sacrament of Holy Communion, which says in part, “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy [communion] table.”[i]
A far better understanding of this virtue would see humility as a balanced self-appraisal which does not overstate, or understate, one’s accomplishments, abilities, and value. Humility is a virtue of the mean between two extremes. On one extreme would be someone with an inflated self-esteem which causes the individual to overvalue who they are, find it difficult to admit when they are wrong, and exhibit traits of boastfulness, arrogance, and insensitivity. On the other extreme would be a person with very low self-esteem, which causes the individual to undervalue and denigrate who they are and what they can do. And, they exhibit traits of self-deprecation, weakness, and lack of confidence.
To reiterate, persons with humility take a middle course between these two extremes, acknowledging their contributions, talents, and success, without overstating who they are or what they have accomplished. A humble person is more concerned with their organization completing a project, instead of being overly concerned with who is going to get credit for the triumph. As Bernard of Clairveaux pointed out, “It is no great thing to be humble when you are brought low; but to be humble when you are praised is a great and rare attainment.”
From a Christian perspective, humility is a core virtue because it helps us keep a balanced self-understanding:
1. Properly cultivated, humility empowers us to open ourselves to God and accept God’s love for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
2. Humility helps us to recognize all of the blessings and gifts which God has already given to us and be grateful.
3. Humility strengthens us to admit when we make mistakes, or when we turn away from God and sin. So, humility prepares our hearts to receive forgiveness and reconciliation from God.
4. Finally, humility enables us to laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously.
Most importantly, humility insures that we put God at the center of our lives, and also that we place our ultimate trust and faith in God, rather than falsely trusting in ourselves and our own talents and resources. In other words, the virtue of humility helps us to keep a balanced self-understanding, and it strengthens our willingness to trust God.
The Apostle Paul underscores the importance of humility as a Christian virtue most powerfully, when he says: “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4: 5-7)
If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us this Sunday, February 5th, at Christ United Methodist Church, as we reflect on the Christian virtue of humility. In the proclamation, I will conclude with some suggestions on how we can cultivate the virtue of humility within our lives. The church building is located at 4530 A Street. Our classic worship services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday mornings.
Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.
[i] Eston Williams, pastor of Aley United Methodist Church, Seven Points, Texas, sermon entitled, “Humility,” accessed online at http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/humility-eston-williams-sermon-on-finding-fulfillment-88027, on 31 January 2017. The quotation from the United Methodist Sacrament of Holy Communion can be found in The United Methodist Hymn (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 30.