Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
Last Sunday, it was a great pleasure to present the Order of St. Ethelbert at the Cathedral to nearly 30 people. Between them they have racked up hundreds of years of service to their local churches. There were people who had been Wardens or PCC members for several decades; those who had served in their communities or local schools. They were all people who had made, and continue to make a huge difference in the life of their community. When I invited them to attend some months ago, I was struck by the repeated theme of humility that emerged in their responses. Some didn’t see that what they were doing was particularly worthy of recognition. Others paid tribute to the team of people who had helped them through their time.
Humility is a cardinal Christian virtue. One could argue it’s the root of all Christian virtue. Especially if we see sin as primarily about self-aggrandisement; enthroning the ego as the absolute source of wisdom. That certainly seems to be what is described in the Genesis account. Here, rather than submitting our human wills to God’s revealed will, or word, we set ourselves up as the authority. Given human knowledge is finite, it lays the foundation for the ultimate arbiter of modern morality – what feels good to me. But what feels good to me at any particular moment is a very unreliable source of healthy behaviours! What feels good may prove to be very destructive both personally and to those close to us. Ask those who struggle with any kid of addiction. If we are to live together as social beings we need an agreed framework. Old Testament law, for all its cultural quirks was seen as a gracious gift of God to ensure justice and maximise wellbeing for all. Even things that look bizarre to us had that intention in their original context.
But even if we agree intellectually that the boundaries God has set are for our good, and that his motivation is always for our wholeness and wellbeing, it doesn’t necessarily make sticking within the boundaries an easy thing to do. Self is very powerful. St. Paul said we should die to it, in order that we might come alive to God. Humility allows us to set aside our self-focussed judgment and accept the judgement of God.
We see humility modelled in our friends who received the Order of St. Ethelbert, and countless other Christians who serve others. Extraordinarily we see it modelled in Christ himself. Philippians 2, verse 6 says, “He, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on the cross.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.” In Jesus we see, not God in disguise, with the real God a grumpy man with a sharp stick, but God in his very essence. God in his essence is self-giving love, eternally giving himself for the good of his creation.
Jesus teaches us that the route to life in all its fullness lies precisely in this same self-giving. Remember the lilies of the field, they neither labour nor spin, but not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. This isn’t a self-giving which is a form of masochism, but rooted in trust. This is a trust that our relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit really does provide all we need for our psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being. In that trust we are freed from the need for aggressive self-assertion; freed from the need for the subtle manipulation that seeks to draw from others what we feel is lacking in ourselves; freed from the insecurity in our own worth that causes us to project ourselves as people
of status or wealth; freed just to be who God has made us to be; and freed to be loved as only God can love us.
William Temple said that humility was not so much to think too little of ourselves, but not to think too much of ourselves at all. Fortunately, God in Christ thought enough of us to die for us, and that truth, embraced, celebrated and entered into is enough