Sam Tidball — March 28, 2021
Picking Up: Pick Up Your Humility
Hey Church, this is our last week of Lent before Easter. Our Lent sermon series has been called “Picking Up.” We came up with the idea because Lent typically involves giving something up, and we as a church also encourage people to pick up a holy habit during this season. Over this series we have heard from Pastor Marissa who introduced us to the idea of being transformed like Jesus using Colossians 3. Pastor Vannae talked about picking up our friends and bringing them to Jesus. Pastor Emeritus Anna encouraged us to pick up our staff and trust God. Chaplain and Youth leader Tim Imber reminded us to pick up our armor in a way to remember we must rely on Jesus. Pastor Emeritus Nigel Berry encouraged us to pick up our doubt to give ourselves freedom to grow. I am so honored today to be the closing preacher in this series before Easter. That’s right; it’s one week until Easter making this Sunday….? I will give you a hint. I brought my friend on stage with me (don’t worry, he’s safe from covid because, well, he’s actually a plant). This is my friend Cedric our Palm Plant that lives at our house. The longer the pandemic has gone on, we started naming our plants and things got weird. OK, well, that’s more information than you wanted to know, but Cedric is on stage with me not only because I needed someone in the audience but because it’s Palm Sunday. Keeping in mind the spirit of Lent about giving something up and picking something else up in its place… today I am preaching about laying down your Palm branch and picking up humility.
Palm branches in the ancient East and Mediteranean were symbols of grandeur used to celebrate times of victory and triumph followed by peace. Often Kings would have them painted on the walls of their kingdom and images of palm branches were on the back of coins. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating victory,and we certainly do have victory over death thanks to Jesus. However, today, I hope to give you a new perspective on experiencing victory by picking up humility. Fun fact, the story of Palm Sunday only mentions palms in the gospel of John and not in any of the other gospels. It’s the story when Jesus enters Jerusalem typically conjuring up images of people happily laying down palm branches in a path or waving them in the air as Jesus enters the city on a donkey. I most prefer using the gospel of Luke to share the story because Luke’s version gives a different perspective that we tend to forget about.
As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. 38 They said,
“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”
39 Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”
40 He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”
41 As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it. 42 He said, “If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 The time will come when your enemies will build fortifications around you, encircle you, and attack you from all sides. 44 They will crush you completely, you and the people within you. They won’t leave one stone on top of another within you, because you didn’t recognize the time of your gracious visit from God.”
Here we have a picture of the people and the disciples rejoicing as Jesus enters into the city on a donkey. But Luke gives us a version of the story where Jesus isn’t so thrilled. Jesus is weeping instead! Why? The people of Jerusalem have been waiting for this moment which was prophesied about in the Old Testament (Zechariah 9:9). Their King had finally arrived, and they expected him to conquer and dominate the Roman powers. Their victory was near! Yet, Jesus’s arrival on a donkey instead of a warhorse should have been a clue that this King would conquer through peace and humility not domination. This King would come to serve and die rather than leading armies like they had anticipated. Throughout the gospel of Luke, Jesus tried to clarify that their expectations for a political, warrior Messiah were misguided. They still didn’t seem to understand who Jesus was even as they were shouting out Hosanna only days before his crucifixion. Not to mention, Jesus also knew that forty years from this event, Rome would besiege and conquer Jerusalem and level the temple to the ground. No wonder Jesus was weeping. Let’s zoom out a little bit and try to remember that Jesus just spent three years preaching about this radical love, belonging, and peace. He explains again and again that he’s going to die and nobody believes him. No matter how many times he says things like, “The First shall be last and the last shall be first” (Matthew 20:16) or “greater has no love than one who lays down his life for his friends” John 15:13 or “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) They still twist whatever he says into this warrior king because they can’t get over their own expectations and hopes for who they want Jesus to be. So in the Palm Sunday story Jesus is entering the temple hearing everyone shout “Hosanna in the highest!” but he knows his people are misguided in their thinking for the reasons they are praising him. He knows he has to suffer and die to change their narrative.
I can’t help but see some parallels between this story and the modern Christian Church in America. Now I love the Church. For me, Church has been a place to encounter Jesus, and the love of God like no other. The Church has done beautiful works in the name of Jesus to show God’s love to the world. However, I also see similarities with this Palm Sunday story and how Christians are acting today that would make Jesus weep.
The things being done in the name of Jesus in our country are creating a narrative that associates being a Jesus follower with the idolatry of nationalism, bigotry, racism, misogyny, anti-science, sexual abuse scadels, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and so forth. Christians have been some of the loudest voices of hate in these arenas.
Jesus weeps when we celebrate him in the wrong ways. When we carried our flags announcing “Jesus saves!” violently charge the capitol and built hanging gallows… Jesus wept. When Christians aided in wiping out cultures and people groups like the Native Americans and forced those left over to look, think, and act like white Christians…Jesus wept. I could go on and on about all we have done in the name of Jesus that are the antithesis of everything Jesus stood for.
Like the people of Jerusalem, we also miss the fact that Jesus is weeping because we are misguided by our own arrogance,and pride. No wonder so many people aren’t interested in associating with Christianity. We, as Christians, love to wave our Palm branches celebrating a Jesus we don’t really know but are convinced we know it all. We celebrate the Jesus we have made in our own image and then crucify him a few days later when he doesn’t meet our expectations. Similar to the people in Jerusalem from our Bible story, it often feels that Christians today completely missed the fact that Jesus showed up on a donkey representing PEACE and HUMILITY instead of on a war horse symbolizing dominance and power.
So what do we do about this? First, we need to weep with Jesus. Perhaps we can relate to how Jesus felt when his own people took everything he said out of context and created their own false narratives about who he is. We weep and then we remind ourselves who Jesus is. We change the narrative by embodying humility the way he did.
We are reminded in Phillipians 2:2-8 the image of what it means to embody humility.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross
We are reminded in Philippians 2, following Jesus isn’t about winning wars or conquering over one another (which Tim Imber did a great job explaining in his sermon) but instead following Jesus requires embodying humility, sacrifice, putting others first, and having a heart for service.
I don’t know why it seems so easy to forget as Christians we are supposed to lead with humility the way Jesus did. I think often in Christian leadership roles we tend to think God is on our side only. Therefore, we have all the answers and are superior to others. Let me illustrate this with a story of a time I was quite humiliated.
When I was a young Youth Pastor at a church in Nashville, TN I got invited by other local Youth Pastors to help plan a local youth conference for the surrounding area churches. When we sat down in the auditorium for the message, the speaker at the event preached a message about how our relationship to God was similar to how he beats his dog into submission. His words and the visuals he presented was horribly graphic. I looked around the room to see how the other Youth Pastors were handling the message, and all of them were laughing hysterically and yelling “Amen” cheering on the speaker’s message to become only more violent. I was so outraged by this message and the reactions. I stood up and motioned for all my teens to follow me out the door. We were sitting in the front row, so it was painfully obvious that we were all walking out on this guy’s message. I apologized profusely to my students for what they had to hear. I tried everything I could to tell them this was not OK, this is not what Jesus is like, and try to erase everything they just heard. I am sure I said things about the speaker that were not appropriate in front of all my students. Then, I rolled up my sleeves to have a serious word with this guy only to find my husband already doing so in a calm but firm manner that I was not able to do at that moment. Unfortunately, this speaker wouldn’t listen to any of our concerns. He was only furious that we humiliated him by walking out and piled on insults while we left. When I tried to share my concerns with those in charge, the other youth pastors told me they didn’t know what I was talking about because they were too busy counting all the people who were getting saved. I called parents to pick up their kids early from this conference feeling like everything had totally blown up. I worried that everything was a huge fail. I wondered if I did the right thing. I had to call parents and explain what went down. Some were understanding, others not so much.
I remember shaking and praying to God, “How could anyone who actually knows Jesus preach and live in a way that is the antithesis of everything Jesus stood for?!?!?!”
“Change the narrative.” I heard in my mind.
I didn’t know what that meant at the time but I held onto the phrase. This event was 10 years ago, but in the past year similar feelings resurfaced watching people in our country carry a “Jesus Saves” flag while violently charging the capitol. Events like this often make me want to disassociate with the Christian label, but then I remember Jesus weeping in Jerusalem because his very own people didn’t really know who he was. I remember Jesus’ pain and frustration at the temple with their misguided expectations and misinterpretations of his teachings.
So I begin weeping and agonizing. I hear the phrase again “Change the narrative.” I believe this is God reminding me that I have power to change the narrative of what it means to be a Jesus follower. We change the narrative reminding others Jesus is our humble servant who came to conquer not through violence or dominance, but through death and sacrifice. We change the narrative through living out humility which Jesus modeled for us.
Earlier this month, I was texting with a previous student of mine who is now an adult. I told her I was sorry if I ever did anything that was arrogant or harmful. I expressed to her that I have grown immensely since my early days of Youth Pastoring, but I often worry I have said or done things that misrepresented Jesus. I held my breath and waited for a long list of grievances.
I believe a lot of good came from most of our time. Remember that time we were at a youth conference and the speaker at a youth conference was comparing our relationship to God to beating a dog into submission? And then you were like “nope, absolutely not” and got everyone to stand up and walk out because you didn’t want these kids believing anything of the sort—and that’s so imprinted on our consciousness, like, forever! We appreciated that and took that forward with us and how it shaped us even when other adults in that circle didn’t like it or were upset by it. It made us (and our faiths) way more resilient and flexible when other people had… brittle beliefs, I guess? that were more prone to be shattered by hard stuff.–
10 years later I am witnessing how God made something beautiful out of the chaos that occurred despite me not handling everything perfectly. This event I thought was a total disaster ended up being one of the things that helped build a resilient faith and changed the narrative for my students of what following Jesus looks like.
I think in a similar way, we can take the most broken parts of American Christianity and learn from it all. What can we do to change the narrative looking forward? Practically speaking, we pick up humility by shifting our posture from superiority to a readiness to learn.
I cannot think of a better modern day version of someone who did this than Fred Rogers. He embodied humility in the way I believe Jesus would want us to. Whoever he was with, he treated them as if they were a gift to this world and sought to learn from others especially children. Since seeing the latest movie with Tom Hanks, I have been trying to retrain my brain to see people the way Mr. Rogers does. Instead of viewing people like a project to fix, I ask what God wants to reveal to me through them. I started asking questions, “What can I learn from this person? How do I see God at work in this person? This switch in thinking has shaped my faith, changed my relationships, and helped me embrace humility in ways I didn’t even know I needed. Thinking about others this way helps us to see everyone the way God sees us as valuable and a gift to be treasured. I encourage you all to give this a try with people you encounter. Next time you feel yourself tempted to look at someone like a project to fix, or feel you are better than them, or maybe you are straight up annoyed by them. Stop and ask yourself, what can I learn from this person? How do I see God at work in them? How do I see myself in them? Perhaps if we begin to view others through this lens of humility we can help change the narrative of what it means to be a humble Jesus follower.
What are your expectations of who Jesus is? If your picture of Jesus isn’t soaked with humility, I urge you to look again. I encourage you to dive into scripture with humble friends and be reminded of who Jesus really is. Surround yourself with a community of people willing to live their lives in a posture of learning. I urge you to pick up humility by repenting and asking God to search your heart for any hint of arrogance or pride. And if you find yourself wanting to detach from the Christian label because you are also disgusted with the misrepresentations of Jesus… do not give up! Instead, change the narrative by picking up humility the way Jesus did. This may look like weeping the way Jesus did over Jerusalem. Perhaps it means standing up for the truth about who Jesus is to you even in a very tense or awkward situation. Or perhaps changing the narrative for you will be to switch to a posture of humbly listening and learning from others, and choosing to see how God is at work in their lives the way Mr. Rogers and Jesus did. Let our narrative shout from the mountain tops that we serve a God who brought victory through death, through sacrifice, through humble servanthood, and can redeem all things that feel hopelessly broken.