Tag Archive: Humility

Last Sunday’s sermon on Matthew 21:23-32, preached at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

I love movies. My brothers and I used to have contests to see who could “name that movie quote.” We’d do accents and imitations, too.   So it was to my great delight when I found out that Pastor Joe knows a great deal of movie quotes. And on Thursday, when everyone in the church was quoting the Wizard of Oz, I was thrilled! That was my favorite movie growing up, but when I hit my teenage years, another movie took its place. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Some of you may think this an odd choice, but come on! Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in one movie with action, history, foreign countries, manuscripts, adventure, and faith – it’s right up my alley! And if you put that movie on when I’m nearby, I will begin to quote it – I can’t help myself.

Well, as I was meditating on the texts for this morning, one of the scenes from Indiana Jones came to mind. Indy is on the search for the Holy Grail and now it’s the climax of the movie. Time is running out because the evil art collector, Walter Donovan, who is in cahoots with the Nazis, has shot Indy’s father, Henry Jones, Sr. He’s done this to make Indy go in and find the Grail so that he can save his dad. The suspense!

Indy knows because of his dad’s research that there are three booby traps before you can even get to the Grail. And the clue to the first one was what popped into my mind: “Only the penitent man will pass.” I remember asking my Dad what “penitent” meant and hearing that it meant the person who is sorry for the mistakes they’ve made and the things they’ve done.

As Indy moves slowly forward, he keeps repeating, “The penitent man will pass.” Creeping through the dark tunnel, he talks to himself, “The penitent man is humble before God. The penitent man… The penitent man is humble. Penitent man is humble… kneels before God. Kneel!” And right as he says it, two razor sharp blades whirl from the stone walls, Indy narrowly kneeling and rolling to safety. It’s a fantastic scene and it’s stuck with me.

But the idea of the penitent passing or entering is exactly what Jesus speaks about in his encounter with the chief priests and elders we hear about in the Gospel.

Previously, Jesus entered Jerusalem humbly riding on a donkey while the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Then he cleansed the Temple, causing chaos and turning the religious establishment on its head. There, the children in the Temple continued to shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” which really got under the religious leaders’ skin. And now Jesus is face to face with the chief priests and the elders of the people. These aren’t every day Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, or lawyers. No, these are the religious elite – the head honchos of the Temple. And they’ve witnessed the uproar caused by his entrance into Jerusalem and the events at the Temple. They’re already majorly irritated and now Jesus is teaching in the Temple – on their turf. Oh snap!

So they come after him, questioning his authority. Basically, “Who died and made you Elvis?!” They want to know who said he could teach because clearly he’s not one of them. And rather than just answering them, Jesus throws the ball back into their court with a tricky question: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”

It may sound odd to our ears, but this is the theological equivalent of tossing a grenade in the mix because the chief priests and elders know it’s a trap and they can’t possibly answer. If they say it was from heaven, why haven’t they recognized John the Baptist as one of God’s prophets or been upset because Herod killed him. If they say that John’s baptism was of human origin, then the crowds who do believe and follow John’s call to repentance will be outraged. So they respond with, “we don’t know.”

And Jesus refuses to speak about where his authority comes from, because as he points out in the parable, the ones who need to know where he gets his power already know. Jesus’ parable is about two sons – one who says he won’t do something for his father but does, and one who says he will do something and doesn’t.   Remember the penitent man will pass – this is where the repentant ones come back into the picture.

The son who says he will work in the vineyard, but doesn’t follow through is like the religious leaders. They are people of God, teachers of the Scriptures, and powerful leaders in the Temple. They should know that Jesus is of God, but they don’t. They talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. The son who says he won’t work, but does it anyway, represents the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners who have heard the word of God preached by John and now Jesus and who have repented to follow God. Contrary to all outward appearances and their roles in society where they are labeled as outcasts, they get it. And they’re entering the kingdom of heaven before the religious elite.

I see two major themes at work here: pride or arrogance, and humility or willingness to grow.   The religious elites are at the top of their game and they think they know exactly what the will of God is – exactly what God is up to. But the sinners are those on the edges of society, those struggling and looked down upon. These are people who know their own hurts and brokenness. They are people who know they have a need. They get the message because it touches them and means something in their lives.

Maybe it is easy for us to fall into the trap of talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Maybe we are relying on ourselves instead of God. Maybe we find ourselves thinking, “well, I may make mistakes, but at least I’m not like so and so!” We might think we’ve got everything neatly figured out. Or maybe we’re feeling tired and in need of grace. Maybe we are remembering those things we did that we’re still struggling with and holding on to, days, weeks, or even years later. No matter which son we are, God calls out and says, “Turn, then, and live.” Don’t live in the tiny confines of thinking you’re above everyone else! Don’t live trapped behind the walls of you’ve constructed of who God is or whether or not certain people deserve God’s grace! Don’t live wrestling with your old demons of sin, guilt and shame! Don’t let your past define you or determine your future! No, turn and live!

We have an incredible gift in the church. We have the gift of times of confession and forgiveness. It is a time to think about our sins and the ways we’ve fallen short and to bring them humbly before God. It is a time to be vulnerable and admit our wrongdoing and our desire to change – to be free of the things that have bound us. It comes at the beginning of the service so that as we come in, weary from the world, from acting like we have it all together and keeping up appearances, we can let go. We can ask for help and know that God has heard our plea and does not delay in forgiving. Christ has freed us from all our sins. It is done. And we confess as a community, acknowledging that we all struggle and that we all need help.

A while ago I was speaking with some people who didn’t go to church and they asked about how we had confession. I explained how corporate confession happened and they said “Wow. That must be incredibly freeing.” I was amazed that even people not part of the church would be moved by the chance to admit their wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness and help. And in that conversation I think maybe a little pride as one of the clergy was put in check by those who also know their need for confession and forgiveness, but who aren’t in a church every Sunday.

Paul writes the following in Philippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.” For our sake, Christ humbled himself and became obedient to God even to the point of death on a cross. Can we develop that same humble and obedient mindset as followers of Christ? Who are we giving authority in our lives? Can we turn from our pride and our arrogance and listen to how God is calling us to turn, live and serve?

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indy finally makes it past the booby traps, he encounters the Grail Knight, the guardian of the Holy Grail. But much to his surprise, there are many chalices in the room. The Grail Knight counsels him, saying, “… choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.” We, too, have to choose each day if we are going to walk in the way that brings the fullness of life. Are we going to start each day remembering our need of God and believing that God is at work in us, imperfect as we are? Or are we going to go throughout our day relying on ourselves?

The Grail in the movie is not a lavish, attention-grabbing bejeweled chalice that looks perfect, but rather a simple, common cup. The humility of the cup and of the tax collectors and prostitutes, remind us that to follow God is to admit our need of help, forgiveness, and transformation. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

The Holy Grail from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (From: http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110317234056/indianajones/images/f/f1/Holy_Grail.jpg)

The Holy Grail from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (From: http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110317234056/indianajones/images/f/f1/Holy_Grail.jpg)

As my fiancé and I began watching the Closing Ceremonies for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, I noted that the torch only had three arms up. Apparently they hadn’t fixed it since it malfunctioned in the Opening Ceremony, which left me feeling incredibly bummed for our Canadian brothers and sisters. I joked and said, “what if they brought it up anyway?” My fiancé said he thought it’d be very awkward if they did that, but as we watched, the announcers also noted that there were only three arms.

Then, low and behold, the trap door opened and the fourth arm began to rise, along with, of all people, a mime. Yes, a mime. I would dare to say that mime jokes abound and so the conscious choice of using a mime to bring up the arm was brilliant in my opinion. The Canadians were able to laugh at themselves and, as my fiancé chuckled and put it, it was “a display of humility and awesomeness.” I completely and wholeheartedly agree.

Then, to top it all off, the fourth torchbearer, Canadian speedskater Catriona Le May Doan, who was left standing unceremoniously at the torch-lighting, was brought up through the trap door to participate in lighting the flame.

Hats off to Canada for using humor, being incredibly humble and extremely entertaining in fixing a problem. If only we all were able to humbly and humorously correct our problems and malfunctions!

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

John 13:1-17
Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet
1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

I’ve been thinking about this passage a lot today and I felt I should write down my thoughts, if only for future reflection. In September of 2007, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Egypt with work. I was there for twelve days, and in the course of those two weeks, I did a lot of walking. Each morning, I had the choice between wearing sneakers or my Teva sandals, purchased specially for the trip. Most days, I chose to wear sandals, as sneakers and sand never seemed to go together well in my mind. My journal entry from the first day of the trip reads as follows:

“I wore sandals today and when we were done, my feet were white with sand and dirt. I could not help but think about the stories in the Bible which feature sandals and sand: John the Baptist saying he is not fit to untie Jesus’ sandals (Mark 1:7, Luke 3:16); Mary washing Jesus’ feet since His host did not (John 12:3); Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles (John 13:1-17); the Apostles shaking the sand and dust from their feet when they leave the town which ignores the Gospel (Matthew 10:14, Mark 6:11, Luke 9:5, Acts 13:51). All of the stories make much more sense and have taken on greater significance.”

At the end of each day of exploration, the first thing I had to do, no matter how exhausted I was, was wash the sand from my tired feet. As I washed my feet, I thought of John’s story of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet. I suppose I had always thought of this story as more of an ancient custom – a foreign ritual confined to the pages of the Bible, but after scrubbing the dirt from my own feet, I became more aware of what exactly this story meant. All at once, Peter’s declaration of, “No! You can’t do that!” hit home.

Imagine for a moment that you are a disciple in the Upper Room. Suddenly, the Son of God, your teacher and Lord, is kneeling at your feet, rough and dirty from traversing the rugged countryside. You have watched Him heal the sick, forgive sinners, drive demons out of people and even raise the dead, but here He is – ready to lovingly wash your feet clean. God should not do such a demeaning thing, should He? Yet it is exactly what He does. It is extreme humility in action.

This beautiful passage depicts physically what Christ does to each of us spiritually when we encounter Him. For aren’t we all disciples in that room, desperately in need of someone to clean us up? He comes to us, compelled by love and mercy, pinpoints the dirt and proceeds to polish us until we shine. It may take some scrubbing, but the end result will glisten like gold in the sun.

Yet John’s passage is not only an example of Jesus’ love for us, but also a fervent call to action. When Jesus is finished with this apparent role-reversal, He instructs the disciples to do the same to those they encounter, acting as servants in humility and love. It is important here to distinguish between servitude and servanthood. Servitude implies that one is bound to do something regardless of his or her will, while servanthood is the act of willingly choosing to be a servant. In this act, Christ chooses to wash His disciples’ feet out of love and a desire to teach them how to serve others.

We, like the disciples, are to choose to take Jesus’ lead and to act as God’s servants in the world. We are to leave the four walls of the Upper Room and extend the love of this act to those in need. No, there may not be a need to physically wash feet anymore, but by humbly and generously offering of ourselves, we show that we care and have a desire to help however we can.

Instead of washing feet, we may serve by volunteering time at a soup kitchen or a non-profit organization. We may donate time and money to charities or groups whose causes touch us. Our “foot-washing” may be as simple as giving a stranger directions, holding the door for someone, or offering to help when we see a person in need. Even if your offer is declined, the very act of placing someone else’s needs above your own signals that you care about the other person and his or her situation. Sometimes people just need to know that someone is there.

In these little acts of kindness, we honor Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. As Christ reiterates in Matthew’s Gospel, “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40). There is no limit on how or whom we can help. We need only to use our creativity and act out of love and humility as Jesus did one evening in the Upper Room.

© 2008. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: