Lenten Series: Giving It Up
Sermon: Giving Up: Superiority
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
February 25, 2018
Scriptures: Psalm 22:23-31 CEB and Mark 8:31-38 CEB
Last week, in our “Giving It Up” Lenten sermon series, we talked about giving up our constant desire to be in control. My hope is that sometime this past week, you were better able to be aware of the desire to control welling up inside of you, perhaps a moment of frustration or anger, and in that moment, you could name the feeling you had for what it was. In naming that feeling, I hope you were able to invite God into the picture and ask God’s help, surrendering to God your frustration, your anxiety over change, or whatever it was. My prayer is that we let God be the one in control, and doing things how God wants, not necessarily the way we would do things. Most times, that would be “the way we have always done it.”
This week, we are talking about giving up our sense of superiority; feeling that we are better than the next guy, a cut above. Out of this sense of being superior comes things like feeling privileged, like the rules don’t really apply to me because I’m better than them. Whoever “they” are. There are synonyms for this: haughtiness, huffiness, loftiness, pomposity, pretentious, arrogance, self-importance, and presumptuousness. Jesus modeled for us the antonym: humility.
When Jesus revealed to his disciples what was coming, that he would suffer at the hands of the elders, chief priests and legal experts, and be killed by them, Peter, hot-head Peter, wasn’t having it. He took Jesus by the arm and began to correct him, saying no way, this could never happen to you! We can imagine Peter thinking, this can’t happen. This is JESUS we are talking about! Surely Jesus is more powerful than they are! This is God’s Son. He’s better than them!
Jesus responds to Peter by calling him Satan. “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.” Jesus’ rebuke was swift and direct. It doesn’t mean he didn’t love Peter. It just meant he was calling out the error in his thinking, that somehow God was going to work the way Peter expected, the human way of conquering and overcoming by force. Jesus lays it out. “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them.”
This was a whole new ballgame for Peter, and all the rest of Jesus’ followers. Their expectation was that one could gain the world, “have it all” and that God was going to give it to us on a platter because we backed the right horse.
Jesus is saying, no, you have to surrender this sense of power and superiority and give up your very self if you are to follow me. He’s harkening back to heed God’s words in 2nd Chronicles 7:14, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
God’s ways are not the same as human ways. “You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts,” Jesus said. To humble ourselves and bow to God’s will for our lives and the future as God sees it, is the way. No human could conceive that God was going to raise Jesus from the dead, forever changing the definition of what it looks like to conquer sin and death. Not power over, but through. Through the cross, Jesus brought us salvation.
Peter’s sword, later in the Garden of Gethsemane, was evidence that we humans have a really hard time wrapping our minds around how God works. “All who want to save their lives will lose them” Jesus said. “But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them.”
In other words, all who humbly give themselves to Jesus’ way will save their life. Those who cannot, who are ashamed of Jesus and His words, will find themselves unrecognizable to Christ when he returns. Those who think that they have it all right in the here and now, because their lives are successful, and they have gone through the motions of looking like a good person, may find themselves rejected by Jesus because of their stubborn refusal to come down off their pedestal of superiority and humbly surrender themselves to God’s will. There is a measure of spiritual maturity that is needed here.
When I was a girl, growing up in Sturgis, I believed that our town was the absolute BEST! Our school was the best, our marching band and orchestra were the best, our sports teams were the best. You name it. I thought I had come from the best community anywhere. Then I went to college.
As I grew and studied and traveled, I quickly learned that the world was much larger than I had known as a girl. I began to see that while I had had good experiences in Sturgis, they could not even hold a candle to some other people’s lives, towns, and cities. My sense of superiority was deflated. I began to realize that the world is filled with various and wondrous things. People from all different backgrounds, all around the world had gifts of culture, beauty, history, far exceeding that of Sturgis, Michigan.
It was overwhelming, except that I also had grown to know that God loved me, had created me just as I was, and God had a purpose for little old me from Sturgis. I just had to figure out what that was and how to live into it. My sense of self, while deflated from thoughts of superiority, grew into a positive self-esteem as a beloved child of God. You are all beloved children of God.
When we give up our superiority, we open ourselves to appreciating God’s other children. We can enjoy the beauty of other lands, other cultures, and other people without feeling threatened by them. We can value them as God’s family, our brothers and sisters around the globe.
Just now, we may have mental images of prosperous, beautiful people that we want to get to know. That is our learned way of thinking that we want to associate with other successful people in order to profit from the relationship. This is not God’s way of thinking. Our brothers and sisters around the globe are not all wealthy. In fact, more of them live on far less than we do. But this does not mean they do not have something God hopes they will share with us, even as we share ourselves in relationship with them.
We may have also made the mental leap to seeing images of just other Christians, as our brothers and sisters. This may be the thinking of exclusivist Christians, but it need not be the way we who are inclusivist Christians think.
The exclusivist considers the particularity of Jesus Christ as the thing that makes their faith somehow more correct, or right belief, while those of other faiths are incorrect or wrong. Therefore, their faith must be superior. The Inclusivist takes a very different stance. Hear these words from Adam Hamilton’s book, Christianity and World Religions: Wrestling with Questions People Ask.
“God is at work among all peoples everywhere, even where there is no Christian witness. The Inclusivist Christian believes that Jesus Christ is the definitive revelation of God: God’s Word made flesh. Therefore, all other religious truth claims must be measured in the light of Jesus. Jesus is the most complete picture of God. His life, death, and resurrection are the good news for all people.
Having said that, however, the inclusivist also believes that God may be actively involved in the lives of non-Christians, too. God has not “written off” these people who do not yet understand the fullness of the gospel. Instead, with divine mercy, wisdom, and grace, God may actually work through their religious practices to seek to draw them near. God sees their acts of righteousness and of worship and their efforts to know, follow and yield themselves and view these as directed at him. Even if those of other faiths have yet to understand or accept God’s definitive Word to them, God accepts the intent of their hearts – that they are reaching and yearning – and God credits this to them as faith. Inclusivists would note that it is Jesus Christ who saves us and that faith us our only prerequisite to salvation according to the Christian gospel. People of other religions may not understand or have knowledge of the gospel, but their service to God is a demonstration of the fact that they do have faith.”
As God is creator of all that is, the universe and everything in it, and as we humans have no clear ability to grasp and understand the mind of God, we do well to humble ourselves and live in accordance to God’s teachings, rather than human patterns of thinking.
The next time you find yourself tempted to judge another person, stop and consider what assumptions your judgment contains. What would Jesus say about that person? How would Jesus have us treat them? How do we hope to be treated ourselves? How do we hope to be welcomed by Jesus when he returns?
Giving up our sense of superiority does not mean we cannot have a healthy self-esteem. But a person with a healthy self-esteem does not belittle, bully, tease, judge, take advantage of or use violence against their neighbor just to make themselves feel better. They don’t need to.
May we let go of that which harms our relationship with God and with others and humble ourselves as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Amen.
 Adam Hamilton, Christianity and World Religions: Wrestling with Questions People Ask, (2005, Abingdon Press, Nashville), 25-26.