This is probably something that none of you know about me and that is I am a massive Dads Army fan, I have all the available episodes and movies on DVD. It’s been great to watch the lost episodes on Gold this week, now I can hear you thinking what this has got to do with Jesus’ passage in Luke on being humble. Well stick with me, when I was reading Luke 14 7-14 it reminded me of an episode of Dad’s Army, an episode called ‘The honourable Man’.
In this episode the sergeant Arthur Wilson through the death of an uncle causes Sergeant Wilson to inherit an Honorable aristocratic title, all Walmington flatters and woos him. All except Captain Mainwaring, whose jealous envy is all but noble. It gets worse when it's suggested he should let his honorable sergeant do the honors when the town is to honour a Soviet Russian war ally visitor with the 'freedom' in the form of wooden key. Vladivloski in turn hardly honors his hosts, except one and that is sergeant Wilson.
Mainwaring executes his revenge on Wilson and his move to aristocracy as the honourable Arthur Wilson. Captain Mainwairing addresses the parade and insists that Wilson must do his motorcycle training on the platoon's motorbike whilst the visit takes place, thus removing any chance that the town committee can get the honourable man to take his place. Mainwaring snaps and reveals his intense jealousy over Wilson's newfound title; Wilson however admits he isn’t fussed about his new social status, as the people of Walmington-on-Sea continually pester him.
This only infuriates Mainwaring more, as he fancies that one should prize aristocratic titles, and admits if he had a title, he would make himself a director of the bank. He reminds Wilson that, title or not, he is still Mainwaring's employee and that he had better learn his place. All along he knows and accepts his place though. Wilson is seen embarking on his motorcycle training dressed in khaki overalls. He wobbles unsteadily down the road, goes in and out of ditches and finally falls off in one; a car is seen coming to a halt to help him.
At the welcoming parade, a band, the Home Guard, the Wardens and the Nurses are lined up on the green. The visitor, Mr Vladislovski, arrives in his car, and makes his way to the podium. The Mayor makes a one sentence speech, then Mainwaring makes a much longer pompous one, but Mr Vladislovski, through his interpreter, reacts angrily. He accuses the VIPs greeting him of not being genuine workers, with soft clean un-calloused hands. He rushes to his car, and produces Wilson from inside, whom he insists is a genuine worker, with oily hands, toiling alone in the countryside. He presents Wilson with the key representing the freedom of Walmington a departs.
Throughout the sitcom series we see the pompous Captain Mainwairing elevating himself into positions of power and authority; whereas sergeant Wilson takes on a happy go lucky nature and accepts even though he is better educated, comes from an aristocratic background and served as an officer throughout the first world war; whereas Captain Mainwairing served as an officer in France all throughout 1919, he accepts the post of sergeant and lets Mainwairing lead the platoon. He is humble and Mainwairing shows pompous pride.
Jesus grew up in Galilee, which meant some today might have called/liked him to a country bumpkin. The so-called sophisticated city folks in Jerusalem looked down on Jesus. On one Sabbath, Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee. When Jesus noticed how the guests worked their way to places of honour at the table, he told them this parable:
“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This concept is totally opposite of the way the world thinks, especially in today’s society. The world says that if you want to be successful and be somebody, then you've got to push, you have to put yourself first, don’t let anyone get in your way, fight and work your way to the top. But Jesus says just the opposite. He says if you try to promote yourself, you’ll end up humbled.
James 4:10 says “Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up.” So, on one hand we have pride. On the other hand, we have the concept of humility.
Let's talk about the problem with pride. Pride is basically the attitude that says, “‘the world revolves around me.” Now I’m sure we can think of plenty of people we think that true of whom we have met through our lives. However, if we stop and think and examine ourselves then I’m sure we can find instances when that is true of us also.
As Jesus observed these men, He detected the poison of pride in their lives. Pride wasn’t just a problem back then, it’s a problem today. There are two main things that make pride such a problem.
The first, is that it’s hard to recognize pride in yourself. Someone once said pride is the only disease that makes everyone sick except the one who has it. We are usually blind to it in our own lives.
Pride and vanity lurk just below the surface of our lives and we aren’t even aware it's there until someone or something brings it to our attention and then we have to really stop and take stop and be open to hearing what is being said. For us to pay any attention then it can only be a truly trusted friend or family member that can point our pride out to us.
In the Garden of Eden, Satan said to Eve, “If you will eat that fruit that you have been forbidden to taste, you too will be like God.” That was a lie, but Eve believed it. People today still believe the lies of our spiritual enemy, the devil: how often do we hear “you don’t need God, you don’t need Jesus; just be your own God!' You can have whatever you want, and you can have it now, don’t worry about the coat or harm you may do to others it’s your entitlement, just take it. By eating the fruit, Eve thought she was moving upward to a higher stage of consciousness, but it led to being kicked out of the beautiful, perfect environment of the Garden of Eden. Why? Because pride always comes before a fall and will ultimately lead to destruction.
I once heard a story about the little donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The donkey had been so happy at being chosen, he was proud, he held his head high as they entered the city. He loved the songs of praise and felt splendid walking on the soft palm branches. He adored the attention being shown to him and his rider. The following week, the little donkey wanted the same experience again, so he strutted out to retrace his steps. This time however, the people didn’t seem to notice him. He asked, “Where are the palm branches, don’t you know recognise me?” The people who heard him threw rocks at him instead.
The donkey approached the city of Jerusalem, and said, “Where are the songs of praise for me? Don’t you recognise me?” Once inside the city, no one wanted to know him instead they just chased him away from their stalls. The little donkey decided to return hoke feeling unloved and humiliated. When his mother saw him, she said, “Foolish child. Don’t you know without Jesus you are nothing?” That’s true for each of us. Without Jesus we are nothing, but in Christ, we can do all things. That’s humility, not only recognising this, but living our lives demonstrating this to all those around us.
You know what things haven’t changed over the last two millennia, that’s still the way it works. The way down is up, and the way up is down. We should listen to God and learn how to humble ourselves and treat others with kindness and respect. The third characteristic of true humility is experienced through adversity. I think sometimes when God sees we are getting a little proud, He allows some humbling experience to come our way and we sometimes think of this as bad luck. It’s only in the future when we look back and realise, we learned something from the experience that we can realise it was God at work in our lives.
That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled.” Paul knew that. He wrote, “To keep me from becoming conceited, there was given me thorn in my flesh...” (2 Corinthians 12:7). God allowed Paul to suffer some ailment to keep him humble. I know through experience that God still does that today, pride comes before a fall.
I read about a well-known golfer of the past one Arnold Palmer he was recalling a lesson about overconfidence: It was the final hole of the 1961 Masters tournament, and he had a one-stroke lead and had just hit a very satisfying tee shot. He recalls feeling in pretty good shape. He remembers approaching his ball and seeing an old friend standing at the edge of the gallery. He motioned him over and stuck out his hand and said, Congratulations. He took his hand and shook it, but as soon as he did, he knew he had had lost his focus. On my next two shots, he hit the ball into a sand trap, then put it over the edge of the green. He missed a putt and lost the Masters.
Has God been sending some birds your distraction your way that has made you lose your focus? Have you been going through a time of adversity and struggle? Maybe God is trying to teach you some humility. When trouble comes some people become bitter; others pray and bow before God and become better. Which one are you?
In the closing verses Jesus really gives us something to think about regarding being humble, really sets us a challenge for life; “Then Jesus said to his host, 'When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.' Luke 14:12-14 (NIV)”
When you hold a party, a meal or doing something special, do you ever leave certain people out? Do you only invite your very best friends? Do you perhaps leave out the person who doesn't have much money and wears old and ragged clothes, or the grumpy difficult person? How do you feel when you hear people talking of being invited to an event and you haven’t?
The challenge that Jesus sets is difficult he said that when we are having a party, we shouldn't just invite our best friends or the most popular and important people. In fact, he said that we should be sure to invite the very ones that we might leave out -- the poor, the crippled, and those who are less fortunate than we are.
What Jesus means is that in life if we only do good things for those who can do good things for us that we already have our reward, but if we do good things for those who cannot do good things for us in return, that we will receive our reward in heaven. The question then is this; would you rather be rewarded now, or in heaven? If you want to be rewarded in heaven, think carefully who you invite to your next party and think carefully of who you are doing good deeds for.
Whilst preparing for my ministerial training I spent a lot of time with Colin Eastwood and we focused on poetry to help me to improve my spoken delivery of words. He taught me that every word in a sentence was important. So instead of closing with a prayer I’d like to read a short poem that I know Colin would have approved of by John Bunyan.
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