Rev. Dr. Scott Herr       

Please Read:
James 2:14-17
Matthew 23:11-12

Some of you may be familiar with Stephen Covey's book entitled, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  Covey talks about paradigms and paradigm shifts.  The word paradigm comes from the Greek and is commonly used to mean a model,  a theory,  or frame of reference.  A paradigm shift is what we might call the "Aha!" experience when someone finally sees the solution to a puzzle,  or discovers the answer to a riddle.  It's the experience when we are able to see things in a new and more accurate way.   An example of a paradigm shift which Covey uses is the following account of a navy officer while at sea.   The officer recalls:


Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days.  I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch at the bridge as night fell.  The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

"Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light bearing on the starboard bow."

"Is it steady or moving astern?"  the captain called out.

Lookout replied, “Steady, captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, "Signal that ship:  We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees."

Back came a signal, "Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees."

The captain said, "Send, I'm a captain, change course 20 degrees."

"I'm a seaman second class,” came the reply.  "You had better change course 20 degrees."

By that time, the captain was furious.  He spat out, "Send, I’m a battleship.  Change course 20 degrees."

Back came the flashing light, "Sir: I'm a lighthouse."

We changed course.[1] J 

The paradigm shift experienced by the captain - and by us as we hear this account - puts the situation in a totally different light.

It is a great story as we begin our Lenten journey together and as we consider some important qualities of the life of faith. You see, Lent is one of those strange seasons in the Christian calendar that we don’t really understand how to observe. We know how to celebrate Easter and Christmas. But there aren’t any greeting cards for Lent. Most people move away quickly when we start talking about praying, fasting, repentance and giving of alms… But there’s a paradigm shift that we need to experience in this sobering season of Lent: In following the 40 day path of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, we confront the paradox that the way up is down, and that the way to Easter new life is by way of the cross. Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Indeed, any of us who dare follow Jesus will be humbled as we confront the depth of our sin and brokenness, the absolute poverty of our own spiritual strength. As we move toward Calvary we cannot help but fall on our knees remembering that we are but great sinners in the hands of a great Savior. We are saved by the amazing grace God. It is a humbling truth that while we have the illusion of choosing our own paths in this life, eventually all roads will lead us to the shadow of the cross.

I’ve been watching the chilling videos of the earthquake and tsunami destruction in Japan. Both had literally a leveling effect on many innocent people. Earthquakes and tsunamis come in a variety of forms. Former President Jacques Chirac is having a bit of an earthquake legally in what should be his golden years of retirement. Many leaders in North African and the Middle East are being swept from power because of the mass demonstrations and calls for more democratic reform. The global financial markets continue to be rocked by the unpredictability of oil supplies. And on a more personal level, we are brought to our knees by words like cancer, unemployment, addiction, divorce, and suicide. Such painful realities affect our lives profoundly, and no matter how high our emotions may seem, a crash can come quickly on the spiritual richter scale…

And so this past Ash Wednesday, we began our Lenten journey remembering that from dust we have come and to dust we will return. That is the first fact that we stare down in this season of Lent. We confront the truth that material goods, security and all the power in this world is nothing in the end. Easy come, easy go.

But we also acknowledge in Lent that the cross is not the end of the story. We also know that while our journey will take us by way of the cross, it does not end there. In following Jesus, we follow him to the cross so that we might also experience resurrection life with him. As the rabbis teach, “Everyone must carry two pieces of paper with him and look at them every day. On one it is written: ‘You are as dust and ashes.’ And on the other: ‘For you the universe was created.’”[2] The name Lent, which literally means Spring, hints at the fact that just as the earth allows for budding flowers and blossoms to emerge from the hard soil and twigs of winter, so also we have hope of resurrection new life even through suffering, pain and loss.

The question is, how do we receive this new life? How do we prepare ourselves to recognize Easter and embrace the hope of a spiritual renewal?

Jesus’ teaching and example gave his disciples and us a whole new perspective on life which requires sober self-examination. Jesus’ call to live humbly, whether it be in work situations,  in family roles,  at school,  or really in any area of our life first requires that we have a more accurate understanding of our place in the universe. There was an interesting article in the International Herald Tribune yesterday about Americans inflated view of ourselves. David Brooks writes, “94% of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills. A survey of high school students found that 70% of them have above-average leadership skills and only 2% are below average…” Garrison Keillor summarizes it well in Lake Wobegone, “Where all the Women are strong, the Men are Good Looking, and all the children are above average!” I’m not saying that Americans are delusional, we just tend to be overly positive which is good. The point is that most of us think more highly of ourselves than is possibly accurate.

Brooks goes on to speculate that perhaps this is why consumption and debt is going up so highly in America. We think we deserve more than we can actually afford! Maybe that’s why the March issue of Harvard Business Review cover story is “How to Make it to the Top: The New Rules for Getting to the C-Suite” [3] If we’re not on the top, we want to know how to get there as quickly as possible…

The lighthouse truth of the gospel is that true greatness is about service, and humility is being willing to serve in whatever way the Lord has for us. If it means lifting me up, so be it. If it means putting me down, so be it. Paradoxically, this requires not a negative, but a positive attitude…

Dr. Graham Scroggie, a gifted preacher of a another generation, preached on the Lordship of Christ at a huge Keswick Convention in England. A great orator, he spoke powerfully. After the crowd had left, he saw a young college student seated alone. He went to her, asking if he could help. “Oh, Dr. Scroggie,” she blurted out, “your message was so compelling, but I am afraid to truly make Christ Lord, afraid of what he will ask of me!” Wisely, Graham Scroggie turned his worn Bible to the story of Peter at Joppa, where God had taught him about his racial and cultural discrimination. Three times God brought down a sheet laden with animals unclean to orthodox Judaism and said, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” Three times Peter responded, “No, Lord.” Tenderly, Dr. Scroggie said, “You know it is possible to say ‘No,’ and it is possible to say ‘Lord,’ but it is not really possible to say, ‘No, Lord.’ …[4]

Becoming humble simply requires saying yes to the call of God, day by day by day. I think John put it this way: “He must increase and I must decrease.” It’s a mystery, but humility does not diminish you, but rather allows you to become more the man or woman God created and calls you to be. Christ shining through you makes you more you! Listen to what Thomas Merton says! “It is not humility to insist on being someone that you are not. It is as much as saying that you know better than God who you are and who you ought to be. How do you expect to arrive at the end of your own journey if you take the road to another man’s city? How do you expect to reach your own perfection by leading somebody else’s life? His sanctity will never be yours; you must have the humility to work out your own salvation in a darkness where you are absolutely alone… It takes heroic humility to be yourself and to be nobody but the [person] God intended you to be.”[5]

This means taking stock of your weaknesses. Maybe even there is where God will do the most amazing work in and through you? If you’re anxious, give that to Christ. If you’re prideful, give that to Christ, if you’re afraid, give that to Christ, if you’re a doubter, give that to Christ. He is the one who said in weakness you will see my strength. Just don’t try to be somebody who you are not! Ask God, What would you have me do?

Jesus invites us to experience a radical paradigm shift of reality.  His was the act of a slave,  going over the top to show us discipleship without pride,  without argument and without status.  His was an act of sacrifice,  showing us discipleship without limits,  love that doesn't stop even for death. He went to the cross so that we could know that we are beloved children of God, heirs of the kingdom of God!

And this is the last point that we should understand about the call to live humbly. We are here for kingdom purposes, and that means that our goal is to expand the kingdom of God in this church, in this city, and throughout the world. The point of fasting in the early church was as much about having more to share with the poor than any internal spiritual discipline. Trusting that we are beloved sons and daughters of God, we are free to humble ourselves, even deny ourselves, so that we can give more to others. An increase in humility in us will bring about an increase in blessing for others.

As I’ve said before, too often in the church when we talk about service we really mean serve us… But Jesus calls us to serve one another, to serve others; the stranger, the outcast, even those who would persecute and hate us.

Friends, in this coming week, I invite you to reflect on Jesus’ rock solid teaching here which may require a change in course for you:

“The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), 33.

[2] John Ortberg, When the Game is Over: It All Goes Back Into the Box (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 71.

[3] Harvard Business Review, March 2011 issue.

[4] Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity ( San Francisico: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1989), 94-95.

[5] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1961), 100.