Good Morning! When I wake up in the mornings, my cats are usually screaming at me to be fed while they herd me out of my room, down the hall, and into the kitchen to their food bowl. As my coffee percolates on the stove, I scroll through Instagram to see the pictures of baby alpacas, baby goats, and baby bunnies. The day will have enough trouble of its own, so the first images I want to see are happy ones. As I listen to my kitties purr while they eat and I pour my coffee, I usually turn on Pandora for my Christian music. Usually Shane & Shane, Lauren Daigle, and Casting Crowns. On Monday this week I turned on Pandora and heard a new song by a group called Rush of Fools. The particular song was “Jesus Hurry.” A few of the lyrics are:
Jesus, hurry come back for us we cannot wait
Jesus, hurry come back, we cannot wait, we cannot wait.
Until at last, we see Your face and behold Your glory
Until at last, we see Your face
We want to see all Your glory, all Your glory
Jesus, hurry come back, hurry come back Lord
This song got my attention. Lyrically, it was simplistic and didn’t express much theological impact. The greater impact, as with some of Contemporary Christian music, lay in the emotional affect it had. As I listened I envisioned images of the heavens opening and Jesus returning. I admit I felt a sense of calm and anticipation of living with Jesus in my vision of what heaven will be like.
As the song ended and I considered the words, a thought occurred to me, and a new perspective of the lectionary readings began to unfold. Our passage from Sirach from the Apocrypha speaks of pride, and it speaks of the birth of pride. Pride is a tiny infant born from a tiny movement — a blink, a breath — away from the face of God. This tiny infant called Pride grows and matures and develops its own personality and behavior. And in our passage from Sirach we are told what happens to Pride: “For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations….The Lord destroys them completely…The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place.” What happens when pride takes root to a follower of God is a terrible thing; God is diligent in eliminating pride from His world.
And what does pride in action look like? Our Gospel passage illustrates this answer for us. Jesus offers instruction of what to do. We are to choose a place of least recognition. We are to choose a path in life where no one is aware of what we have done. We are to give without consideration of the responses or of payback. Many of you I am sure have heard of Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie lived with her sister Betsie and her father and aunt in Holland. When World War II broke and Hitler had his Nazi troops rounded up the Jews for the concentration camps, Betsie, Corrie, and their father Casper were taken to Auschwitz. Their father was taken away immediately and they never saw him again. Corrie and Betsie lived with many other women in the barracks, and at one point Betsie became very, very ill. Corrie was able to get a bottle of vitamin liquid from the camp doctor, and she gave Betsie a drop or two every day from the precious liquid. However, Corrie was secretive about supplying her sister with the vitamin drops as she did not want to share with the other women. In time, the other women in the barracks found out about the vitamin liquid and began demanding that she share. Corrie fought and argued with the women saying that her sister was very ill and desperately needed the drops. However, Betsie, seeing the pained faces of the tortured women, turned to Corrie and told her to share. Corrie was horrified and, looking at the last remnants of the liquid in the bottle, told her sister and the other women that she couldn’t. Betsie, adamant about sharing the nutrients, told Corrie to share and that God would take care of them all. Angered, Corrie reluctantly shared a couple of drops with each desperately ill woman. She did this every morning for a couple of weeks. After a time, Betsie turned to Corrie saying that she knew God would provide. Corrie did not understand what her dear sister was referencing and looked at the bottle. The bottle of precious vitamin drops had not run dry since Corrie and Betsie began sharing the liquid despite the fact that it should have run out many, many days past. Corrie, from the promptings of her sister, looked to the needs of others and turned her attention to them, helping them even though she believed that she and her sister could suffer as a result.
But there is something else that I would like to draw our attention to in this Gospel passage. Jesus says, “Do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.” Then in disgrace. Jesus offers this instruction not only to explain what to do, but He also tells us why: to avoid the inevitable disgrace that we would endure because we had chosen ourselves over our neighbor. Jesus wants that we avoid being humiliated. And His instruction is an opportunity for us to learn a lesson before we make the mistake.
I would like to return to the song I spoke of in the beginning. The words to the song, much like the book of Lamentations or the Psalms, offers a brief burst of strong emotion. An emotion of strong longing and great desire to go home to what Jesus has said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” and that He goes to prepare this place for us. I want to see my loved ones again. I want to be with Jesus. I want to be in peace and joy for all of my days.
But if I take this song and stress the actions within the song too greatly, I would incur a serious wrong. As I reflect on the words of the song, a thought occurs to me. And it is a thought that dashes away any sense of calm and peace that I felt when I first heard it. While there will be many of my loved ones there in heaven and we will sing and laugh and rejoice, there will be many who will not participate in eternity. There will be many people whom I have known in my life who will not be there. There will be many who have lived since the birth of the planet who will have denied Jesus, denied salvation, denied God’s saving grace. There will be many — so many — who will hear the words of God as is in Mathew 10:33, “I don’t know you” and will be turned away. If I sing this song or have these comforting thoughts of heaven and peace cover and saturate me, overwhelm me to the point that I do not see what happens around me, I will have allowed that tiny infant of Pride to be born within me. It will grow, and I will forget that there are so many around me who are without the hope of Christ. I will become numb to their pain, and I will not speak the name of Jesus. Instead of saying “Hurry Jesus,” I should instead be crying out, “Not yet, Jesus. We aren’t ready. There’s too many who will not be with You. Not yet, Jesus.”
We must be vigilant against this great sin. It can be so innocent at first, but if we allow the thought or action to happen within us and it takes root, just as Jesus warns, we will be disgraced. We will fail to see those around us who hurt and ache with the pain of this life. May we continue to be in our prayers seeking forgiveness and the gift of grace for those around us. May we be ever willing to seek a lower place, seek a place of silence for the sake of our neighbor. Only then will we understand that what we do will be in praise to God and for the love He offers that never runs dry.