Isaiah says: “Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust … for the haughtiness of people shall be humbled, and the pride of everyone shall be brought low; and the LORD alone will be exalted on that day.”
Jesus says: “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The bad news is that my retirement portfolio is a big pile of trash. The good news is that trash imports are up almost 8% in Virginia this year.
Yes, the Wall Street giants are falling from pride and so are the rest of us. And it seems the prophets are talking to us all. The Bible is talking to us again. Do you hear it? It’s talking to us, right here, and right now. It says: “Look out folks! Die unto sin, get humble, and live – because one day the proud and the arrogant will be brought down, and the LORD alone will be remain.”
If you don’t believe the Bible then take a look at the paper. It’s filled with stories of the mighty falling; and not only accountants and priests, but CEO’s and bishops. Not only Arthur Andersen but Martha Stewart.
It’s kind of staggering. The high priests of Catholic and Corporate America are falling down from their lofty hills and fortified towers, and they are biting the dust.
Who’s next? Us?
If you and I are blessed with eyes that actually see what God sees, then we’ll see that the high priests of this Nation Under God are not the only proud ones. They are not the only haughty ones. Nope, they’re not alone.
I know I’ve got a long way to go before I become godly and humble. So far in fact that if I were to fall off my rocky cliff of pride today, I’d probably bite the dust pretty hard myself. What about you?
Sometimes it’s hard to hear it, even when its true, but we human people, well, we’re pretty selfish. I know I am. What about you?
And it kind of makes me sad. It kind of makes me sad to think that I’m so absorbed by my own agenda, interests, and desire, that I almost always forget to put God first each day.
Of course, at times I’m tempted to argue that I’m really very selfless. I’m not Bernie Ebbers or Kenneth Lay after all. Yesterday, when I was in line at the health food store, I gave the guy in front of me a penny. I mean, hey, I’m no island, I’ve got lots of important relationships to keep me from being self-centered. You know? I’m a priest, a faithful husband, a loyal friend, how could I ever be selfish? You might say something similar about yourself.
Yet, the fact is Ken Lay is a husband, those creepy guys in the paper everyday are priests, and I bet even Martha Stewart has friends.
And obviously those commitments aren’t enough to make them the godly people we are all called to be. Those relationships and commitments are good, and fulfilling, and important, but ultimately they cannot be all in all. They cannot be primary.
Jesus says a troubling thing in this Gospel passage. He says he comes not to bring peace to the earth, but also the sword of division. Not because he’s grumpy and mean, but because he knows the cost of godliness. And it’s not cheap.
Jesus knows that living into the Spirit of God creates division — and not just because there will always be religious crazies who want any excuse to chop people up “in the name of God.”
The division of godliness is between those who try to lead lives under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and those who try to lead lives completely under their own rule.
As such, the division of godliness doesn’t just come between the piously good and the wickedly evil, but also between the frequently anxious and the normally peaceful; between the selfish and the generous. Between the self-absorbed materialism of the American middle-class, and the God-absorbed generosity of the apostle’s teaching and fellowship.
The division of godliness comes between those who look out for their own people, and those who look out for all people.
Now, Jesus says that we have the choice to live however we wish. But he teaches us in love that if we wish to live as his brothers and sisters, then our relationship to the Father must be primary, coming before all others. For the relationship we have with God is the only foundation strong enough to give us the fullness of life.
Regardless of the many pledges of allegiance that we make in this life – whether it be to country, company or family – Christians are always called to be One People Under God. Jesus shows us that the only way we can be One People Under God, and not a mob of squabbling tribes, is to put our relationship with God first.
The interesting thing is: the people who truly, truly do this – and there are some – are the people who tend to be at peace with themselves, and have better relationships with other people. The priest who puts his relationship to God first, tends to have a healthier and more loving relationship with his congregation. The executive who puts her relationship to God first, tends to have a more honorable relationship with her employees and shareholders. The friend who puts his relationship with God first, tends to be a better friend to others. And this goes on and on in all the complicated relationships of our lives.
For when we put our relationship to God first, it does something amazing. It puts not only our souls, but our entire selves, in their proper place with regard to God and His Creation, and we end up feeling not only healthier, but happier. Not only less anxious, but more joyful.
When die unto our sin and our pride and our haughtiness, and we begin to put God at the beginning of all that we do – then God will carry us down from the rocky walls of pride, and we will not bite the dust. Instead, we will walk by Grace on the ground of God’s Love.
So I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The bad news is we must die unto ourselves. The good news is that in Christ Jesus we will live unto Him.