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Isaiah 6:1-5, Philippians 2:4-11 Pride: The Mother Of All Sins Sermon preached February 9, 2014 Introduction to the

sermon series President Calvin Coolidge was famous for being a man of few words. One day while Coolidge was president, his wife was too ill to go to church. Coolidge went without her. Later, Mrs. Coolidge wanted to talk about the sermon she had missed, so she asked her husband what the subject of the minister's sermon had been. Sin, Coolidge said. That answer didn't satisfy his wife, and she pressed him to tell her what the minister had said about sin. He was against it, was Coolidge's reply. Well, by preaching a sermon series on sin, I guess Im against it, too. But Im preaching on a group of sins that wise men and women have identified as particularly dangerous, particularly corrosive to ones spiritual life, to ones relationship to God, to ones relationship with others. These are the seven deadly sins. Now why are these sins particularly deadly? Two reasons. First, as Dr. Karl Menninger points out in his book Whatever Became of Sin?, these sins are dangerous because they are tenacious; once they wrap their tentacles around us, they grip tight and hard. Second, they are sins that breed other sins - anger can lead to hate and murder, envy to stealing and cheating, sloth to a life with no purpose or meaning, lust to you-know-what. These sins grow like cancer. So we will take a hard look at these sins, but also at the particular grace that counteracts each sin. Accordingly, Im calling this sermon series Deadly Sins and Saving Graces. And were also going to do this with humor, recognizing that we are sometimes like clowns fallen in the mud, whom God rescues with love, grace and compassion. New Testament Reading What is Pride? If only I had a little humility, Id be perfect, said Ted Turner.1 And were starting the sermon series with the worst of the seven deadly sins - the sin of pride. I call pride The Mother of All Sins, because its the sin that spawns all other sins, and because its the deadliest of them all. Nothing separates us from God like pride, nothing leads to damnation, like pride, and nothing leads to hurting and abusing other 1

people, as does pride. C.S. Lewis wrote, "There is one vice of which no man is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, every imagine they are guilty themselves...the vice I am talking about is pride...Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state of mind."2 Compared to pride, says Lewis, all other sins are mere fleabites. Now - we need to carefully define what pride is and is not. What pride is not: Its not legitimate satisfaction in ones accomplishments. C.S. Lewis, again, said, when a splendid artist says hes just a dabbler, hes not being humble, hes being false. And pride is not a normal sense of self-worth - in fact, the gospel tells us we are creatures of immense value, created in the image of God, for whom Jesus came to earth and died; that you and I are gifted with tremendous talents and abilities and potential. Realizing and living into that, is not pride - its reality. In fact, to say one is worthless is not humility, its sin. So what is pride? Simply put, pride is trying to make more of yourself than you are. It is puffing yourself up at the expense of other people. It is an exaggerated sense of selfworth turned arrogant and selfish. The root of pride To really understand pride, we have to dig down and discover its roots. People infected with pride would never admit it, but the root of pride is - fear. Fear of insignificance. Heres our problem as human beings - we are at one and the same time, god-like in our creativity and intelligence. We have peered back to the first milliseconds after the Big Bang; we have produced the music of Mozart, the art of Rembrandt and the architecture of Gothic cathedrals; we have sent a space probe out beyond the solar system; we have deciphered the human genome and cloned animals. And yet - we are bags of flesh and blood who grow old and die and turn to dust. Shakespeare had it right: What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action 2

how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet...the quintessence of dust3 We are caught between these two realities - the potential majesty of our being, and our anguish and fear of death that would annihilate us and erase any trace of our existence. And we deal with the awful tension by thinking ourselves better than other people, using other people for our own ends, accumulating power and goodies that we think set us above others, defending our good name with violence if need be. And pride - the mother of all sins - births a rotten brood of them - racism, violence to protect ones good name, nationalism of the kind that led Europe into the abyss of World War I, ignoring the poor and suffering, slavery, keeping women under the thumb of men on and on and on - the mother of them all, is pride. Religious pride the worst, most corrupt kind And maybe the worst kind of pride of all, is religious pride. Its the attempt to use God and morality to set yourself above other people. Like the Pharisee in Jesus parable who prayed, Thank you God, that Im not like those other low-lifes... You ever find yourself thinking that, looking down on other people who arent as moral or together as you are? Oh, its a sneaky kind of pride - it shows up in how Presbyterians look down on Pentecostals for their emotional excesses; for how Pentecostals look down at Presbyterians for their emotional constipation; it shows up in how we separate ourselves from those with different beliefs and theologies in order to maintain our moral purity. It shows up at how good churched people all dressed up on Sunday look down on people who dont look like them, arent dressed like them. Who were Jesus most relentless opponents? The good religious people of his day. Because they used religion to set themselves above other people and delude themselves into thinking theyd earned Gods favor. Jesus punctured that pride and they despised him for it. Fighting pride is hard in this culture Pride is hard to subdue. Ben Franklin said, In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; (and)...even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.

And its especially hard today. Because in the last fifty years of so, American culture has undergone an enormous change here. Used to be, bragging and prideful behavior were in bad taste and people would at least fake a little humility. Now, our culture is all about the exaltation of the self, inflating our self-worth. For instance, theres the American cult of self-esteem. The columnist David Brooks says the cult of self-esteem is rampant in the United States. And he cites these examples: 94 percent of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills. Brooks observes that a few decades ago it would have been unthinkable for a baseball player to celebrate himself in the batter's box after hitting a home run. Today it is routine. Similarly, pop singers wouldn't have composed songs about their own greatness; now those songs dominate the charts. The number of high school seniors who believed that they were "a very important person": in the 1950s12 percent; in the 1990s80 percent. According to Brooks, American men are especially susceptible to the perils of overconfidence. Men unintentionally drown twice as often as women (because men have great faith in their swimming ability, especially after drinking). In short, Brooks concludes, there's abundant evidence to suggest that we have shifted a bit from a culture that emphasized self-effacementI'm not better than anybody else, but nobody is better than meto a culture that emphasizes self-expansion.4 Heres the challenge of being a follower of Jesus in American contemporary culture what is described in scripture as the most basic and toxic of sins, is now described as basic wisdom - me first.5 Saving grace of humility So what saves us from pride? The saving grace of humility. And humility, is simply having a correct understanding of who you, especially as pertains to relationships with God and with other people We learn the first step to humility through our passage in Isaiah. To get into this, we need first to know who Isaiah was. Hes an important man - hes an aristocrat, top of the social and economic scale in ancient Jerusalem. And hes educated, 4

and works as a priest in the temple. The man is on top of the heap. Our passage describes how one day hes going about his duties in the temple, and to his shock, God shows up! Imagine that - God shows up at temple, at church! And Isaiah gets a glimpse of the glory of God. Glory in Hebrew is the word kavod, and the root of the word means weightiness. Its like how some people have what is called gravitas. They walk in a room and instantly command respect. I was at a Rotary meeting a few years back and the speaker was the commander of Fort Jackson in Columbia, SC - General Abraham Turner. Six foot three, perfect uniform, coal-black skin and piercing eyes, perfect posture, a voice like James Earl Jones - the man commanded the room - that guy had gravitas, that guy had kavod. Well, imagine of the kavod of the Almighty. And Isaiah sees it, feels it, is overwhelmed by the glory of God. And he is undone. In the light of Gods glory, he sees himself clearly for the first time and cries out, Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips! This from a man whose job was to use his lips, his voice, his words, to lead the people in the worship of God. The best thing about him, his suave, persuasive speaking in worship, Isaiah saw as rotten because it led him to pride. So the first move towards humility is to see yourself in light of Gods perfect holiness and glory. And when you do, when you get just a glimpse of this - you realize how puny you really are, you realize that as Pau did, your righteousness is like dirty rags, you realize that you are a bag of flesh and bones that will return to dust, you agree with the philosopher Montaigne who said, Even on the most exalted throne in the world, were still sitting on our butts. And standing before God, the pretension of thinking ourselves better than other people, is just laughable. This is one reason why coming to worship is important - to see a glimpse of the majesty of God, that punctures our pretensions. God heals Isaiah After Isaiah falls on his face, God sends one of the seraphs with a live coal - this is the fire of God from Gods throne and when Gods fire appears elsewhere in the Bible it means you are toast, it means destruction - and the Seraph has to handle the coal with tongs And the seraph touches the coal to Isaiahs lips - and instead of destroying Isaiah, the fire 5

of God heals his sin, his sin of pride. And this reorients him completely - Isaiah knows he is no longer the center of his universe - God is - and thats who belongs in the center of the universe - and its only when this happen that we begin to be healed of our nauseating self-preoccupation - its only when we find someone greater than ourselves to occupy our center that we are healed. Isaiah moves from his agenda - being a successful religious professional - enjoying the perks of the aristocracy - to becoming a prophet who called the people to repentance for their pride and sin and who suffered because of it. So whos at the center of your universe? Your own puny self, or the Almighty? The Humility of God But this is only half the story. The second half we get from our reading from Philippians. Isaiah is brought down from his perch of priestly pride, so God can raise him up and make a prophet out of the man. And the only reason God knocks a person down, is so he can raise that person up higher than he or she could ever imagine. And to do that, God in Christ came all the way down to us. I read a story a couple of months ago about a Japanese man who was born to wealthy parents, but the hospital made a big mistake, and switched him with another baby. The 60-year-old man born to the wealthy family was given to a poor family. The family survived on welfare and with three siblings, they all were crammed into a one-room apartment where he grew up. The man had to study at night-school while working day shifts in a factory before finding steady work as a truck driver. He never married and helps take care of three men who he believed were his brothers, including one who has suffered a stroke. Meanwhile, the infant from the poor family who was given to the mans biological parents grew up in affluence. The boy had a personal tutor, got a university education and is the head of a successful real estate company. Questions were only raised when the family of the man who was given to the wealthy family realized that he bore little resemblance to any of his relatives. In 2011, the family requested access to hospital records and DNA tests subsequently confirmed the mistake. 6

So the man given to the poor family sued, and the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday ordered the hospital to pay the man about half a million dollars in damages as a result of the mix-up. The links between the man and his real parents were severed and the man was forced to grow up in a poor home, the judge said in his ruling. The mental anguish he went through was enormous.6 Jesus voluntarily was born to poor parents - the Son of God at the right hand of glory in heaven with the Father - humbled himself and came down to become one of us. This is the Son of God who came not to lord it over us - but who kneeled before his disciples to wash their feet...who constantly went towards people who needed healing and mercy - people who should have been beneath him...and who let himself be led away by a rough crew of Roman soldiers to be crucified for our sakes. In Jesus Christ we meet a God who comes all the way down to us - to free us from our pathetic attempts to raise ourselves above others by racism, or comparing our toys and bank accounts or resumes or popularity to those of others, to free us from the prison of our self-preoccupation, to especially free us from the enormous sin of religious pride - I believe the right stuff so Im better, more moral, a good person. Christ came all the way down to us to take us by the hand and raise us up, as Paul puts it in Ephesians, God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressionsit is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. All the junk we anxiously try to grab for ourselves through our pride and selfpreoccupation - the status, the hope that well be remembered after we die, the desperate hope that we matter - its all given to us by Christ. If you give yourself to Jesus Christ, he will move you out of the center of your life and install himself there - not so he can lord it over you but so he can make something great out of you. Why not today just give it up - give up the prideful pretension, the snobbery, the racism, the selfish self-preoccupation - give it all up and trust Jesus Christ. Give up your religious pride, that subtle thinking that coming to church and giving some money and doing good deeds makes you a good person, a better person than those low-lifes out there - give that up, be humbled and let Christ raise you up. Raise you up. The scriptures say, No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, what God has planned for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9). One day, in the new creation, you will blaze with Gods own glory; you will with Christ rule over the whole universe and youll live forever. But that can only be received, humbly, as a gift it cannot be earned or demanded or taken. In Gods kingdom, only the humble can become great. Amen.

Endnotes 1. Steven Schwartz, The Seven Deadly Sins, p. 33. New York: MacMillan, 1997. 2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 94. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1950. 3. Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2. 4. David Brooks, Th e Modesty Manifesto, The New York Times, March 21, 2011. 5. Eugene Peterson, My Eyes Are Not Raised Too High, in Thomas G. Long and Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., eds, A Chorus of Witnesses, p. 183. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994. 6. Julian Ryall, Japanese Man Born To Wealthy Parents Lives Life Of Poverty After Accidentally Getting Switched At Birth, in The Telegraph, Nov. 29, 2013.