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Humble Yourselves...NOW!

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on July 19, 2009

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A sermon given on July 19, 2009 on Matthew 18:1-9.

Humble Yourselves...NOW! Transcription

 In the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, one God Amen

Every now and then, there is a gospel, and a message that comes in the gospel that hits so close to home for the preacher that you almost don’t know whether to say it or not say it. What I mean by that is: sometimes there’s a message that comes here [church] and it’s so clear for me that I think to myself maybe it’s just me, maybe this applies to one else in the whole wide world except me. Today’s message that our Lord Jesus Christ gave us in the Gospel is a very dangerous message... very dangerous. Or I should say it is a message of extreme danger that could be waiting.

In today’s Gospel, you have the disciples in Matthew 18 and, at the very beginning, the disciples are arguing about who would be greatest in kingdom of God. So, what starts off as an easy discussion and very comfortable discussion about who would be greatest in Kingdom of God quickly turns in a very dangerous direction. Our Lord Jesus Christ answers them right away, as soon as he finds out what they are discussing, and He says:  “assuredly I say to you unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 18:3. What happened?... hold on, slow down. One minute, we were discussing who would be the greatest. So, we are SURE we are going to be in the kingdom of God, we are just trying to figure out: am I level one or level two? Ok... and maybe I am the very bad person, level  four in the kingdom of God, and Jesus says ‘hold on here, slow down, who even told you that you are going to be there? Because unless you make a big change, unless you convert and make a big change, you are not even going to ENTER the kingdom of God.’ And he goes on a little bit, the rest of the gospel, He starts to talk about the passage about offenses will come and He says about a millstone  being hung around your neck and being thrown into the depths of the sea and how that be better than what’s going to happen to you guys. Hold on! What happened here Lord? To get the context of the passage this is Matthew 18. Matthew 16, what important story happened? What happens in Matthew 16? Matthew 16 is where Saint Peter is about our Lord Jesus Christ asking him, “Who do people say that I am?” And Saint Peter said what? “You’re the Christ, The Son of the living God”. He said, “good job, Peter, I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven”. So, in Chapter 16, I’m Peter and I’m holding the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Chapter 17 of Saint Matthew’s Gospel is what? Transfiguration, where they go up on the top of the mountain, they see the Lord in all his glory, and the lord says ‘Some of you who are standing here today will not taste death until you see the kingdom of heaven come’.  So, Matthew 16, I’m holding the keys to the kingdom and Matthew 17 the Lord says ‘I might not even die before I see the kingdom’. Matthew 18 comes along and He says ‘take care, you may not have any part in the kingdom and it’ll be better for you if a millstone was hung around your neck than what may happen to you’ and in the end He starts talking about cutting off your hand or your foot because it is better to have no, hand no feet than to be cast into everlasting fire. Twice, He spoke to them about everlasting fire. “What happened?” is my question. What happened between Matthew 16, Matthew 17, to Matthew 18 that all of a sudden the Lord is speaking very rough and he is speaking very, very alarming?

 First thing that we can note from this: the path to the kingdom, engineers or physics people will like this, is NOT static. What do I mean by “is not static”? What I mean by that is: it is changing, constantly. Think about it this way, the path to the kingdom of heaven is NOT [not static]. And I say right now, drive from her all the way down to the bottom of Florry. Easy, hop on 95 and go straight. Doesn’t change. 95 goes all the way from the top of the country to the bottom of the country. One road right along the cost takes you right down the bottom ‘till you hit the ocean. No problem. That’s not the kingdom of God. That’s NOT the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God has detours, has you on a road, you on the right road, then all of a sudden: lane shift, road closed, exit here and get back on there. The road to the kingdom of heaven is windy and is difficult. You may be on it in Matthew 16, you may have the KEYS in Matthew 16, you may have the promise in Matthew 17. Matthew 18? If you are not careful you can lose it. Said in another way: Just because I was on the path to the kingdom of God yesterday doesn’t mean I am necessarily there today. I’m not saying, don’t get scared, that you’re doing everything right then all of a sudden it may be snatched from you. No, because our Lord promises in John 10 that when we are in The Father’s bosom then no one can snatch us from there, that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is it is a road, and you have got to be on that road. But that road is not one where you get on, you put it on cruise control, you take a nap, and you end up there. You have to always be examining yourself on this road. You always have to be making sure you are on the right road, and always seeing: did you miss a turn? because we as human beings will miss alot of turns every now and then.  And our Lord Jesus Christ told us there is a danger of getting off this road. So, if you want to make sure you are on this road, you need to learn a lesson.

 Lesson from whom? A lesson from a child. A young, good for nothing child. So, here I am Matthew 16: and I got the keys to the kingdom, Matthew 17: some will not taste death until they see the kingdom, Matthew 18: you may not enter unless you learn from that child. What do I learn from a child? Of course, when you look at children in the kingdom of heaven, there is alot we can learn from children. You learn how a child is innocent, you learn how a child is simple, you learn the faith of a child, alot of different things, but the aspect that I think is the most glaring, that the Lord spoke SPECIFICALLY, that he highlighted SPECIFICALLY, is the humility of a child. Lord Jesus Christ spoke very clearly in Matthew 18:4 of this passage “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”. So you’re trying to figure out if you are in it or not; in the right road, not the right road; take a child, humble yourself like him and then you’ll be ok.

Ok... what does that mean? Humble yourself as a child? Be humble, one of the most overused and least practiced things that we talk about. Something we say so much, we do so little, and unfortunately we understand very little as well. The word “humility” is a big term that means many things to many people. I want to take just one small aspect of humility, just one piece and talk about it for today. And the one piece of humility, that I think... that again... don’t take this the wrong way... I am talking about myself... one of the hardest parts about humbling yourself, for me, is admitting when you are wrong.  Hardest words in the English language: “I was wrong”... actually even harder... “I am wrong”. “I am sorry”... HARDEST thing to say. Maybe because I am a man, maybe because I have Middle Eastern roots in me, who knows what is?! Maybe because I am a priest and I think I am always right. Me, I think I am always right. And the majority of us, we think we are always right. Not always, but it is a RARE exception when we are not right, it’s rare. What’s the problem in every marriage that struggles? Two people who think they are right. What’s the problem in every friendship that hasn’t spoken for years? Two people who think they are right. What’s the problem when there is a strained relationship in life?  Two people who think they are right. What’s the problem when I have a problem with my relationship with God? Two people... or I should say one KNOWS he is right, and one who THINKS he is right. ALL the problems are caused by this: not willing to admit when I am wrong. I guarantee this, I GUARANTEE YOU this, there’s going to come a point in time, and you may be in it RIGHT now... right now, and if it not right now it could be later on this afternoon, it could be tonight, maybe tomorrow, it’s going to come, where you are SO WRONG...100% wrong... and EVERYONE in the world sees it EXCEPT you. Everyone in the world sees it except you. And the question is when you are in that situation, and someone confronts you: “you are wrong”, what will you respond? ME?! Defensive. How?! Explanation, Justify!...the stuff that we always do OR you could look that person in the eye and say “I was wrong”. It sounds easy... doesn’t it? It sounds SO easy! It is so difficult, isn’t it? And even the Lord Jesus Christ spoke today, He was saying at the end, if you’re hand or foot causes you to sin cut that off. I’m telling you that you are going to be wrong and it is going to be something that needs to be changed or admitted and it is something as close to you as your hand or your foot.... meaning it’s something that you can’t see its wrong; it’s my HAND, I can’t cut off my hand and say “my hand is wrong”. Lord says, “No” cut your hand. You’re hand is going to cause you problems. Cut your foot. In other words, it could be something right under your nose which you CAN’T see but everyone else around you sees it. What will you do when you are confronted with that?

 A wise person once told me that the solution to every problem is humility, and I believe it. Every problem is solved by humility. Every problem is solved by being humble. Why? It’s kind of a grand statement... how can I say that? I take the words of scripture 1 Peter 5:5-6 “Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility”,  be submissive to one another, put yourself down; don’t put yourself above the other... be submissive, admit when you are wrong, put on a little bit of humility if you get the chance...why?  for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” What does that mean? What does it mean when it says “God gives grace to the humble”? Well, what is grace? Grace is the answer to every problem. Grace is exactly what you need in life. Grace is the power of God in your life and there is nothing that you need outside God’s grace. So, when we learn humility, we get God’s grace, everything is good. “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time”. Humility is where God gives grace, is where God gives power, and it’s exactly the thing that we beg God for.  We beg for his power, we beg for his grace, we beg for his “blessing” and He says it is right there... to those who humble themselves. Two examples that the church, in its wisdoms, gave us today in the readings of today: the reading from last night’s Gospel came from Luke Chapter 16, that’s the Gospel of vespers and is read the evening before the liturgy. It came from Luke 16... The parable of the unjust steward and then we will see the story about the Pharisees and Sadducees that came in the Acts reading (Acts Chapter 5). 

Luke 16 first, the parable of the unjust steward. A man has a steward, or a servant, who is not doing his job. He goes to the servant and says, “You are NOT doing your job, you are going to lose your job”. The servant does something strange. He goes out to all of his master’s debtors (the people who owed the master money), and he says, “You owe my master $100 or pounds, or whatever you owe him, give me 80 and we’ll solve it”. And he goes to another, “You owe him 70, give me 50 and we will solve it... and you owe this, give me this and that and we will solve it”. So he collects all this money from all those people and he goes back to the master says, “Well done, you have dealt shrewdly”, and this servant is commended. Now, I have got to be honest, I never understood that parable... and every time I read it I don’t get it. Why is the master happy that he got 80 instead of 100? Why is the master happy that he got 50 instead of 70? It doesn’t make any sense. Why does he comment this guy for dealing almost in a shady way? The steward didn’t even have the right to cancel that amount of money that he does and he gets commended... why? I never understood it, and every time I see this gospel, I just kind of skip over it and I don’t like it. Why does he comment him? What did he do? Better than nothing, ok... that true. Back up a step, even before that... in light of our discussion, master came to him and said, “You’re not doing a good job”, what did he do? Me not doing a good job?! How could you say that?! Don’t you see what I have done? Don’t you see all the other lazy servants?... they don’t do anything. And how could you say that? I should take you to court, and I should get a lawyer, and I should.... What did the servant do? He said, “You’re right, I am going to go do something! You’re right; I HAVEN’T been doing a good job. I’ve got to go fix it! And I can’t fix it 100% but let me do what I can”. And it says the servant left immediately, IMMEDIATELY he left his master’s place and said, “I’ve got to do SOMETHING. There’s a serious problem here and its ME”. He didn’t SOLVE the master’s problem, but you know what? You don’t need to fix the problem. You can’t fix the problem. When God reveals something that’s wrong with me, I can’t fix it. He doesn’t even NEED me to fix it. Just admit it. Just do something. Just show that you are humble, that you are teachable. Show that you are not a “know it all”, that you have it all figured out. Show that you’re not the smartest person in the world in your own eyes. Admit you have made a mistake. Go do SOMETHING, ANYTHING, better than nothing!

 Compare that to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Acts Chapter 5; story of when Saint Peter was in prison and how he was released miraculously from prison. They captured them, they beat them... the Pharisees and Sadducees ok... they captured the disciples, they beat them, they threw them in prison, they went to sleep, they went the next morning, they found that the door was open, no one was inside. The guard said, “I don’t know what happened, it was locked, I promise”. Everyone realizes this is an act of God. This can’t be normal. We captured them, we beat them, we put them, and they just walked out and no one even knows where they are. What do the Pharisees and Sadducees do? Go capture them again, and stick them back in again, beat them and threaten them again. Pharisees, Sadducees, come on! God is making it every easy for you! He is making it easy for you, He didn’t even kill you, He didn’t strike you with lighting, He made it VERY clear! I don’t want these people in prison. He made it very blunt. You put them in prison; I freed them from prison the next night. Very clear, I work around it, you can repent and everything will be fine. “No, it’s not wrong, I’m [Pharisees and Sadducees] going to bring them and put them back in.” Just open your eyes open your eyes... the whole world sees that God doesn’t want these people in prison. This is not going to work out well for you [Pharisees and Sadducees]. The whole world sees it, can you see it? No, they can’t see it. They don’t see their mistake; they are perfect in their own eyes. They are always right. You are going to be wrong. When you are wrong, whoever humbles them self is a little child greatest in the kingdom in heaven. Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Very blunt, very clear. Now, one thing to note, the bible says... what our Lord says is, “Whoever humbles himself”... whoever humbles himself. God, if he wanted, could have humbled these Pharisees and it isn’t a mistake... God could humble you. There WILL come a day, the bible says, when all will be humbled and every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess... but that day is not today. Today you have a choice to humble yourself or not humble yourself. But I’m telling you there is going to come a point in time where the choice is removed from you, that you will be humbled whether you want it or not. Make the decision today, while you have the chance.

Practically, what should I do? Now the easy answer here is what should I do? Go home, sit with God, repent.  That’s the easy answer, go home, sit with God, realize that you have done wrong, repent. That’s easy, that’s correct, but it’s not complete because we can still play games with ourselves when we are by ourselves. Something they taught us in the business world when you want to evaluate yourself: You have all heard of 360 evaluation... right? Means you should be evaluated by people above you (father of confession), people below you (children), and people peer to peer (spouse/friend). You want to humble yourself as a child? Do a 360 evaluation. Go to people above you, peer to peer, people below you, and ask them, “What mistakes, what am I doing wrong, what do I need to change?” Start with your father of confession, above you. Go to him; do not ASK with a DEFENSIVE ok? Because some people ask, “What am I doing wrong?”  Some people say, “What am I doing wrong because so-and-so said this but I know it’s not true... and this and this and that... so tell me what I am doin-...” No, that is not asking. That is justifying yourself. Go, “I have this problem, you tell me, am I doing something wrong or not?” and whatever he says you do. Can you do that or you can’t do that? Can you do that or you can’t? Alot of people can’t do that. If you can’t do that, guaranteed you can’t do number 2. Go to your spouse, those of you who are married. If you are not married, stick best friend in there. Go to your spouse and say, “Sweetheart, is there anything that I am doing, that needs to change? Is there any time where you see a change in me and you feel like you can’t talk to me about, like I won’t listen?” You know, I decided to practice what I preach last night. So I went to my wife, “Sweetheart, is there ever a time where I am doing something wrong and you can’t talk to me about it?” Of course I am expecting her to say, “No, no, no, you’re the best” and “No, no, no, there is nothing”. And she in 1.2 seconds came with a list of two or three things and she said, “I’m glad you asked”. Thank you very much, go to your spouse, ask them, “Am I easy to talk to? Am I easy when I am wrong... is it easy for someone to tell me? Do you see that I am wrong and you can’t tell me stuff?” Go ask... or if you are not married go to your best friend. You want to REALLY be humble? Can you go to people below you? Parents, can you take a constructive criticism from your kid? Can you? Sunday School church servants, can you take a constructive criticism from a child in your Sunday school class? Can you? Some of you may say, “Well who are THEY?” Who are they?! They are the greatest in the kingdom of God! That’s who they are. They are the greatest in the kingdom of God... that’s what they bible says. Don’t say, “Who are they?” Jesus said that they are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and if you can’t take a constructive criticism from them, then you got a problem.

 My point is this: that I am standing in front of you today, and I am telling you that I don’t what nothing to get between me and the kingdom of heaven. If that means swallow my pride, I swallow my pride. If that means apologize, that means apologize. If that means repent... whatever it means, nothing is worth losing your salvation in the kingdom of heaven. You know the church in its wisdom teaches us this lesson, if you look at the church in every single prayer, from the beginning of the day to the end of the day, EVERYTHING, every prayer: “Lord have mercy”... everything...everything. We start every prayer with Psalm 50 admitting our repentance. The Agpeya gives us two full hours, the eleventh and twelfth hour, focusing on repentance, on conversion.  I, one time, want to do a study. Maybe one of these days God will let someone do this for me, or give me the time and do it to see how many times we ask for mercy in the liturgy. How many times we say: “Lord have mercy”. When we begin the liturgy how do we begin? “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.” And the deacons say it and we all say it 41 times. We say “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy” and we can’t start to enter God’s treasure with saying “Lord have mercy”. Before we do anything, one of the expressions expressed often in the liturgical prayers, the priest will say “I have sinned forgive me”... “I have sinned forgive me”. It’s not to show just a nice thing or a transition between parts of the liturgy, it’s supposed to be something that we all say: “Yes, I have sinned, forgive me”. This idea of your sinfulness, or you making mistakes, is the church trying to tell us: keep this always on your mind because the two most important facts of life, the pillars of our faith... of Christianity, is that: I am sinful and God is merciful. That is all of Christianity, the foundations of it. You can’t have Christianity without: I am sinful and without God is merciful, God is gracious, God is good. May of us we take this “I am sinful” as “yea, yea, yea, yea, yea...”... as a formality.

No more formality for us. I want to leave you with two things: One verse in the bible that was a story (from like I said vespers last night), and then one prayer which the church gives us every night before we go to sleep. “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts” Luke 16:15. I don’t want to be that guy. You justify yourselves before men but God knows your hearts. The second one “none is pure from blemish even though his life on earth is single day” Litany of Vespers. I’m going to take those two and come up with the following conclusion: either I am apologizing/repenting or I’m justifying my sin. Those are the only two options. There is no marriage where each partner doesn’t make mistakes every single day. There is no relationship/friendship where each person is making mistakes in it every single day. There is no church where the congregation or even the priest doesn’t make mistakes. Either you justify it or apologize. Those are the only two options. My prayer today is that god will reveal to me anything that is standing between me and the kingdom of heaven.  I don’t want to hear those words: “Unless you convert you convert you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven”. I don’t want to hear those words. Anything Lord that is between me and you, reveal it. And I and I am not just saying it... I REALLY mean it, from the bottom of my heart, if I have done anything to any single person here, or if anyone here every sees me make a mistake, man, you better be the first one in my office telling me. I want us to have that spirit. I am open to criticism, I am up for saying I’m sorry, and I pray and hope that you will have the same attitude because in the end there I nothing... there is nothing... that is worth it to stand in between me and the kingdom of God.

Glory be to God forever and ever. Amen.