The Third Sunday after Trinity: Pride and Humility
June 25, 2023

The Third Sunday after Trinity: Pride and Humility

Passage: 1 Peter 5:5-11, Luke 15:1-10
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The Third Sunday after Trinity: Pride and Humility
1 St. Peter 5:5-11 & St. Luke 15:1-10
by William Klock

 

St. Peter wrote his first epistle to the churches scattered and dispersed across Asia Minor, what we call Turkey today.  We don’t know exactly when he wrote it, but there are some clues.  He writes to them from “Babylon”, which almost certainly means Rome, and that narrows the date down to around 62 to 63—during the reign of Nero, but before Nero declared “open season” on Christians.  Rome was still a hard place to be as a Christian, but Peter was writing to his brothers and sisters in Asia Minor because it was particularly hard for them there.  If you think back to our study of Revelation, the situation of those seven churches to which St. John wrote just a few years later wasn’t very different from the situation these churches were in.  It wasn’t so much that the government was actively persecuting Christians, but that these Christians lived in the midst of a culture that was just generally hostile towards them.  The Church stood apart from the Greco-Roman culture and its way of life and its values and that meant that standing firm for Jesus and the gospel and the kingdom of God was a challenge.  On a good day your neighbours thought you were weird and on a bad day you might be cut off by your family, or lose your job because you refused to be part of a guild meeting that involved pagan worship, or you might catch the ire of some government official who suspected you of being disloyal because you refused to offer a pinch of incense to Caesar.  Most of the people in these churches were gentiles.  They had come out of that wicked and perverted and idolatrous Greco-Roman culture, so they knew what it would cost to follow Jesus.  They had heard the good news about Jesus and how, in him, the God of Israel had shown his goodness and faithfulness, and they had believed.  The gospel told a better story than any they’d ever heard.  The God of Israel revealed himself to be unlike any god they’d ever known or worshiped.  And the resurrection of Jesus pointed to a greater and more certain hope than any they had ever dreamed of.

 

But to most of the people around them, this good news was foolishness.  They hated it.  They despised the people who believed it.  Because if it was true, it meant everything they valued, the gods they believed in, and everything they hoped for was a lie.  And so the pagans around them opposed them and made life difficult for them.  And that’s why Peter wrote: to exhort them to stand firm in the truth they had learned and believed about Jesus.  He reminds them of the gospel.  He reminds them who they are: the new Israel and the temple of God’s own Spirit.  And Peter also reminds them that as they face opposition and persecution, Jesus and his own response to suffering and death is to be their model.  Why?  Because his triumphant resurrection is the root and source of their hope.  Jesus and the gospel will win the final victory, because Jesus and the gospel have already won the decisive victory.

 

And then Peter wraps up his epistle with an exhortation to humility, which we read a few minutes ago.

 

Brothers and Sisters, I don’t think I’ve ever preached on this passage when the Third Sunday after Trinity has come around.  I’ve always preached on the Gospel—on Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  I’ll come back to those in closing.  But it strikes me that this Spirit-inspired exhortation to humility is more important than ever as the pagan culture of our day spends this month celebrating an orgy of the very opposite—of pride.

 

For the month of June the secular, pagan culture around us has been shaking its fist at God.  Like Pharaoh, his world falling apart around him as the God of Israel revealed his might and his power, but refusing to give up his claims of divinity, refusing to let go of the belief that he was in control of reality and of his own destiny, our Postmodern culture devotes an entire month to the denial of sin and of shame; it devotes an entire month to celebrating its defiance of the very first command given by the Creator to the human race: “Be fruitful and multiply”.  Our culture devotes a month to celebrating sinful unions that go against the God-given nature of our bodies, unions that can never produce children, unions that deliberately undermine the institutions that God established as the root of healthy, flourishing human life: marriage and the family.  This is why St. Paul, in the first chapter of Romans, singles out homosexuality as the sin that marks out a society’s decline to the bottom of the moral sewer, because in embracing this sin, a society has given up on and rejected the very purpose for which we have been created, given up on and rejected the first of God’s instructions, and given up on and rejected the reality of the natural order of creation.  It marks out a culture that has embraced self-annihilation.

 

But somehow, these last few years, our culture has sunk even lower than Paul could envision a culture sinking.  We’ve gone so far as to deny the very reality of our sex, denying the blatantly obvious, denying our biology, denying the chromosomes that make us who we are, denying who God has made us, and claiming that men can be women and that women can be men.  It begins with a rejection of the Messiah and the gospel.  And then we reject the great story.  Postmodern culture hates these metanarratives, because they undermine who we think we are, they undermine our individualism, and because they show us our place in God’s great story when we’d rather be writing our own stories—as if we know better than God.  Our culture insists that everyone has the right to be whoever he or she wants to be, and so we finally reject reality itself.  A man can be a woman.  Or a woman can be a cat.  And the rest of us must bow to the will and beliefs of the individual and play along, denying reality ourselves.  In Orwell’s 1984, dissidents were threatened with whatever they feared the most until they finally broke down and confessed the lie that 2+2=5.  Today we’re boycotted or cancelled or accused of oppression.  Families are emotionally blackmailed into cooperation with threats of suicide.  “Would you rather have a dead son or a live, albeit pretend, daughter?” they ask to shame us into playing along with the lie.

 

It’s an orgy of pride.  And our culture has revamped its institutions to accommodate it: government, education, medicine, business.  What we used to call “counselling” has been almost entirely replaced with what’s now call “therapy”.  Because the last thing any prideful person wants to hear is that they are wrong.  Prideful people want to feel good about themselves and their choices, and so we now have armies of “therapists” who listen and nod and affirm and repeat the dishonest and death-dealing mantra, “You are enough”, instead of correcting or discipling or simply reminding us of our place in the great story and pulling us back to reality.  It’s the serpent in the garden all over again, assuring us that we can be our own gods, creating and defining our own realities and defining right and wrong for ourselves.  And the armies of therapists keep growing, because reality and the God it makes known will not go away, no matter how hard we try.  Depression has reached epidemic levels, especially in youth who have been indoctrinated into this way of thinking.  It’s what happens when we’re told to be ourselves, whoever that may be, but reality dictates otherwise.  You can have sex with people of the same sex forever, but such a union will never produce children and will never be a family and will never fulfil the purpose for which you were created.  You can dress in the clothes of the opposite sex, you can take the hormones of the opposite sex, you can even mutilate your body to make it look superficially like the opposite sex, but you can never really be the opposite sex.  And you can’t always just go off and be whatever you want to be.  Only a few people are cut out to be astronauts or literary geniuses or great artists.  And reality dictates that we have obligations to others—to mothers and fathers and to children—that outweigh our “dreams”.  And so rather than embracing the reality that God has given to us, we become resentful and depressed.  All because of pride.

 

But there is nothing new under the sun.  Julius Firmicus Maternus wrote against the pagan practises of the Fourth Century.  This is what he wrote about the priest of Cybele:

 

“In their very temples can be seen deplorable mockery before a moaning crowd, men taking the part of women, revealing with boastful ostentation this ignominy of impure and unchaste bodies.  They broadcast their crimes and confess with superlative delight the stain of their polluted bodies….They wear effeminately nursed hair and dress in soft clothes…having made themselves alien to masculinity.”  A century later St. Augustine wrote about the same priests, “Even till yesterday, with dripping hair and painted faces, with flowing limbs and feminine walk, they pass through the streets and alleys of Carthage, exacting from merchants that by which they might shamefully live.”[1]

 

Everything old is new again.  Today such people visit the local merchants and threaten to boycott them if they don’t display their rainbow in the window.  There is nothing new under the sun.  And rather than acknowledge reality, our culture comes after those of us who dare to speak the truth.  Our post-Christians age isn’t very different from the world in St. Peter lived and wrote his epistle.  The false gods have different names, but are still pretty much the same.  As the gospel has waned, pride reigns again and will brook no opposition.

 

But, Brothers and Sisters, gospel people aren’t immune from this cultural infection.  Pride creeps into our hearts and it creeps into our churches.  And we’re especially susceptible when it has become the water in which our culture swims, the air our culture breathes.  It becomes so normal, we become so acclimate to it that it gets by us—gets into us—unnoticed.  And so Peter, in chapter five of his epistle, begins by exhorting the shepherds of the flock to shepherd with humility, but then, in verse 5, he writes to the rest of the people in the churches:

 

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

 

Clothes yourselves with humility.  Of all the virtues Peter could had told them to put on, he chooses humility.  Why?  Well, what does humility look like?  Back in Chapter 2 Peter points us to Jesus.  He is always our example when it comes to virtue.  In this case Peter wrote those familiar words in 2:21-23:

 

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.

 

Pride puts self first—even sometimes to the absurd point of denying reality itself as we see around us today.  Pride demands that everyone around us bow to our delusions lest they be exposed.  Pride demands everyone affirm us, lest we be reminded of our shame.  But humility.  Humility puts others first.  Humility gives.  Humility sacrifices.  Brothers and Sisters, if you want to see, if you want to understand humility, look to the cross.  Look to Jesus, scourged and beaten and bloody, dying the worst death imaginable, and doing so willingly and for the sake of the very people who had put him there.  That’s humility.  He was sinless, but died the death of the worst of sinners.  Harsh words were spoken to him, but he did not respond in kind.  He was beaten and scourged—God himself beaten and scourged, who could have called a legion of angels to rescue him or fire and brimstone to rain down on his enemies—but he chose not to threaten.  He could have vindicated himself, but instead he entrusted himself to his Father, who judges justly.  He died for us, sacrificing everything, that we might live.  That is humility.

 

And Peter writes to the churches saying that this humility is what should characterize us.  It’s what should set us apart from the world around us.  The world is full of pride.  The church should be full of humility.  Through the epistle Peter has addressed all sorts of relationships: masters and slaves, children and parents, husbands and wives, shepherds and their flocks—pastors and churches—and now he just addresses everyone.  Clothe yourselves with the same humility that you see every time you look to the cross, the same humility you see every time you come to the Lord’s Table and eat the bread and drink the wine remembering what Jesus has done for you.  That is the character of the Christian, because it is the character of Christ.  Humility is the polar opposite of how the words lives, but humility is what it looks like to live out the gospel ourselves and in community as the people of God—and we do this for the sake of the pride-filled world that hates us—just as Jesus did.

 

And, Brothers and Sisters, if we don’t clothe ourselves with humility there are consequences.  I was thinking about this as I reflected on Peter’s quote here from Proverbs 3:34.  “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  Let me read a bit more of the context of that passage from Proverbs.

 

The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked,

         but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.

Toward the scorners he is scornful,

         but to the humble he gives favor.

The wise will inherit honor,

         but fools get disgrace. (Proverbs 3:33-35)

 

“The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.”  For the last couple of hundred years our culture has become increasingly focused and centred on the individual.  That hasn’t been all bad, but it hasn’t been all good either.  It’s part of how we got where we are today with every man doing what is right in his own eyes.  But it means that when we think about how we relate to God, we do so almost always on individual terms.  We think of salvation in individualistic terms.  We think of judgement and blessing in individualistic terms.  Increasingly we think that we can be Christians in individualistic terms—forget church, I’ll just read my Bible and pray at home.  This is individualism gone to seed.  It means we hardly ever—or maybe we don’t at all—think about how our choices impact the Church.  It’s what leads us to hop from church to church, never really committing, always looking for some new experience or looking to have our needs met.  And it’s what leads us to think that what we do in our personal lives, or as families, or when no one else is watching, it’s what leads us to think that these things have no repercussions for the larger church.  But if we read the Bible carefully, we see that this isn’t how God works.  He works with people and he calls us into community.  We can’t be in covenant with him without also being in covenant with each other.  Israel as a nation was repeatedly punished for the sins and unfaithfulness of her leaders.  Or there’s that one particularly dramatic and troubling case of Achan in the book of Joshua.  He secretly stole some treasure from the ruins of Jericho, treasure that the Lord had claimed for himself, treasure that was forbidden to the people.  Achan, just one man, stole it and hid it in his tent and because of that, in the next battle, the Lord was not with his people.  They were defeated.  People died.  And when Achan was discovered, he was executed—and his whole family with him.  It’s a sobering reminder that, up until a hundred or two hundred years ago, most people understood.  We balk at it.  We’re perplexed by it.  Because we’re so focused—often unhealthily so—on the individual.  But this is what Proverbs is getting at.  The Lord will curse and the Lord will bless individuals, yes, but he will also curse and bless households—the household of Israel, or even the household of the church.  What we do and how we live isn’t just a personal matter, it has consequences for good or ill for the whole church.

 

Our witness is both individual and corporate.  There were faithful men and women in Israel, men and women who held their light high, who lived passionately and faithfully as people who lived in the presence of the Lord.  But they weren’t the ones the world was watching.  The world was watching the hypocritical kings and priests who lived sinful lives, who set up altars to false gods in the temple, who trusted in horses and chariots.  Those kings and priests destroyed the witness of the nation and the nation as a whole was punished so that the gentile nations could see that the God of Israel took seriously the covenant he had with his people.

 

This is why, in Revelation, Jesus warns the churches that if they are not faithful—if they are lukewarm, if they do not recover their love for him, if they do not repent of the sin they’ve been tolerating in their midst, if they keep tolerating false prophets and teachers—he will take away their lampstands.  The Lord will discipline his church.  The good news is that it’s not about our perfection, but about where our hearts are.  No church is perfect.  And Peter’s telling us that if we will clothe ourselves with Jesus-like humility, the Lord will bless our faithfulness.  Humility sacrifices self for the sake of our brothers and sisters, for the sake of Jesus, and for the sake of the gospel.  Humility puts an end to those sins committed in secret and to sins that we justify for selfish reasons, and to open sins that undermine our witness before the world.  As the humility of Jesus has brought us together in one body, as we clothe ourselves with humility we commit ourselves to one another in love and grace.

 

It's not easy, but Peter reminds us that we do this in light of the hope that Jesus gives and knowing that whatever hard things we face, they are not unique to us.  Let’s look again at the rest of the Epistle:

 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

 

It's hard.  And Peter knew that it was only going to get harder.  But he reminds them of the story and the story reminds us of our hope.  When the world comes after us, our problem is that we want to vindicate ourselves and that usually ends up with us lashing out in kind.  But our pride will never defeat the world’s pride.  Instead, Peter urges us to remember that as God, the just judge, vindicated Jesus when he raised him from the dead, so he will vindicate us.  We just need to stand firm in humility as Jesus did.  Our hope lies not in our present circumstances, but in Jesus.  By his death and resurrection he has defeated sin and death.  That was the hard part.  And so we look forward in hope—standing firm in faith (and in humility)—knowing that he will one day finish what he started.  And we remember that he tarries so that we, his church, can do the work of the kingdom in the meantime—seeking out the lost, proclaiming the good news, that the Lord might bring them back to the sheepfold.

 

Our Gospel today gives us those vivid and dramatic pictures of the shepherd out looking for his lost sheep.  Ninety-nine were safe, but he cared even for that one—cared enough to go out in the danger of the night to find it and to carry it back home.  And the story of the woman, searching high and low for her lost coin, finally moving everything and sweeping the whole house in order to find it.  And both rejoiced—almost excessively.  I always wondered if the other shepherds were annoyed when he woke them.  “It’s just one sheep.  Let us sleep!”  And I wonder how much of that silver coin it cost the woman to throw her party to celebrate that it was found.  But that’s the point.  The Lord cares more than we can fathom for those who are lost.  As much as we celebrate baptisms in the church here, I think the celebrations in heaven over those baptisms must be a thousand times greater.  But the more we clothe ourselves with humility, Brothers and Sisters, the more I think we’ll gain that heavenly perspective.  The more we clothe ourselves with humility, the more driven we’ll be to do the work of the kingdom—to make Jesus and his good news known, to shine our lights brightly into the darkness, even as we face opposition, mockery, and even persecution.  And, too, as we clothe ourselves with Jesus-like humility, we will come to understand better and better the story we’ve been called to tell—the story about humanity and the God of Israel, about Jesus and the cross, about this great exodus from sin and death and the hope of this world set to rights—the story that is not only the antidote to pride, but the story that ultimately returns and reconciles all the lost sheep, all the lost coins, and all the prodigal sons and daughters to the God who gave his life for us.  Brothers and Sisters, stand firm in faith, clothe yourselves with humility.  The Christians to whom Peter and John wrote did just that and because of their witness the prideful and perverted culture of the Greeks and Romans was conquered by the gospel.  That’s what the gospel does.  That’s what the gospel will do again, conquering our prideful and perverted culture, if we will only stand firm in faith, living and proclaiming the good news about Jesus.

 

Let’s pray: O Lord, hear us in your mercy, we pray, and grant that we, to whom you have given the desire to pray, may be defended and comforted by your mighty aid, and strengthened in all dangers and adversities, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

[1] Quoted in Will Roscoe, “Priests of the Goddess: Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion”, History of Religions, Vol. 35, No. 3 (February 1996), 195-196.

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