Speaker: Rich Aubrey
Chapel, September 20, 2001
Adolf Hitler. Mohandas Ghandi. Charles Manson. Mother Teresa.
If you’re like me, you consider it hard to believe that you’re related to these co-members of the family of man. On t he one hand, I’m nowhere near as bad as Hitler or Manson. Sure, I struggle with people who think differently than I, and right now, I am battling my attitudes toward people of Arabic descent. But would I put any of them in an oven or cut any of them up? No way! I have found ways to mostly keep my hatred to myself.
On the other hand, I’m no Ghandi or Mother Theresa. The closest I come to feeding the hungry is dropping a turkey in the crock-pot sometime in the early afternoon. While I occasionally visit people at the hospital, there are also times when I live on such a schedule, that you better not count on me for comfort because I’ve got more important things to do.
In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning says this about his and our schizoid existence:
When I get honest, I admit that I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and I get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal. I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. (p. 26)
This morning, I’d like for you to consider two questions about the paradoxical issue of self:
How should you think about yourself?
What should you do with yourself?
Our culture confounds these issues:
Our culture suggests to you that you are it, you are the stuff, you’re all that and a bag of chips, you are the man, you are the woman, you go girl. TV, movies, advertisements, even in education, we often glorify the individual self in such a way that we cheapen the reality of who we are. The messages are very clear. Whatever makes you happy. Don’t kid yourselves. Many people out there want you to think you’re the stuff, not because they really think you’re the stuff, but because they want you to treat yourself like you’re the stuff. Translation: They want you to buy the stuff. The world entices us to worship at the temple of self.
But the church has sent some wrong messages as well. Some in the church want you to denounce yourself, to loathe yourself, to even hate yourself. Does the whole of the bible suggest that we are to hate ourselves?
Genesis says we are created in the image of God. David suggests that God is mindful of us, and even that God crowned man with glory and honor. Jesus quotes the Old Testament commandment that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This suggests that loving oneself is to be expected.
It’s a confusing issue, so let’s use two main texts to consider Jesus’ example on both of our issues, “How should you think of yourself?” and “What should you do with yourself?”
First – the passage from Philippians. You heard this last week. It says some important things about the person of Jesus. We’ve presented the passage backwards for a reason. In our reading and our singing, we’ve emphasized the last part of the passage – the result. Verses 9-11 suggest that God “exalted Jesus and gave him a name above every other name that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” But why? Why did God exalt him? Read backwards, before the therefore, it tells us why. Verses 5-7 say, Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.”
Wait a minute, because I think that as we explore this text, we find something about the answer to our second question, “What should you do with yourself?” Paul tells us we should be like Jesus, we should humble ourselves, and become obedient, “even unto death.” Well none of us is Jesus, none of us has to die on a cross, and none of us is equal to God to begin with. Well, then let’s go back further in the Philippians passage, where Paul directs these commandments to us the schizoids.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.”
Wow, that flies in the face of the selfish attitude that society attempts to cultivate within us. Do we really ever “consider others better than ourselves”? Test yourself in this: Think about the last time you went to the mall or to the movie with a friend. Did you sit there and chat about the other people around you? Did you elbow your friend and say, “Wow, that guy with the rim glasses and the pocket protector, he’s better than me”? If you’re going to live that way, you need to understand this – you will be in an endless cycle of pursuing the people who are cooler than you, and justifying yourself by the losers around you. You’ll never really be happy. You’ll never really be fulfilled. You’ll be full of yourself, but it won’t be a satisfied full. It will be the kind of full you feel just before you vomit. Jesus was equal with God, but He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. If his equality with God was not to be grasped, then why should you grasp what might exist of your value and worth in the world’s eyes? If you want to do something worthwhile with your life, consider others better than yourself and look to their interests. No, humility doesn’t make much sense, but it works.
In the last week, you’ve probably heard about Father Mike, Mychal Judge, the Franciscan monk who served as a chaplain for the New York Fire Department. He was killed by debris when one of the towers of the World Trade Center collapsed. A fellow monk said this about Judge: “He loved the firefighters for their willingness to give their lives to care for others. Everyone’s life was more important than his own.” I heard a fellow fireman quote Father Mike’s favorite prayer, which ended with the phrase, “God, keep me out of your way.” Father Mike modeled the kind of humility described in Philippians. Think about it. At your funeral, which would be better? For them to describe you in terms of your humility and your care for others? Do you want them to quote scripture and say that you embodied those noble ideals? Or do you want them to say that you were cooler than almost everybody hanging out at the mall?
You see, this goes beyond the issue of pacifism. It goes beyond the political issues that we like to discuss (and should discuss) on college campuses. It gets to the heart of what Christian humility is all about as you live day to day. My worth is not to be grasped, but it is to be given up in the service of others.
In John 13, Jesus provides us with a more attainable model of how to embrace this Christian humility. The cross seems out of our reach, but what about a wash cloth and a bar of soap? Is that out of your grasp?
On the occasion of eating the Passover meal together, Jesus started the proceedings by taking off his outer garment and wrapping a towel around his waist. And the God of all creation put water in a basin, and washed dirt off of the nasty feet of his followers.
Verses 12-17 read like this:
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Today we consider the Saltire cross, the cross of St. Andrew. You will hear more about this cross and its symbolism. But every cross that represents Jesus Christ represents humility. So we’ve answered our second question, not with an easy answer, but with a simple answer. Be humble. Put others first. Consider them better than you. Try to be like Mother Teresa, Father Mike, and especially Jesus. Wash some feet. Shortly, you’ll hear about some people on our campus who find ways to put others first and figuratively wash feet.
But I want to close my remarks by telling you a story that provides an answer to the question, “How should you think about yourself?” Maybe you should think about yourself the way the God thinks about you. This story is very personal; you’re welcome to laugh when it’s funny, but please understand that this is a very important event in my life.
My wife and I were preparing for the birth of our first child in 1987. We did the whole deal, Lamaze, I am a coach you know. When the time came for the baby to be born, we hurried to the hospital with our Lamaze bag in tow. We arrived and endured the early hours of labor. It was labor, but not hard labor, at least not for me. Time went on and on and on. After my wife had been in labor for a day and a half, the contractions finally got serious. I offered her the Chapstick from our Lamaze bag because she looked like her lips would fall off from doing the breathing thing. My wife did not curse at me, but she did suggest strongly that I put the Chapstick away – I think she meant back in the bag. At one point, she got nauseous. She warned me. I grabbed the small trash can that had been carefully prepared for such an incident. Sheri missed the can and got me. An accident? I think not. After nearly forty hours of labor, it was time to push. She pushed for 4 hours. Toward the end, it became incredibly intense. The doctor suggested that he would use the forceps, but not on the baby’s head. Instead, he would use them to widen the birth canal. When that process began, my wife produced a blood-curdling scream that I’ll never forget. Shortly thereafter, the birth was over and with a happy ending. Watching my wife that night increased my love and respect for her.
A few months later, we went to the hospital to visit some friends of ours, who had to be like us and have a baby. Our friend told her story. Eleven hours of labor. She pushed for 45 minutes and said, “It wasn’t that bad.” As we left the hospital, I said to my wife, “Isn’t that kind of frustrating – comparing her experience to yours?” My wife said, “It was tough, but I’m glad I went through what I did. It will always remind me how precious our child is.”
My love for my wife deepened to a new level on that occasion. But more importantly, I came to understand much more about how God thinks about me. You see, he too has a painful reminder about how precious his child is. And that reminder is the cross. You see, whether or not God answers our prayers or intervenes in our lives (by the way, I believe he does), he made the ultimate statement about his love for us. He does not need to say anymore. Listen to the cross. Don’t chase a shallow life of selfish interests. Choose humility. Choose the cross.
MILLIGAN COLLEGE is a Christian liberal arts college in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The college offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs. To learn more about Milligan College, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.