Monday, October 18, 2010

Looking Forward to October 24, 2010 -- 22nd Sunday After Pentecost , Year C

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Psalm 24 (VU p.751)
  • Luke 18:9-14

The Sermon Title is Humility and Shame

Early Thoughts: When are we too proud? When do we need more pride or self-esteem? When does realistic guilt become crippling shame?

Sometimes I think in songs. And when I read this Luke passage a couple of songs come to mind. As I read about the Pharisee's prayer part of me hears this:

Pride. Overbearing pride you might say. Pride that blinds us to our own faults but makes us more than willing to see the faults of others. Is this healthy psychologically or spiritually?

And on the other hand there is the tax-collector, someone who is all too aware of his own faults. In part his prayer reminds me of this song:

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, think I'll go eat worms Is this healthy psychologically or spiritually?

In the end I would say that neither of them are healthy points of view.  Simply because they are both unbalanced.  One needs a dose of humility.  The other needs a self-esteem boost.

Christian theology has spent much time and ink trying to convince us of the evils of pride.  And has largely been successful, perhaps too successful.  One strand of theology holds that Pride is the basis of all sinfulness, starting from the Genesis story about Adam and Eve being tempted to be like God.  And yet this emphasis on pride, when taken to extremes, can (and has) communicate to people that they should be ashamed of themselves.  Extreme Calvinism, with its emphasis on the essential sinfulness of human nature (even calling humanity Totally Depraved) is a prime example.

And yet we are told in the Creation story that we are created in the Image of God, and that all Creation is very good.  Being ashamed of ourselves is not what God calls for anymore than overbearing pride.  There is a role for being proud of ourselves, as long as that is based on a realistic picture.  There are times when feeling guilty about something is honest and true.  But if we are allowed to slide into a sense of shame about our very being then we have gone too far.

Some of us know all to well the danger of extreme shame.  Some of us have lived with its crippling effects.  And for some, the shame is fatal.  Some people hear so often that they are no good, that they are flawed, that they are wrong that they start to believe they are worthless and it kills them. 

So we have to find the balance point between pride and humility.  We have to know when to feel guilty.  It isn't just a matter of an interesting theological discussion.  It is a matter of life, and that in abundance, and death.

Pharisee and Tax-collector, neither are healthy.  Neither are where we should be.  Because we are special.  We are not perfect.  But "Just as I am [we are], without one plea" we are loved and accepted and worthwhile.  Thanks and Praise to God.  AMEN

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