Deadly # 1 in Series for Lent
A 1957 news report, broadcast on the BBC has been called by CNN “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled.” The three minute report, told the tale of a family in southern Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from fictional spaghetti trees. Apparently, in 1957, spaghetti wasn’t widely eaten in the UK and some people were unaware that spaghetti is a pasta made from wheat flour and water.
Apparently very few people noticed that the story was broadcast on April Fools Day. Hundreds of viewers phoned into the BBC, either to say the story wasn’t true or to ask how to grow their own spaghetti trees.
One person who was completely taken in by the news story was the director general of the BBC. With his pride on the line, he could have kept that to himself but he explained why he shared it. He said for most of his life he’d thought peanuts grew on trees. When he discovered they grew in the ground, he realized that he might be wrong about other lifelong assumptions. Of course it didn’t do him much good when it came to spaghetti trees.
Why is it so hard for us to admit we’re wrong? What is it that makes us stand our ground and declare something to be true or right or good when all the evidence points out the fallacy of our assumption? The Biblical answer is Pride.
Today we begin a series on the Seven Deadly Sins. Lent is a time of spiritual preparation for the celebration of Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We don’t celebrate his death but we celebrate what His death did for us. And in preparation for a true celebration Lent helps us to draw closer to Christ through self-examination and prayer.
Lent reminds us of our mortality and the shortness of life. It puts life in its proper perspective as we focus our thoughts on God and not ourselves. It calls us to a time of repentance where we once again return to Christ and a Christ-like life.
The Seven Deadly Sins are Pride, Greed, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger and Sloth. These are the things that draw us away from God and put the focus on ourselves. Taking a closer look at the Seven Deadly Sins will help us focus more on God and draw us closer to Christ.
Chief amongst the Seven Deadly is Pride. Some have argued that all the other sins are just aspects of Pride. We know what Jesus about false Pride. In Luke 18:9-17 (NRSV) we read.
 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.
 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Jesus didn’t think much of the false pride of the Pharisee in the parable, nor of the false pride he saw in others.
A. There’s an old “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip in which Calvin is talking to his stuffed tiger Hobbes (whom he imagines to be real and his best friend). He says: “People are so self-centered.”
Then he adds philosophically, “The world would be a better place if people would stop thinking about themselves and focus on others for a change.”
Hobbes sort of rolls his eyes and thinks aloud, “Gee, I wonder who that might apply to.”
Calvin answers, “Me!. Everyone should focus on me!” (1)
Bill Watterson’s cartoon character Calvin could have been the poster child for the Pharisee in today’s reading.
The reason Jesus came down so hard on the Pharisees is because they were the Good Guys. The Pharisees would have been welcomed with open arms by John and Charles Wesley. You see, the whole Pharisee movement was a holiness movement. They were trying to live a holy life, pleasing to God in all ways, just like John and Charles Wesley did in England.
Jewish historian Josephus tells us that 15 years before the birth of Jesus, Herod the Great ordered everyone to take an oath of unconditional loyalty to him. Most people did. But not the Pharisees, they said they couldn’t take an oath to anyone but God. This wasn’t just a handful of people. Josephus tells us there were 6,000 who stood their ground. And Herod punished every last one of them. They were the Good Guys, they were the Faithful.
But somewhere along the line something went awry. Maybe they began to congratulate themselves for being holy or being faithful. And if you notice, the prayer the Pharisee in this parable wasn’t about God. It was all about him and how much better he was than the tax-collector. And that self-righteous, self-congratulatory attitude is what got under Jesus’ skin.
B. You see there a difference in being proud and being prideful. Being proud is that sense of contentedness and satisfaction, it’s that sense of being well-pleased with our own life and our accomplishments. Being proud is also being glad for something someone else has done or accomplished. It’s like watching our children and grandchildren play sports or use their talents or win an award. Being proud is when you joyously celebrate what someone else has done.
Being Prideful is just the opposite. Being prideful is being disgruntled when someone gets an award and you didn’t. Being prideful is like the guy who got a medal for being humble and then decided to wear it. Being Prideful puts the focus on us.
II. THE PROBLEM:
A. And that’s the problem. Have you ever noticed that central letter of both sin and pride is an “I”? Well that’s the problem. Apple Computers has so captured that idea with their naming convention for their products. They could have called there products an Apple Phone but instead, they played upon our pride and individualism. So we have the I-phone, the I-pod, and the I-pad. It’s all about me.
When Pride takes over, it doesn’t matter if the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars because in our minds, the whole universe has shifted and now revolves around us. WE are the only topic that matters. OUR feelings, wishes, desires and ideas are the only ones that that really count.
Sometimes when we’re disgruntled or bumfuzzled by some decision or action in the world, we jokingly say, “Well, if I were king of the universe . . .” When Pride takes over, we live and believe like we ARE the king or queen of the universe.
One of my hundred favorite movies is Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray as an arrogant self-centered weatherman assigned to cover the “rat” as he calls the groundhog on Groundhog Day. He makes no bones about his disgruntlement. Because of a snowstorm, they’re stuck in town for another night. The next day Phil wakes up to discover that it’s Groundhog Day again and again and again. Phil is a perfect example of the problem of Pride. This example takes place over breakfast with his colleague, Rita.
Rita describes her perfect man to which Phil replies, “That’s Me!” And when she makes a longer list, “Me! Me! ME.” That’s a Prideful attitude. The problem is the that this type of Pride leads to arrogance which leads to contempt and disdain for others, just like the Pharisee had for the tax collector in Jesus’ parable.
It’s been said that “there’s no room for God if you’re full of yourself.” A Prideful person is never generous or grateful because they never get as much as they think they deserve.”
So, what’s the solution? What’s the antidote to the Prideful Spirit and heart?
III. THE ANTIDOTE:
A. We’re given a hint of the antidote when Jesus instructed the Disciples to let children come to him. He not only uses them as an example of how we are to love God but He also shows what the antidote is. The Antidote to Pride is humility. Who better describes humility with their life and lifestyle than Jesus? He IS the Son of God and yet he chose to invite the children to come to him. He chose to step out of heaven and become one of us.
Humility is not under valuing yourself. You’re created in the Image of God, nobody can take that away. You are a child of God, so don’t undervalue yourself. Humility is not tearing yourself down.
Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s simply thinking about yourself less. Pride is focused on self; humility is focused on God and others.
B. There was a young boy who wanted to measure himself and find out how tall he was. But he didn’t have a ruler. So he made one. And then he measured himself. “Nine feet! Mommy!” he shouted, “I’m nine feet tall!” We laugh, but that’s how it is when you measure yourself by your own ruler.
That’s the mistake the Pharisee in the parable made. And that’s the mistake some of us make as well. A humble heart is the antidote for that mistake. Humility reminds us that Jesus is the only true yardstick we have and the only one we need. We can’t measure ourselves by someone else’s life, we can only measure ourselves by Christ. He’s the standard.
One of the ways we develop and maintain our humility is through Worship. When we worship God we are both consciously and subconsciously reminding ourselves that we are not the center of the universe. When we affirm our faith with the words of an Affirmation of Faith like the Apostle’s Creed, we remind ourselves that “God, the Father Almighty, is the creator” of the universe; of all that is and was and ever will be. God did that, not you, not me. And we remind ourselves that “God’s only Son Jesus, is our Lord.”
Affirmations like that and worship itself, changes the posture of our hearts. Posture is important, especially when it comes to prayer. You can pray standing up or sitting down. You can pray while lying in bed and even while you’re driving, as long as you don’t close your eyes. But there is no position for prayer that is more powerful than kneeling.
Kneeling is a sign of fealty or loyalty. Kneeling is a physically vulnerable position. In the act of kneeling with head bowed, one exposes ones neck completely to the sword of the king. Kneeling is a sign of humility. Maybe that’s what we should emphasize and take on during Lent. Maybe we should focus on the spiritual discipline of kneeling when we pray. And it’s not so much the physical act as it is the posture of our hearts and souls. But sometimes it’s good to rebuild that muscle memory and remind ourselves what it feels like, so our hearts, our minds, and our spirits can stay true to our intent because humility is the antidote to pride.
The movie McFarland, USA opened this weekend. It was inspired by the 1987 true story of coach Jim White whose job-hopping lead him to a predominantly Latino high school where he struggled to find common ground. Once he noticed that some of his students had exceptional running ability. He formed them into a team of unlikely runners who became a championship cross-country team. In this particular scene he rather gruffly encourages them to push themselves. As the boys run up the hill he hollers, “Lean into it.” And when they seem to be struggling he hollers, “Change gears. Change into a lower gear.”
Lent is a time to help us push ourselves. Lent is a time to Lean into our faith; to Lean into Jesus; to Lean into the Spirit. Lent is a time discipline ourselves and refocus our lives on God by trusting in the leadership and work of God’s Holy Spirit as it shapes us into the image of Jesus just as Coach White shaped the young men of McFarland into a championship team. Lent is a time in the life of the church and our journey of faith to help us Change Gears and put everything back into proper perspective.
A reporter interviewed Jack Nicklaus one time and asked, “Jack, you’re spectacular, your name is synonymous with the game of golf. You really know your way around the course. What’s your secret?”
To which Jack Nicklaus replied, “The holes are numbered!”
That’s humility, that’s keeping everything in proper perspective. Don’t let Pride get the best of you. Give your best to Jesus. Kneel before Him. Like the tax collector, simply pray, “Lord be merciful.”
Don’t give in to the temptation to turn away from God and rely only on yourself. Don’t compare yourself to anyone but Jesus. Don’t be fooled by the lure of false advertising, because everybody really knows spaghetti doesn’t grow on trees.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), FEB, 1993