LUKE 18:9-14

APRIL 10, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)


            Dr. Harold Olds, a pastor, has an adult son named Brad.  When Brad was in high school he was a very good high school football player and he played on a team that was always in contention for a state championship. As a result Brad’s name or picture was often splashed on the Saturday morning sports page of the Lexington Leader. So, just to make sure his feet were planted firmly on the ground, each Friday morning before Friday night football game, Dr. Olds would quote Proverbs 16:18 to him. As Brad went out the door to school, Dr. Olds would say to him, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

            This morning we continue our Spring Cleaning 2.0 sermon series based on “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Last week we looked at the sin of sloth. Today we turn our attention to the deadly sin, pride.

            According to Dante, pride is the worst sin of all. According to C.S. Lewis, pride is a “cancer that eats up the very possibility of love, or even common sense." Webster defines it in unflattering language. Webster calls it vanity, conceit, narcissism, or unreasonable delight in one's position or deeds.

            The sin of pride, however, is not quite as clear cut as sloth. By that I mean, is pride always a sin? A number of years ago the country singer Lee Greenwood belted out, “I’m proud to be an American.” Well, I’m proud to be an American. Is it a sin to think that way? I’m proud to be a parent. I’m proud of my kids, and I’m especially proud to be a grandparent. Trudy is so proud of being a grandmother she has a personalized license plate on her car.  It reads, “Yaya x 5.” Most days I'm proud to be a Presbyterian and I’m certainly proud to be the pastor of Anderson Grove Presbyterian Church. When delighting in those things am I committing a deadly sin?

            Not necessarily. It’s a fine line. I think pride becomes a sin when I think my children and my grandchildren are better than your children or grandchildren. I think pride becomes a sin when I say being Presbyterian is better than being a Methodist or a Baptist or Episcopalian or non-denominational. I think pride becomes a sin when I think Anderson Grove Presbyterian Church is better than any other presbyterian church in town. And follow the logic here. If it’s a sin to think my children and grandchildren and my denomination or my church is greater than yours or any other church, does it not follow that if we say our country is better than any other country, doesn’t that border on the sin of pride? I’ve been to a number of countries, and I liked visiting them and every nation has it’s strengths and weaknesses, and I’m proud to be American, and I would choose to live here rather than anywhere else, but we need to tread lightly when we say we are the greatest nation in the world. Now, having said that, may mean this is the last sermon I ever preach here, but saying our nation is better than any other nation, just like saying our church is better than any other church, enters into the dangerous part of pride.

            In a manner of speaking, pride is like the tires on our car. The tires don't function properly if they are under inflated or over inflated. Neither way is good for the tire. Like automobile tires, it is important for us not to be under inflated - low self-esteem - or over inflated in our opinion about ourselves. Unfortunately, while many people suffer from low self-esteem, more people have the tendency to over inflate themselves.

            So in someways pride can be a good thing, but we have to be very careful with it. Like fire, it can be a good thing, and a very dangerous thing. It depends how we use it, and this morning I want to focus upon the dangerous part of pride, specifically that  over inflated part of ourselves, the part that says, “I am better than you.”

            Jesus tells a story about it. Listen to it. Luke:18:9.


            He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous (What a shot. They trusted in themselves, not God in themselves!) and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (By the way do you have your taxes done? As a public service let me remind you that they are due on Friday. Back to Jesus.) 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.’  (Last week we looked at spiritual disciplines that help us overcome spiritual laziness.  Well, this guy practiced two of them, fasting and giving, but they became a source of pride, rather than an avenue to the grace of God. Let’s continue.) 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.”


            Well, this parable doesn’t really need a sermon around it. We can just read it and get it. Talk about over inflated tires! Why does the Pharisee need to tear down the tax collector? What is he trying to prove? Whatever it was, it's the stuff of which pride is made. C.S. Lewis said, “A proud person is always looking down on things and people, and of course as long as you are looking down, you cannot find God because God is always above you."

            Normally when we talk about sin, we usually think of a weakness in character, a character flaw. But pride can only be described as a sin of strength. It says, "I'm better than you; I deserve special recognition."

            Pride says, “I may not be the best person in the world, but I'm better than the hypocrites up at your church.”

            Pride says, “Who does she think she is, correcting me?”

            And pride gets upset when it doesn’t receive the recognition it thinks it deserves.

            Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

            Thankfully, there is an antidote to pride. The corresponding virtue, it’s polar opposite is humility.

            One of my favorite athletes of all time was Muhammad Ali. In retrospect I don’t know why I liked him so much. Humility was far from his strong suit. For example, take the time Muhammad Ali had just won another title fight. On the airplane back home the flight attendant politely said to him, "You need to fasten your seat belt." Ali replied, "Superman doesn't need a seat belt." To which the stewardess politely responded, "And Superman doesn't need an airplane either; please fasten your seat belt.”

            Ah, a lesson in humility. And since we have a handful of rabid Green Bay Packers fans in our congregation, let me tell you a Vince Lombardi story. Vince Lombardi was the Packers legendary football coach in the 60’s, and he came home late one night after another win, crawled in bed with his wife. She suddenly awakened and said “God your feet are cold." To which Lombardi responded, “It's okay, honey. When we're in bed together you can just call me Vince."

            The Apostle Paul’s favorite church was the one he founded in Philippi.  He had a relationship with that congregation that he had with no other, but it wasn’t a perfect church. It seems that some church members in Philippi who were trying to set themselves up as better than others. Who knows what it was? Maybe some were saying, "I'm more spiritual than you," or "I know the Bible better than you do." Whatever it was Paul encouraged them to be humble, and if we have a problem with humility, if we are more like Vince Lombardi or Muhammad Ali than we would like to admit, I encourage all of us with that problem to write down Philippians 2:4.  Philippians 2:4. It’s easy to memorize. It goes as follows, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

            The best definition of humility I know is “down to earth.” In fact, the word “humility” word comes from the word “humus,” and humus is the organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by microorganisms in the soil. So to be humble is to be “down to earth.” We like that in people.  We hear people say, I thought so and so would be full of herself, but she was really “down to earth.” Down to earth people know they have something in common with all of the people in the world. Down to earth people know that on a given day and a given moment they are not any better than anybody else.

            A city boy visited his cousin for the very first time. His cousin lived on a farm in the country, very different from the city boy. The city boy had never seen wheat growing in a field. It was an impressive sight for him, the wheat golden brown and ready for harvesting. He noticed that some of the wheat stood tall in the field, whereas some of it was bent low, touching the ground. The city boy said to his cousin, "I bet the ones standing tall are the best ones, aren't they?" His cousin smiled knowingly and reached over and plucked the head of one of the tall-standing wheat stalks and one that was bent to the ground. He rubbed each of them and the city boy saw that the tall one was almost empty of seeds. But the one bent to the ground was full of the promise of a rich harvest. The ones bent down, touching the ground were the best ones.

            Ah, pride. At work we think we work harder than others, so we deserve a raise or special consideration. In our marriages we believe we give more to the relationship so our wife, our husband, should appreciate us more. The sin of pride is to think we, or ours, are better than others. I was proud when I was elected student body president in the sixth grade, the first boy to hold that title. I was proud when I received the Babe Herman Award as the most inspirational person on our high football team. As you know, I am a proud graduate of UCLA, and I am proud I went on after seminary to receive my Doctor of Ministry Degree. In other words, I am familiar with pride and at times my pride has crossed the line, making me feel superior to others.

            Fortunately though, I have a wife, two children, and all of you to remind me I don't know everything, that indeed I make mistakes and that only by the grace of God do I know success of any kind.

            A little girl at the circus bought a huge cone of cotton candy. A man passing by said to her, "How can a little girl like you eat so much cotton candy?" She replied, "Well, Mister, I'm really bigger on the inside than on the outside."

            Do we want to be bigger on the inside than we are on the outside? Do we want to be humble, to give life, to make life fuller? Then, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”