Archive for the 'humility' Category

The Donkey-Rider’s Very Different Way

thetriumphalentryLast Sunday Christians celebrated King Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem. We remembered how he came “triumphant and victorious…humble and riding on a donkey…” (Zechariah 9:9 NRSV) We waved palm branches, the way those first-century folks generally welcomed a conquering hero. With that ancient crowd we shouted and sang “Hosanna!”, “Save us!” Jesus’ choice of transportation was a message that Jewish crowd couldn’t have missed. Conquering heroes didn’t ride dumpy little donkeys. They rode magnificent white stallions. Jesus’ alternative transportation recalled Zechariah’s prophecy. Speaking through the prophet, God  continues (this part we rarely hear):

” I’ve had it with war—no more chariots in Ephraim,

no more war horses in Jerusalem,

no more swords and spears, bows and arrows.

He [the donkey-riding king] will offer peace to the nations,

a peaceful rule worldwide,

from the four winds to the seven seas.” (Zechariah 9:10 MSG)

Hopefully last Sunday our pastors taught us the radically different nature of this king and Kingdom. Perhaps he/she chose another direction. Perhaps it was one of those services where other concerns intruded and the message got lost in the shuffle. Some of us may have gone home wondering why Jesus’ friends didn’t insist on getting him a more impressive ride for his grand entry. Some of us wondered (with desperate hope) how that donkey-riding king could make a transforming, life-and-death difference in our angry, violent world.

Monday morning the bombs exploded in Brussels. Monday morning we cried “Save us!” to our guns, our armies, our security and surveillance systems, our present and would-be future leaders—and yes, to the God whose offer of “peace to the nations” still falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts. Monday morning we were brutally reminded–again–of the climate of inescapable anger and violence in which we live. We felt the devastating grief of the victims and all who were connected to them—which is all of us. We felt the fear that mistrusts all that is unknown and unfamiliar. This fear builds walls of exclusion and prejudice against all who are “different”, especially those who bear any resemblance to the “enemy”. Those walls go up instantly. But when we realize we’ve overbuilt, or that we’ve walled out the wrong people, those walls come down only with the greatest difficulty–or not at all. Monday morning politicians and others began proposing various ways to strengthen our security. Some offer reasonable and effective steps. Others offer fear-based proposals that will intensify the hate and fear rather than leading toward healing.

When I watch the coverage from Brussels and the response around the world, I sometimes see a lonely figure moving across the screen. The man on the donkey rides past the wreckage, the hospital scenes, families coping with tragedy or celebrating reunion, stunned men and women trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, politicians and others seeking a way to use this disaster to enhance their standing. The donkey-riding king moves silently through our world. His very presence judges our fear-full and faith-full responses. His presence proclaims anew the impossible promise of “peace to the nations…from the four winds to the seven seas”. He is in our midst as we work through our shock, our fear, our outrage, our grief. He is alongside us and all his followers as we live out his way of strong gentle humility and unconditional love.

Some of our United Methodist leaders remind us what following Jesus looks like in a time like this:

  • “We are praying for all who lost loved ones and for those who are wounded. And we pray and work that we overcome fear and do not answer evil with evil…”—Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, Germany
  • “As those who follow Jesus, the crucified and resurrected One, we need to continue in doing good as much as we can, in building respectful community, in working for peace and justice, in being agents of reconciliation and never give up despite blind violence, hatred or paralyzing fear, wherever we live,”—Bishop Patrick Streiff, Central and Southern Europe
  • “[news of this attack] comes on the heels of violence in other parts of the world, including Cote d’Ivoire earlier this month and more than a hundred incidents in various parts of the world just this year…I am touched by this pain to the fabric of humanity. It’s a pain we must face and seek to heal with love and justice, but we recognize that controlling or preventing these kinds of tragedies is beyond our power alone. We turn to our God who creates justice and loves and embraces us all.”—Bishop Warner Brown, San Francisco, President of the Council of Bishops.

Our donkey-riding King invites us to share his journey as he moves through our world. He brings peace, love, healing, a sense of community that unites those who never thought it possible. He leads us into a way of self-emptying love that is incredibly fulfilling. His very different way gently and powerfully refuses to give in to anger, fear, and violence. Our crucified and risen Lord leads us toward the kind of world I want to live in; the kind of world I want my children and grandchildren, and all the children of the world, to live in. Will you help build that new world? The world where “We overcome fear and do not answer evil for evil;” where we “Continue in doing good as much as we can…; where we “…never give up despite blind violence, hatred, or paralyzing fear;” where “We turn to our God who creates justice and loves and embraces us all.”

“’Unique Humility’–In the NBA???”

We often perceive top-tier professional athletes as overpaid, over-adored hyper-inflated egos. But during the broadcast of Game 3 in the LA Clippers-San Antonio Spurs playoff series, commentator Jeff Van Gundy began preaching about the “unique humility of the San Antonio Spurs”. The commentary that followed opened a window through which deeper truth could enter. That’s a function of preaching, especially in a secular context. If you aren’t a fan, bear with me a moment. Maybe you’ll see the surprising Light I saw shining where I hadn’t looked before. Maybe you’ll sense the fresh Spirit-breeze blowing from a welcome but unexpected direction!

The San Antonio Spurs are the National Basketball Association’s defending champions. They’ve become a sports dynasty. Late in 1996 Coach Greg Popovich took over a team that had won only 3 of its first 18 games. That injury-riddled team finished 20-62 and failed to make the playoffs.  The Spurs have made the playoffs every season since and won 5 NBA championships. In February 2015, Popovich became only the second NBA coach ever to win 1000 games with the same team. The Spurs’ opponents, the LA Clippers, are a strong young team. Under coach Doc Rivers they finished one game ahead of San Antonio in the regular season. Clippers faithful think/hope/pray their team might be at the start of a run like the Spurs have enjoyed for eighteen years.

The Spurs and Clippers began their best-of-seven-games series last Monday night in LA. LA won 107-92. San Antonio was clearly outplayed. They played again in LA Wednesday night. San Antonio led by five points at halftime. The score was tied at the end of regulation play. San Antonio won in overtime 111-107. Friday night the series moved to San Antonio for two games. The Spurs led 46-38 at halftime, by 21 points after three quarters, and eventually won 100-73. Night-and-day difference from that first-game defeat in LA.

In a very one-sided game broadcasters scramble to find something besides the game itself to hold our attention (and theirs!). Late in the third quarter Van Gundy realized the game had reached that point. He commented that folks would say the Spurs’ experience was asserting itself. That’s true as far as it goes, he said. But the key is not the amount of experience. It’s the way players use and learn from experience. Van Gundy said the Spurs display a “unique humility”. If something’s not working, it gets changed. If a player’s not performing, he’ll be coached through it. If a coach (including Popovich) lets the team down, they’ll own up and make a change. The Spurs have minimal ego investment in personal success and absolute commitment to maximizing the contribution of every member of the organization and focusing all available resources on the ultimate goal of becoming the best possible basketball team. According to Van Gundy,  San Antonio’s “unique humility” had helped them move beyond that Game 1 defeat to a hard-fought victory in Game 2 and a one-sided victory in Game 3.

Can you see the Light (John 8:12 ) yet? Can you feel the Breeze (Acts 2:1-11)? Can you hear God speak softly (1 Kings 19)over the roar of the crowd? Yes, history matters—because whoever doesn’t learn from it is doomed to repeat it. So the point isn’t merely our two thousand years of  Christian tradition. (That number’s too small, incidentally. It omits more than a thousand years of heritage we share with our Jewish and Muslim neighbors.) The point isn’t our years and even centuries of history as a congregation or a denomination. It’s the difference we’ve made. It’s the mid-course corrections that have kept us vitally connected to our changing world. The point isn’t my 40+ years of experience as a local church pastor. It’s the constant adjustments and learning along the way. The world in which I began in 1968 looked very little like the world of 2011 in which I retired from active service.

As I listened to Van Gundy talk about the Spurs’ “unique humility”, I thought: Popular Christianity loves to tell stories of “growth”, “success”, “happiness”, and “vitality”. But I hear far fewer stories of the “unique humility” of followers of Jesus. Here are a few:

  • Dr. Kent Brantly and nurse Nancy Writebol are just two of hundreds, perhaps thousands whose “unique humility” kept last year’s Ebola disaster in Africa from becoming far worse than it was.
  • The recent renewed interest in this country’s Civil Rights movement highlighted many people’s “unique humility” as followers of Jesus. We know only a fraction of these people’s names. That’s how “unique humility” wants it.
  • In the late 1970’s-‘80’s, a gifted theologian named Dr. Henri Nouwen taught at both Yale and Harvard Divinity Schools. Then he moved to Toronto, Canada, to spend the last ten years of his life as pastor to L’Arche. In this unique residential community, …people with and without disabilities…share their lives in communities of faith and friendship. Community members are transformed through relationships of mutuality, respect, and companionship as they live, work, pray, and play together.”
  • In the early and middle-20th century, Dr. Albert Schweitzer focused his skills as a physician, world-class organist, and world-class New Testament scholar on improving the lives of some of the poorest people on the planet through the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambarene, French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon).

The renewal of the church doesn’t lie in the right music, the right organizational paradigm, the right beliefs, the right way of interpreting the Bible, or any other “magic bullet” fix that’s sold more books than it’s changed lives. Renewal (resurrection!) lies in a resurgence of “unique humility” in the individual and collective life of followers of Jesus. “Unique humility” means “It’s not about me” is our starting point for every plan, every prayer, every event–everything . “Unique humility”affirms the church exists more for its neighborhood than its members. It exists for those who hear and see Jesus more clearly through different language, music, and ways of praying and sharing than my friends and I prefer. “Unique humility” is “church people” embracing the most unlikely folks as brothers and sisters in Christ. “Unique humility” looks like Jesus’ followers embodying his definition of true greatness: “Whoever wants to become great must become a servant.” (Mark 10:43 MSG) 

Have you seen the “unique humility” of followers of Jesus alive where you live? How about sharing  some of those stories in your comments?


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