Sunday, October 28, 2012

Blind Spots

Blind Spots
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
October 28, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Romans 12:17
Luke 6: 37-42 

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

When I was getting ready to write this sermon I took a look back to see exactly when we started this series. We have been looking at the "Marks of a True Christian" since June 10, and here it is the last week of October, and we are getting closer and closer to the end. It is pretty amazing because I didn't measure it out ahead of time, I just delved right in, and it looks as if it will take us exactly up until the beginning of Advent. There are only a few verses left, and most of them have to do with the same basic idea, and that is, how we are supposed to deal with the "evil" that surrounds us in this world. My second sermon on the series introduced that we are to "hate what is evil, and hold fast to what is good," and now Paul goes into some more detail about just what that means. This week we have, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all," and looking back we see,
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.[1]

That is this week, and looking forward this theme of dealing with evil is continued. . . 

18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;g for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  

Since in the weeks to come we will be looking at not avenging against evil, and how we are even to feed and clothe our enemies, and overcome evil with good, I wanted to look today at why many times we actually miss the mark and repay evil with evil because we have trouble recognizing the evil that we ourselves do and are capable of. Often we inadvertently miss this mark because we mistake our own role in the breaking of our relationships. For this reason I picked the following passage, about our own vision of ourselves, and others. Luke 6: 37-42:

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.  

My class this week began reading Sophocles' tragedy, Oedipus Rex, and I was continually struck by connections with the passages I was studying this week for this sermon. Oedipus, the famous man, fated to marry his mother and kill his father, does so and doesn't know about it, but that all happens before Sophocles play begins. The play instead centers around the character Oedipus, the king of Thebes, as the truth about himself is slowly revealed to him, and how through most of the play he is blind to the truth, even hostile to it, despite the fact he is in every way earnestly seeking truth. I thought so much of it that I pulled a passage out and put it in the bulletin for you all to consider this morning. In this passage, the famous blind prophet Tieresias is pushed to his limit and so tells Oedipus the truth about himself, and Oedipus responds with defensive denial, accusing the prophet back, he just cannot accept the truth in the moment, self preservation takes over as the overpowering instinct, emotion rules over reason, and his blind spots are revealed. He is too wrapped up in saving his city, and so resolved in his own self importance, to even imagine for a second that he is the problem, and he is and these figurative blind spots result in actual self inflicted blindness in the poetic justice of the plays conclusion.
And so let us look at our gospel passage. the famous speck and plank. Blind to our own plank we cannot help but see the speck within our neighbor's eye. This is one of Jesus' more straight forward metaphors. He uses it to explain the Judge not lest ye be judged mandate. It is paired with this idea in both Luke and Matthew, but I chose the Luke version because it goes into more detail, especially going beyond just not judging, but to not condemning and  to the forgiving. It is interesting to me that Jesus says do not judge, and then says not to condemn, and then says to forgive, but if you haven't judged, what do you have to forgive. It is almost as if he knows that Judging and condemning are within our nature. It is funny how we don't even notice the inconsistency of it all. To forgive seems to require some judgment was made. Think about what that means for us as we go around self righteously forgiving, sure of how right you are that you are big enough to forgive. If you think about it, you really cannot be a forgiving person without being a judging person and a condemning person first. Have you ever thought of it that way, or is that one of our blind spots, one of those little unthought of inconsistencies that we hold to?
A student of mine, whom I taught last year had me look over one of his college application essays, in which he was supposed to write and introductory letter to his future prospective roommate. It seemed the essay was trying to get at who they are on a personal level without the pretensions of a formal essay. The student did a pretty good job, but one piece of it struck me as inconsistent. He wrote how, growing up in Nigeria he loves diversity, loves being surrounded by different people of different races, but then in the next sentence he talked about how he sees every one as the same and is color blind.  I asked him, hey which is it? Do you enjoy diversity or are you color blind? He was amazed, he had never thought of it like that before. I understood what he meant, but the words made him think beyond the slogans, and for a minute he could see his own blind spots.
What are our blind spots within ourselves? What are those little inconsistencies that we do not see? We all have them. I think this is what Jesus means when he says the plank in our own eyes. These are the things about ourselves that we miss completely. For Oedipus it was the fact that he was trying to do the best good for his kingdom, that there was no way he could comprehend the notion that he himself was the evil he sought to eradicate. For my student it was that within his loving notions of equality, he was in some ways carrying his own subtle unconscious hypocrisy about the self righteous way he sees himself and other people. What are our blind spots? The biggest problem in identifying them ourselves obviously is that we are blind to them. And you may be asking yourself at this point, hey Pete, what does this have to do with repaying evil for evil?
Let me get to that. I think that most of agree with this statement, that it is bad to repay evil for evil. It is bad because it never ends the cycle. Evil begets evil begets evil begets evil, one bad turn results in another and another and another, that human beings have a tendency to seek revenge rather than reconciliation, and that something at some point must be done to stop the downward spiral, and the only hope there is, is to insert good, to insert forgiveness, that doing more evil just never helps. It is why we hold up as heroes people like Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. because they were able to overcome the violence and evil, not with more evil, but were able to stop the cycle of hatred by inserting love, reflecting goodness, and prohibiting the violence of evil to tear their message and movement apart, and so India became independent, Apartheid was overcome, and segregation was challenged.
So maybe, to reflect the example of these great men, as people inspired by Jesus, and his not repaying evil for evil message, I should have chosen the more consistent, "turn the other cheek" statement of Jesus to pair with it. That seems to capture the notion of not "repaying evil with evil" much better. Yes in many ways that is true. Turning the other cheek allows for the evil not to be repaid with evil, but how often when we are the ones who apologize or forgive, do we expect something out of the other person? We expect them to do the same or more with us, to act differently. Are we forgiving or trying again to control? Why are our supposedly selfless acts of forgiveness or our apologies just one new way of gaining control of a situation and others, and again right there in our blind spot evil is lurking. Like I said back in June when we were looking at the "hate what is evil" passage, evil is difficult to nail down in our world.
I was watching "Sleeping Beauty" last night with Coralee before she went to bed, and in comes Malificent. Coralee at two years old could recognize her as evil. Coralee asked me, when she poofed into the scene in a flash of green glowing fire, dressed in black, with black horns, black lips, and pale green skin, and an evil laugh, "Daddy is that the bad witch?" "Yes, honey," I said. Of course, evil is easily identified in the cartoons, and the good little fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, in bright shades of pink, green, and blue, sweet grandmotherly types with little wands and wings. But in our world it's not that easy, not only in recognizing evil in others, but because of our blind spots, we often even miss our own propensity for evil.
It is easy to mask evil. It is easy to talk it away, to reason it away, to say that the ends justify the means. It is amazing how fast, when thinking about the ends rather than the means, the evil that we do finds its way hidden completely within our blind spots. How many times when one of our relationships gets broken do we see everything the other person did to cause the split, but none of our own? I can think of many times where I was so convinced that a person I had a disagreement with was so wrong, completely wrong, and needed to apologize, at least in the moment, but then after time passed I could see how I could have handled the situation better as well, that my own weaknesses were more to blame than the other person's, but I just could not see them. I took the time passing to be able to notice the wrongness of my own role in the problem. It seems that another thing, other than trying to control the ends of a situation, that creates these blind spots is being "in the moment." In the moment emotions cloud reason and our blind spots seem to grow.
Our nation as we do every four years finds ourselves in the middle of an intense election. As the election heats up, just over a week from the voting day, how deep have our blind spots grown, and look at how divided we have all become. Both sides are convinced that the other side is evil, or lying, or cheating, or misguided, or whatever euphemism you'd like to use instead of evil, but the truth is there. Demonization is ramped. It encapsulates a little of both our identified reasons for the growth of blind spots, concern for the ends, trying to make our guy win, and the emotional high tide of the closeness of the reckoning day. It will even get worse, but the truth is it's not just the two sides, the two parties, and the two candidates. Even those in the middle who complain about seem to disdain the others who are so wrapped up. It really does reflect us all. It reflects a truth about our fallen human nature, but again the Marks of what a True Christian is supposed to be holds up a mirror in front of our face, and challenges us to look truly at ourselves, to uncover the blind spots, and become better, but not so we can judge, and condemn others, but so that we can get beyond it all and truly love each other, to allow love to end the cycle of evil, as only love can do.
So how do we do it? How do we shed light on our blind spots so that we can love truly to end the cycle rather than buying our ticket and jumping on the spinning carousel of evil ourselves. Last week I talked about having a welcome mind, and I think that is part of it, the second piece of the passage, taking thought for what is noble in the sight of all requires that, listening to the other side, what they have to say, but we've shown today that something in us makes that almost impossible especially real time, so let's look also at the causes we have noted so far about the catalysts for the growing of our blind spots: anxiety about the ends, the results, the future, and the other the heat of the moment emotional response. We need to let go of our anxiety and somehow seek to gain perspective, in order to take a clear look at our blind spots, but how? I wish there were simple answers, that it were easy, but if it were easy, our world would be a very different place, but I think a starting place is prayer, prayer as communication with God, open communion, honest, soul bearing prayer, because through prayer we find that God is there, that God has the ends in the palm of his hands, and that he knows us and loves us blind spots and all, and not just us but the other as well.
I used three different bulletin covers this morning, and to be honest I did it because, Gerri was gone and I needed something, but I'm glad that I did because prayer often is in my blind spot, and I don't know if I would have concluded this sermon suggesting prayerful openness if I hadn't looked at the combination of the three. Some of you have the Lord's prayer, Deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Some of you have "Footprints" showing that how even in our darkest depths, our most difficult times God is there and carrying us through, and some of you have Thanksgiving, the glorious response that we give to God for all of the wonders he has done. That's it isn't it, against that glowing light, that shining love, that cycle beginning with God's love, comprehended through prayer, felt in hard times, ending with Thanksgiving just in time for the cycle to start again, and we realize that our blind spots really are irrelevant, the plank and the speck too become irrelevant, and all that is left is love, God's love for us, making possible our love for God and our love for each other.

Amazing grace how true the sound
Which taught my eyes to see
That evil just is not the way,
Your love it set me free.
And I no longer blind to truth,
My neighbor I can love,
For standing in your gracious hand,  
I see from high above.  

Yes high above, far above with just enough perspective for it all to fall away. May it be so! Amen.


[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ro 12:17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Welcome Mind

A Welcome Mind
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
October 21, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Romans 12:16c
Luke 12: 54-59
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

As we move further through the Marks of a True Christian, nearing the last few weeks of the series, this week we look at the third part of verse 16, which is "do not claim to be wiser than you are," so taking a look back at the journey we've been on. Romans 12, starting with verse 9: 

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.[1]

I wanted to pick a good passage to pair with this one, especially because the Old Testament lesson from Proverbs was so strong, and so I chose this, Luke 12: 54-59, a passage that has two sections, the first suggesting the limits to our wisdom, and the second showing that at other times it is important to think for ourselves. But I'll get to that in a second. . .  

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

It is interesting that Luke strings these two stories together, one after another. It really does get at the idea that you just can't figure Jesus out. One minute he is saying one thing, and then the next, seemingly just to keep us on our toes, he challenges our simple understanding, always one step ahead, making it more, pushing it further. Look at these two episodes. In the first he is basically saying to the crowds how lost they are. They can see certain signs in the sky, the weather patterns, but there is a limit to their knowledge. They can read the weather, but they cannot, as Jesus puts it, "interpret the present time." He even goes so far as to call them hypocrites for it, as if not only can they not interpret the present time, but that they think they can. They think they can and they horribly miss the mark. Just to give you a little context for this quotation, it comes right after, in Luke, where Jesus is talking about bringing division rather than "Peace on Earth." Here the child who was born in the manger, and the angels sang to the shepherds singing glory to God in the Highest and Peace on Earth to men of good will, is now saying, starting in Luke 12: 51:

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”  

If you would think Jesus is simple, with simple ideas, and simple lessons this passage really challenges that notion. There is always more. Again, back to our passage, "do not think you are wiser than you are." Just when you think you've got it locked down, challenge yourself and think again, it seems to say.
But then, just when you are sufficiently confused and ready to you check your own brain at the door, and do whatever you are told without questioning, you know, since now  you know that you are not wise, others should be making your decisions for you right? Follow those who are wise. . . know your role. Right, just when you may be beginning to think that, Jesus goes on to the second half of our gospel lesson for this morning, saying, "and why do you not judge for yourselves?" Judge for ourselves Jesus, you just told us that we don't know what we are doing, that we are lacking in judgment, that our thoughts are misguided and our knowledge is full of holes, and now we are supposed to judge for ourselves? Yes he says, "Why do you not judge for yourselves?" and I paraphrase, because if you don't you will be manipulated, taken advantage of, you will be a pawn, a victim, a stooge. The powers that be, will certainly make a decision for you, and then you will have to go with what they say, and their decision may not be just, it may not be fair, it may not be right, and you have given up. Why do you not judge for yourselves? The history of the Christian Church is fraught with this problem, from the Medieval Catholic Church's manipulation of Europe, through indulgences, crusades, witch trials, inquisitions, and misguided teachings, all the way to the Pat Robertson's going on TV and claiming to know for certain that the earthquake in Haiti was punishment for sin. Many people accept that kind of teaching without question, assuming that the leader has more knowledge, more wisdom than them, because we shouldn't think we are wiser than we are.
Just because we do not know everything does not mean we know nothing. Wisdom exists and should be sought. Ron read from the opening of Proverbs, the prologue of Wisdom, I would like to read from later in that chapter, starting with verse 20, it is subtitled in my Bible as "The Call of Wisdom:"

20     Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
21     At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22     “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23     Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.
24     Because I have called and you refused,
have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25     and because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26     I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you,
27     when panic strikes you like a storm,
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28     Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29     Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30     would have none of my counsel,
and despised all my reproof,
31     therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
and be sated with their own devices.
32     For waywardness kills the simple,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33     but those who listen to me will be secure
and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”  

Yes wisdom exists. Just because we do not know it, that we do not control it, have a grasp of it, it does exits, and as this passage suggests, it is calling us to seek it, to constantly seek it, to be willing to learn.
Many, today, would call this being open minded, open to new ideas, etc.. but have you ever noticed that when people tell you to be open minded they really just want you to think like they do? They say, "come on open your mind, or hey, you need to be more open minded about this," in other words, forget what you know, forget what you think, forget what you believe and listen to me. If you look to the first half of the gospel lesson you may see Jesus telling us to be open minded when he says, "you Hypocrites, you cannot interpret the times," but then what about the second half, saying, "why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?" So the term open minded is lacking because it doesn't take into account the wisdom that you do have already. Open minded could be akin to being an air head, ideas going in and out without any lasting power. No we need another term to be more in line with the complexity of Jesus' teaching, and also the call from Paul, to "not think yourself wiser than you are." Again it doesn't suggest you lack all wisdom.
Take a look at the prayer for preparation, I penned this a few years ago.

May I ever come to know
That what I know
Falls far short
Of what I need to know. 

May I learn
That in my thirst
For what I don’t know
That I won’t forget
The truth that I do know, 

And that is that I know
Considerably less
The more I am blessed
To come to know. 

The poem seeks to communicate the idea that real knowledge is being aware of what you do know and being aware of what you don't know, but what really struck me about it, was that when I centered it, as you can see it takes a shape. I didn't shape it that way on purpose, but don't you see the pineapple? Of course, as many of you know, the pineapple is an international symbol for welcome, and since this poem was all about seeking more knowledge, while being aware of the knowledge that you have already gained, it made me think of this very idea we've been looking at today, and the term, "Welcome Minded," came to me as a better, more accurate, term to replace "Open Minded," which we have shown to be lacking. I started to write down some ideas, and this is what came to me as the defining statement of "Welcome Mindedness:"

I hear people speak about being open minded,
But usually they use "open" as a close minded tool
To further their own agenda. Openness is closed to
Tradition, openness is closed to the past,
Openness is closed to standards, claiming to be tolerant,
But actually are quite intolerant of any who do not share
Their open views. I'd rather be welcome minded,
Welcoming other ideas in for a visit,
All who come are surely welcome,
But any decision made on who will stay
In the house of my mind's gracious hospitality,
Is forever the right of the owner of that house.
I refuse to allow another to rule my mind, for I
Am the one who pays the eternal mortgage.

Presbyterians have historically understood and advanced this concept. In our Book of Order in the first section outlines the historic principles of Presbyterian Church Order. The first of those principles is " 

 (1) (a) That “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and
hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men
which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters
of faith or worship.”
(b) Therefore we consider the rights of private judgment,
in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable:
We do not even wish to see any religious constitution
aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection
and security, and at the same time, be equal and common
to all others.
It is one of those aspects that has always appealed to me about the Presbyterian Church, that we are all seekers, seeking God, seeking truth, seeking wisdom, because we acknowledge that those things exist even though, and at the same time we acknowledge that we do not know all there is to know about it. So let us walk together, seeking together, sharing what we know, and welcoming in the ideas that we do not know, going to God's Word, finding in it not simple truisms, but more complex eternal truth. As such we will "not be claiming to be smarter than we are," we will be remembering that knowledge of God is the source of all wisdom, so let us go forth and continuously seek to gain that wisdom. Amen



[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ro 12:9-16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Look Both Ways

Look Both Ways
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
October 14, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Romans 12:16b
Mark 12: 38-44 

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

So this week our passage from the Marks of a True Christian is the second part of verse 16, "Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly." Taking a look backward at where we've come, beginning with Romans 12: 9: 

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[1]  

There are so many good humility passages in the New Testament. The great hymn of Jesus' humility from Philippians of course, I chose that for the call to worship this morning. There were other's, too, but I finally decided upon this one, because it really I think gets at the heart of some of the issues with "haughtiness and lowliness" and how Jesus always seems to turn our preconceived notions upside down. At first glance, Part 1 seems to show the haughtiness of the Scribes, and Part 2 the Lowliness of the generous widow. Here we go, Mark 12: 38-44 

38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”  

It always seems to happen that my work at Blue Ridge seems to coincide and inform my sermons, but this week I had to fight against it on two counts. One, after our big win last week, we've been trying to work hard all week to keep our boys humble and hungry. Success and the cockiness it seems to breed is one of those things that can destroy the things that we have built this year, so that has been on my mind. The other is we've been reading The Iliad in my World Literature class, where Achilles and Agamemnon just cannot get on the same page because of their hubris, their pride, their seeing their own importance above that of the army that they lead and serve within. I had to beware of falling into the trap of going with these ideas because I learned early on in my study this week of this passage that the "haughtyness" of this passage is very different from the cockiness we were fighting against with the boys, and the selfish pride we were seeing in Achilles. Instead haughtiness deals with an inward view of self that does not usually manifest itself in cockiness and selfishness, but rather in a warped misunderstanding of self and others.
The word haughty, if we were to translate it exactly from the Greek, because it is two words in Greek, "hoopselos" which means "high, lofty, or exalted"  and then "opinion of self, to think to feel". Is haughty a pretty good translation of that: having a high opinion of yourself? I think Haughty does a pretty good job getting at that idea. The other side of it then is lowly, "tapeinos" means, "of low estate" or " low to the ground," in a state of "grieving or pain." Does lowly cover that? Yeah for once, I'm good with the translation. Even "associate with" comes from a word that means, "run with" and "hold company with." Associate is a pretty good word as well, broad enough to encompass the idea of both spending time with someone, but also being of the same state as them, being seen with them. It goes farther than just spending time with the lowly, but being associated with someone means that you are thought the same of as them. Have you ever played a "word association game." You know where someone says a word, and then the first word that comes to your mind you say. I play games like that with my students all the time. I'll say a word and then they'll all write down whatever comes to their mind first. Like I could say baseball, and then they'd say like Orioles, then they'd get an automatic A for the day, and those who said Yankees would get an F, and maybe asked to leave. No, but you get the idea. That's what association means, not only do you hang out, spend time with the lowly, but are to be thought of in the same breath as them. Association is a strong word when you think of it like this, raising the demands on the "True Christian' again, very high standards, but of course they are, they are like Jesus.

Look at the Call to Worship Philippians 2:5-8.

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6     who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7     but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

This is the perfect picture of Christ's example of humility, of not being haughty, but instead associating himself with the lowly, yes as lowly as human beings, and all of the human beings. If you look throughout the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life you get to see Jesus interacting with all types of folks. He's visited at his birth by Lowly Shepherds, and gift bearing Wise Men, Kings from the East, the ruler Herod shakes in his boots, there is a wild man crying in the wilderness, wearing his animal skins, born to a Carpenter, and his wife Mary, from the humble town of Nazareth, but travels to Egypt, Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon, to name a few places. His followers are made up of fishermen, reformed tax collectors, revolutionaries, zealots, and converted prostitutes. He visits people in their homes, he heals the sick, the demon possessed, the bleeding, the lame, the blind, the dead, the dying, the leprous, paralyzed. He has conversations with Priests, Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, Centurions, Soldiers, Governors, Regents, Puppet Rulers, traitors, more sellout tax collectors, widows, children, orphans, adulterers, you name it Jesus chose to associate with them. The question that keeps coming through my mind is this one, did Jesus see them as types like that? Did Jesus see them as high low and in between? Did Jesus see some of them as high and other's of them as lowly, and if so which ones? This seems to be the question for us this morning because if we look at ourselves, and then we look both ways, we'll see people. Do we see some of them as higher than us and some of them as lower? What do we base that distinction on? When we get the call to go associate with the lowly, and to not be haughty, do we know who that is talking about? We know exactly who the haughty and lowly are, how very haughty of us. . . what is our basis?
Our culture sometimes makes the distinction between, "high" and "low" based on visible tangible material things. What are some of those distinguishing features? Income- Rich vs. Poor? Employment: High Salary vs. Low Salary? Blue Collar vs. White Collar? Part time vs. Full Time? Job vs. No Job? Or is it Success: Winner vs. Loser? Is it looks: Hot vs. Not? Thin vs. Fat? Is it stuff: the size of your house? The make of your car? The size of your TV screen? I could go on and on. . . is having these things mean that you are high, and not having them means you are "lowly?" If you see the world in these terms and you look both ways, you will always find people on both sides of you, some with a better job, some with a worse, some with a bigger more expensive house, some in a shack, some more successful some less. So this is calling us then to focus on those below us on the spectrum and place ourselves in and around them, be seen with them, be associated with them. Looking downward rather than upward, being there with the lowly. Hanging out with the poor and as so many of our world call it "give back." Again like most simple answers I think this simple understanding is missing the boat.
To get at why I want to look at the gospel passage. By all accounts the scribes would be considered the winners, the highly thought of. They are religious professionals, highly educated men of letters. People come to them for their wise judgment, according to the law. They are seen as experts in their field, and people come from miles around to hear what they have to say on topics of importance. It says they walk around in long robes, the trappings of success and authority, it says they like to be seen and recognized in the markets, not just in their place of business, but out in public. Their fame exists outside of the walls of their place. They sit up front where people can see them, and they have great seats when they get invited to all the parties and banquets. They are V.I.P's, but then Jesus gives their ugly, hidden, dark side, the stranger face that they do not show in public, but is all too true, they take the property of widows, but they say long prayers so that no one notices. Despite all of their highness when it comes down to it they are lower than low because they are living off the generosity and goodness of poor widows, while exploiting them. Are they the high or the low?
Then you have the widow of the second part. The poor widow who has nothing comes in while so many more people are giving large sums of money. She barely puts in a penny, a penny in two parts even. We don't even have half pennies anymore. But yet she is the one who has given more than all the others because the others gave a little out of their abundance, but she gave out of poverty giving all. Who is the lowly and who is the high?
The truth seems to be that you just cannot tell by surface oriented material based standards of distinction, so who do you associate with? The poor widow, who seems to be squared away, or the rich scribe, whose success is supported based on feeding off of people like the poor widow. Who is in the more need? Think about the list of folks Jesus associates with, it is hardly easily discernible in term of who is lowly and who is not. He associated with all people. Doesn't that save us from being haughty. We do not think highly of ourselves, and we do not think lowly or highly of others. We look both ways and we don't see high  and low, we see people and people, creations of God, made in God's image. I would suggest that if you see in terms of high and low, there is no way to not be considered haughty, unless you put and see yourself all the way at the bottom. . . but wait, perhaps that is it. What is further down than the cross? What is more lowly than that act of supreme sacrifice? Betrayed, beaten, abused, condemned, left their hanging, nails through your hands and feet, carrion for birds. Can we aim that low? Can we associate ourselves with that pit of despair? Are we willing to give up all of the things that give us status in this world, or are we too haughty?  Mark 10: 20-23:

“Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  

He goes on to say that it is more difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Hmmmm, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Who are the lowly and who are the high? Christ gave up all, giving up the courts of heaven to become human, giving up the thrones of humanity to become a wandering teacher, giving up the freedom of the poor to become condemned to the cross, and giving up the cross, descending into Hell, low and low and lower. Not haughty, but yet, I will close this sermon with the second half of the Philippians hymn: Philippians 2:

9     Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10     so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11     and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.  

Be not haughty, but associate with the lowly, boast not of anything except in the cross of Jesus Christ. Here is the question of association, when people think of Christians in this world do they think of the lowly humble suffering servant Christ, or do they more think of the haughty know it all scribe? When people think of us, you and I, when they play the word association game with us, are we associated with Christ, or are we also much too haughty for such a distinction? May we be given the strength to be so weak. Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ro 12:9-16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.