From the pulpit: Embracing humility difficult road

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2007

&8220;Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.&8221; Simon answered, &8220;Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.&8221; When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filed both boats, so that they began to sink.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus&8217; knees, saying, &8220;Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!&8221;

– Luke 5

The door that leads to Christian discipleship is the one marked, &8220;humility.&8221; The difference in the response of Peter when he encounters Jesus and the reaction of those who heard him in the synagogue in Nazareth is dramatic, to say the least. One falls on his knees in awareness of his own sinfulness. The other wants to throw him off a cliff.

Americans don&8217;t have a corner on struggles with humility. It requires a lot of courage – ultimately a lot of faith – to dare to enter the path of humility. You can only allow yourself to be led and to accept where you are being led. It&8217;s hard, very hard. And the temptations to turn back are strong.

Humility starts with admitting how unexceptional we really are. &8220;Go away from me,&8221; Peter says, &8220;for I am a sinful man.&8221; Isaiah puts it this way, &8220;Woe is me… for I am a man of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips.&8221; To be humble is to accept our humanity with out trying to dodge all its implications. I am a sinner. I am not the Judge. I have no priority over anyone else on the planet.

Which is why Isaiah doesn&8217;t just talk about himself. He is part and parcel of this sinful and broken world, the very one to which he is sent as a prophet. It&8217;s the same world that Jesus has come to transform and which Jesus calls Peter to enter – with a firm grip on his own humility.

Humility is the permanent awareness of our own fallibility, our own humanness in which we stand shoulder to shoulder with every other person, living or dead.

But humility is not a paralyzing guilt, a humiliation in front of God from which God derives some sick pleasure. Rather, humility leads to a sense of calling. Our lives are not self-directed but Other- directed. Humility is the permanent awareness of our own fallibility, our own mortality and our own humanness in which we stand shoulder to shoulder with every other person, living or dead. Humility is the awareness of grace, extended to and working in us.

That&8217;s why humility is so paradoxical in our minds and experience. We start off with a firm and permanent awareness of our own sinfulness, our own &8220;unexceptionalness,&8221; only to discover that God is embracing us with an unbreakable love.

It&8217;s why Simon and his fishing partners can lay aside their own pride in their professional skills and listen to Jesus when he encourages them to lower their nets for a catch, even after they have worked all night long with nothing to show for it. Even more, it is why Simon, and James and John can leave everything and follow Jesus to become those who man the life nets of God for all those around them. The humble realize that grace will supply what we know beyond all doubt that we cannot.

So, finally humility is perhaps the closest synonym to faith that we find in the Bible. It relies on God, and not ourselves, for everything, including life itself.

Robert Montgomery is the pastor at Cahaba Valley Church