(A Lection Reflection on Luke 10 and Galatians 6)
If you were to plan a sermon on pride in most churches, the thought bubbles above the listeners would look like this:
|“Pride. Root of the seven deadly sins. God hates it.
Bad stuff. Got it.” <brain off>
I am not so prideful (see what I did there?) as to believe that I have much to add to the standard fare on pride — at least, not in a short Lection Reflection like this.
But here’s a question that might get those brains turned back on:
Are you proud of God? And is that a good or bad thing?
Most people of faith learned long ago that pride is Just Not Done. In fact, you don’t have to be a person of faith to dislike arrogant, self-sufficient, self-aggrandizing individuals. Such behavior often indicates either an underlying insecurity or some other emotional dysfunction. In addition, pride gets in the way of your relationship with others, including God, and often leads to failure, sometimes in spectacular ways. Greek tragedies don’t just happen in the theater.
There’s another kind of pride, though, that is becoming more and more rampant across the church landscape. It creeps into our language, our prayers, and even our decision-making. Left unnoticed and unchecked, it can ultimately do just as much damage as that “sinful” pride we usually look at.
I’m talking about being proud of our relationship to God, and of its results in our lives and in our churches. I’m talking about being proud of God, proud about God, proud in God.
You would think that anyone with a sense of the ironic would catch this one right off, right? What kind of Christ-follower would be so immature, so blind, as to take pride in our relationship to God? Surely that’s a beginner’s mistake: “I take pride in my humility.”
Yet all around us, we see people who would never dream of bragging about their salary, or their home, or themselves, who nevertheless don’t hesitate to tell you the latest and greatest thing God did in their lives, or in their church. We see pastors who preach a Gospel of “we’re better because we get it,” and church members eager to buy into it. We see churches who believe that their growth is because of their special relationship with the Almighty, instead of their location by the new interstate exit.
Like all root sins, it is insidious. There is a fine, fine line between Gospel and gossip. Between sharing what God did so that you are encouraged, and sharing what God did so you are impressed. Between “I find life in The Life” and “me and God, we’re tight.”
Even when we are doing God’s will, living out the Gospel and bringing Love to all around us — even then, there is danger. In Luke 10, Jesus sends out the seventy to minister and preach, and they apparently kick butt and take names. When they come back they are like kids getting off their first roller-coaster ride: “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” (Can’t you just see it?)
Jesus is excited too, exclaiming “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning!” He talks about how much power they each have been given; but then look what he concludes with:
Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
It’s like Han Solo to Luke when he shoots his first TIE fighter: “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.” Yes, you’ve had a big win, you’ve made a difference, you’ve been an instrument in God’s hand — but if you focus on that, not only have you missed the point, but eventually you won’t even be where you are now.
Even persons further along in the faith are not immune. Paul in his letter to the Galatians lays out some guidelines for rescuing a fellow believer who has fallen into some sort of transgression. I venture to say that “tenderness” is not a word we associate with Paul, but note what he says about the act of reaching out:
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.
Paul knows that spiritual pride is a dangerous condition; it leaves you vulnerable to temptation and failure that otherwise you would just walk right by.
So, to wrap up, here are some questions to ponder:
- What’s the emotion you feel when you think about or talk about God?
- When you share with others about God, why do you do it?
- And do you ever feel superior to others due to your faith?
The answers to these questions should get you started thinking about the presence of godly pride, of Pride in God.
There’s a law-enforcement acronym that we can use here — BOLO. That’s “be on the lookout for” someone or something. In your life, and in the life of your faith community, you need to issue a BOLO for spiritual pride. It’s a killer.