Thursday, March 10, 2011
Sermon - Proverbs 16:18 - Ash Wednesday
March 9th, 2011
Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall. Prov. 16:18 (ESV)
And so it begins, our journey to Calvary called Lent. Our 40 days of fasting and contemplation to prepare us for a sober and meaningful observance of Good Friday, and the triumphant joy of Easter to follow. But for now, we put on the purple, put away the Alleluias, and focus all the more closely on our sin and our need for repentance, and for our Savior.
For our midweek series we'll be exploring seven deadly sins. And while the idea of “seven deadly sins” has become part of American culture, it has its roots in the catholic church as far back as the 4th century. So it was taught, and apparently still is, that these 7 sins are “mortal sins”, and that other sins aren't so deadly, but these are the ones you really have to watch out for....
Well not so fast. Lutheran theology sets us straight on sin. All sin is deadly. A biblical view of sin doesn't diminish its danger. “The soul that sins shall perish”, and so in a sense all sins are deadly sins. While some may hold more earthly consequences, and others may harm more obviously – we confess with with the church through all ages that sin is always a problem, a deadly and damnable problem. Sins of thought, word and deed, sins of omission and commission, sins against God and against neighbor and against self. And all sinners are called to repent of these, turning away from death – and turning in faith to Christ our only savior from sin.
With that major disclaimer in mind, still, it's worth exploring these seven sins – not because they are worse or more deadly – but because they are so common among us. It's worth venturing into the dark so that we can shine the light of God's Word on our souls. And and these deadly sins come scurrying out from within, may the Gospel of Jesus Christ stomp each and every one of them. Let these 40 days be a time of deep repentance and strengthening faith for us all. For though we have seven deadly sins – and more – we have one loving Savior, who dies to take them away.
Our first sin is pride. And you might even argue that THE first sin was pride. Proverbs tells us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Wasn't it pride that the slippery serpent used to tempt Eve into sin? For after all, you eat that fruit and “you will be like God”. And so Eve and Adam and all of us fell – but the pride came first.
What is sinful pride? Perhaps we could define it as thinking more of yourself than you should. Paul says, “if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself”. And John says, “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”. And yet how many people would pridefully claim to be without sin? How many would think so much of themselves that they believe they can pass the test of God's probing law and perfect judgment?
Pride – it puffs us up with a false sense of security, or a false sense of our worth and value. It's a lie we tell ourselves to avoid the hard truth – that we really are sinners. That we really are nothing. That our best works are filthy rags. That our “goodness” is a sham. Pride, ultimately, wants to make us our own gods. And then who needs the real God?
The opposite of pride is humility. And many who follow this list of seven deadly sins also point to a list of seven heavenly virtues – opposites to these sins. The idea is that the solution to each sin is to just stop it! And do the opposite. Don't be proud, be humble. Don't be envious, but be kind. Don't be lustful, but be chaste. Etc. Well, easier said than done. In fact, easily said, impossible to do. The solution to deadly sins is not to simply “be good”. It is repentance and faith. It's a turning away from sin, yes, but a turning toward the only Savior from sin.
The only one who was ever truly humble. He even said so, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)
If I claimed to be humble you'd laugh at me, for the very claim negates it – but not when it comes to Jesus. He, who had every good and right reason to be proud – he who was without sin – he who was God Almighty – he was humble. He humbled himself, he came down to be less than he was, taking the flesh of a human being, born in a stable, raised in a backwater town, reviled by men, betrayed, deserted, convicted, crucified, dead, buried. It doesn't get any lower than Jesus gets. Forsaken by God – it doesn't get any more humble.
Sin was deadly to him, though. All sins were put upon him. He who had no sin became sin for us. And he died. But by his death he destroyed death. He brought haughty Satan to utter ruin. He laid proud death in the grave forever, and rose to life forevermore. And when he finished his course here, and many saw proof that he was alive, he took back his rightful place at the top. He ascended into heaven, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. But his kingdom will have no end.
If we are to be proud at all, in a scriptural sense, if we are to think highly of anyone or anything – it is Christ. “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For in ourselves we are nothing. But in him who is everything, we are everything. In ourselves there is only sin and death, nothing to be proud of. In him there is righteousness and life – and everything to revel in. Pride goes before destruction, but his destruction brings us back from our own. His humble service, in life and death, offers grace and peace and hope and promise to you – now and for all time.
In this Lenten season, repent. Repent of sinful pride. Remember that you are nothing – and to dust you will return. But also turn in faith the the Humble One, who was raised up, and who lifts us up – and one day will lift up even our bodies from the dust to live with him forever. Believe in him, Jesus, and you will have rest. Amen.