Lent- Seven Deadly Sins- Pride and humility

Today we are starting a sermon series for Lent. We will be looking at the Seven Deadly Sins- 
Greed, and 
Sin isn’t very fashionable to speak about. Maybe you even had a little internal cringe when I said we were going to be looking at Sin. Preaching on Sin brings to mind the stereotype of the pulpit pounding preacher. … So why talk about sin? … 

The goal of the Christian is to live a life infused with the life of Christ. Our goal is to have our minds renewed and brought into union with his. … This isn’t to lose our individuality. It is actually to find out who we truly are. Sin is what stands in the way of this union. It is sin that leaves us estranged from God. It is the disease of the soul that prevents us from coming to full health. Sin is to be out of sync with God and the world He has made. Sin separates us from God. 

God grants the virtues as antidotes to counteract sin- 
humility cures pride; 
kindness cures envy; 
charity cures greed; 
diligence cures sloth, 
temperance cures gluttony; 
chastity cures lust; and 
forgiveness cures anger.
Sin starts in our heart and it results in outward actions. So the problem isn’t ultimately bad actions we do. The problem is a heart turned away from God. 

The archetype of sin is the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The serpent suggested to Eve that God is a liar and that eating the fruit of the tree would result in something good that God wanted to keep from them. When Eve grabbed the fruit we read that she saw “the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Gen 3:6). When we sin we don’t do something wrong because we believe it is bad. We do what is wrong because we actually believe it is good. We come to believe (even if it is subconsciously) that God has lied to us and is trying to keep us from something good. 

The archetype of sin is the Fall of the first human couple. The root of that sin is pride. Adam and Eve, in their pride, decided that they knew better than God. St. Gregory the Great believed that pride was the source of other sins. For that reason, it makes sense that we deal with pride as the first sin in our series on the 7 Deadly Sins. 

Before we get into this we should say something about our culture’s view of pride. The Methodist bishop Will Willimon says, 
“pride has moved from being the chief of the Seven, the root of much evil, to being the root of all virtue, a positive good to be lovingly practiced and cultivated. … Our political life seems dominated now by the politics of self-assertion, and our therapies are mostly the relentless psychology of vaunted self-esteem. The great sin for us is not Pride, but low self-image” [1]
Our culture has come to value high self-esteem, and has called humility un-healthy. Pride has become admirable. Entitlement is common, and a person’s right to pursue self-fulfilled happiness leaves responsibility and relationships in the dust. The human potential movement that began in the 70’s has placed the fulfillment of the self at the center of a successful life. Pride has become a virtue. 

So obviously we have some cultural obstacles to deal with as we try to define Pride. … Pride is an obsession with the self. The theologian Peter Kreeft says that 
“[pride] is the first and greatest sin because it is in violation of the first and greatest commandment, ‘you shall have no other gods before me.’ Pride puts self before God. Pride loves your self with all your heart and soul and mind and strength rather than God”[2]
Pride is an exaggerated love of our own ability or being. It is the pleasure we get when we feel we have no superiors. It is when we exaggerate our own importance. It is a lust for power- for my will to be done. 

Pride is not something we usually see in ourselves. Pride is especially dangerous because we can even become proud of our good deeds. It is hard for us to hide from our lust, or anger, or greed, but pride is illusive. It is the sin that convinces us that we are not sinful. It is pride we need to confess when we get to the confession and no sin comes to mind. 

Pride can sometimes be a cover-up for feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. The person over-compensates and tries to convince themselves and everyone around them of their importance. … Usually what people feel inferior about, however, has nothing to do with a sense of moral or spiritual lack. The Jewish psychologist Solomon Schimmel says, 
“Although many people suffer from feelings of inferiority, it is not usually because of their sense of moral or spiritual inadequacy. They don’t typically ruminate about how unkind, dishonest, or insensitive they might be, but about how incompetent, ugly, or professionally unsuccessful they are. They do not aspire to greater virtue but to greater recognition. This sense of inferiority and self-deprecation is not what the moralists want to cultivate as the basis for humility. On the contrary, the person who feels inferior about his social status, wealth, or looks is accepting values which from the religious point of view are inappropriate as a criteria for evaluating true self-worth. What the moralists want us to feel inferior about are our ethical, moral, and spiritual faults.”[3]

While pride is hard for us to pin down in our own souls we should be diligent to deal with this disease of the soul. We read in Psalm 34:19 that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, those crushed in spirit he delivers”; and in Proverbs 16:5 we read “Proud men, one and all, are abominable to the Lord”. Jesus’ sharpest words in the gospels were directed against the religious people who were full of pride. He spoke about the prideful Pharisee praying next to the sinful tax collector and declared the tax-collector forgiven (Luke 18:9-14). He said to them ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. (Matt 21:31). He called the religious Pharisees and Sadducees proud hypocrites who like to be seen by others to be holy, but who are inwardly full of sin. 

So what do we do with it? How do we deal with it?... Something that might be helpful is applying the same standard we use on others to ourselves. … We are usually quick to notice the faults of others, but fail to see our own faults. We might ignore them, or laugh them off, or make excuses for them, but we will dwell on another’s faults with more seriousness. We will see their fault as evidence of a serious character flaw, but when it comes to our faults we are more likely to call it a “whoops” and move on without giving the matter a second thought. We have a tendency to accentuate the faults of others and minimize our own, while at the same time accentuating our good. Sometimes we will evaluate a person’s entire being on how they have interacted with us and how they treated us, even though that might be an extremely brief part of their life. … We would benefit from treating our own faults with the same seriousness we treat the fault of others. 

This is one way we might become open to receiving the grace of humility, which is the root grace of all virtue. … Humility is not a tall man believing he is short. Humility is the recognition of truth. It recognizes gifts and talents as coming from God and as working for God’s purposes. This also means seeing our faults clearly and with seriousness. Ultimately though, humility will lead us to not focus on ourselves. Kreeft says that 
“Pride has ingrown eyeballs. [but] Humility stares outward in self-forgetful ecstasy”[4].
 Genuine humility should lead to a kind of healthy self-forgetfulness where we act as God’s agents in the world. Genuine humility will imitate Jesus as he washes the feet of his disciples (John 13). Genuine humility will lead us to seek the mind of Christ, as the ancient hymn from Phil 2:5-8 states, 
“who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross”. 

So we come each week and we humble ourselves before God as those who are dust and who will return to dust, but who are also made in the image of God. And we dare not forget either the dust or the image. We come like little children opening our empty hands and begging them to be filled with God’s grace. Peter Kreeft said it this way, 
“Spiritually, our strength is our receptivity, our active passivity to God, our emptiness … if we come to God with empty hands, he will fill them. If we come with full hands, he finds no place to put himself. It is our beggary, our receptivity, that is our hope.”[5]
The humble recognize that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). AMEN.

[1] Willimon, Sinning Like a Christian 20
[2] Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 97
[3] Schimmel, The Seven Deadly Sins, 43
[4] Kreeft, 103 
[5] Kreeft, 105


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