Warning Signs: Low Overhang (September 22, 2019)
Warning Signs: Low Overhang
Luke 14:1, 7-14
This week we begin a new sermon series on “Warning Signs.” I’m thinking of those bright yellow signs you see on construction sites, roadways, and manufacturing plants. Signs that point out dangers to be avoided lest you get too close and really harm yourself. God’s word is filled with warning signs that point out dangers to faith, and pitfalls into sin. The intention of these warning signs, like those bright yellow ones you may see, are not meant to restrict your freedoms and kill your fun. Rather, they are meant to preserve your freedom from sin, and save your life from eternal death.
So today we are going to talk about the “Low Overhang” warning sign. You see it on bridges most often. I’ve also seen them around large and sprawling machinery. They are meant to prevent you from banging your head on something, and to warn semi-trucks when their load is too big to pass through. The warning signs of “Low Overhang” in the Bible are meant to prevent us from holding our heads too high, or getting too big of a head about ourselves. Because when I get too big in my own eyes and my own heart, Jesus naturally gets smaller and I risk losing what true salvation is about.
This is a real danger to us because we have a natural need to receive recognition. Did I study hard and do well on my test? That beautiful A+ says “you betcha!” and recognizes the time and effort I put into it. Am I working hard at “adulting” and living a great life? The “likes” on my social media profiles recognize it! Trying to give back to society, be that great friend and loving member of the family? The pats on the back and words of appreciation sure make it feel good to serve!
But what happens when I don’t receive that recognition? What happens when there is no praise? Maybe I go to great lengths and even sacrifice a few of my own things to help a friend move, or watch their kids and there’s little more than a “Thank you”. Maybe that picture I posted of my kids all in matching outfits, ready to go out the door for their first day of school #NeatAndClean #SuperMom #WrestledABear goes unnoticed and there are no “likes.” Or maybe my new PR, my latest creation, or pictures of my newest grandchild gets no recognition, no words of praise. Don’t you feel a little deflated? Don’t you feel like you did it for nothing?
What does all of this say about me? If I feel deflated and empty because I received no recognition for my great accomplishment, does that mean my accomplishment is anything less? No. But it might say that I am really doing it for the praise and the honor – a cause and effect relationship. It might say that I believe that life is about getting what I rightfully deserve right away. In fact, especially when actions of service are in question, it really says that I didn’t do it to serve at all. I really just did it for me. Life is all about me. I need to get what I rightfully deserve! … Be careful what you wish for. There’s a Warning Sign there. Be careful what you wish for. You may be humiliated.
I think there’s real rub with us and humility. Our view of humility is often that I have to make myself lower. I have to give up what I rightfully deserve. I have to be just a little peon. But actually, when the Bible talks about humility, the focus is not so much on self as it is on others. It’s not about lowering self, but elevating others. “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Php 2:3-4). Jesus gives an example of this as he sits at a banquet he says, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid” (Lk 14:12). In other words, don’t just think of yourself and how you might be repaid and recognized for your act of service. Rather, think of others. Think of their needs. “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Lk 14:13). Those are the people who really need your service! Humility is thinking of the importance of serving – serving others. In fact that’s the simple summary of the law – love God and love others.
I saw a short little video recently about this. It showed an old man walking down the aisle of a train looking for a seat. Every seat was already filled with people glancing out of the corner of their eye trying to keep their heads down, not wanting to be asked to give up their seat. Finally a lady stood up and offered the man her seat. He urged her to stay seating, saying that his ticket was not assigned a seat – standing room only. But she insisted, saying that she had the same kind of ticket. After a couple hours passed, the conductor came by to check tickets. He punched the ticket of the old man, noting that it was a “no seat” ticket. Then he punched the ticket of the lady who gave up her seat. Her ticket said “seat A22”. She winked at the conductor and gave a hushing motion. She would rather give up what she rightfully deserved for the sake of someone else who really needed what she deserved. She didn’t do it for the recognition, or the praise. No one knew except herself… and now the conductor. She did it out of love.
It would be natural, here, to talk about what happens when I have a humble attitude of service – an attitude that values others above myself. And our sinful human tendency is to crave that recognition, that praise, that “return on investment” of time, energy, and service. And even though Jesus does mention what happens to those who are humble in his parable, I’m not going to. Because so easily we can fall into the temptation of being humble just for the sake of the praise – and that’s all backwards. Once any thought of self enters into my mind, well, I’ve lost all humility. That’s the tricky thing about humility. Once there’s any praise of self or craving for recognition, once I think to myself, “Wow! I’m pretty humble” … well, then I’ve lost it. So, I’m not going to go there. That’s not why we humbly serve. If I go there, then I’ll have to start the sermon all over again because of our sinful cravings. So rather than talking about what happens when you practice a life of humility and service, I’m going to point you to one who humbled himself for you, who lived his life to serve you. One who wanted you to have what he rightfully deserved. His name is Jesus.
To really wrap your mind around just how low Jesus stooped to serve you, you have to understand where he came from. I mean, we all know and confess every Sunday that Jesus was “born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, and was buried” – that’s his service. Cool. Good. But you need to pause and think about that a moment longer. Yes, it says “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” but even before that, he suffered. Every day he suffered. From the moment he was born, or even conceived, till the day he died he suffered. This is something he never experienced before. He is God. He was living in perfection. He never suffered a day in his life before he took on flesh. Nor should he have suffered any of this because it was a result of OUR sin. It was what we rightly deserve. He was sinless. Yet he chose to live in a world of thorns and thistles, sweat of the brow and early death. Yeah, we all know how tough life is. But remember, Jesus knew how good life was supposed to be. And you don’t. You can’t even imagine that. It’s much harder to lose something once you’ve had it, than to never have it at all. And he lived every moment of his earthly life like that – seeing what should have been blessings and beautiful be misused, abused, or just wrong because of sin. But he willingly endured all of this, without complaint. For what? For the praise? No. He did it for you. He did it to serve you. He endured all of this up to the cross to die for sins he never committed – your sins. Taking on what you rightly deserve, to save you from what you deserve.
“[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Php 2:6-8).
And although that’s his greatest act of service for you, that’s not even the best part! Then he rose! He rose from the dead and took up again the honor, glory, praise, and recognition that was already rightfully his. And in doing all of this, he earned something for you that you don’t deserve. I didn’t talk about what happens when you are humble, but I will gladly talk about what happens because Jesus was humbled. You are honored by Christ! You are praised by God! Through Christ, you truly have praiseworthy deeds that God does recognize and does honor! What Jesus earned for you, “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Lk 14:14).
So why is it that humility is so hard for us? Why is it so hard to keep our heads down and egos in check when God warns, “Low Overhang!” “Don’t make it about yourself!” Why is it so hard to serve simply for the sake of serving? Do we fear that our gifts and good deeds will not be noticed? Are we afraid that we will not receive the credit we think we have coming? Well God has noticed you! He noticed you before you even did anything good. The King of kings and Lord of lords humbled himself to be your servant! He is merciful beyond what you deserve. He is gracious beyond what you can comprehend. All so that you can find your worth in what truly matters. Not in what you do, but in what he did for you. By acknowledging my sin and who I am by nature I am kept humble. But when I look to Christ and his loving service, I rejoice in the value he’s given me!