Proper 9B’24
7 July 2024
II Cor.12.2-10; Mk.6.1-13
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble…Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” A-men.
– From James 4.6-10 nrsv

Today I bring the second installment in a sermon series on what Christian tradition calls – “the seven deadly sins.” Today’s sin – Pride.

The origin of the word comes from an Old English word “Pryto” and means “unreasonable selfesteem.”1 I like the distinction that definition makes – if there is an “unreasonable self-esteem” the flipside is that there must exist a ‘reasonable self-esteem.’ In the modern world there is much on the airwaves, in-print, and on-line about “self-esteem.” It is the modern-day equivalent of the search for the Holy Grail. All of us desire and need a healthy sense of selfesteem based upon the fact that we are acceptable and worthy of love just as we are. Without this reasonable sense of self-esteem, our ego fails to develop properly and we seek for the grail in all the wrong places, resulting in pursuit of an acceptable self that can become: self-centered, self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-seeking, self-serving, self-important, self-indulgent, selfsatisfied, – in a word -narcissistic. This pursuit is a bottomless pit of pride. This is a place of scarcity where there are never enough accolades that leads to an “every man for himself” mentality. From Adam and Eve, to Goliath, Samson and Delilah, Jezebel, King Saul, King Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, Pontius Pilate, and even in the lives of the saints like Peter and Paul; scripture is full of people and cautionary tales that warn of the deadly sin of pride.

In the Egyptian deserts of the 4th century the Desert Fathers and Mothers had many parables, and proverbs to make the sin of pride the mother and father of all sins for example:

St. John Climacus said, “A proud monk has no need of a devil; he has become a devil and enemy to himself.”

Abba Isidore said, “If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride; if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and glorify himself.”

Abbess Cremora said, “Do not set yourself up against your brother or sister, claiming that you are more reliable or abstinent than they. Be subject to the grace of God in the spirit of poverty and unfeigned charity, lest puffed up by the spirit of pride you lose all the fruit of your previous labors.”

Examples abound in the modern world of how the deadly sin of pride can get you on the front page of the newspaper and interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. This person became a household name and a champion for underdogs everywhere. The organization they founded was represented by a yellow wristband worn by millions across the globe featuring the words “LIVESTRONG.” Lance Armstrong a cancer survivor and 7-time winner of the Tour De France finally was brought down by his use of performance enhancing drugs and he lost all of his titles and medals and lucrative ad campaigns. The desire for fame, and glory, to be better than
anyone else, and to be driven by a desire for “unreasonable self-esteem” can bring a person to ruin. Winning at all costs is not wining – its losing.

Another person that’s much lesser known but whose pride in their personal piety led to their death, was a woman with metastatic breast cancer who believed that “God had spoken to her” and told her that she wouldn’t have to have surgery because God would heal her. They wrongly believed going to the doctor would be a sign of a “lack of faith.” Finally in great pain they ended up going to the doctor, who after a positive biopsy revealed stage IV cancer said, “why are you just now coming to me?” They died a premature death.
Even the twelve disciples struggled with this sin. Remember the story in gospels where they were all sitting around the table arguing about who was going to be the greatest in God’s kingdom – “Iam! No! I am!” Jesus swiftly rebukes them and reminds them that the greatest among them would be those who serve others. Thankfully there is an antidote to this deadly sin of pride – humility. Humility comes from the Latin “humus” which means earth. This is where the expression “being down to earth” comes from. The humble overcome the temptation to keep their noses in the air by staying closer to the ground.

Scripture points out the humble ones as our examples to follow: Peter after denying Christ humbles himself with weeping, Dismas, the good thief next to Jesus on the cross asks to be remembered when Christ came into his kingdom, the widow who gave her last two pennies, whom God declares to have given more than anyone else, Paul struck blind on the road to Damascus, Mary who is invited to be the Mother of God, in great humility answered, “Be it unto me, according to your word.”

God and life will send us plenty of opportunities for humility. In the reading from second Corinthians, we find St. Paul has a personal and internal battle with “a thorn in the flesh” a weakness that he was so embarrassed about he couldn’t even tell us what it was, but it helped him keep his head out of the clouds and his feet on the ground. Jesus, a travelling rabbi that had become so popular throughout the entire country comes home to Nazareth where the vast majority are unable to see his greatness and his divinity and instead, ask “where is he getting all of this stuff he’s saying, isn’t this Mary’s boy and the carpenter’s son?” What should have been a town all abuzz with the arrival of their greatest son, becomes anticlimactic with Jesus only being able to cure a handful of sick folks.

With God’s help we can view these reversals and reproaches that come our way as medicine for our souls to keep us close to the ground and near to the heart of God. Amen.