Humbly Stepping Down

2 Kings 5:1, 8-11, 13-14

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

When I was in my twenties, it was July 1974 actually, I had the opportunity to attend one of Billy Graham’s crusades in Missouri with my father; he really is a very impressive speaker.  During one of his many public speeches the ReverendGraham tells of a time, during the early years of his preaching ministry, when he was due to lead a crusade meeting in a town in South Carolina, and he needed to mail a letter.  He asked a little boy in the main street how he could get to the post office.  After the boy had given him directions, Billy said, “If you come to the central Baptist church tonight, I’ll tell you how to get to heaven.”  The boy replied, “No thanks, you don’t even know how to get to the post office!” /Author Unknown/

Every now and then, we all find ourselves needing a little humility.  Humility is not the subject that is generally taught in public schools nor am I aware of it being taught in our colleges on a regular basis.  There are courses that do speak of humility but for the average student the pressures of achieving the highest possible education, so that they can pursue that desired and sought after career, are simply more important.  Thus the few classrooms that do speak to the attributes of humility are poorly attended and go uncelebrated.

          For most of us… humility is something we have heard spoken about and from time to time we see it in another person, but seldom do we feel the true desire to pursue it.  If we truly desired it we would take the steps necessary to attain a smidgen of it. Even if we do see it as a virtue – we are unclear as to what we might do to actually make it part of our own personality.

          If you do consider embarking on the journey to acquire some humility consider these words: “Only those who feel little in the eyes of God can hope to be mighty in the eyes of men;” /author unknown/   And also, I urge you to bear this in mind: “What makes humility so desirable is the marvelous thing it does to us; it creates in us a capacity for the closest possible intimacy with God.” /Monica Baldwin/

          If humility is such a good thing why don’t more of us seek it?  Well, part of the reason is because there are some real stumbling blocks in the way such as: pride, arrogance, egotism and self-importance.  The greatest of these is pride.  Why, because pride is a self-centered preoccupation with, and overestimation of one’s own importance, abilities, or achievements, resulting in an unwillingness to submit oneself to God.  Consider this quote from the mouth of Beethoven: “Nothing is more intolerable than to have to admit to yourself your own errors.”

          So what is humility?  One definition is that humility is the lack of vanity or self-importance: humbleness, lowliness, and meekness.  It is thought that a humble person is generally modest, simple and down to earth.  A modest person does not think they are more important or better than others.  Now, let me stress this: It is important that we do not confuse humility with humiliation.  For humiliation is a verb not a noun and it is an action meant to embarrass someone or to make that person feel ashamed.

          Humility, on the other hand is often described as, “A characteristic by which a person considering his or her own shortcoming – has a humble opinion of them self – and ‘willingly’ submits to God and to others for God’s sake.” /Webster’s Dictionary/

          This morning’s scripture finds us back in the Old Testament.  We find ourselves in that time period before Christ, during the realm of Hebrew kings around the Eight Century B.C.  We hear an account of this man named Naaman, who is a commander of the army of the king of Aram.  We are told that he is considered to be a great man, a mighty warrior and is held in high favor with his master. There is just one issue… he has leprosy.

          Leprosy is a chronic and infectious disease.  It produces skin lesions and if left untreated can cause permanent damage to skin, nerves, limbs and eyes.  As late as 1995 the World Health organization estimated that there were between two and three million people permanently disabled because of leprosy.  Treatment for this illness has been available since the 1940s making forced quarantines unnecessary.  Yet, leper colonies have been reported as still in existence today in India, Vietnam, Africa and the Philippines.

          Treatment was not available back at the time of Naaman’s illness.  Thus we find Naaman seeking help from the prophet Elisha.  He was known to have the ability to perform miracles and to be in God’s favor.  “So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house.” Naaman came willing and able to pay ‘anything’ asked of him to cure his leprosy.  Yet, the only message he got from Elisha (who did not even come out and greet this great warrior) was this: “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”

          This mighty warrior, who was not a Hebrew and was not a follower of the God of Israel, was not pleased that Elisha did not even come out and greet him.  He had expected that the prophet would place his hand upon him and cure him right there. He was outraged at the perceived insult.  Nor was he inclined to consider going down to the muddy river Jordan and actually wash himself seven times, not to mention get out of his chariot, lay down his armor, his weapons and his adornments then take the stairway down to the river where common folk washed.

          It seems quite apparent that the prophet felt Naaman needed a lesson in humility.  He was not seeking to humiliate Naaman with these instructions.  He was seeking to instill in this great warrior that he would need to totally submit himself in the presence of God to these simple instructions.  In so doing he would need to set aside his pride and ego and lower himself as a common man into the public waterway of the Jordan River.

          It took the bold persuasion of his servants to convince him to humble himself and give Elisha’s instructions a try.  “So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.”

          Naaman was no less than nor no more than anyone of us.  He did not naturally seek the path of humility nor do we.  His position in life taught him to rely on his own abilities.   And as he became a great and mighty warrior he began to give himself credit for his mighty achievements.  He was weaned away from giving his Creator credit for his abilities.  In his position of self-reliance and self-importance he had moved away from any honest concern for others around him.  His pride had made him the center of his own kingdom.  It was only his fear of the leprosy that had caused him to move outside his self-centered world.  Without realizing it Naaman had taken a step toward humility.

          There are many times in the Bible where we are called to begin to find our way to humility.  Look to the words found in Philippians chapter two verses three and four: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others.  Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”  Throughout the scriptures we are called upon to humble ourselves.  Hear these words from 1st Peter chapter 5: verse 6: “humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.”  And in the gospel of Matthew chapter 18 verse 4: “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

          It was once said to me that: “if you think you are humble then you probably are not.”  I suspect this was said to break down the pride and ego that was in the way, at that point in the journey.  Yet, many of those around us need to be built up.  Some need to know that true humility is accepting and utilizing all the: ‘God given talents’ and ‘gifts’ that God has given them.

          Naaman took the necessary steps of humility.  He did not find this easy.  He had to set aside those things he had grown to trust for something he was less sure of; the world around him respected his proficiency as a warrior, he prided himself in that.  Many have achieved status and recognition in our world for their achievements.  Moving from our worldly positions and becoming ‘right sized’ in the sight of God and those around us: is the hard part.

        Jesus could have ruled the world like no other king that came before him.  Yet, as we are told from the words written in Philippians chapter two verses six thru verse eleven, Jesus: “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.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

          What steps are we (what steps are you) willing to take?  Are we (are you) willing to become (a) student(s) in the pursuit of humility?  If the answer is yes, we (each one of us) shall become more intimate with our God.  Do we (you) possess the courage to set aside (your) our pride and ego?  Can we (can you) admit (your) our own errors? 

          The stairway is in front of us.  Let us not be afraid when the steps appear to move downward, as they did for Naaman.  Let us now begin the steps of humility, let us move down the stairway, taking each step one at a time, trusting that this simple act of humility will bring us, step by step, closer to our God.  In true humility… let us begin accepting ourselves as we truly are in the sight God.  

Amen.

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