Pride

It is the human obsession with being unique and different that really convicted me as I listened to the message this morning.  Everyone wants to be special, myself included.  Perhaps it is psychological, as James suggested.  To become a person, we must see ourselves as separate from the rest of the world. Or maybe it is existential.  We need to feel unique to give meaning to our existence.  Or maybe we just don’t feel loved enough as an ordinary person, indistinct from anyone else.  In any case, being focused on what makes us unique leads to separation between ourselves and other human beings instead of to closeness and unity with them.  To truly love another, you must be able to identify with them, which is impossible if you are focused on how you are different from them.  We are all made in God’s image.  We all sin.  We are all loved by God.  

If sin is what separates us from one another, then obsessing over our differences is a sin.  The most obvious example of this type of sin is any “ism” that proposes some group of people is somehow fundamentally different and better than another group of people.  But pride is also a form of this sin and can separate us from one another just as much, or even more so, than sexism or racism or any other ism.  Pride is the focus on what we do right compared to other people.  We feel unique because we are smarter,  more successful, more compassionate than other people.  This is a particularly dangerous sin because it allows us to feel good about ourselves while we do it.  When others fall on their knees and beg for forgiveness, the proud stand tall and judge.  When others turn their lives over to God, the proud hold tight onto the reigns.  Christians are especially susceptible to this sin.  It is my own sin of choice.  We revel in what good people we are and find it difficult to love people who are not as good as we are.  We think our proper actions make us more worthy, more deserving of God’s love.   

If love breaks down barriers, Christian pride erects them.  We define ourselves in opposition to others, in how we are different, better.  We believe in Jesus.  Other people don’t.  We are forgiven.  Other people aren’t.  Each Christian denomination does the same.  We are defined by what makes us unique and seek adherents by focusing on those differences.  Everyone thinks they have the truth, and we put our faith into action by asking people to believe what we believe.  And we are proud of what we believe and in the behavior we extol.  We hold ourselves distinct from everyone else.  Special.  But this seems at odds with the ministry of Jesus who did not focus on what separates people or on what they believed.  Rather, his ministry was about indiscriminate love for humanity.  He did not build a club and ask people to join.  He did not take pride in his uniqueness but went to the cross.  So why are Christians better known for their opposition to abortion than for their radical acts of love?  Until we are known for how we love rather than for how we worship or for what we believe, we will miss the mark.  

It is this that we have to offer the world: a love that breaks barriers. The world is not changed because Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  The world is not changed because we go to church on Sundays, read the Bible, or take communion.  The world is only changed because we act in love without distinction to all that separates us.  The world is only changed when we become blind to our differences and see instead the reflection of God in everyone.  I  must look into the face of each and every human and see my own face—a face made in the image of God.  And to see that image, that sameness, I must let God wear me away.  I must let go of pride, of my need to feel special and let the love of God wash over me.  I must trust that love to transform me and to be enough for me.  I must be okay with being just like everyone else—a spectacular miracle created and loved by God—no better and no worse than anyone else—no matter who I am or what I believe.  And it is God’s love in which I must anchor, not pride of accomplishment or pride of behavior or pride of belief.  Rather, I must anchor in the love of God and in being God’s love in this world.  And when I am smoothed out, anchored, and transformed, then I can surf the chaos of this world and be a light in the darkness, a light that is content to be her ordinary, awesome self.    

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