November 13, 2022, The Center of Attention, Luke 21:5-9 – guest speaker, Carroll Boswell
to listen to this sermon, click the link below
Let’s use our imaginations to take a little vacation. Imagine we are walking the busy streets of New York City in the company of Jesus on a beautiful day in July. We will be paying close attention to everything he says, but we also be distracted by the sights of the city. We’d keep looking up at the enormous buildings all around us and gawking like tourist. But soon we are struck by a particularly marvelous pair of skyscrapers just ahead of us and exclaim to each other about them. Then Jesus stops us and says, “You see these tall buildings? The days are coming when there will not be left one stone on top of another that will not be thrown down.” It’s unbelievable. What power on earth could do such a thing. “When will this happen?” we ask. “How can that possibly be?” And we’d be horrified when he answers, “Not long. On September 11.”
And you get a little idea of what the disciples felt in this episode of Luke. But they may have been even more amazed than we would have been. They were looking at the temple, God’s home, the place where he promised to move in and live. Whatever the twin towers were, they were certainly not God’s house. Jesus was announcing the destruction of his own home.
But notice the disciples did not ask, “Why would God destroy the temple?” Many of us did ask that about the twin towers, though they weren’t one of God’s special places. I think the disciples didn’t ask why because they weren’t sure they were ready for the answer. It had happened before. God had destroyed his temple in Jerusalem once already, the first temple, the one that Solomon had built. God destroyed that temple because his people had become arrogant, and prideful, and had insulted God by choosing to put a different god in his place. They had thought that a carved rock, the work of their own hands, was better than God. That kind of arrogance had caused God to send the Babylonians to tear the whole thing down.
But Israel had not put up an idol in the second temple. In Jesus’ day Israel was devoted to God and his Law, they hated idols, they kept themselves pure. They seemed to have learned their lesson. But the very last of the prophets, Malachi, whom we just read, said, “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” Malachi was the prophet just before Jesus came, and he predicted another day when the arrogant would be destroyed by fire. That is what Jesus meant and that is what happened a few decades later, this time by Rome. Rome would destroy the second temple for much the same reason Babylon destroyed the first temple. It was not because of an idol this second time; it was a different kind of arrogance.
Scripture repeatedly warns us about this thing: if there is one thing that God will not tolerate it is arrogance. Isaiah 2:12 “For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low.” In the new testament both James and Peter quote the Bible, “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” But if no idols were involved the second time around, what kind of arrogance was it? The arrogance that caused God to destroy the second temple started back with the Law of Moses. Israel had been commanded to keep separate from the Gentiles, to keep themselves pure. It meant that they were not to imitate the customs of the Gentiles, their immorality and cruelty. After the destruction of the first temple, Israel built a new temple and they thought they had learned their lesson about associating with Gentiles. They became zealous for God and for the commandments and they obeyed the commandment to keep pure from the Gentiles to an extreme. They not only did not imitate the Gentiles, they despised the Gentiles. They didn’t worship the gods of the Gentiles or engage in their vices, but they took it further. They would not go in their houses, they would not eat with them. They called them dogs. Even people who were half Gentile, like the Samaritans, they avoided; they would not speak to them on the road or in the markets or stop over in their villages. Israel made itself into one of the most segregated societies in history, Jews here and Gentiles there. Only the racial segregation of America and the apartheid of South Africa and the Jewish ghettos of Europe would ever equal the segregation of the Israel of Jesus’ day. And their severely enforced segregation had made them arrogant toward the Gentiles. They forgot that the law telling them to keep separate from the Gentiles had also commanded them to welcome the Gentiles as neighbors and to treat them kindly. So they were caught unprepared that God planned to bring the Gentiles in to his kingdom. They had learned to hate Gentiles and did everything they could to keep the Gentiles out as God was bringing them in. In their arrogance they opposed God, and so he opposed their arrogance. To become arrogant is to make God your opponent.
So did God destroy the twin towers? Has America become arrogant? I don’t know why God destroyed the twin towers, but America has certainly become a proud and arrogant nation, and we are doing it in just the same way Israel did. America has treated Black Americans and Native Americans the same way Israel treated the Gentiles. We segregated them and segregation taught us to despise them. Most white Americans continue to believe that there is something inferior about black American. That was my experience growing up and in my own family and anyone with eyes to see it can see it all around us.
Arrogance also goes by the name of pride, conceit, insolence, haughtiness. The dictionary definition is “showing an offensive attitude of superiority; having an attitude of contempt for people or things perceived to be inferior; having too high an opinion of one’s own ability or worth, a feeling of being better than others.” That is certainly a good description of racism but of course there are other examples of arrogance as well. Men are commonly arrogant toward women. We are being taught to be arrogant toward gay people. The well-to-do are frequently arrogant toward the poor. City people learn to be arrogant toward “hicks” and vice versa. The educated are haughty toward the uneducated and vice versa, and God sets himself in opposition to every kind of arrogance. We are just like the Israel of Jesus’ day. Unless we nationally, we are in big trouble.
But what does this mean to us? How are we to apply this in our personal lives? Arrogance, conceit, is a common problem on a small scale like a congregation. Paul had trouble with it. He was describing himself in II Corinthians 12 when he said, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven … and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter… if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; … So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” And Paul knew it would be a problem for all of us, not just “super saints” like him. In Romans 12:3 he said, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” He knew that each one of us would be tempted to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think and that we would have to be on guard against it. It is also wrong to think of ourselves more lowly than we ought to think; sober judgment is the goal. I will have to set aside the problem of negative self-images just so the sermon doesn’t go too long.
Think of it like this. The Bible says we are each being built into a temple of God together. The church is where God lives now. Could the church become arrogant to the point that God had to oppose his church? Well, yes, though God lives here among us just as he lived in the temple in Jerusalem, if we become an arrogant people he will oppose us. And God also lives in each of us individually. On a private level, we are each of us building our own house, our own lives. We are setting our priorities, organizing our daily schedule as best we can to live in the particular style that suits us. This is normal and right. And what we don’t want is to become arrogant and conceited, one whom Jesus will look at and say, “not one stone will be left standing on another in your house.” And we don’t want St. Philip’s to become arrogant so that God would have to oppose us.
Arrogance is the exact opposite of humility. Arrogance is self-centered; an arrogant person makes all things about himself. Humility is centered on the neighbor; it gives all its attention to them. Arrogance is no part of God’s character. Even though he could legitimately think of himself as superior to us, the astonishing thing is that he doesn’t. God is humble, and that has always been the scandal of the Christian religion. And that means that when we fall into arrogance, we put ourselves outside of God. Just as he is light and in him is no darkness at all, so he is humility and in him there is no arrogance at all.
Each one of us is vulnerable to the temptation to be arrogant. Both humility and arrogance are the kind of things you can not see by looking at them directly. As soon as you think to yourself, “I’m getting pretty humble” then its is gone. Arrogance is the opposite. It works like a blinder. It makes you think, “Nah, I couldn’t be getting arrogant.” That makes it hard to guard against arrogance. If we can’t see our own conceit, what can we do to stop it? The good news you’re not alone. The fruit of the Spirit is humility. She makes humility grow in you – and she will whether you want her to or not. And she does it by killing arrogance and putting humility in its place. Just like gold and dirt cannot both be in the same place at the same time, humility and arrogance cannot both be in the same place at the same time. She creates humility in you and that pushes the arrogance out. You are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ so any arrogance you have has to disappear. Of course it’s a lot easier if you cooperate with her.
There are some warning signs that may help you know how to cooperate with her.
Here is an example from my own experience. I remember a couple we used to know in St. Louis whom I had a hard time with. I found them to be irritating and I always came away from seeing them a bit hostile. I said to myself that I just didn’t like them and that made me feel better. After all Jesus told us to love our neighbors but he never said we had to like them. Eventually I realized – and it took a long time – that I was being dishonest. The truth was that I felt superior to them. That happened to me more than once; I am a slow learner. If you find that you simply do not like someone, consider the possibility that it may not be their fault. It may be caused by your arrogance. But there is a sure defense against. You can concentrate on choosing to see the person as better than yourself. Paul recommends that as something we should habitually do. It is a good defense against become conceited.
And there are other symptoms that may suggest you are suffering from arrogance. You’ve all probably noticed that politicians and celebrities usually seem arrogant. The way we treat famous people all but makes them into arrogant people. We hang on their every word; we follow them around and gawk at them if we see one – as if we’d see one in Norwood. We magnify the most trivial details of their lives into front page news. Very few individuals can withstand such a temptation to arrogance. I think Jimmy Carter stayed humble even after getting elected president. From what I hear Jimmy Stewart stayed humble even when he was most famous.
The point is that too much attention is spiritually dangerous. Arrogance wants to be the center of attention, and if you find that that’s what you want, be careful that your not falling into arrogance. Too much attention works in the same way that too much money works. It can cause you to think more highly of yourself than your should. The sure defense against this is to try to avoid being noticed. We all want to get credit when credit it’s due. We all want people to admire us, thank us, pat us on the back. It is only natural. But it is dangerous to you spiritually. Test yourself. How does being in the spotlight make you feel? Does it go to your head? Do you like it too much. Do you spend your energy trying to get more praise and attention? If that is a danger, the safest course is to keep off the stage, to let your good deeds go un-noticed. By all means thank people when they are kind to you, but do your own acts of kindness expecting no thanks at all in return. And then don’t resent it when people don’t notice, don’t praise, don’t thank. If you do, then the best of all possible things will happen to you: God himself will thank you. He will give you credit. When no one pays any attention to the good things you do, you will discover to your surprise that you are at the very center of God’s attention. And that you always have been.