Apathy – 06.20.2021
There once was a man named James Tillis. His nickname was “Quick Tillis” and he was a heavy-weight boxer in the 1980’s. He was a cowboy from Oklahoma, but he fought primarily in Chicago. Quick Tillis used to tell a story about the day he arrived in the Windy City. He got off the bus from Tulsa with two cardboard suitcases under his arms in downtown Chicago. He stopped in front of the Sears Tower, put his suitcases down, looked up at the Tower and said to himself, “I’m going to conquer Chicago.” And then he looked down, and the suitcases were gone. Pride is a funny thing, when it distracts us.
Today is part two of our new sermon series called “Minority Report” – a study in the Old Testament minor prophets. For the month of June we are exploring some of the most unknown texts in the bible to see what we can learn. Last week, we saw that luxury can be a distraction from our mission of serving other people and sharing Jesus Christ with the world. This week, we’re moving over to the book of Obadiah, the shortest book in the entire bible. We actually read the whole thing just now. Like, during our scripture lesson just then – you heard, not just a chapter, but an entire book of the bible. That’s the whole thing! And if we look a little closer, we’ll see that Obadiah has an important message about the relationship between Israel and the tiny little kingdom of Edom.
Now, before we get into the actual scriptures, we need a little background. Because, you might have noticed – God is super mad at Edom, and we should probably find out why. Now, imagine this – the people of Israel are coming out of Egypt, they have just been set free and are traveling through unknown lands. They come up to a kingdom called Edom, and Moses sends out some ambassadors to go talk to the King. This is back in Numbers, chapter 20, where it says [read v.14-18]. Can we pretty please come through your land? No. And they tried to negotiate, we’ll stay on the main road, we’ll pay for everything we use, pretty please let us come through. No. So Israel had to turn around and go a different route. Now, I know that doesn’t sound that bad, but this was the beginning of some… tension, between the two countries. They were just sort of, bad neighbors for a long time. Fast forward, Israel is a country, has a king, capital in Jerusalem. And they’re fighting the Babylonian empire. Now, it’s not specifically described in the bible – but there is an accusation that when the Babylonian empire destroyed Jerusalem in 587, the people of Edom may have, uh, joined in on the destruction. They sort of helped the Babylonians out with the whole, “plundering the city” business. You know, just a little light vandalism and alleged stealing of stuff. Then, when the people were trying to run away from Judah, the southern kingdom, the people of Edom blocked the roads, captured the fugitives and brought them back to be enslaved. Like, they may not have been the big, bad Babylonian empire – but they sort of just stood by and watched Israel’s destruction, and maybe just a little bit helped. And so now, Obadiah is giving a prophecy about Edom’s punishment for what they did.
So what I want to do this morning, is walk through the accusations against Edom, and see if we can’t pull out some lessons about pride that apply to our lives. [read v.2-3]. God tells the nation of Edom, I will cut you down to size. You have been deceived by your pride. And so the first thing I want you to pick up on is that pride is deceptive. Pride is a liar. But that’s how pride works isn’t it? It gets inside of us, inflates us, paints a picture that we like, but is not actually reality. Edom, as a country, figured they were doing just fine. They didn’t need to worry about punishment, they were too strong, we have fortresses in the mountains. Long time ago there was a clever salesman who went door to door and closed hundreds of sales with this line. He would walk up and say, “Good morning, if you have just a minute – let me show you something that several of your neighbors said you probably couldn’t afford.” Pride is a liar. Pride is deceptive.
Edom says, “who could ever reach us way up here?” [read v.4]. The second thing I want you to see is that pride can be like gravity to the soul. No matter how high you go, you’re never above pride. No matter how much success, money, fame – you can never outrun pride. Pride is like an addiction – a life long struggle we never completely erase. It’s always there, and we have to be vigilant to keep it at bay. Benjamin Franklin in his autobiography wrote, “There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it. I should probably be proud of my humility.” God says, “even if you soar as high as eagles and build your nest among the stars, I will bring you crashing down.” Pride is like gravity to the soul.
Obadiah tells Edom, [read v.10-14]. So far we have seen that Pride is a liar, pride is deceptive, that pride is like an addiction, no matter how high we go it will bring us low. But those verses in Obadiah show us possibly the worst thing about pride. Pride enables us to stand by. Maybe you noticed all the adjectives – gloating, arrogant, aloof. When pride gets into our hearts, it gives us a sense of detachment. It gives us an excuse to not love. Pride creates a barrier between us and everyone else. They are bad, we are good – so we don’t have to love them, we don’t have to help them. The deceitful addiction of pride whispers a single word into our ears, “better”, and it enables us to sit back and do nothing. Pride gives us an excuse, teaches us that we don’t have to follow God’s command to love our neighbor. Edom stood by when Israel needed help, and it was even worse because the countries are related to one another. They share a heritage and yet they gloated. Pride leads to apathy. It gives us the excuse we need to stand by and do nothing.
One time there was this lady Rosina Hernandez. And when she was in college, she attended a rock concert, and at the concert in the crowd, a young man was getting brutally beaten up by another guy. Nobody did anything. Hundreds of people standing all around, nobody made an attempt to stop the beating. The next day, Rosina was shocked to learn that the young man died as a result of the beating. Yet neither she nor anyone else even raised a hand to help him. It stuck with her, she could never forget the incident or her responsibility as an inactive bystander. Couple years later, Rosina saw another catastrophe. A car driving in the rain ahead of her suddenly skidded and plunged into Biscayne Bay. The car landed head down in the water with only the tail end showing. In a moment a woman appeared on the surface, shouting for help and saying her husband was stuck inside. This time Rosina waited for no one. She plunged into he water, tried unsuccessfully to get the door open, then pounded on the back window as other bystanders stood on the causeway and watched. First she screamed at them, begging for help, then cursed them, telling them there was a man dying in the car. And finally one man, and then another, and another finally came to help. Together they broke the back window and dragged the man out. They were just in time, the car completely submerged a few moments later. The woman thanked Rosina and the men for saving her husband. She had promised herself she would never again fail to do anything she could to save a human life – and she made good on that promise. The people of Edom were full of arrogant, gloating, aloof pride that enabled them to stand by while Israel was destroyed. But there is a better way.
There’s one last thing I want you to see from the book of Obadiah [read v.15-17]. One of the reasons people sometimes avoid the minor prophets is because a lot of these stories involve God pouring out a punishment on people for their sins. What Edom did was horrible, and our God is not someone who “pretend threatens.” You know what I mean when I say that? Right, it’s that thing where you’re a parent, and you tell the kid, “I’m gonna give you to the count of three – 1…. 2…. 2andahalf… I need to keep counting because I have absolutely no idea what happens when I get to three?” Yeah, God’s not like that. If he says there’s going to be consequences, there’s going to be consequences. Our God is a God of mercy and forgiveness, in the face of repentance. But Edom, in their pride, never repented. Everything Obadiah prophesied for Edom came to pass, because God’s doesn’t “pretend threaten” with empty words. God stands against pride.
The good news this morning is that God humbles the proud, and takes pride in the humble. We have seen how toxic pride can be – there’s a reason God doesn’t want it in our lives. Pride is deceitful. Pride is like an addiction. Pride enables apathy, gives you an excuse to not love your neighbor. And if we want to take a lesson from the story of Edom’s fall – we should do everything we can to wipe out pride from our hearts. God humbles the proud, and takes pride in the humble. And there’s another level to it. If you think about last week, in the book of Amos, it was all about luxury and how it can be a distraction from our mission in the world. Well Pride is the same way. Pride gets us off mission. Pride keeps us from doing the work God has given us. We are the light in the darkness, hope for a broken world, healing in a society of hurt – and when pride gets in there, it keeps us from accomplishing the mission God has given us. To love and serve people in the name of Jesus.
Coming out of this, are two challenges for us this morning. First, if God humbles the proud and takes pride in the humble – then we need to humble ourselves. And when I say that, what I mean is that we need to humble ourselves by getting back on mission. Pride is a life long struggle – it’s not like you conquer the dragon and it’s gone forever, it takes constant vigilance to overcome. And one of the best ways to work on that is keep your life all about the work that God has griven us. There was a guy named Philip Brooks who once said, “The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.” When I say “humble yourself” – I don’t want you to walk around moping and talking about how terrible you are. No, I want you to get back to work. Do the best you possibly can and then hold that up against the glory of God – that will keep you humble. It’s not about praying “I’m so crappy” – it’s about praying for other people. It’s not about avoiding praise, it’s about providing praise. It’s not about falling, it’s about lifting others up! There’s an old story, like early 1800’s, back in the day Sir Walter Scott was the leading literary figure in the British Empire. Nobody could write as well as he could. Then along comes a new writer named Lord Byron. Fantastic writing, obvious to everyone right away. Soon after Lord Byron’s works started getting popular, an anonymous critic wrote to the London paper praising Lord Byron’s poems. He declared that in the presence of these brilliant works of poetic genius, Sir Walter Scott could no longer be considered the leading poet of England. They found out later that the anonymous reviewer was none other than Sir Walter Scott himself. Humbling yourself is not about tearing yourself down, but rather it’s about living a life focused on lifting other people up.
I give this advice all the time. When I start to feel prideful, and this is a big struggle for me – because there are some things in my life that I do very well – and when I start to feel prideful, I don’t stop and pray that God will make me humble. I don’t stop and pray for God to make me bad at my job or whatever it is that’s causing me pride. I don’t pray about myself at all. When I am feeling prideful, I stop and pray for others. I pray for every person I can think of – and in this church there are so many people to pray for. We humble ourselves by getting back on mission. My pride will keep me from loving my neighbor, and so the solution to keep pride down in those moments is to focus on loving my neighbor. The antidote to pride is service. The first challenge is to humble yourself, by getting back on mission.
The second challenge comes right out of that. Love your neighbor. You ever hear that old phrase “No man was ever murdered by his wife, while he was doing the dishes?” Right? So I want to update that a little bit, “no man (or woman) was ever led off mission by pride, while they were busy serving other people.” The antidote to pride is serving other people. Jesus Christ, the son of God, provides us with the ultimate example of humility by giving up heaven, to come to this earth to die for our sins. Because he loves us, he offers us forgiveness and a new life. His example of sacrifice and service is the model we follow. Edom messed it up – they are the bad example. But Jesus – Jesus gives us the real example to follow. Put aside your pride, and love your neighbor.
The heavy-weight boxer James “Quick” Tillis showed up in Chicago, got distracted by his pride and immediately had all his stuff stolen. Pride is distracting. Pride is a liar. Pride is addictive. Pride enables apathy, gives us an excuse to avoid doing what God tells us to do. Pride is trouble. The people of Edom learned that the hard way. But Jesus shows us a different way. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you humble yourself, by getting back on mission. May you accept the love of God brought to you by your humble lord and savior Jesus. And may you love your neighbor. Amen.
 Today in the Word, September 10, 1992.