So a while back, I found this great app. It makes sound effects. It’s hilarious! Want to hear?
[play some sounds]
That’s great, isn’t it? So did you notice that they all have at least one thing in common? What are some of those things?
[take responses from the congregation]
Very good! Yes, you are really paying attention. The biggest thing that they have in common is that they are recordings, and no matter how many times you push the button, you get the same sound. I think a lot of us have recordings we have made over the course of our lives, but they not only record people’s voices, but feelings as well. You make a bonehead play in a game, and what kinds of recordings do you get? “Wah-wah. You stink!” You do just the right thing at the right time, “The fans go wild! Cheers!” Or maybe something happens and a recording of your mom or dad comes out of your mouth. Sometimes these recordings are helpful, but sometimes they begin to get in the way. In our passage today, Paul talks about how to free ourselves from the recordings that can dominate our lives.
First, recognize the emptiness of the recordings. Paul writes, “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” The word for “conceit” can mean empty of honor or glory. Tim Keller adds, “So conceit is a deep insecurity, a perceived absence of honor and glory, leading to a need to prove our worth to ourselves and others.” This emptiness often leads us to do one of the things Paul warns us not to do: provoking or envying. Keller writes, “’Provoking’ is the stance of someone who is sure of his or her superiority, looking down on someone perceived to be weaker. ‘Envying’ is the stance of someone who is conscious of inferiority, looking ‘up’ at someone they feel is above them.” What’s interesting is that when we do either of these things, we are focused on ourselves, right? Either we are proud that we are just soooo good, or we are worried that we are not good enough. And in an odd way, we are looking to how other people make us look and feel to find out how we should look and feel. My sophomore year in high school I wanted desperately for people to like me. I wasn’t really sure how I fit in, if I could fit in, but I really wanted to be liked and included by the kids in my church youth group. I tried so hard, mostly out of insecurity. At school that same year, however, I have a feeling that I was insufferably arrogant about my classes, which were going well. Both my fears and my arrogance came out of my insecurity. Regardless of whether one of our internal recordings is provoking us to feel superior or trying to make us envy what others have, what they offer is empty promises. Being self-focused and depending on others to know how to feel about ourselves will never find us hope or meaning or purpose. The recordings that tell us how to feel are empty.
Second, recognize the power of God’s messages. One of my father-in-law’s favorite songs has a chorus that goes like this:
Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble,
When you're perfect in every way,
I can't wait to look in the mirror,
I get better looking each day.
I can imagine someone trying very hard to be humble, but of course the harder we try, the more pride we get in our work…which is not very humble. C.S. Lewis once said “humility is not thinking less of yourself: it is thinking of yourself less.” That’s the “law of Christ” Paul talks about us fulfilling in verse 2—thinking of God more and ourselves less. Jesus lived and taught and died and rose, not for Himself, but for His heavenly Father, and so we too might hear God say, “I love you! I love you for who you are not what you’ve done! I loved you before you did anything to deserve it.” That’s grace. Those are the recordings God wants us to listen to not only with our ears, but with our minds and our hearts. We end up not comparing ourselves to others, but simply trying to live truly in light of God’s great “I love you!”
Finally, we carry each other’s burdens, but our own load. I remember as an 8th grader, I realized on a Friday, that I had a major project due in English on Monday, and I hadn’t even started. At first, my mom got after me a little for lack of planning, but before long I was buckled down and writing poem after poem, working on the clipart that had to go with it. My mom worked with me off and on, not doing the heavy-lifting for me, but staying up late with me, helping mem to organize and hole-punch the project. She carried my burden—isolation (I felt like I was alone in my problem), frustration (It was going so slowly, but she helped me understand it was still going), despair (I will never get this done!)—but still it was my load. I will never forget my mother’s kindness that weekend. The image Jesus uses is a yoke, a kind of harness for two that allows sharing the load and learning the task. Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”(Matthew 11:28–30) When we help carry other people’s burdens, that’s the way to do it. Not provoking or envying, not condemning or judging—just doing what we can. We can’t live another person’s life—they have to carry their own load—but we can help them carry the burdens.
I do love the sound effects app, but I like some of my internal recordings a lot less. I’ve spent most of my life trying to become aware of the messages I have received from others. The farther I go down that path, the more I realize they have no real hold on me. Oh sure I have knee-jerk reactions to things some times, but knowing God loves me, knowing that God died for me, knowing that what God thinks about me is what really matters, that’s really helped me take a deep breath. You see we really play for an audience of One, for Jesus. We are all learning to trust that the Spirit will give us what we need when we need it. May we learn to lose the empty conceit and gain the fulfilling trust. By the grace of God, we have today to live in light of that grace, to invite God to change out our records, for His.