Text: Romans 12
Title: Busting the Myths that Make Us Miserable. Myth 1: It’s All About Me.
You may or may not know this about us yet, but we love animals. Among pet owners, some people are dog people and some people are cat people. We’re non-discriminatory. We have two cats and a dog. And they are indeed two very different species. A dog looks at his owner and says, “This man feeds me; he cleans up after me. He must be god.” A cat looks at his owner and says, “This man feeds me; he cleans up after me. I must be god.”
This season of lent, for our midweek services, I am going to offer a sermon series that I am calling: “Mythbusters: Busting the Myths that Make Us Miserable.” Each week, I will talk about a common myth or lie that we tell ourselves. I think these myths are pretty much universal in the sense that all people basically fall prey to them, at least to some extent. Tonight’s myth is: “Its’ all about me.”
And that’s where my little illustration of the dogs and cats fits in. Dogs represent the nature of humanity prior to the Fall into sin. Before Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s will by eating the forbidden fruit, they existed to serve God and one another. That’s how my dog is. She just wants me to be happy. She exists to serve me. Her highest desire is to please me. Because in her mind, I’m like God.
The cat, on the other hand, represents the nature of humanity after the Fall into sin. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, human beings became radically self-centered beings. The cat thinks that she is god and that I exist in order to serve her, the exact opposite of the dog.
This is what we refer to as Original Sin, this radical self-centeredness and it afflicts all of us. Theologians like to use an old Latin phrase to describe what Original Sin is like: Curvatus in se. It comes from St. Augustine, way back in the fourth century. The phrase, curvatus in se, translates literally to “being curved in upon yourself.” Think of it like a spiral or a fetal position. And I believe that this is one of those myths that makes us miserable, this radical self-centeredness, this belief that it’s all about me.
St. Paul writes to the church in Rome: “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think (Romans 12:3).” Self-esteem is a huge topic these days. We’re so concerned about people having low self-esteem that we fail to recognize the problem of unacceptably high self-esteem.
Sometimes it’s obvious and much of the time, it’s not. When a person always talks about himself or always thinks of himself first, we might call him arrogant, especially when his self-praise is joined with disparaging others.
This is where the our faith provides important clarification. Humility does not require a person to feel worthless. Not at all. St. Paul is not instructing us to loathe ourselves or despise ourselves. That, in fact, would be sinful. How can we loathe and despise ourselves when God loves us and considers us worth dying for? It doesn’t make sense.
True Christian humility is not about self-deprecation. But it is about recognizing the true order of the universe. You are not the center of the world. Nor am I. Other people do not exist in order to serve you. The sun does not rise and set around you. Instead, God is the heart of it all. He is the One without Whom nothing could exist. In Him we live and move and have our being.
Since I began with a pet analogy, I’ll wrap it up with a pet story. This is an anecdote that I’ve heard the president of the seminary where I worked tell many times. He talks about his cocker spaniel. I don’t remember the dog’s name, so I’ll just call him Fluffy for the sake of telling the story. It seems that one sunny afternoon, Fluffy was in his backyard minding his business. The president lived on the seminary campus at the time and there were always outside community groups using our campus for one thing or another. One day, the Allen County sheriff’s department K-9 force was using the campus to train some of their new Doberman pinschers. Fluffy spotted several of the police dogs encroaching on his territory and immediately launched into attack mode. He beelined straight for the much bigger dogs. Fluffies owner saw what happened through the kitchen window and ran to rescue him. Now this story has a happy ending because no one was injured, but it could have been quite messy. As I said, I’ve heard the seminary president tell this story many times. And what is the application? Fluffy’s problem was that he did not understand who he was. He thought of himself much more highly than he ought.
Here we are caught in the middle of battling pride while not sinking into self-loathing. We need to remember who we are, so that we don’t make disastrous mistakes like poor ol’ Fluffy in Fort Wayne. By your baptism, you are a dearly loved child of God. Never forget that. God created you. He fashioned and formed you in your mother’s womb. He knows how many hairs are on your head. He knows you better than you know yourself. And He loves you to the point that He sent His one eternal Son into the world to pay for the sins of the world. Learn to see yourself the way that God sees you. God hates our sin, but He loves us. And He is working in us through the power of His Holy Spirit to make us holy and will glorify us on the Last Day.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.