Larry was a plumber from the Glades area of south-central Florida. He was older and wiser, when we were on a Cursillo team together for a men’s spiritual weekend.
Picture guys talking about what matters most in life. Men moved to tears as they learn about the nature of the Christian faith and the gap between what they profess and how they live. Men honestly examining their inner lives as the air around them stills, and they realize they cannot control others and sometimes their own impulses.
Then believe that men are able to abandon both their fear of looking weak, as well as the arrogance they use as a cover, to lay their unfiltered selves before the cross. Guys who learn to repent and seek forgiveness understanding they are loved by God even when their self-protective illusions are stripped away.
Larry said it happened late one evening. He was a lay chaplain for the police department in his small town near Lake Okeechobee. The police chief called and said he was coming to pick him up because a stranger had shown up in town who was acting bizarrely, threatened people, and claimed that he was Jesus.
“Larry,” the chief said. “I need you to talk with this guy. He’s in the back seat of my car and thinks he’s Jesus.”
The chief soon rolled up to the curb as Larry stood there prayerfully pleading to God for help. When Larry climbed in, he admitted he didn’t know what to do. The guy talked at full volume, jabbering that he was Jesus and had so much to do — so much to tell people — and was furious that the townspeople were fools who didn’t understand who he was.
“They aren’t listening!” he shouted.
If you were Larry, what would you say?
Larry listened for a while. There was a pause. Then he turned around and said to the guy, “I need to tell you, friend. You are not Jesus.”
A long pause. “I’m not? What a relief.”
I know the problem. It’s in me and is insidious. C.S. Lewis, wrote in his Christian classic “Mere Christianity” that pride is the one vice from which none of us is free and which we hate when we see it in others.
Pride causes nations to fall; pastors and priests as well. The failing that makes us most reviled and yet of which we are most unconscious.
It’s also a theme of Lewis’ clever book “The Screwtape Letters” when the senior devil teaches his younger apprentice that humans are most vulnerable to their pride.
To Lewis, it is the essential vice. The one that leads to all others. The opposite of gratitude; believing that I have made it in this life through my own goodness, intelligence, and diligence. To recognize conceit is the prelude to grace. No one who is puffed up thinks they need a savior.
I’ve been in a mainline religious tradition that soft-pedals sin and preaches abundant grace. It’s the easy way out. We need to know we are born embedded with the almighty’s love but also need our pride to be hammered.
The Rev. Richard Ploch is a retired Methodist minister. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.