Type your search below

‘Looking after number one’ – The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

Scroll to explore

The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

Sunday 1 September 2019 – Trinity – 11 Evensong

Isaiah 33.13-22 & John 3.22-36

‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ John 3.30

I never fail to be moved by the humility and generosity of John the Baptist. In the second reading today from John’s gospel, John the Baptist emphasises that he is not the Messiah and rejoices that Jesus, the one to whom he is pointing people, has come and that the time is now right for Jesus to increase and for him to decrease. Earlier in the same gospel we heard how John the Baptist and two of his disciples saw Jesus passing by, John said to his friends ‘Look, here is the lamb of God’ and John’s disciples went to follow Jesus, without any complaint from John …… this was another clear sign of humble John decreasing as Jesus began to increase.

The only one who outdoes John the Baptist in the humility and generosity department is Jesus himself! From the borrowed cradle of straw in the stable in Bethlehem, to the borrowed tomb on the hillside just outside Jerusalem, Jesus is unfailingly humble. From gallons of wine miraculously provided at the wedding in Cana, to the washing of Judas’ feet just before he goes to commit his act of betrayal, Jesus is unfailingly generous to everyone he meets. It is almost as if the more humble and generous he is, the more he grows in significance and influence, the more he increases.

All of this sounds sensible and normal when spoken about from a pulpit in a church on a Sunday – but imagine praising these characteristics at work or at school? Imagine recommending someone for promotion citing humility as their great gift?

The truth is that most human beings are self-promotors, self-increasers, by instinct. We see this in the disciples. Mark tells us that James and John ask Jesus if they will be able to have the best seats in the kingdom! Matthew is also aware of this incident, but interestingly, presumably aware of how bad it made James and John look, he relates that it is their mother who asks Jesus if her sons can have the best seats in the kingdom. Jesus’ response is to give some very clear teaching about humility,

‘whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. Mark 10.43&45

Despite his very clear teaching and the example Jesus gives us in his own life we continue to find humility a challenge. From a very young age these days we are encouraged to be self-promoters or self-increasers. From the ‘Personal Statement’ youngsters have to write when applying to University, to composing a CV and vying for jobs in our company or organisation, we all engage in self-promotion. Of course, there are also celebrities, many of whom are hero-worshipped by millions, who thrive on self-promotion and there are also some celebrities who are only celebrities because they are good at self-promotion! All of this makes some people think that ‘looking after number one’ is the way the world works, the way things are and the way things have to be – but that is not the case. Jesus teaches us that there is another way, a better way and that better way can also be based on the adage, ‘look after number one’, but we have to stop thinking of ourselves as ‘number one’ and start thinking of God as ‘number one’!

What does living by the adage, ‘you have to look after number one’ when ‘number one’ is God, look like?

‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ John 3.30

So today, as we reflect on this saying of Jesus let us pray that we may manifest similar humility and generosity in our lives as we see in the lives of John the Baptist and, above all Jesus. Let us ensure that in all things, we look after number one, remembering that in our lives, God is number one!

Let us pray

Lord Jesus, whose majesty was obscured by humility, whose power was obscured by vulnerability, whose eminence was obscured by the washing of feet, help us not to think too highly of ourselves and help us to see you as someone who is honoured in churches and beautiful worship but also in us living lives like yours, marked by humility, faithfulness, vulnerability and service. Amen

Share this sermon

Stay up to date with York Minster

  • Event alerts
  • Seasonal services
  • Behind the scenes features
  • Latest Minster-inspired gifts