“Get off your high horse!” I’m sure most of us have heard that saying before. Do you know where that saying comes from? It seems that kings and knights used to ride their horses as a sign of victory … of one-up-manship. To ride in one’s saddle on a kingly stallion conveyed the attitude, “I’m better than you!” … an attitude of arrogance and pride. The common people grew tired of this attitude and would shout, “Get off your high horse!” … or “dismount!”
That’s what St. Paul is saying to us when he writes, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who being in very nature God, … made himself nothing.” (5-6) Paul is saying, “Dismount!” “Get off your high-horse!”
1. Humility shows itself in service to others.
In Mark 10 Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” (44-45)
Jesus “dismounted.” His was an attitude and action of servanthood and service. We see this humility of our Lord on Palm Sunday when he rode into Jerusalem, not on a majestic war stallion, but on a beast of burden. Jesus exchanged his “high horse” for a mule. And whereas, Jesus should have been greeted by throngs of angelic choirs and political dignitaries, he was welcomed by a ragtag group of men, women and children.
Our Lord hid his divine attributes from human sight as he lived and ministered in Palestine, except for those rare occasions when he performed miracles of when his heavenly Father said from heaven, “This is my Son!” Although fully God, Jesus did not “strut his stuff.” There were no trappings of kingly power for him but rather homelessness, hunger, and even a humiliating death normally reserved for scoundrels. But that’s the manner of our Lord … dismounting … of giving and not taking … of serving, not being served. St. Paul writes, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” (6-8)
Where in our world do we find such self-sacrificing humility? Benjamin Franklin once wrote down a list of qualities which he considered to be marks of a true gentleman. A friend, on reading the list, remarked that he had not included humility. Franklin then tacked “humility” on at the end.
An executive of a major airline company was talking about how difficult it is to recruit persons and then to train them for that industry. He said, “Service is the only thing, really, that we have to sell, but it is the toughest to teach. Nowadays, no one wants to be thought of as a servant.” This presents us with a serious problem because Jesus and the teachings of biblical writers are very clear: Jesus intends each of his followers to be precisely that: a servant … to dismount … to get off one’s high horse and ride a mule!
In the Great Lakes, large numbers of lake trout once swan in the deep, cold water. When conditions were right a fisherman could count on reeling in a fifteen or twenty pound beauty. Sometimes fisherman would even catch a lake trout weighing as much as 100 pounds!
But in the later 1950s, the fisherman became worried. The lake trout in the Great Lakes had just about been wiped out. Fishermen were no longer catching twenty pound beauties in the numbers they once did. What was killing the lake trout? Pollution was not the main cause. Neither was over-fishing. Neither was pouching. The cause of the trout’s demise was a parasite called the lamprey. The lamprey is a long, cigar-shaped, slimy fish that looks like an eel. The lamprey has a mouth like a suction cup with sharp, thorny teeth inside. Like a leech, the lamprey attaches itself to a fish and does not let go. It sucks on the blood of the fish until the fish dies. The lamprey had taken over the Great Lakes and had almost destroyed the lake trout.
Are you and I like a lamprey? Do we have a selfish attitude? A person with a selfish attitude is like a lamprey. He or she takes but does not give. He or she eats but does not feed. He or she destroys but does not repair. He or she lives by the motto, “You either do it my way or hit the highway.”
Has your unwillingness to dismount from your saddle of selfishness, arrogance, or pride destroyed or severely damaged a meaningful relationship? Has your stubbornness to get off your high horse brought turmoil into your home and workplace?
What an inspiration Jesus is to us! He wasn’t some weak-kneed wimp but a powerful leader who demonstrated his leadership and LORDSHIP by serving!
As we try to give of ourselves according to the pattern of Jesus, as St. Paul exhorts, we will become discouraged because we can never come up to our Lord’s standards. As hard as we may try our pride and stubbornness keeps us saddled on our high horse. We all suffer at times from “acute inflammation of the ego.”
2. Humility is possible when we depend on Christ.
Humility begins with confession … an honest appraisal of our shortcomings, especially in relationship to our relationship with God. To bring us to recognition of our sin is God’s way of knocking us out of our saddle. As we confess, “I am a poor miserable sinner” we are dismounting from our saddle of pride, arrogance, and selfishness. We are depending on Christ for forgiveness.
As we stand before the cross and look into the eyes of the suffering Servant – the King above all kings – but crowned with thorns, disrobed but for underwear, anchored to the cross by nails in his hands and feet and see One who dismounted … and realize that he humbled himself to the point of death for ME, it has a way of making us dismount.
As we come forward for Holy Communion we are getting off our high horse of pride and selfishness and acknowledging our need for our Saviour and his forgiveness.
We depend on Christ for power to mould us into humble people. Humbleness, humility … a willingness to dismount … does not come naturally. Humility comes over time, as the Spirit of God works in our life through God’s Word. It’s by living in constant communion with the Suffering Servant, through his Word and Sacraments, that we become less absorbed with self and more concerned for others. We live less and less by the motto, “I am my own,” and more and more by the motto, “You are as important to me as I am to me.” As we “dismount” we find ourselves saying, “I am sorry. Will you forgive me?” or “I was wrong. You were right.” It’s amazing how when we are willing to dismount … to get off our high horse … that situations can be resolved and good relationships can become even better.
People: if you are on your high horse, it’s time to dismount! Our Lord dismounted and was subsequently, resurrected and exalted. As a result of Christ dismounting, our sins are forgiven and we will be resurrected and exalted. Dismount and live in Christ forgiveness. Dismount and you will enhance relationships, not drain them of life and vitality. Dismount for the Lord has promised that you too will one day be exalted in the glorious realm of heaven. Yes, like the King of kings and the Lord of lords, get off your high horse and ride a mule! Amen.