Stay Humble


When I was a child one of the upsides of being ill was that I might get Lucozade. It was a fizzy tonic to pep you up a bit when you had a low appetite. Now it is much more of an energy drink for sports, drunk all the time rather than when not feeling well.

Shopping in one of the local supermarkets the other day, just round the corner from here, I spotted this special edition bottle of Lucozade fruit punch. On it the slogan “stay humble” caught my eye. Humility as an energy drink, I thought, there’s got to be a sermon in that.

This special edition bottle is a partnership between the makers of Lucozade and the world heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua. He has a mantra, “Stay Hungry: Stay Humble”. It’s an inspiring phrase, especially when you dig into the story behind it. (This is a video of him explaining it.) He says he has known what it is to be hungry, but the hunger he is talking about here is about commitment to a cause, having ambition, motivation and being consistent; being hungry for the aim and goal.

Well, the apostle Paul used a similar image in his first letter to the Corinthians (9:24-25) when he spoke about running the race to achieve the prize, to reach the goal. The goal is the Kingdom of God, to be hungry for God’s kingdom and to be focussed and committed to it. Christian living involves this focus and direction, inspired by our love for God, by his Son Jesus Christ, powered by the true energy drink of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, “Stay Humble”, which is on the bottle. Anthony Joshua was upfront about this. It comes from the Bible, he said. It is a reminder that wealth is found in our character not in material objects. And to remember that whatever we achieve, others have gone before us and we build on their work, on what they have taught us – we are not self-made.

For Anthony Joshua this is also a reminder to have respect for all people, whoever they are: ‘whether they are the man in the street or the man on the hill’, as he put it. Everyone deserves and is due the same respect. Anthony Joshua went on to say this is why people fight for equality, they are hungry for it and humility inspires respect: respect of self, respect of others.

A similar point was made by the singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg in an article in the Guardian on free speech (‘Speech is only free when we all have a voice’ – Guardian 10th July 2020). In one of those sentences that I just want to frame he wrote:

“Although free speech remains the bedrock of a free society, for everyone to enjoy the benefits of freedom, liberty needs to be tempered by equality and accountability. Without equality, those in power will use their freedom of expression to abuse and marginalise others. Without accountability, liberty can mutate into the most dangerous of all freedoms: impunity.”

Liberty is tempered by equity and accountability to counter abuse, marginalisation and acting with impunity. A rich quotation that warrants reading over and over again.

In our Old Testament reading (Genesis 28:10-19a), we were given part of the story of Jacob. His journey to find a wife has brought him to a certain place where he decides to rest for the night. I can’t say I’ve ever found a stone a comfortable pillow, but that is what he uses. Here he has the dream of a ladder with angels of God ascending and descending. This place of vision becomes for him a holy place, blessed by pouring oil over the stones, and that vision inspires him. There is a goal and he is hungry for it.

The reading from Matthew (13:24-30, 36-43), brought us a farmer sowing seed and finding both grain and weeds. The obvious solution today would be to spray it with weed killer, but this farmer is an organic one and he decides to let both grow – perhaps with an eye to biodiversity, though that’s not quite the way it’s written up. The weeds here are seen as corruption and rebellion, but they are both permitted to grow.

The humility in this comes at the end with the judgement. All of the harvest will be assessed and some will measure up as having been hungry for the goal and some will not. The good seed is described as being children of the kingdom – which is justice, love and peace. The weeds are those in league with all that disrupts and works against that kingdom. And humility is the desire to seek the kingdom of God rather than our own. Remember, as Anthony Joshua put it, wealth is found in character not in material objects. And as Billy Bragg put it, free speech needs equity otherwise it will abuse and marginalise, and accountability otherwise it acts with impunity.

Staying humble keeps us on the edge and on guard because there is a measure against which to be tested and against which we are tested, and that is the Kingdom of God.

Stay Hungry: Stay Humble – hungry for the kingdom of God and humble in its service; and look to the Holy Spirit for the true energy to sustain you on the way.

Sermon for online live-streamed worship for Trinity 6, Peterborough Cathedral and Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 19th July 2020.


About Revd Canon Ian Black

Ian is Vicar of Peterborough and Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral in the Church of England Diocese of Peterborough. He served as Rural Dean of Peterborough for 5 years. Prior to moving to Peterborough, Ian was in Leeds for 10 years in Leeds, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes 10 miles north west of Canterbury. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury. Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE Auditor and a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Tax Accountant. Ian was born and grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon and is a former head chorister at Shakespeare's Church - Holy Trinity. He studied in Canterbury, Lincoln Theological College and has a Master of Divinity degree from Nottingham University. He is married with two sons. Publications include three books of prayers: Prayers for all occasions (SPCK 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK 2009) and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK 2005). His most recent book, 'Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus', was published by Sacristy Press in 2017. There is a hymn based on this 'Christ the Saviour'. He has been writing online since the mid 1990s. Ian is a keen photographer and these frequently appear in his posts and on social media.
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