Preached September 29th, 2010
St. Luke 14:1–11
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
On the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, we began a series on the internal graces of love, holiness, singleness of heart, patience, and humility. Thus today, on the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity we complete the sequence with the consideration of the role of humility as a part of our “true and laudable service” to be rendered unto God. It is important as we consider all of this, that we recognize that the whole sequence is based in, and grows out of, love.
The subject of humility arises a number of times within the Kalendar, particularly Sexagesima, Palm Sunday, and the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity. In particular, on Trinity 11, we learn about humility with respect to God as shown in the character of St. Paul and in the prayer of the Publican in contrast to the prayer of the Pharisee. Today, the subject is the more difficult topic of humility in our relations with other men. From the Beatitudes, recall that meekness is sufficient to inherit the earth, while poverty of spirit is required in order to receive the kingdom of heaven. The concluding words of our Gospel lesson, For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted, apply both in our relations with other men, and with the Lord God.
As our Epistle lesson opens this morning, St. Paul presents the calling to humility as Ephesians 4:1-2 1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; He describes our Christian vocation of humility as being one of meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance, and specifically that it is directed toward our fellow men. These are not exactly the qualities that are usually considered as virtues in our modern world that values aggressiveness, competitiveness, rivalry, and the pursuit of power. We have only to stop for a minute to think in order to realize that the latter are the values of the secular world that drive so much of our lives, but they are in direct conflict with the Gospel values.
If we recall the circumstances of our Baptism, we have to realize that Jesus Christ took as “as we were,” in whatever state we were in, and received us into His Body, the Church. He did not say, “no, wait until we get you cleaned up a bit,” but rather he simply accepted us as we were, in order that we might begin to grow in Him. With such acceptance from Jesus Christ, can we possibly be other than humble toward men?
To be lowly in oneself necessarily means that the Christian will strive not to give offense to anyone. He will be longsuffering and exercise forbearance when others offend him, difficult though this is to do.
I need to clarify one point here. The humility, longsuffering, and forbearance of which I am speaking is with regard to slights to us personally. When people attack our Saviour, and we know that they do this daily, we must be prepared to speak out to correct the errors in their thinking, but not to threaten violence to those people. Our Lord does indeed depend upon us to speak for Him in this world, and we must be ready to do so at every opportunity. When people fail to understand the message of Christ, it is our duty to tell them the truth of Christ. On the other hand, our Lord is not so small and powerless that He is dependent upon us to defend His Holy Name. He has legions of angels at His disposal if He should choose to strike any person or group of people down, but we know that this is not His usual way of dealing with people in this age. He will deal with all at the end of time. But we are to be personally humble, longsuffering, and forbearing with those with whom we deal.
There is a second great reason for our humility and that is the fact that the Unity of the Church requires it. Notice what St. Paul says, Ephesians 4:4-6 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. St. Paul does not say that the Church ought to be one body, but rather that the Church IS one body. That body cannot be severed by the actions of men, but it can only be fully realized in the bond of peace. This is much like the way that the unity of a husband and wife, or a family can only be fully realized in patience, love, and mutual forbearance. In each case, the individual goals and desires must be sacrificed for the benefit of the whole.
St. Paul lists seven marks of the unity of the Church: (1) one Body, (2) one Holy Ghost, (3) one Hope, (4) one Lord, (5) one Faith, (6) one Baptism, and (7) one God and Father, over all in His dignity, though all in His providence, and in all by His grace. Each of these signs of unity become an argument for the others as we find them one by one.
Remembering that we are all members of the same mystical Body of Christ, the Church, we are all moving toward the same ultimate home with our Saviour Jesus Christ, we have all been received into the Church through the same baptismal waters, we are all the same family, with all of this in mind, we must do every thing possible to cultivate the grace of humility in dealing with those who are so united to us in Christ.
In our Gospel lesson, one of the Pharisees has invited Jesus to a meal on the Sabbath day, not out of hospitality but more with the intent to observe and look for an opportunity to entrap Jesus in His words. Jesus, of course, knew all of this before the fact, but He went anyway. When the expected objections arise after He has cured a man of the dropsy, Jesus does not denounce the hardness of heart of the Pharisees, but instead appeals to conscience with all meekness and longsuffering. The pride of the Pharisees, with its eagerness to condemn and slowness to accept correction, is fully evident. It is very resistant to repentance, and therefore becomes incapable of forgiveness. This is the prologue that leads then to the parable of the guest at the wedding feast and where he should sit.
Let me remind you of the relevant words: Luke 14:8-11 8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; 9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. 10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. 11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
Christ has summarized His rule for us in the last verse when He tells us that whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
This does not mean that we should not desire approval for our attainments, our sound judgment, our good character, and our strong principles. We should seek the approval of sound men and of God.
Also, this does not mean that personal dignity is inconsistent with humility. Humility is much about recognizing our proper place in the order of things, not under valuing or over valuing our own place. It must first of all recognize our total unworthiness before God, our knowledge of ourselves, and a comparison of ourselves with others, many of whom surpass us in something, and some of whom surpass us in everything.
We can only rise by humility and sink by pride. Humility compares itself to that which is above itself, while pride compares itself to that below and thus never sees any need to improve. The virtue of humility, to which Christ calls us, is often seen by men as a vice, but rather it is the basis for true virtue.
Humility is a difficult sell in modern America. It does not fit the macho image, it does not fit the fit the image of success, or how to get the girl or boy, or how to achieve political power. Of course there is a reason that it does not fit any of these images: it is not about these things! It is about living our lives as Christians, rendering true and laudable service unto God. We can see a rather stark contrast between many of the commonly accepted goals of Americans today and what is required for a truly Christian life. We cannot be Christians and be in the mainstream of American life as it is defined today. We must be prepared to swim against the current, because there are far too many things in the common flow of American life that are non–Christian today. We must be humble, but we must be strong enough to persevere to the end.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.