August 20, 2014

The Homily

humility-wordHave mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.

(Psalm 51:1-4, NKJV)

It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

(Luke 17: 11-19, The Message)

First of all, I stand here today most in need of the words I will share with you. I do not put myself above anyone within the hearing of my voice in the area of humility. Pride is a chronic disease afflicting and affecting each of us; we must face it daily and deal with it harshly or it will destroy us.

We see from our readings this morning two ways we can deal with pride: confessing our sins, and expressing gratitude for what Jesus does for us. You may say, “Sure, I can see how saying ‘I’m sorry’ expresses humility, but ‘thank you’? How does that keep pride at bay?”

First of all, saying mea culpa is not the same as saying I’m sorry. Sorrow comes with knowing that our words or actions hurt another. If hurting another does not hurt us, does not cause us to then confess our sin, then we can be sure pride has taken root. Please note my use of the unpopular and difficult-to-say word “sin.” Not mistake—sin. Mea culpa means “my mistake.” Taking the wrong exit from the freeway or giving your friend a Coke when she wanted Pepsi or forgetting to set the DVR to record a movie are all mistakes. Jesus did not die for our mistakes. Sin is deliberately putting myself above others. Sin is saying my way is more important than your way. Sin is saying to God, “Not thy will, but mine be done.” We confess sins, not mistakes. We ask forgiveness for sins. Unless and until we realize we are the chief of sinners we cannot experience forgiveness. And if we have not experienced forgiveness we cannot forgive.

Like David, we must realize that we have sinned against God. Sin brings about death. In a few minutes, we will all participate in that death—the death of God’s own Son. We will eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus who died a very real death for our very real sins. But we also sin against one another. Confessing those sins and asking forgiveness is a necessary part of the Christian’s life. Without this, pride takes hold and we begin to see ourselves as above others, as superior to those we hurt with our words and deeds. If we see ourselves as better than they, then we certainly don’t need to ask their forgiveness. If we wound others and then don’t say “I’m sorry,” we do not love. And Jesus gave us one command to follow: Love one another.

Back to my question: How does saying “Thank you” show humility? When we say “I’m sorry,” we are saying that we have done something to hurt another. We are in that person’s debt awaiting forgiveness. When we say “Thank you” we are also admitting a debt. We are saying, “You have done something for me I needed or wanted.” And it is so hard for us to put ourselves in the debt of another, is it not? We withhold gratitude so we don’t have to admit that another did something for us. I could have done it myself is our thought. We are such wretched creatures, thinking we can be our own gods and not need the hand offered by another.

The ten lepers in our gospel reading this morning all received healing for their disease. Yet only one was humble enough to return to Jesus to say Thank You. In doing so, he showed that he recognized it was Jesus who had healed him, not his work of going to show himself to the priest. Jesus called this recognition “faith,” and said this is what had not only brought about his healing, but also his salvation.

Just how important is the cultivation of a humble heart? Listen to the words of Andrew Murray:

And so the life of the saved ones, of the saints, must needs bear this stamp of deliverance from sin, and full restoration to their original state; their whole relation to God and man marked by an all-pervading humility. Without this there can be no true abiding in God’s presence, or experience of His favor and the power of His Spirit; without this no abiding faith, or love or joy or strength. Humility is the only soil in which the graces root; the lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure. Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others; it is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God, and allows him as God to do all.

Can we truly be humble before God and not humble with our brothers and sisters? Can we have a heart of gratitude before God but not be thankful to one another? Let it not be so.

We are told by St. Paul not to partake of the body and blood of our Lord in an unworthy manner. I believe that unworthiness is exhibited when pride rules rather than humility. When we are unwilling to say “I’m sorry” or “Thank you” to those we rub elbows with all day long. So examine your hearts today, brothers and sisters. Do you need to ask forgiveness of someone? Do so before you approach the table. Do you need to thank someone for even some trivial thing that was said or done to you? Do so now.

Come to the table of the Lord in humility, knowing that you are a leper in need of healing. Leave the table with humility, showing and singing and shouting your gratitude to the One who heals and saves. This is good and acceptable in the eyes of our Lord.

Let us pray.

Comments

  1. Amen, Jeff.

    If you feel you are not worthy…than it is for you.

    • Robert F says:

      If you feel you are not worthy….then you passed the test: you are worthy, you honest son-of-gun!

      How subtle and pervasive is pride, and how quiet and evasive humility.

      • You know what I mean.

        Ok…If you feel that you are worthy. Then it is for you.

        Sometimes the contrarians are just waiting for the chance to pick you apart.

        • Robert F says:

          Mea culpa, mea culpa; I often cannot resist the urge to be a contrarian, and I confess that I have been one here today.

          But my motivation was not to pick anyone apart. When it comes to participating in holy communion, my feelings do not enter into my decision to go ahead and receive the gifts of God at the altar. I need Holy Communion precisely because I am neither humble nor contrite in my heart of hearts; I’ve examined myself, as St. Paul exhorts us to do before Holy Communion, and every time not only have I found my heart unworthy but I’ve had to recognize that all the reconciling with my neighbor and confessing my sins in the world could not possibly even put a dent in my unworthiness and make me even a little better prepared to partake in the sacrament. Even my claim to unworthiness is self-interested and full of pride, masking the truth that I feel entitled to the goodness that God gives.

          It’s not the things I’ve done, the number of times I’ve hurt others or even sinned against God that is the problem; the problem is that my heart is wicked and selfish. My heart worships itself; my heart is idolatrous.

          St. Paul warns that to receive unworthily may actually make one physically ill, or even cause physical death, and I believe him. But given the fact that I cannot make myself worthy, and that my heart is full of pride, not humility, and that I nevertheless miraculously know that without God’s empowering I cannot escape my damnable predicament, I’m willing to hazard the possibility of death itself for the grace of receiving at God’s hand the only nurture that can heal, redeem and enlighten my dark heart.

          “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die…..”

          • And notice the word is an adverb. Not “if unworthy people partake” but “if you partake unworthily.” If you were waiting until you were worthy, nobody could partake at all. Look at the context of what is there in 1 Corinthians 1120-34. People were approaching it as if it was their own supper, not the Lord’s. They were in a party spirit, and denying others, while gorging themselves and getting drunk while others go without. Not examining themselves as you say.

            I remember a story of one woman who came to a priest, saying “I can’t take it. I’m too unworthy, too much of a sinner.”

            The priest responded “Take it, woman. It was made for people like you.”

          • Robert F.,

            You are right. I do think I know what you mean. The truth of the matter is that none of us is worthy…feelings or no feelings aside.

            St. Paul was specifically speaking to their getting drunk and not sharing their food with those who had none when he spoke of their receiving the meal unworthily.

            Marc,

            That priest was right. It is for those who know their need of it.

  2. Robert F says:

    Mea culpa = through my own fault; it is an admission of guilt or culpability, and is as much an acknowledgement of transgression as the word sin, which, I’ve been told, literally translates to “missing the mark.”

  3. Highwayman says:

    In Francis Spufford’s excellent book, ‘Unapologetic’, he starts out by redefining sin because he feels the original word is now misunderstood by most people to mean ‘indulgence’ or ‘enjoyable naughtiness’. Therefore he redefines it as ‘the Human Propensity to F*** Things Up’ (abbreviated to ‘HPtFtU’) from which we all suffer. He writes:

    “…what we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, ‘stuff’ here including moods, promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s, as well as material objects whose high gloss positively seems to invite a big fat scratch.”

    I find this helpful.

  4. Christiane says:

    looking at ‘humility’ and ‘thankfulness’,
    I have always thought taking so many things for granted and not seeing the wonder in them and not being grateful for them was somehow a sign of the lack of my own humility before the Lord.

    As for ‘pride’ and ‘arrogance’ which thrive in a lack of humility, it breeds that finger-pointing we see in the Pharisee at the temple who points to Publican with contempt and compares himself favorably before God. God doesn’t buy it, though. God’s favor rests on the one who stands before Him with his head bowed, acknowledging his own sin and asking for God’s mercy.
    So, our ‘thank-yous’ to God for our ‘better standing’ before Him rings hollow in His ears.

    I suppose, from this teaching of Our Lord’s parable, that lack of humility breeds ‘finger-pointing’, judgmentalism, contempt for those we see negatively, and a sense that one stands in a greater position before God than the ‘others’ who keep their heads bowed before Him . . .
    and for our lack of humility, we must be truly condemned for our arrogance.

    Which leaves me realizing something important:
    The concept of ‘repentance’ among some Christian people lacks an element that appeared among the Hebrews in Our Lord’s time . . .
    Repentance was seen as needed because men had ‘turned away’ from God, which was negative and brought evil, separation, and suffering.
    But the MAIN Hebraic meaning in the word ‘repentance’ is that people begin to ‘turn toward’ God again, to return to Him.

    This Hebraic expression of repentance involves
    replacing a negative connotation with a positive one, focusing on the superior state being approached rather than the inferior prior state being departed from.

    For too long, some Christian people have spent time ‘repenting’ by being negative themselves, and focusing on the negative in others’
    instead of celebrating a positive returning towards the Lord . . .
    a turning that involves a journeying of the mind, the heart, the soul, the spirit, the strength of a person becoming increasingly focused on Christ.

    This has many names . . . teshuva, metanoia, repentance
    . . . . the one who has been ‘in darkness’ begins the turn towards the ‘light’ and in the Book of Ephesians 5:9 we come to know this:
    “(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)”

    darkness is the absence of light . . .
    Christians must not continue to dwell negatively on the darkness once they have begun the great journey towards the light of Christ.

    Finger-pointing has no place on this great journey.
    Moving towards the light of Christ frees a sojourner to engage in acts of loving-kindness to others
    and keeps us from the darkness of a contempt encased in pride.

    • I’ll stick with what a college professer said. repentance means change of mind change of direction brief American summary. The whole counsel of Gods Word says we can confess james said it john said it. James even said rebuke that the rest may fear. It says the Word is good for exhortation rebuke and instruction in righteousness. How where the seven churches addressed in revelation addressed ? Either I am not understanding what you wrote or it seems not to have included the whole council of Gods Word

      • Christiane says:

        perhaps I can help clarify by pointing out the logical end of seeing your own group as ‘righteous’ and others as ‘sinners’ . . . if you follow that to the max, you can get a ‘Westboro Baptist Church’.
        There was recently a post on SBCvoices that was entitled ‘God Hates the Sin AND Hates the Sinner AND Loves the Sinner -David Platt’ and in the course of the comment stream, someone says ‘maybe Westboro got it half-right’ . . .

        so that is one road people may take when they feel empowered by their vision of the ‘total word of God’ and they see themselves as ‘the righteous’ entitled to rebuke ‘the sinners’
        . . . except for one big problem:
        Our Lord’s example and teachings and parables in sacred Scripture . . .

        Our Lord spoke and acted in the very Person of God, and because of this truth,
        for Catholic and Orthodox Christians (and likely, many Protestants who are not fundamentalists), Christ’s Words and actions in sacred Scripture are the lens through which the rest of Scripture can be examined for its true meaning . . .

        but this is not true of fundamentalism . . .
        from what I have been able to gather, for them Christ is NOT the lens through which all Scripture is read,
        and that has made all the difference.

    • Christiane,

      Very insightful.

      To look back and attend to/focus on the “darkness” after being granted metanoia is to be, in Paul’s use of the term, “of the flesh.” That’s the problem with the Westboro folks.

  5. But how do you get from the intellectual knowledge of your sins to feeling sorrow? I know I’m a sinner but I think I’ve been sorrowful so many times it just doesn’t seem happen anymore… (the emotional part)

    • Christiane says:

      “they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced
      . . . . they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son . . . (from Zechariah 12)

      I think this is a prophecy that describes what is possible when the Holy Spirit points us towards Christ
      . . . this is a kind of conviction that is for us overwhelming in its sadness and grief . . . life itself has a way of bringing us to the place where this becomes possible:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-zt0lJwrFk

      • Indeed. I began a 10 year spiritual journey years back. Running from the evangelical scene. I had grown weary of CCM, the lack of reverence within worship, worship being turned into an it’s about me hour. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper seemed to mean nothing other than do it because He said to. As I floated around the past several years I then began to feel a sense, perhaps calling, to return to the faith of my youth. Something I had no desire to do and ever thought I would do. And it was during that time, when I felt as if the Spirit was drawing me back, not just to a church, but rather back to God. I truly identified with the prodigal son and saw myself in Rembrandt’s painting of such.

        And it was during those moments in which I had begun to undertake a deeper examination of conscience, that hard look into the mirror, that the Spirit gave me a brief glimpse or taste or perhaps it was just a realization of how much of a sinner I was relative to the glory and righteousness of God. And it was time to mourn over my sinfulness. It was truly overwhelming at times. Yet it was only during that time in which I realized and came to better understand the realities and beauty of grace. And for that I am eternally greatful.

        I had not seen these words from Zechariah before. Thanks for sharing Christiane.

  6. That happens to me, also. I’m often numb to anything that my sin has wrought. Until I think about it for a minute. All those whom I’ve hurt. And the grief and suffering that it has begotten. And then the snowball effect in that those people whom I’ve hurt and wronged have hurt and wronged others asa a result of my actions.

    What a mess. And that’s just what I am aware of.

    When I think about it for a few minutes it can drive me to tears.

    • To srs and Steve Martin says If you know you have sinned confess it and He is faithful and just to forgive. If you are stuck in something Talk to God and listen for direction. there is a convicting power of God. Once you have confessed it and turned away from it. In will come the enemy with condemnation and sometimes ourselves. This is where knowing the Word comes in. IT is written if I confess my sins He is faithful to forgive. Use the Word and by faith believe He will do what He said He will do. Always listen for His direction His prompting His voice and be watchful for guidance in His Word. Know that sometimes your faith may be tried and since we war against the flesh to side with the Holy Spirit sometimes things take a period of time as a matter of fact eccl 3 states it just that way. There are some hard truths in the Word this is why we are told to be rooted and grounded in His Love. He expects to be Lord but He found you for no man comes to the Father accept He draws them. He looks for a response to Him and diligence everyone has to start somewhere and that is really brought out in the new birth desiring the milk and meat of the Word by which we grow. and know this tears are fine and paul even despaired of life at times. Do not get caught there. We are preists and we can appropriate repentance in Jesus name by confession which is an aspect of applying the Blood concerning our born again spiritual man.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That happens to me, also. I’m often numb to anything that my sin has wrought.

      Then there’s the flip side: “Excessive Scrupulosity”, i.e. obsessive introverted sin-sniffing. Passively encouraged by external sin-sniffing preaching, sometimes deliberately encouraged by abusive preachers to break the sheeple to the preacher’s control.

  7. Jeff, this is such a marvelously written piece and so needed by every last one of us.

    I will refrain from the “discuss amongst yourselves” urge of others to say only that my proofreader’s hat insists that I tell you that In your fifth paragraph, surely you meant to say “We are such wretched creatures” and NOT “We are such retched creatures.”

    Retching is something else entirely.

    • I noticed I had a leftover “w” and didn’t know what to do with it!

      Yes, we wretched creatures—namely, myself—make me want to retch at times …

  8. Jeff,

    Thanks. Your homily was the first of two good ones in one morning.

    T