Following Jesus in Humility
A Homily for Trinity XVII
October 4, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Luke 14:1-11
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Over the last several years one scandal after another has rocked the church in America. It is easy to cast this off as simply unhealthy celebrity church culture or a problem with those other guys, but I have personally known Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Southern Baptist clergymen who have fallen into disgrace. In the same way, major stories have broken about the Southern Baptist Church, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church, and of course we have seen it in the Roman Catholic Church, and more recently in numerous independent Christian organizations.
Each time this happens, we have seen hand ringing, “well, that group was super unhealthy, so it makes sense” and we continue down our road, never questioning if there is something more, something bigger so that we can learn from what has happened.
As I look back over the last ten years, I have seen friends fall to sexual sin and witnessed spiritual abuse of people I care deeply about. The problem can be an organizational one – but these issues do not lie simply with broken organizations, more often than not they stem from a spiritual problem – it is a problem with the heart.
It is a sin problem.
Recently, news came out that a famous evangelist made inappropriate sexual advances on several message therapists that worked for a company that he owned, and earlier in the year the leader of a church network was forced to step down because he had been at best manipulative, and at worst spiritually abusive.
After the fall of the spiritually abuse of man, I took a pause and wondered why this kept happening, why famous and powerful Christian men kept succumbing to the ways of the world, and the haunting words of John Bradford came to mind – “there but for the grace of God, go I.”
It is really easy to look at a sinner caught doing something awful and ring our hands and say “ah-ha! Look how awful that one is!”
It is really easy to be like the pharisee in the temple, thanking God that he is not nearly as bad as the forlorn and broken tax collector hiding in the corner mourning his brokenness.
It is much harder to recognize with Bradford that it is God’s grace that keeps us, that stays us, that keeps us from our downfall.
Recently, when the news of the evangelist and his sexual sin broke I forced myself to read the whole article about it, not out of a sick curiosity, not to feel better about myself – but because I knew in it was a tail that I needed to warn me, to check my heart.
There on the pages – I saw a man and an organization who wanted to protect his reputation no matter the cost.
Had he done great things for the kingdom of Heaven? Of course. Was his sin terrible, horrifying, sickening and heart breaking? Absolutely.
But any ministry, whether it be a multi-national evangelistic effort or a tiny Anglican church in Prescott, whether it be one of the nation’s largest denomination, or a small handful of churches bound together by Christ –
we must be centered around one thing:
Not a charismatic but sinful man.
Not a wise but sinful woman.
Not some neat doctrinal statement.
But instead, to quote Martin Luther: The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord.
We must remember – It is on this rock, on Christ, that we build our faith.
The church must focus on Christ and on Christ alone.
When our focus wanders from that – we miss what is important, when our focus shifts away from Christ and onto a strong personality we fail to fulfil what Christ has called us to.
I want to read you something that St. Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthian Church:
I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Did you catch the central point of St. Paul’s argument? Did you see where he was going with it?
As St. Paul prays about his own struggles and pain, he realizes that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness.”
Our lives – our ministry – whether it be public ministry or personal ministry – whether you be called and ordained, or a professing Christian striving to live your faith in the day in and day out – our lives are not about us – they are about glorifying God.
If we depend upon ourselves in this,
we will fail.
If we make it all about ourselves, our reputations will fail us.
Our lives and our ministry are about glorifying Christ, and flow out of Christ as our strength, out of Christ, whose grace is made perfect in our weakness. Christ is glorified most fully when we are totally dependent upon him, not upon ourselves, our strength, our reputations.
Perhaps, as we read the gospel this morning it piqued your curiosity and you wondered what the miracle and the parable had to do with each other, perhaps you wondered if they were merely connected through proximity.
There is more going on here, than simply an odd placement of two stories that the producers of the lectionary decided to put together.
We confess week in and week out that Christ is the second person of the trinity, very God of very God, begotten, not made.
That is to say – he existed before the foundations of the world, he and his father share in the same substance and essence, or more simply put, Jesus Christ is God.
It is with this in mind that St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Christ became humble, Christ gave up his rightful place in heaven and descended to earth – took on the flesh of humanity – in order that we may reenter into paradise.
One theologian put it this way, “Adam was tempted and sinned, thus bringing mankind out of the garden paradise into the wilderness. Christ came into that wilderness, was tempted and withstood the devil, thus making open the way back into paradise.”
At the center of Christ’s ministry was the calling to lead us into paradise to lead us into the kingdom of heaven.
This is the backdrop which we need when we meet him this morning as he is about to break bread with the pharisees. If we’ve spent any time reading the gospels we know that the pharisees and Jesus tended to butt heads, the pharisees seemed to be constantly looking for ways in which to trip up Jesus and today we learn that “they were watching him carefully.”
They were staring at him; they were waiting for him to say or do something that they could use as a charge against him to silence him.
And here Christ demonstrates humility.
Christ – the creator of the heavens and the earth, Christ the one through whom all things were made, the one who had every right to teach with His own authority – asks the teachers, “is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”
Elsewhere, we learn from Christ that the Sabbath was created for man, not the man for the Sabbath – Sabbath was created that we might find re-creation – we might find redemption yet again – mind find rest – might find rejuvenation in a tiring and sinful world.
But here Christ humbles himself – he lets the pharisees teach, an honor which they do not take up. Instead they continue to watch, and all the text says is “then he took him and healed him and sent him away.”
The man is healed and goes on his way.
But – think of this – even in Christ’s humility this morning we glimpse Christ’s glory – even amidst suffering and pain – amidst illness and brokenness – Christ’s glory shines through.
And this miracle is a taste of something greater – a taste of Christ’s humility and humiliation in the crucifixion for the sins of the world, and His bursting forth from the grave, for in His resurrection – it reveals His glory – it reveals that the grave could not contain him, but that he would come forth from the grave, and ascend into heaven where he would be glorified.
Death and sickness have no power over Christ – but Christ has the power over all things.
The life of the church, our life in Christ – isn’t about what we get out of it, it isn’t about our reputation, it isn’t about what we receive – but it’s about the glory which God receives – for it is God who saves, it is Christ who redeems, it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies.
Christ’s death and resurrection, Christ’s humility in the incarnation – Christ’s ability to heal – reveals the abundance of the grace and the Glory of God.
Life in the church, life in Christ – when rightly ordered is about God’s glory, not our reputation.
Now, have you ever been to a fancy diner party without assigned seating?
A couple of years ago – I traveled back to the east coast for the election of a suffragan bishop for our eastern diocese.
This was a big deal, because we’ve had the same bishop in the east, and over the whole province for a long time and it would be a historic vote as it is likely that not only would whoever was elected become bishop of the east, but also the presiding bishop for the whole denomination.
At synods there is usually a banquet.
They can be quite nice, and I enjoy the fellowship withy my brother clergymen.
Though, traveling from the west can be awkward, since we’re a bit more isolated out here, and it has a potential to be isolating.
At the dinner I found two men who I went to college with and are now presbyters in our denomination. We started chatting and catching up and then the bishop came over and invited me to his table.
It was a kind honor that I didn’t need, but he wanted to be sure that folks who were “outsiders” felt included.
Perhaps you can imagine this feeling? Perhaps you have felt a similar feeling of honor and it is this that Christ appeals to this morning – but we need to read this passage not with the eyes of “this is good advice for good living,” though it is good advice for good living, we need to see the greater thing it points to.
St. Paul calls us to imitate Christ – St. Paul calls us to humble ourselves before Him.
When we recognize our sinful estate, when we recognize our need for Christ – when we empty ourselves of our own agenda, and turn our focus upon the call of Christ – it is there we become the honored dinner guest – it is there we find the good news.
When we empty ourselves and turn away from this all be being about our reputation, and turn our eyes upon Jesus – it is here that we realize – it is here that we have been invited to something bigger – been invited to something far better – we have been invited to the marriage feast of the lamb.
We are invited not merely as spectators, or servants, not merely as attendees, not merely as people in the back of the room
but the church, that is us, is the bride of the Lamb, the bride of Christ.
For the church is the bride of Lamb, the church has been given the exalted position of the bride of Christ – and we have been given the greatest honor. Not by our merit but because the one who humbled himself, who came to earth and defeated sin, has brought us in.
The incarnate Lord has come to us, has humbled himself, and has taken us as his bride, as the body to know Him intimately.
Though we have sinned, though we fall far short of his glory he says to you “my beloved, I love you, come and be mine.”
And what does this demand of us?
This morning as I was starting my day, I prayed a couple of Psalms and I was praying through Psalm 19, I stumbled across these words, a prayer for our hearts:
“O cleanse thou me from my secret faults,
“Keep thy servant also from presumptuous sins, lest they get the dominion over me.”
If we are to take our call as Christian’s seriously – this is the prayer we are called to pray – in order that we empty ourselves, humble ourselves.
In order that we worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness, making our lives bright shining reflections of His love for us.
My dear friends, as Christ has humbled himself – as Christ points us to the father, let us humble ourselves as well, let us focus on glorifying God in all we do – whether it be through neighboring well, whether it be through loving well – whatever our callings – let us do all we do to the glory of God and not for the sake of our reputations.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.