Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sermon from Sunday September 1st, preached by Sister Debra

Let us pray, gracious God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight for you are our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves
Sister Debra
will be exalted.” The fact that this text appears with little difference at least ten times in the gospels suggests how deeply ingrained it must have been with-in the heart of the leaders and people of the early church. Without a doubt this would have been a constant theme in the teaching and preaching of Christ. It also would have been as revolutionary an idea in Jesus day as it is in ours.
We live in a world where personal achievement is what people strive for. We live in a world where people are rewarded for making it to the top and where getting to the top by any possible means, regardless of how one might do it and who one might step on, on the way, is not only tolerated, it is often encouraged. We live in a world where those who exalt them-selves are habitually rewarded and those who humble themselves are frequently either dismissed, pitied or viewed as objectionable.
In our gospel reading this world view is turned on it head. This morning we are reminded that those for whom the world would dismiss pity and openly ignore are the very ones whom our Lord teaches will be exalted ---- and subsequently the individuals who have power and see themselves as being entitled to the riches of the kingdom will be the ones who are humbled. It seems that a prominent theme for today is pride and humility.
All of our readings today follow this theme. Pride in Jeremiah might be understood as our insistence on digging broken cisterns for ourselves. Instead of looking to the wisdom of God in all circumstances we look to God when we are in trouble. When things are going well the temptation to rely on our own ideas and imaginings is more than we can resist and we give into it. That is, until the next crisis. So the cisterns we create for ourselves are broken. We need God in order to be whole.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews we are challenged to consider that true humility consists of a selflessness on behalf of others that is based in the eternal self-giving nature of Christ. We listen again to these familiar sayings, “Remember to show hospitality. There are some who, by so doing have entertained angels without knowing it.” Be content with what you have; for God has said, “I will never leave you or desert you; and so we can take courage and say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear.’ Finally, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, so do not be swept off your course.”
Do not be swept off your course? I believe I was swept a little off my course when I was preparing this meditation for today. Humility is a difficult attribute to talk about. Mother Teresa said, “If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace because you know what you are.” One of the challenges that I have been faced with as a Sister of St. John the Divine is discovering who I am. I am learning that as I discover who I am, that is the person God has created me to be, the need to rely on others opinions about who I am is lessening. It may be that there is a relationship between ones sense of personal internal security and pride and humility. I need to think more about this.
I believe that what Mother Teresa was talking about and what Jesus is encouraging us to imitate can be observed in the following story. Robert Roberts writes about a fourth grade class in which the teacher introduced a game called "balloon stomp." A balloon was tied to every child's leg, and the object of the game was to pop everyone else's balloon while protecting one's own. The last person with an intact balloon would win.
The fourth graders in Roberts' story entered into the spirit of the game with vigor. Balloons were persistently targeted and destroyed. A few of the children sought refuge in the corners and on the sidelines, but their balloons were eventually stomped just the same. The entire battle was over in a matter of seconds, leaving only one balloon inflated. Its owner was, of course, the most disliked kid in the class. It's hard to really win at a game like balloon stomp. In order to complete your mission, you have to be pushy, rude and offensive.
Roberts went on to write that a second class was introduced to the same game. Only this time it was a class of mentally challenged children. They were given the same explanation as the first class, and the signal to begin was given. But the game proceeded very differently. You see the only idea that seemed to get through was that the balloons were supposed to be popped. So it was the balloons, not the other players that were viewed as the enemy. Instead of fighting each other, the children began helping each other pop balloons. One little girl knelt down and held her balloon carefully in place, like a holder for a field goal kicker. While another little boy stomped it flat. Then he knelt down and held his balloon for her. It went on like this for several minutes until all the balloons were vanquished, and everybody cheered. Everybody won.
So often in our world, we tend to think of another person's success as one less opportunity for us to succeed. I know I have been guilty of thinking this way. There can only be one king or queen of the castle. Jesus encourages us not think in terms of winners and losers. Jesus encourages us to think about the person whom we are dealing with. We are to look for the best in everyone. Doing this is not a simple feel good activity. It is also not an easy thing to do. We seem to be wired with tendencies toward unhealthy competitiveness.
Jesus invites us to adopt a perspective that encourages us to think about one another and live with one another in ways that are life giving and life promoting. This way of thinking inspires us to look for the good in all we meet and in every situation. This kind of thinking when we act upon it can be as freeing as it is life changing, both for us and for all whom we encounter.
I would like to conclude with a prayer that was found in the pocket of a child’s coat discovered during the liberation of Ravensbruck concentration camp. Ravensbruck was a Nazis concentration camp built in 1939 where over 90,000 women and children were murdered. The prayer that was found says:
O Lord, remember not only the men and woman of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.
May the generosity and grace of God guide and direct each one of us as we consider the place of pride and humility in our own lives. May we remember to show hospitality to all whom we encounter not only because of who we might be entertaining without knowing it but because as followers of Christ this is our first inclination. Amen.