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Musings Sermon Starter

Something about Bees, Glass, and Humility

Once again I find myself thinking about Peggy Way’s “fact of glass.” She uses this line, borrowed from a poem, to describe human reluctance to accept fragility and finitude. The poem, “Up Against It” by Eamon Grennon, describes the difficulties bees have sorting out this fact of glass. We humans have the same struggle with our mortality. These days, I find myself keeping company with grief, fragility, and glimpses of finitude. It hurts when I bump against this fact of glass, those none too gentle reminders that my days are no more endless than anyone else’s. This knowledge sits right next to grief, waiting for me to notice and respond.

Yet, I notice other things, too. Last night as I was driving home, there was a rainbow tinted so pink with the sunset that I almost missed it. On my drive in this morning, an eagle hunted for fish over the Mississippi. On a lunchtime walk with my dog, I could almost hear the spinning of the autumn leaves as they fell to the ground. Miraculous beauty surrounds me. How often have I not seen the beauty of creation because I’ve been distracted with my own fragility, or that of another? How often have I thought my own concerns were more urgent than the need to see God’s creative hand still at work in the world? How often have I run headlong into the glass only to look up and see God’s grace? It would have been easier, if I’d looked up first.

Perhaps this was part of the trouble with the Pharisee Jesus spoke of in Luke’s Gospel. Maybe he wasn’t so smugly righteous as it would seem. Maybe his attention was on the wrong things. He wanted to be sure he was doing all the right things to please God and, in his perfectionism, maybe just forgot to look up. He could look around and see there were others around him engaging in unseemly behavior and he could feel more secure in his law-abiding life. Yet, he could do nothing to slow the years weighing on his body, or to make peace with an uncertain future. Perhaps he thought that doing all the right things could keep him safe. Perhaps this was his way of engaging with the fact of glass. If he had had a little more humility, he might have recognized the same struggle in the tax collector hiding in the corner.

Maybe that Pharisee hadn’t come up against the fact of glass often enough to see the need for humility. The tax collector probably had. After all, the tax collector was seen as a sinner by the religious elite, and wasn’t particularly welcomed by anyone else. A Jew would probably not have entered into the employ of Rome if he had another viable option for making money. Whatever the hardships, the challenges, the tax collector faced, he recognized his place in the world and his need for mercy. Did he also recognize that he was as worthy of that mercy as the Pharisee was?

Humility helps us keep things in balance. It does not let our fears or our victories fool us into thinking we are unworthy of God or more worthy than others. Humility allows us to bump against the glass and reach out a hand to others, to steady ourselves and our neighbors. Humility allows us to look up and to look around, see God at work in the world and in the lives of those around us. Humility reminds us that we are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made” and in acute need of grace, always. Humility says that no matter what we achieve or what we fail, from God’s perspective our lives have the same value as the person sitting next to us on the bus, on the train, in the theater, in church, and anywhere else we might go.

As I sit with grief, contemplate my need for a pacemaker, accompany those who suffer in body, mind, and spirit, and marvel at the beauty of creation, a renewed sense of humility allows me to breathe. There is no point in asking “why me?” for any of it. The reason why is less important than the meaning I make of it all. I am not alone. None of us are. For the moment, I am thankful that as I’ve come up against the fact of glass once again it knocked some sense into me. I have looked up. I have looked around. Beauty and awe and majesty are on full display. And I’m lucky enough to have a part in it. Yes, we are all fragile and finite. It is also true that this fact of glass isn’t all there is to living. May we all be humble enough to recognize, if even for a moment, our places in the wonder of Creation…

For sermon help, or at least other thoughts on the text, try here.

RCL – Year C – Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 27, 2019
Joel 2:23-32 with Psalm 65 or
Sirach 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 with Psalm 84:1-7 and
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Photo: CC0image by 2751030-2751030

Categories
liturgy Prayer

Pastoral Prayer for Humility

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Mysterious and wonderful God, throughout human history you have been present. You have shown up and repeatedly demonstrated your power, a power beyond human understanding. We want to believe that we know the whole truth of you who are. We lament when you don’t seem to act in the dramatic, awe-inspiring ways as you did in the days of the Prophets. We want you to consume our offerings—plates, coins, altars, and all. But we are also terrified for what that might mean. Forgive our self-serving foolishness, and remind us of the depths of your mystery and wonder.

God of all people and places, you are known throughout the world by so many names. You are honored by worship and songs of praise in countless tongues. Somehow, still, we want to know that the name we call you is the one true name and our worship is the one true worship. Our quest for certainty often closes us off to your abundance. We forget that all the people of the world are your children. We are filled with fear and hatred when we ought to be living in love and praying for peace. Forgive us when we believe that our small view of you defines the whole of you for ourselves and for all peoples.

Singing and creating God, you make all things new again and again. You want us to sing you a new song, a song that opens all to the glories of your love. We are so easily swayed by shiny, fleeting things or fooled into believing that the gods of our own making are enough. We blame you when things go wrong and we suffer. Yet, we fail to sing your praises when we are well and happy. We judge others as less deserving when compassion and justice are what you ask of us. Stir your Spirit within us that we might let go of a faith too small and open ourselves to all the possibilities you hold for us. Forgive us when we forget to sing to you and when we are too comfortable to create what needs to be.

God of love and mercy, you claim us as your own. You know our names and you hear the secret whisperings of our hearts. You thought Creation wonderful enough to send Jesus to show us the way of love. Even when humanity responded in fear and violence, you did not let the story end there. Instead you spoke Love and breathed out Life. Still, we seek the approval of those around us long before considering you. Show us your way once more; call us off paths that lead to violence, hatred, and harm. Forgive us when we act as if your love and mercy do not exist.

Patient and steadfast God, you love us as we are. You so patiently wait for us to see you, hear you, love you. We think faith is something to be measured even though Jesus made it clear that even faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains. When things go wrong or we didn’t notice the answer to our prayers, we think we did not have enough faith or that we did not pray correctly. We worry too much about how much faith we have or what “right” faith might look like. You tell us simply to believe – yes, I believe; help my unbelief or no, I don’t belief. That’s all it takes. You provide the rest. Forgive us when our narrowly defined faith gets in the way of our experiencing the miracles all around us.

Holy One, you are beyond our knowing. With humble hearts we lift up to you all the places of pain in the world. Teach us anew how to embody Christ right here and  for all those whom we meet. Fill us with humility enough to walk with you, bring justice into the world, and act only with kindness. In gratitude, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

For sermon help, you might want to go here.

Photo: CC0 image by 547764

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Pentecost – May 29, 2016
1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39 with Psalm 96
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 with Psalm 96:1-9
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Contemplating Humility

I’ve been contemplating what it means to be humble. The recent events with the government shut down and foolishness between political parties had me wishing all politicians had to learn true humility before taking office. The way some of them use “Christian values” as a way of condemning people who believe differently raises my blood pressure. I want to tell them just what I think of the way they (mis)use their faith to serve no one but themselves.

Then this past Sunday I preached in a local church. It was not my best sermon ever nor was it my worst. I am a very passionate preacher and I truly love preaching. After worship a parishioner told me how impressed he was that I preached without notes or a manuscript and wanted to know how I did it effectively. Honestly, I never know quite what to say to people when they ask these kinds of questions. In the past I would have downplayed my gifts and explained that I’ve had a lot of experience or some other foolish thing. This time, though, I simply told him that I spend quite a bit of time preparing and that my ability to preach this way is a gift, one I am very grateful for. He looked at me for a moment and then asked if I was always so humble. Ahhh, no. 2012-08-09 20.43.56

My thoughts on politicians, my coffee hour conversation, and this week’s gospel reading really have me focused on humility. And the conclusion I’ve come to is that I am not particularly humble. And I don’t know too many people who are. I’m not sure humility is valued overly much. Moreover, I think a lot of other things are mistaken for humility—low-self esteem, insecurity, timidity, and probably a few other things as well.

Jesus said, “…for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” From where I sit, most politicians exalt themselves a bit too much. Then again, I’m fairly sure I don’t humble myself quite the way I should. Of course, I’m not much on exalting myself, either. True humility, though, is difficult and worth attending to.

Any time scripture focuses on a way in which we are to act, it’s pretty much guaranteed that human nature leads in the opposite direction. In this parable in Luke Jesus highlights a few of the less attractive aspects of being human in one short parable. It seems we have a tendency to trust in ourselves more than our God, judge others to justify ourselves, and fall short of humbly walking with God.

The challenge here is to recognize our gifts and our faults with honesty and integrity. If we can claim our gifts, wisely use them, and thank God for them, we’re off to a good start. Then if we can also name our sins, repent, and ask God for forgiveness, then we might have some real humility.

I don’t know about you, but I find it much easy to criticize others and downplay my gifts, than to stand before God and fully claim my gifts while asking for the grace to use them wisely.

RCL- Year C – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – October 27, 2013
Joel 2:23-32 with Psalm 65 or
Sirach 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 with Psalm 84:1-7
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14