December 8, 2019

2019 Dec8

Proper X - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

<Bring out Emergency Supply Kit>

 

As I more fully explained last week, Californians have long-been urged to have an Emergency Supply Kit. This wagon-full of stuff represents about 90% of what is suggested in the list published by the California Department of Public Health. This is how we are to prepare for a disaster – because “about the day and hour no one knows” – a line from last week’s Gospel.

 

Advent is the season during which we prepare for Christmas. Advent is the time of anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. It’s to remember what God did for us by coming to earth as a human being at the Incarnation. It is also more presently about preparing for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. So, this Advent, we’re exploring our preparedness for the Second Coming and looking at what our Sunday readings are suggesting that we have in our Spiritual Preparedness Kit. Last Sunday, I suggested that the most obvious and fundamental element are faith, hope and love. And Jesus in last week’s Gospel was point us toward maintaining patience and perseverance. So, we are exploring what we should have or develop beyond faith, hope, love, patience and perseverance.

 

What are today’s readings telling us that we should have in our Spiritual Preparedness Kit?


The life of John the Baptist is for
us a model of humility.

 

The clothing of camel’s hair, leather belt, and diet of locusts and wild honey could signify several different historic or prophetic aspects of Judaism up to that era. But it is far more than superficial that they signify the humility of the forerunner of the Messiah. He wasn’t unique; prophets of the time shared John’s attire and diet.

 

John’s main function was to herald the coming of the Messiah and to call people to repentance in preparation for the arrival. So, why pay attention to his sartorial and dietary choices? John’s humility and asceticism were not merely the stuff of character development in a good novel. We are to find in all of the characters in the Jesus Story elements that we either need to nurture or reflect on within ourselves, and John the Baptist has done that throughout history.

 

Most notably, John’s character was the model for those early theologians we refer to as the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the 3C, 4C and 5C, those whose ascetism and retreat from the urbanized world led to much of the theology of the Christian faith that we still engage with today. This included Athanasius who is credited with the concept of Jesus being “consubstantial” with God the Father during the development of the Nicene Creed, which is currently in the form of “of one Being with the Father”.

 

Asceticism is an extreme form of humility and by no means does it fully encompass what it means to be a humble person or to be humble before God. Humility does, though, involve some degree of denying oneself of too many material comforts and possessions. In the life of John the Baptist, a contrast in personal attention paid to material comfort can be seen in his engagement with Herod Antipas: a wandering prophet in simple clothing and a plain diet chastising a king who surrounded himself with all the lavishness and decadence of court, including the fulfillment of his wonton sexual desires. That contrast is not to be missed by the reader, particularly in Mark 6.

 

Another model for developing some sort of character of humility to put into your Spiritual Preparedness Kit is the Franciscans. This community of monastics was founded by the son of a wealthy Italian silk merchant and noble Frenchwoman in the early 13C. Francis chose the life of an ascetic and wrote a rule for the small community that formed around him in Assisi in central Italy.

 

Today, the Franciscans still follow St Francis’ Rule, which, according to the Franciscan Women of the Episcopal Church, is “meant to imitate the poverty, simplicity, humility and compassion he [Francis] saw in the life of Jesus.”

 

In the Episcopal Church, the Women of the Community of Saint Francis and the men of the Society of St Francis live under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, in communities devoted to patterns of prayer, study and work. The life that St Francis envisioned was one


“centered on the practice of
evangelical poverty as a means
and sign of a spiritual poverty
that can be filled only by
divine grace.”

 

THAT is humility before God. THAT is the humility needed for our Spiritual Preparedness Kits. Recognizing in ourselves a spiritual deficit and then living a life that calls upon God to fill that deficit is the kind of humility that not only St Francis was calling his followers to, but what Jesus and John the Baptist were calling their followers to, and by extension, calling us to.

 

We can live by monastic rules without committing ourselves fully under the vows and in their communities. Some lay people and clergy live their lives in the big wide world, but they also commit to follow the Rule as part of being in the world. They are known as tertiaries. There are also others who take on parts of the Rule in order to deepen their spirituality and their relationship with God.

 

St Francis’ Rule can be helpful in developing that humility which can become a part of your Spiritual Preparedness Kit. St Francis wrote:

 

I counsel, admonish and beg my brothers [and sisters] that, when they travel about the world, they should not be quarrelsome, dispute with words, or criticize others, but rather should be gentle, peaceful and unassuming, courteous and humble, speaking respectfully to all as is fitting. [They] should go confidently after alms, serving God in poverty and humility.

 

These are all qualities which we can pursue and endeavor to incorporate into our lives as Christians. Each of us most likely already works on these qualities. But it is at a time such as Advent that we need to be reminded of our call to humility, both before others and before God.

 

It is all well and good, right and proper to work on these qualities, to work toward a goal of positive qualities. Yet Francis also included what to avoid, which can also be a spiritually challenging exercise. St Francis calls upon those who follow his spiritual path to a deeper relationship with God “to beware of all pride, vainglory, envy, avarice, worldly care and concern, criticism and complaint.” To speak respectfully and give alms is one thing; to avoid envy, criticism and complaint may be a bit more challenging for some! But that is the two-sided nature of spiritual development: there are the qualities we are to strive for and the qualities we are to avoid. And our failings in avoiding these less-desired qualities is where John’s call to repentance factors in.

 

The term and quality of humility originally had a somewhat negative connotation. The word's roots are from the word meaning “ground". It referred to one of “low estate and the cowed attitude likely to result from it.”


It was Judaism and Christianity
that made the term a more
positive quality by associating it
with obedience to God.

 

Indeed, humility is attributed to Christ in Philippians: ‘He humbled himself and became obedient to death’ (Phil. 2: 8) And which Romans expresses in today’s reading with what is referred to as the ‘Christ hymn’, poetically describing Jesus’ own selfless humility which led to His glory.

 

Showing or exhibiting humility comes in many forms, and of course, purposely exhibiting humility is precisely the opposite of being humble. Ultimately, our humility in our Spiritual Preparedness Kit is demonstrated at the point at which we unreservedly accept God’s will for us and welcome our unconditional dependence on God…letting God fill that deficit of spiritual poverty with His Divine Grace.

 

The reward for our work is being one with Jesus Christ and having a seat at the Heavenly Banquet. The OT, Psalm and the Epistle point toward this eventual salvation:

 

  • Isaiah paints a picture of the restoration of the Nation of Israel, of Eden, of Paradise. The whole of Creation will be at peace, overseen and nurtured by God. And coincidentally, this passage alludes to humanity’s responsibility to care for the animal kingdom, which is also a strong feature of Franciscan spirituality and of St Francis himself.
  • The Royal Psalm, considered a tribute to the Messiah for the purposes of worship, offers us hope in what the fulfillment of our relationship with God will be at our Salvation, a relationship in which God’s rule is just, in which He exercises special care for the poor and oppressed, and in which the righteous will prosper.
  • Roman’s looks both backwards to what Christ – in His humility – has done, and forward to what will come because of what Christ has done. And we, of course, have a role: to live in faith, to not offend, to not take offense. As one commentator described the longer version of this passage: “One ought to please God and one’s neighbor, not oneself. This is not self-annihilation; this is mutuality, the dance of reciprocating love.”

 

You see, humility is hard. It’s needed for our Spiritual Preparedness Kit, but it will take concerted effort to develop true humility before God and others. And there is one part of St Francis’ Rule that I as a preacher need to take to heart in my development of humility. He wrote:

 

I also admonish and exhort the brothers that in their preaching their words be studied and chaste, useful and edifying to the people, telling them about vices and virtues, punishment and glory; and they ought to be brief, because the Lord kept His words brief when He was on earth.

 

John the Baptist is indeed calling us to repentance as the means to prepare the way of the Lord. He is also modeling an element we should have in our Spiritual Preparedness Kit as we anticipate the Kingdom of Heaven coming near. He is modeling humility. John did not regard himself as superior to others, particularly Jesus, he was humble, accepting of God’s will – both for himself and for the collective of God’s people, and he fully submitted to an absolute dependence on God. From his life, the way of the Franciscans became a modern model of humility for us.


As we anticipate and patiently wait for the day “that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer”, as the Collect says, let us foster humility within ourselves in order to build up our Spiritual Preparedness Kit.

 

May we endeavor to imitate the
poverty, simplicity, humility and
compassion illustrated in the
humbling Incarnation and
humbling Crucifixion of Jesus

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