Humbled and Exalted

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The Pas Propers / Ordinary 22 – Pentecost + 12
Year C
1 September 2019

Sirach 10:12-18
Psalm 112 pg 860
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

God of power and justice,
… you weep over those who wander from you
and who enter into chaos and destruction.
By your tears and through your mercy,
teach us your ways and write them on our hearts,
so that we may follow faithful the path you show us. Amen.
__________________________________

Today’s readings all touch on the topic of pride, in one way or another, and how detrimental pride is able to be for humanity, as a whole, not to mention the problems it causes for us, as individuals.

Sirach is quite blunt about it. The author says that this is the first and most striking departure from the presence of God in our lives, when we think that our pride will see us to places that God’s love will not.

“12 The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord;
the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.” (Sirach 10:12)

But for all of Sirach’s bluntness, he is also equally blunt in describing how God will bring each of us low who so foolishly puts pride before absolutely everything else.

What’s that proverb … “Pride goeth before a fall”? What wisdom filled words.

But here we are, absolutely human, and always fallible to make errors out of pride instead of seeking the will of God in and for our lives.

I belong to a group, on Facebook that is by definition a Christian Apologetics page.

Now Christian apologetics is a tradition that is as old as Christianity, itself, and we can see its beginnings in the first teachings and preaching’s of the apostles after the introduction of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our world.

In Acts 4, just after Peter and John had healed a man of lameness, who was accustomed to begging at the temple gate. “7 [the temple authorities] had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”” (Acts 4:7-12)

This is an example of Christian apologetics, basically the message comes across as an apology, but really, it’s a revelation of faith, of information, of doctrine, that then, was still being formulated.

But what the apologetics page that I follow comes down to is a lot of sceptics trying to figure out what faith is all about in the depth of discussions on this page.

And we can see this in the passage from Sirach, as well, today. The author bluntly states the role of pride in actively separating each one of us from the love of God, of fooling ourselves into saying that we can go it alone, and that we know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there, as we metaphorically throw the road map out of the window and make a grab for the steering wheel.

“13 For the beginning of pride is sin,
and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.
Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities,
and destroys them completely.” (Sirach 10:13)

And really, this applies to all of us.

The rest of the passage talks about God reordering nations, and bringing down rulers, and replacing them with systems and peoples who will honour God, and will follow where God leads.

But why can this not be each one of us?

We are able to return to the love of God, right? We see, in the Old Testament the prophets constantly call upon each one of us to repent and return to the Lord.

“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

And this was at the dawn of the Holy Spirit within our midst.

God does not leave us alone to founder in the darkness. Rather God gives us apologists, and encouragements, even though some of those encouragements can be as rough, as sharp as stubbing our toe on a firm piece of furniture.

God gives us the Holy Spirit, and the ability to return, to confess, to be renewed in God’s spirit and surrounded, once more, with God’s love and God’s absolution.

Sure, being on our own can feel like we’re a teenager without a curfew. Or when our young people move out on their own, for the first time. So many decisions to make, so many choices before us, and which will we choose? To what will we gravitate?

But Sirach warns us that such choices and decisions made from a sense of pride, of an “I can conquer the world” attitude often and quickly leads to disaster for ourselves and our decisions.

And we can see this in the other readings as well.

In today’s gospel, Jesus talks all about how to pick a place at a banquet, and we’ve all done this, right? You walk into a room. There are no place cards on the tables, so you circulate the room, and find where you’ll have table companions with whom you have something to talk about.

Or you look for the place closest to the high table, without being noticed, unless you really want to be noticed taking such a prominent seat at the function.

But Jesus talks about the honour that is accorded, that is given to those who intentionally take the lesser seats, the seats closest to the kitchen doors, or to the bathrooms.

He talks about the upset that’s going to happen if you’re the one in the seat of honour, yet it’s been reserved for another and how is that going to feel to our sense of pride, to our sense of importance in the community, in the gathering, huh?

But Jesus being Jesus doesn’t stop there. Rather he goes on to talk about the blessings not to our lives, but to the lives of those whom we invite when we invite those who don’t even make the social radar, and the blessing of those who have no hope of being able to repay such an honour and invitation: something we see often with our homeless community.

Jesus takes pride out of the equation by reminding us that for all that we are doing well in our lives, there is always the pitfall of pride before each one of us, and we have to decide if we’re going to step into it, and get mired in that mud? Or will we step around it, and keep God as our guide?

And pride is such an easy one for us to fall into.

And the story of Pinocchio falls into this category, as Pinocchio strives to become more than a puppet, a real child. WE can remember the temptations he receives from those who seek to exploit a puppet that is alive, that doesn’t need strings or a puppet master to operate.

We can remember the temptations he and the other boys face when they go to the amusement park without price, and where everything is free.

But the ultimate price of such pride filled and selfish actions was that they became donkeys and were forced to haul the coach to bring others to this plac,e this trap.

It was only when Pinocchio performs an act of selfless love that his wish was granted, that his life was restored, that he became that real boy, the son of Geppetto.

Sirach reminds us: “12 The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord;
the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.
13 For the beginning of pride is sin,
and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.
Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities,
and destroys them completely.”

And this is important for us to remember: that we are spiritual people, in need of that connection with the divine. And when we allow our pride to sever that connection, we strive to make ourselves the divine and so compound that problem of sin.

Letting go and letting God is the only solution available to each one of us, a solution we find as we gather weekly to worship God, together, and strengthen each other along the way. As the psalm tells us, when we trust in God, when we let go of pride, when we keep that all-important connection with the divine, “their heart is right; they put their trust in the Lord.” (Ps 112:7b)

And this is not as easy as it appears. We are constantly bombarded by influences that seek to pull us away from God, from our contact with the Holy Spirit, with Christ, with God. It happens through our emotions, through the busy patterns of our lives, through those with whom we interact who may not have the same priorities as we do, in our lives.

But at the same time, God always welcomes us back. God gives us the rite, the sacrament of Confession so that we can lay down the errors and the sins of our day, our week, our lifetime, and receive God’s absolution.

I might be the one proclaiming the words of absolution, but it’s only by our faith and God’s action that we are truly absolved of the errors of our lives.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll stay away.

Instead, it means that the influences of our lives that tells us that we can be filled with pride and succeed at whatever we turn our hand to, and there are no consequences to pay, will take another run at us from an unexpected direction.

At each step, Pinocchio’s conscience, Jiminy Cricket seeks to bring the boy into the paths of right behaviour, of patterns of behaviour that benefit not only Pinocchio and Geppetto, but the rest of the community, as well, and yet the pitfalls remain, in his life, in our own lives, as well.

But at the same time, we are able to remember the words of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews who reminds us: “16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Heb 13:16)

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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