Sunday, October 02, 2016

Taking? Or Receiving?

Lamentations 1:1-6
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

“Guard the Good Treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”  2 Timothy 1:1-14

“Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way.  I can't wait to look in the mirror ‘cause I get better lookin' each day … Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble, but I'm doin' the best I can!”  Mac Davis, 1997

Sometimes it is hard to be humble when things are going our way, but just when we think we’re riding pretty high, someone – or some THING – lets the air out of our balloon.  If we’re lucky, a slow leak will allow us to drift gently back to earth.  There are more often times, however, when the balloon pops and we crash hard when we get a little too full of ourselves.

There may be no more humbling statement in the Bible than Paul’s words to Timothy: “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to His purpose and grace” (2 Tim 1:8b-9). 

“Not according to our works”.  So we should bear in mind that, even though we have each been endowed and entrusted with certain spiritual gifts unique to each individual, none among these gifts is “personal awesomeness” – and certainly not “personal favor”!  Consistently, we are reminded throughout the Scriptures that it is The Lord alone who is truly “awesome”.  Our works, the very ordering of our lives, are merely responses to the awesome deed that atoned for the sins of the entire human race without our having to ask.

Being so completely and unreservedly loved, then, sometimes it may be hard to be humble; yet “humility” is a spiritual strength, a discipline, and a mark of spiritual maturity that may be among the most misunderstood (and perhaps least desired) of the virtues, much in the same way we confuse “meekness” with “weakness”.  Humility not only keeps us sufficiently in our proper place but also is the virtue which reminds us how and where to appropriate our trust, our faith; not in ourselves or our accomplishments, but in The Lord alone.

Humility as a virtue, then, is defined as a “firm attitude, a stable disposition, the habitual perfection of intellect and will” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1804).  Both are necessary responses as spiritual disciplines when we fully embrace our Lord and His teachings and as we commit ourselves not to our own understandings or our desired interpretations of scriptural precepts - but striving as though there is always more to know … because there is.  No one among us knows “just enough”.  As it is written in the Proverbs (3:5-6); “Trust in The Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, submit to The Lord, and He will make your paths straight”. 

Jeremiah’s Lamentations is a profound prayer of acknowledgment and confession after intense soul-searching of what Judah once was by the Hand of The Lord, and what Judah had become by their own hands in surrendering their faith in The Lord in favor of trust in their own desires and confidence in their own demands.  Oh, I’m sure they still “believed” there is a God; but they were so busy loving themselves and neglecting one another that they completely forgot how to love The Lord and their neighbors. 

Jesus’ admonishment, according to Luke, is also a bitter pill to swallow.  Yet Jesus takes the time to remind His followers that “doing good” (the 2nd General Rule of United Methodism) is not something for which we should ever seek recognition or even acknowledgment from others.  Rather, we do “only what we ought to have done”.  That is, what should have been done in the first place should never have been neglected nor should it be assumed that “someone else” will take care of those things which demand the attention of the Church.

The broader context of Luke’s Gospel necessarily includes the apostles’ request for an increase in faith.  Such a prayer might seem worthy of recognition and a Divine Pat-On-The-Back for such loyal servants of The Lord seeking to be even more loyal.  Yet with one broad stroke, Jesus teaches us humility. He gut-punches us by reminding us that we are mere servants, “slaves”, “bond servants” as St. Paul often refers to himself – to The Lord AND to one another. 

If genuine humility is lacking in us, what is also lacking is the kind of faith which justifies and sanctifies.  Lacking any real sense of humility, we can actually convince ourselves that we are due something, that if we are not happy or even just satisfied, someone owes us what we think we have been cheated out of. 

Faith cannot function well within such a state of mind and heart and being.  We are owed nothing.  We are entitled to nothing, and we are not due any extra wages for obedience, for doing what we should have been doing all along; for what we demand for ourselves in the here-and-now and try to “take”, our Lord says, “You have received your reward already” (Matthew 6:1-21).

So then it becomes a matter of whether we believe we can “take” what we want when we want it, or if we possess the patience and humility to “receive” what is offered to us when it is offered to us – not according to what we think we are entitled to, but what The Lord Himself decides He wants us to have – and this according to our genuine need rather than according to what we desire.  For it is also written, “What is prized among humans is an abomination in the sight of The Lord” (Luke 16:15b). 

It is Jesus’ statement and parable in Luke 16 that leads us to Luke 17.  Recall that Jesus says, “Since [the time of John the Baptizer], the good news of the Kingdom is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter by force” (16:16).  And then Jesus tells the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus.  The rich man died after having received all the good things this life, this world can offer; yet because he somehow believed he was entitled to these riches for himself, he stepped over and completely neglected poor Lazarus who lay at his gate “covered with sores” (16:20).

We know how the story ends.  The rich man is tormented in Hades while Lazarus rests in the “bosom of Abraham”.  All this is in accordance with the Law of Moses and the prophets, just as Abraham had chastised the rich man (16:31).  Though Lazarus was in dire need, he did not receive by begging nor did he try to take in this life all he had hoped for (just morsels!).  Yet when he received what was finally offered, as opposed to the rich man who took all he could gain for himself with no thought of what he should have been doing – according to the Law of Moses - Lazarus’ hand was full.  It was the rich man who finally came up empty after having been so full for so long.

The assurances of the Kingdom cannot be “taken”.  In humility (no thought of self-worth or self-entitlement) and abiding in sufficient faith, the Kingdom will be “received” in due course and according to the will of The Lord – and no other.  Humility fully trusts this to be true.

The assurance we have is what is offered only to those who “wait for The Lord” (Psalm 27:14) with patience, with humility, with strength of heart and mind … with faith.  And the assurance offered to those faithful to The Lord in the fullness of humility?  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

There can be no greater gift offered to any of us than that of a heart hungry for our Holy Father and His Eternal Word … for His purposes and not for our own personal gain.  The state of this nation – and the state of the Church today – are clear indications that we have so set our own hearts on what we want and when we want it that we are inclined to “take” more than we are open and patient in our humility to “receive”.

Let this time of celebration, then, be a time in which we learn – together - to wait patiently for The Lord; for whatever it is He chooses to entrust to this particular congregation must be “received” not only as a blessing … but as a calling, a purpose beyond ourselves.  St. Peter and St. Paul both agree that “The Lord shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11) but “welcomes all who fear Him and do what is right” (Acts 10:35).  That is, doing “what we should have been doing all along”.

This IS the Gospel of The Lord, and is the work of Christ in the world today.


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