Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
September 26, 2010
As most of you know last Sunday morning my mother and father received news of the death of Virginia Foxworth Jacks. Virginia was killed in an automobile accident following the Auburn/Clemson football game last Saturday night; some friends were giving her a ride back to her car and she died less than a mile from getting there. She was the daughter of Kevin and Ginger Jacks and older sister to two brothers. Her grandmother is Patty Williams who is my godmother and high school classmate of my parents. Earlier this spring Patty’s husband, Jesse died of a massive stroke, and she also lost her brother Jim about a month ago. One can’t help but be left with questions such as, “How much more can this family take?” “Why was Virginia’s life seemingly cut so short?” “Where is God in all of this?”
If we’re truly human, I’m certain that there have been times when we’ve encountered a situation in which questions like these and others come to mind, and we ultimately have to wrestle with life as we are called to live it.
On my way home from church last Sunday morning, I called Virginia’s uncle Kirby, one of my high school classmates, fraternity brother, and good friend to let him know that we were thinking of him and his family and to be assured of our prayers. He told me that he had spoken to some of Virginia’s friends who had been with her at the game, and she was beaming with excitement at just being there and how perfect the day was. However, she said that the day would have been complete if she could have been sharing it with her grandfather, Jesse. Wow! As was her way, Virginia was always exulting in others. She didn’t want to just enjoy the football game, she wanted to share that joy with someone else, someone she loved and adored, her grandfather that she said goodbye to earlier this year.
In our Gospel lesson we hear those hard words from Jesus where he admonishes us all, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” To be honest, those are perhaps the hardest words from the Gospel to hear because they cut us all completely to the chase. No one is exempt from the sin of pride, and C. S. Lewis says quite clearly in Mere Christianity:
There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people except Christians ever imagine that they are guilty themselves….There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.
Well, that just about cut me down to size!
If I were in a courtroom standing before the judge right now, and that accusation were leveled against me, all I could do is hang my head in shame, and mutter the words, “Guilty as charged, your honor.”
Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft puts it this way, “Pride is the greatest sin. It comes not from the world or the flesh but from the Devil. It comes from hell. It was the Devil’s original sin, perhaps the only sin possible for a pure spirit. (Hell’s work is purely spiritual, you know; Hell cannot produce a single atom of that blessed creation of God, matter.)”
In our service of Holy Baptism, the first question asked of the parents and godparents is this, “Dost thou, therefore, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?” To which the answer, “I renounce them all; and, by God’s help, will endeavor not to follow, nor be led by them,” is given.
Before the blessing of the water, we offer the following prayer, “Grant that he may have power and strength to have victory, and to triumph, against the devil, the world, and the flesh.”
After the candidate is baptized, he is signed with the cross and the following words, “WE receive this Child (or person) into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do *sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.”
Holy Scripture declares that the Devil is the Father of Lies, and his whopper is the sin of pride that finds its way into each of our lives. Pride is chief of vices because it dislodges God from His rightful place and attempts to elevate Man to a place he is not destined to be. It attempts to undo the first commandment.
So what is our remedy? How do we confront this demonic influence that affects all, and discriminates against none?
One place to turn is the fifth chapter of St. Matthew in which we hear the following words, “JESUS seeing the multitudes, went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their's is the kingdom of heaven.” Each of the beatitudes can be seen as an antidote or rather, an antithesis of the seven deadly sins. How fitting that the greatest vice is confronted by the first virtue mentioned by our Lord – humility. We are not to understand poverty in spirit to mean empty, void, vacuous, but rather in the sense that the only source for their filing is God alone. It is the complete recognition that we are incapable of effecting the very change we wish to enact. We are stuck and we cannot do it on our own. As we pray in the Season of Lent, “ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Our daily activity must be the constant pleading for the indwelling of God’s Spirit that we might be given the weapons to withstand the assaults that come our way.
In reading the wonderful words that many have written in the days since Virginia’s death, it certainly seems like this was a prayer that she prayed every day.
“Thank you for being an example of Christ. I now see what it’s like to have pure joy.” McCoy E.
“I told someone about you last night. It was the first time I had ever mentioned Christ to a stranger.” Avery D.
“I know it is kind of late to leave you a message but oh well. I didn't know you very well, but that doesn't mean I have not cried my eyes out during the past few days. Your death has taught me so much. I have never understood how God could be glorified through unreasonable death, however I get it now. Virginia, you are ...the prime example of what a Christian should be. You shined with Christ and set a perfect example to everyone with just your smile. My life has been changed for the better in the past few days and I have only God's example through you to thank. I love you so much and cannot wait for the day when we are both in heaven praising our Father.” Sarrah W.
“This morning, at about 4:45, I turned over in my bed and something woke me. It was the moon. But it wasn't the same...it was so bright and full of life...just like you. And as I layed there I started thinking, this was you watching over us. The moon was so beautiful and so bright it couldn't just be normal. You haven't left my mind a second this week, and I doubt you ever will. Thanks for watching over us as we slept last night. Love and miss you always.” Brett C.
Finally, in Virginia’s own words that she penned not too long ago, "I have to remind myself all the time, that God is the only thing that will make me happy! It's so important that we strive everyday to have a closer and deeper relationship with the Lord."
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. May we have such a poverty of spirit, filled with God’s grace, mercy, and abundance, that we might know blessings of God’s kingdom both now and ever more. Amen.
******Quotations are from the facebook page of Virginia Jacks or In Memory of Virginia Jacks*******