Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
July 10, 2011

I really need to be sitting in the congregation today listening to someone else give this sermon. I need to hear these words because they address one of the hardest struggles in my own life as one who is striving to live the Christian life and attempting to take small steps toward holiness. Now before you begin to squirm in the pew and think that I’m about to turn the pulpit into my own confessional you can breathe easy because that is something that I will never do. The pulpit is never the place for the preacher to work out his own issues and bear his own burdens. No, I’m simply placing myself in the position of the patient; I, like you, am coming to hear the words of the Great Physician who administers his healing balm for our souls at all times if we are willing to submit ourselves to His never failing care and protection.

That being said, I am going to make one self-disclosure that I believe will help ground what I am about to say regarding that insidious sin of pride that draws us further and further from God’s presence because of its very nature. I think some of you have perhaps heard this before in other settings, and it pertains to my days as a high schooler. Most of you probably remember those awards that each class hands out where they select a boy and girl as most likeable, or best dressed, or biggest flirt, or most outgoing. I was the proud recipient of the award for being the most right. This was not an assessment of my political leanings, but was actually a most truthful statement of fact. I hated to be wrong. I never wanted to lose an argument or have my position questioned. I was the Andrew Wilkow of my school – I was right, they were wrong, that’s the end of the discussion.

Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay exactly the same.

We heard in our Epistle lesson from First St Peter about the attitude of Christ’s disciples and how they are to humble themselves toward one another. Our lesson began mid-chapter, and the first few verses that precede what we just heard speak about the relationship between the elders and the younger members of the community. Peter declares, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.”

There will always be the temptation to lord over others with our knowledge or our position of influence or our status in life. It’s very easy to think that because of who we are there will always be others who will need us or what we have to offer them and thus, gives us the license to be proud or prideful.

I’m sure you can call to mind examples of people who have exhibited this type of attitude in which you were made to feel like you had absolutely nothing to offer and as long as you knew your place as the dutiful student or subordinate or co-worker everything was fine.

How did things work out in the long run? What was the long term relationship with that supervisor or teacher? It was probably tenuous at best, fraught with animosity at worst. Why?

Pride is perhaps the worst of sins because it is a direct affront to that most noble theological virtue of charity. One who strives to foster a spirit of charity seeks the love of the other over one’s self. Charity always seeks to displace pride.

St. Paul in the First Epistle to the Corinthians in the thirteenth chapter, which we hear read on the Sunday before Lent begins, tells us that if we speak of earthly things well or of heavenly things well that if we do not have charity we are nothing. If we can prophesy, or understand incredible mysteries, or have remarkable knowledge of things temporal or spiritual, but don’t posses love, then we are nothing. Suppose we have the strongest faith so that we could remove mountains or give away all our goods to feed the poor, or even suffer death on behalf of this faith, but do not exercise charity, it does us no good. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.”

All of these attributes of charity, of love, are the counter virtues of the vice of pride. If you leave today and re-read I Corinthians 13, I believe you will see that St. Paul dedicates an entire chapter to a letter to a church in the most wayward of places, Corinth, to keep their pride in check. He is admonishing them to remember that the only way that they were going to stand out amongst the crowd in the See city of hedonism, materialism, humanism, pluralism, pantheism, and any other ism you’d like to add, was not through some type of new moralism, but by loving God with all of their heart, and loving their fellow Corinthians as counter-cultural as that was. Charity not pride is to be the benchmark of a Christian disciple.

So how do we get to the place where charity reigns, and pride is arrested?

We must begin in the one place that all who have sought this same task have begun – in prayer. We must ask God to help us. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Our collect for this morning exhorts us to the same task, “O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may, by thy mighty aid, be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities.” What greater adversity and danger is there than to fall prey to the sin of pride? There truly is no greater danger because pride is the sin that led to the fall of Lucifer, the prince of darkness. It is the sin that displaces God from His rightful place as the Lord of life and light.

We are to come seeking solace and comfort and grace from God’s Holy Word and the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. We must have our lives shaped and formed by these two great gifts that we have received from our Lord. We receive the Word of God through our study, devotion and worship, and through His precious Body and Blood. When we deprive ourselves of these great benefits we do so to the peril of our very soul.

Finally, we must share what we have received with others in a spirit of joyful thanksgiving. As is often said at the offertory, “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The world must see us as the new creatures that we are as the children of our heavenly Father.

Praying for the gift of charity is one thing. Study of God’s Word and the reception of the Sacraments is yet another thing. Taking this Good News out into the world is yet another and a mark of a true disciple. We can’t keep this to ourselves, but rather, we are commanded to take this message into the whole world.

“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world.”

We have work to do. It is hard work, tedious work, challenging work, but it is work that has supreme benefits not just for today or tomorrow, but for all eternity. May Almighty God empower us for the task that lies ahead as His disciples. To Him be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and power both this day and evermore.

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