Tag Archives: humility

“I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Joel 2.23–32
Luke 18.9–14


The prophet Joel looks forward to a day when God says 

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

‘I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…’ On whom? On the upright, like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel reading? On rogues and scoundrels like the tax collector? What does all flesh mean? How selective will the Spirit be?

Let’s try to answer that as we go to the Gospel reading. Jesus tells a parable, which is a brief story with a sting in the tail. Two men go up to the Temple to pray, probably for one of the times of public prayer, mid-morning or mid-afternoon.

Each one stands alone, and stays apart from any other worshippers. They stand apart because each one is concerned about religious purity. There, the similarity ends. Continue reading

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Humility 101

Sermon for 28 September ’08

Philippians 2.1-13

Though he was in the form of God, [Christ] did not regard equality with God  as something to be exploited…

These are the opening words of a song. I don’t mean a song that was based on the scriptural text. Bible scholars tell us that these words begin a song, well-known to the Philippian believers, that goes from chapter 2 verse 6 to verse 11. The song is the biblical text. Paul was quoting it to the Philippians, reminding them of its words. The song describes the one who let go of all his privilege and, humbling himself, becoming one with us; and going even further still: dying the death of a criminal. For this, he is Lord of all. He has the authority and the name of God. You may have heard that a Uniting Church minister from Melbourne has recently said that this kind of thing is unbelievable these days. Well, it is believed and therefore it is believable, and the Uniting Church teaches it. As the song we sang at the start of the service proclaims:

He left his Father’s throne above (so free, so infinite his grace!), emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race.

Paul isn’t just celebrating the great love of Christ in emptying himself for our sakes. He is offering Christ as a pattern for our lives, and for our life together. Before he quotes that song, he says why he’s quoting it. He wants the Christians in Philippi to:

be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.’ Take this to heart, that he humbled himself, he took the form of a servant, he even went to the cross for us. So, how can we look more like Jesus? How can we grow to be more like Jesus? I want to suggest that we could engage in ‘spiritual practices’. Continue reading

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The one thing needed

Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58.1-12
Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21
On Ash Wednesday ten years ago, I was in East Timor. Early that morning, I walked down the road from my hotel to the garden of Bishop Belo’s home for the Ash Wednesday service. In 1999, after East Timor voted for independence, the bishop’s house and garden were destroyed, but that day, several hundred people were peacefully gathered.

I stuck out like a sore thumb. For a start, I only saw one other westerner there. But I was also taller than most; I stood head and shoulders above just about everyone else there. I was obvious, and I don’t like being obvious.

When it came time to be marked with the Ashes, I stood in a line to to receive the Ashes from a lady I think of as “The Shortest Nun in the World”. She stood not much higher than my navel. I had to bend very low indeed before she could reach up to my forehead!

As I thought about it later, I was grateful that it was that way. Because for me it became a sign of the one thing that is really needed as we receive the sign of Ashes: that one thing is humility.

I wasn’t humble that day; I was very aware of myself. Humble people are unaware of themselves. They don’t worry that they’ve got a smudge of ash on their forehead. In Isaiah’s day people said, “Why do we fast, God, when you take no notice of us?” The humble don’t do it to be noticed, or accepted.

Isaiah criticises those who serve their own interests while they are fasting, and don’t humble themselves. Jesus points out that some people are hypocrites. The word ‘hypocrite’ actually just means ‘actor’. They are acting a part, playing the role of being spiritual, when in fact they only want to be noticed. 

We have here tonight a time to humble ourselves. As you come to receive the mark of ash on your forehead, will hear some uncomfortable words, words that I find uncomfortable to say as well as to hear:

    Remember that you are dust 
    and to dust you shall return. Amen.

The ashes come from the palms we used last year to celebrate Palm Sunday. We use those palms because we rejoice to see the coming of Jesus to Jerusalem—but we also remember that our sins put him on the cross.

Perhaps you can imagine yourself, as I can, in the crowd cheering Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. And perhaps you can imagine yourself, as I can, a few scant days later, in the crowd jeering Jesus on the cross.

So today we humble ourselves, and we ask God’s help for us to do that in sincere humility. Today we begin the journey to the cross together. Today through the Lent Event we begin giving something up for the benefit of others, and ourselves.

Come, and receive the sign of ashes.

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