A sermon preached at St. George’s Anglican Church Calgary, by the Rev. Clara King, February 25, 2018.
Lent 2 – Year B
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
It was only about 6 months after I actually became an Anglican that I found myself going to seminary; and it was at seminary that I truly fell in love with the Anglican tradition. We had prayers five days a week, morning and evening; Eucharist (the bread and the wine) every day, and quite often lunch-time prayers as well. And although I had no idea what I was doing, I was nevertheless an Anglican seminarian, and I was expected to sign up to help lead worship.
And so I did, sign up to read a lesson or lead the prayers; sign up to do the Altar Guild duties; sign up to lead the occasional service – but not on Wednesday mornings: that was the traditional BCP morning prayer; and never on Friday afternoons, for traditional BCP evening prayer; and wouldn’t you know, my name was just never down on Monday evenings, for BCP Eucharist.
One day, an older student said to me, quietly, just as an aside: “you know, it’s about as obvious as you can get that you avoid all the traditional services.” And tough luck, said the student: it’s just part of being Anglican, so get used to it.
Week after week I said quietly to myself, I just can’t wait until I’m at a church with no traditional service! But every church I’ve been at since then, I’ve helped lead the traditional BCP service.
And don’t you know, here at St. George’s, I miss it. I miss the poetry, I miss the shape of the traditional words – exactly the same words every single Sunday – I miss the shape and the taste of those words in my mouth. And I miss the very thing that bugged me all those years ago: I miss the incredible sense of awe and reverence at how mighty God really is, and I miss the word “humble”, repeated again and again throughout the service: our humility as we dare to approach the Throne of God.
If there’s one word that summarizes that beautiful traditional service of Holy Communion, I think it would be “humility”. Ah, that word. It’s that word that used to just kill me, every time; and it’s that word that now I desperately miss. Because over time, my understanding of humility has changed – or rather, over time, my understanding of humility has been healed.
Here’s what humility used to mean to me, back in seminary. Every time I heard the word, “humble”, or “humbly”, as in, “we humbly beseech thee…” or, “we thy humble servants”, I wanted to duck my head, to be smaller, as if being humble was to be less than myself: less exuberant; less curious; less energetic; less passionate; less of a leader; less, less, less. Every time I heard the word humble, I felt this big hand on my head squeezing me smaller, boxing me in, tying me up in a ball.
That’s not what humility is. That is not what God wants of us. That is not the model Jesus gives us. That is a way that we oppress one another; that men have oppressed women; that rich have oppressed poor; that Europe has oppressed others around the world: to say, we will put you in your place, and you will stay there, and you’d better not step out of line, or there will be consequences.
That is not what God aspires for us. God does not aspire for us to be smaller, for us to be less of who we are – God aspires us to grow into the fullness of all he has created us to be! And God aspires for us to keep growing over the entire course of our lives!
No, humility is not about making ourselves smaller. Humility is about recognizing that God is so much bigger than we are.
One evening when I was at seminary, things began to change. I was out walking my dog after dark. The streetlamps were low, and the stars were bright overhead. I was standing out in the middle of this park, staring up at the stars, and these huge trees, when suddenly I got a vision of the God of the Universe; God who made the heavens and the earth; God who filled the sky; God who knew each tree by name; God who was looking over the whole of Vancouver, and seeing each individual life; each individual day; each individual choice of every person, each individual connection between people; each individual network of relationships in community, and not just humans: all the animals too: the dogs, and the cats, and coyotes and birds and creatures – all the longing and the drama and the pain and the joy and the hope and the dreams – God saw it all.
And here I was just one, single life in this vast web of everything: and God saw me too, and loved me, and had a role for me: a role perfectly tailored for all that I am; a role that will call out everything I can possibly grow to become; a role in this vast web in which God needs me to be as big as I can, within a story that is vastly bigger than I can possibly imagine.
And the same is true for each one of you. God has a role for each one of you; and a dream; and God invites, God calls, God needs you to be all that you have the possibility to be – to be as big as you can be . And yet, within God’s vast story, each of us, individually, remain beautifully small.
Humility is a beautiful thing, when you think of it that way. There is space for each of us to be as much as we can be, as big as we can be, as bold and vibrant and challenging and adventurous and personality-full as we can be – and God will always be so much bigger. God is capable of so much more than we are! In comparison, our skills and talents are lacking; our characters are desperately flawed – and God knows all of this, and yet, God wishes to partner with us. God invites us to become part of his story, each of us taking our place in the great web God is weaving; which is the redemption of the world.
And so humility isn’t squeezing ourselves into a smaller box; humility is almost the exact opposite. Humility is praying, Lord, alone there is only so much I can do. And so I give everything I am into your hands, and ask that you make me part of what you’re doing.
We are invited, this Lent, to experience this humility: the spaciousness to be everything that we can be, and to be part of all that God is doing. We are invited to humble ourselves before God, not by bowing our heads, but by lifting up our hearts, and acknowledging all that is beyond our power, and offering unto God, “ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice”, to the glory of God’s name, and in service of God’s kingdom vision.
For ourselves, and our parish and for the world, may God give us this grace. Amen.