The Radical Side of Humility and Hospitality
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (RCL, Year C)
August 29, 2010
The Reverend Susan Beth Pinkerton, Associate Rector
This weekend we experience the mysterious life cycle of birth and death in a very profound and personal way. Yesterday, we held a funeral for Jerry McKenzie, a member of St. Mark’s for thirty-five years. Today we will baptize Jerry’s great nephew, Noah Jermiah Brothers, welcoming him into the community of St. Mark’s as a member of the Living Body of Christ. We mourn and grieve over the loss of Jerry in our lives, feeling the void of his presence. And at the same time, we welcome a new life, with open arms and open hearts. The pairing of life and death brings into focus the uncertainty and fragility of life and the urgency to love and take care of each other, for today is all we have.
Reading through the morning papers this past week, I am struck that today, like never before, do we need to heed Micah’s prophetic call;
“…what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8
We live in a time of great turbulence and uncertainty. But this is nothing new. Wars, civil strife, economic upheavals, disease, famine and natural disasters have punctuated the world’s civilizations since the dawn of time. What seems new is the rising level of intolerance and fear that is pervasive on all levels of society throughout our global community. This volatile and toxic combination of fear and intolerance is counter intuitive in every way to the very core of the Gospel message; to love God with all our heart, mind and soul; to welcome and love the stranger as well as our neighbor; to turn the other cheek; to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and clothe the poor. These are actions of love, capsulated into the ethics of humility and hospitality. It is in the process of reaching out to another where we find our Holy Unity in the very core of our shared diversity. Because this is who we are as Children of God – people of hope and not hate.
In the secular world the ethics of humility andhospitality are radical and countercultural because they compel us to look beyond ourselves, reaching out and acknowledging the needs of others with the intuitive understanding that we are all interconnected to each other. No matter our gender, race, language, religion or culture we are all connected by our most basic human need to be loved and valued - in that order. Those of you who have given so generously of your time and resources to welcome and host the families involved in St. Mark’s shelter ministry and other outreach programs know this first hand. Many of you know this from your professional life. At St. Mark’s we do a very fine job of being hospitable but there is so much more we need to do – here and in our daily lives.
To act with humility is to show deference to the needs of those around us. It is not a show of false modesty or being a push over. Instead, it stems from a deep level of self-knowledge and self-awareness, where we understand ourselves in relation to others in the world; seeing that we are truly One in our shared humanness; called to live in harmony and not in chaos. It is somewhat ironic that to be humble requires a great deal of courage, strength and personal discipline. It means showing forbearance in how we relate to another person, withholding the impulse to judge and be reactive; responding not from a source of hate and anger. Instead, we are called to act and respond with charity, justice and compassion.
The old adage, “actions speak louder than words” applies even more so when talking abouthospitality andhumility. Sometimes the best way to learn about humility is to be the recipient of unexpected hospitality.
I recall vividly when members from my parish showed up at my doorstep laden with bundles in hand. Unbeknownst to me they went out of their way to make sure my family had gifts under our Christmas tree when I was a struggling law student and single mother with three children and very little money. But it cuts both ways. I also recall my feeling of extreme vulnerability and some embarrassment when receiving these gifts, knowing that I was living so close to the edge financially that I needed to depend upon others for help. In hindsight the most prized gift my children and I received that Christmas was the lesson of humility while being embraced with grace-filled acts of hospitality. That morning we experienced the mutual love that the Gospel reading speaks of; acts of selfless love that stirs deep within the soul. It is the ineffable, Incarnational love that connects people to each other, affirming our shared humanity.
Such are the fruits of humility and hospitality, transforming peoples’ lives for the better. And it begins with the most simple and basic acts of charity and kindness - “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”
Maya Angelou, poet, and social activist says it best, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Amen.