This is one of the daily principles that members of the Third Order Society of St. Francis say with their daily prayers on the 22nd day of the month. Humility is an important concept for members of the Order because it reminds us that we are completely dependent upon God for our very being. We are to put others before ourselves after the example of Jesus whom we follow. That directive is not just for members of religious orders, it is a directive for anyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus.
Our lesson this morning from Phillipians reminds us why humility is so important in the Christian faith and life; and sometimes I think we forget the reason why humility is so important; in a word, Jesus.
I was talking to a friend one day, and she had been raised in a Christian tradition that was very different from the Episcopal church. She said it wasn’t until fairly recently that she realized who Jesus truly was. Somehow in all those years in church she missed that Jesus was God; that God had loved humanity so much, that God left behind what it meant to be God, and became human in Jesus. The second person of the Trinity, the Son, God’s Holy Word, became human. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.” Emptied, humbled, obedient… that is what God has done in the life of Jesus; given up everything in order to be with us, to redeem our lives and our deaths so that we might be joined with God forever. It’s mind boggling to think about; it’s a gift that we cannot fathom, that we cannot earn, that we cannot return. And yet, even so, as a result of this incredible gift, we are compelled to respond, and if somehow we aren’t compelled to respond, we had better go back and read the gospels again until we are compelled. The only response to the gift of God humbling God’s self to become human, is to let Jesus’ Holy Spirit guide us to act as Jesus acted. The humility of Christ means that everything that we do here and now also matters to God. This is the world that he came to redeem; this is the world that he loved…God so loved the world that he gave his only Son; and that should matter enough to all of us, that we go from this place and feed the hungry, visit the lonely, heal the sick, free the captive, and all manner of things that bring radical, life giving equality to all people, everywhere. We do those things because Jesus did them. He broke down the barriers that we as people created to keep ourselves separated from others; barriers that the empire is content to keep in place because it gives power to a very few. In the kingdom of God, earthly power has no place, and everyone is equal in God’s eyes. And so they should be in ours as well.
And if coming to earth in the life of Jesus wasn’t enough humility for God, there is more. God loves us enough to know that we need comfort and strength in our lives; in Jesus God has suffered the kinds of things that we suffer; Jesus needed to be close to the Father in prayer in those times when things were difficult, just as we need to be close to Jesus. And so, Jesus humbles himself again, by being truly present in the bread and wine that will be consecrated on this altar today. He has humbled himself so that we might be fed his very body and blood and have what a dear friend used to call a “taste and a sip” of the eternal banquet. So we leave this place today fed and strengthened by his body and blood because he once again humbled himself for us. That is love. May we go forth from this place and do likewise.