16 September 2007

Humility - The Way of Life

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Following the lectionary for Gregorian Use parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the sermon is based on the Gospel reading for Pentecost XVI.

Humility is the way of life for those who hope to be saved. Those who wish to navigate safely through the temptations, heartaches, stresses, hardships, sorrows and evils of this world must set aside pride, ambition, selfish desires, and their own agendas. They must not think of what most conveniences them, nor manipulate for their own benefit persons or events. Neither must they make ultimatums about when or how they will help another or apologize or be kind. These are all acts of pride—and so they are acts of self-destruction that drive us away from our heavenly goal.

Humility is not second nature to us. And so we must study the lives of the saints to learn from them the ways of humility. And we must continually ask the saints, and especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, to intercede for us so that we do not lose our way, so that we do not take the often traveled road of pride, but remain steadfast and ever-improving in the narrow way of humility. We must pray that we can learn from their example. We must pray that we may be supported, encouraged, and cheered on by their prayers. But above all, we must ask the saints—and especially the Blessed Virgin Mary—to help us always remember that while the Lord scatters the proud in the conceit of their heart and puts down the haughty, He exalts the humble and lifts up the lowly. In no other person is this lifting up of the humble more evident than in the holy Theotokos.

The Holy Apostle Peter tells us why we should be humble; why humility is the way of salvation. True humility is rooted in the firm faith that our Lord God is merciful. Listen to what St Peter says: God resisteth the proud, but to the humble he giveth grace. Be you humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in the time of visitation: Casting all your care upon him, for he hath care of you. Keep in mind these words from the Holy Apostle. The humble man knows that the Lord cares for him. The humble man knows that the Lord’s mercy provides all things. And so the humble man pushes down his arrogance, his feelings of pride and his desire to get ahead or get even because the humble man constantly keeps before his mind’s eye where he fits in relation to God and in relation to all men.

That true humility--that humility that serves whomever we meet, especially those closest to us; that humility that sees in each spouse and child, in each relative and friend, in each coworker and stranger, someone who is better, most deserving and more worthy than we are—that humility is evident in the lives of the saints because they have within themselves the Spirit of Christ; and they do not wish to lose His Spirit, and so live with all their strength the mind of Christ. And what is the mind of Christ? Disregarding all that He is—that He is the God who ought to be obeyed and who can easily enforce His might—disregarding what He rightly deserves, Our Blessed Lord took the form of a servant and humbled Himself becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. And because of this humility, God the Father exalted him, and has given him a name which is above all names.

This unselfish sacrifice on the cross; this free act of setting aside all He was for the sake of another; this willingness not to demand His due, not to insist on being served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many—this humility is the mind of Christ. By the Holy Spirit in baptism and chrismation, you have received this mind of Christ, the spirit of true humility. Our Lord Jesus, then, urges you in today’s Gospel not to live proudly and arrogantly, but to live humbly with God and all men. For this is what the Lord requires of you: to be just, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6.8)

This humility begins simply, in the commonest and simplest of all places—at the table. Whether the table is in your home, the home of another or at a restaurant, true humility is shown not when you elbow your way to the seat you prefer, and not when you insist that this is your chair or that you require special accommodations. True humility is shown when you wait for others, when you are the first to tend to the needs of others and when your hunger takes second place to making sure that others have what they want. In this simple way, at the table, you are not practicing good manners so much as you are practicing the way of salvation. For the way of salvation is the way Our Lord blazed—the way of serving rather than being served. And the way of salvation is the way modeled by the Holy Theotokos—the way of humbly and obediently receiving whatever the Lord gives without complaint, without modification, without concern for her own well-being. For in her, above all mortal men, we see the truth of Our Lord’s axiom: Every one that exalts himself, shall be humbled; and he that humbles himself, shall be exalted. Truly she is exalted and all generations call her blessed, because truly she humbled herself under the loving hand of God.

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