The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17 (Year C)

Open-Mindedness, Human Nature, and Humility

Sermon by guest preacher, Reverend Karen Maleri

Deliver us from the presumption of coming here for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace here at Christ Church make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may humbly serve the world humbly in Christs’ name.

Having an open-mind is an important part of ANY learning process, at least for me. This does not mean that being ‘open-minded’ is easy; sometimes having an open mind leads to confusion-especially when we learn new things that conflict with existing beliefs. Regardless of the doubts or confusion I’ve experienced, I am grateful for my open-mind, especially considering that priesthood was my second vocation. I left a medical career and entered the Episcopal Divinity School. My first year focused on social and spiritual diversity in a course called Foundations; my middle and third years included World Religions and Ethics; I altered my goal from parish priest to Board certified Interfaith Chaplain. Seminary and three months spent in South Africa opened my eyes and my heart was changed forever.

I spent many days living in a township outside Capetown; there amidst abject poverty, I was treated as the exalted one; I was humbled to tears every time someone gave me their best food to eat, there cleanest cup to drink from and their best chair to sit on. In seminary, my awareness grew exponentially as I prayed aloud with diverse and international voices. I appreciated most of my seminary experiences, though, TRUE CONFESSION: AT ONE POINT DURING THOSE INCREDIBLE & INFORMATIVE THREE YEARS…all the moral and ethical debates, the prayers and hours spent in chapel, the gospel stories, creeds, laws, the Old Testament, and New…ALL of it…everything…it all began to blur and blend…everything fused together and preoccupied my every waking moment. To sort out my thoughts and feelings, I decided to write several original and contemporary ‘parables.’ In my parables, dignity, universalism and mutual respect prevail. As I wrote them, my convictions grew deeper roots AND my faith became unshakable. I shared my parables with one of the professors at EDS who was neither supportive nor interested. The final and private parable I wrote in my series helped to define the similarities and differences between humility and humiliation.

Regardless…in my humble opinion-parables can be creative, contemporary and original. It was in the late 19th century that scholars arranged parables into three categories: SIMILITUDE; the parable; and exemplary stories. The similitude is the most concise; it briefly narrates a typical event based in real life. The parable is longer and more detailed. The ‘parable’ tells a story about a one-time event, generally rooted in truth. The exemplary story presents a comparison between a real or imagined event and a moral or religious-reality often told in the past tense. In this morning’s parable we see how often human nature is NOT at its best, as guests scramble for the best seats at a banquet. It feels to me that Luke is asking us to consider where in our lives are we scrambling? And to what end? How do we demonstrate or prioritize humility towards the people around us? I have read and RE-READ Luke’s gospel so many times over the past 20 years. A commentary writer Emilie Townes helped me to RE-THINK THE IMPACT JESUS had, and STILL HAS, ON OUR faith and OUR lives. This is the excerpt from her commentary on this gospel: “Is this text an ethical warning to refrain from invading another persons’ space, or their rights? OR are Jesus and Luke introducing humility where humility is scarce? In his life, death and resurrection, Jesus embodied what he taught, and taught what he embodied. One is struck then when singing or saying the Apostle’s Creed that the creed jumps directly from “born of the Virgin Mary” to “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” The entire life of Jesus feels somehow hidden in the comma. No mention is made of his parables, sermons, or his lengthy instructions to his followers and disciples. There is no example of Jesus emphatically urging us TO DO SOMETHING.”

Twenty years ago, when considering HER perspective, I was just beginning to ask myself are we REALLY LED to do as the 21st century followers of Jesus Christ? SO MUCH has happened. NOW, FOR ME…it is pivotal ministry experiences that profoundly effect my perspective, especially as I prayed and prepared this homily. ULTIMATELY I am yet again pondering open minded-ness, belief systems and human nature…

As some of you may or may not know, I worked with Jane in the Dept. of Spiritual Care at Yale-New Haven Hospital for seven years. I served as attending chaplain for Yale Psychiatric Hospital. It was during that chapter of my ministry where I learned the most powerful lessons about perspective, humility, and serving angels-unaware. Rather than using any priestly skills acquired over time, I quickly realized my best ministry tools were empathy, creativity and sympathy. I worked at the psychiatric hospital Sunday through Thursday with Fri & Sat off. YPH became ‘my church.’ I offered each unit the opportunity to participate in a spirituality group; participants were invited and encouraged to sing, share from their hearts and offer their own thoughts and prayers. There was no scrambling for a seat in the church at YPH; there was no judgement allowed at our table; sharing authentic thoughts and feelings, especially about God or a Higher Power was invited and encouraged; every staff person and patient was welcome.

The year before I retired, a patient brought words scrawled on a paper towel to the service on her unit;  She explained she was inspired when another patient brought a parable he read aloud, the week before. Privately, she shared with me the hurt she felt after an extremely difficult episode took place at her Episcopal Church, when she was manic, out of control and unmedicated, AND subsequently asked not to come back to her church. Though she felt dismissed & diminished by this, slowly, she found her faith again after a lot of inpatient hospital admissions and compliance with her treatment plan. As she considered what Jesus taught her specifically, she felt that other people’s words could not or did not capture what she needed or wanted to say….

Here is what she had written: I believe in One God, the all encompassing source of Being, and of all that is seen and unseen-because isn’t that the definition of ‘faith?’ I choose to reflect on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as I seek to understand the many wondrous ways in which Jesus Christ and his followers expressed themselves in their lives.  I believe the followers manifested their beliefs, as I do, that Jesus is God made man, the word made into real flesh. I believe that such conversations and understanding lead me and others toward relief from the pain of illness and the suffering I and those also suffering with mental illness especially bear through our lifetime. I love the idea that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son-that all may be saved from the pain of human nature. I believe that Jesus Christ is a light for me to follow, that in Christ there is a Way, a path to eternal life and surely to peace. I believe in the Holy Spirit, in her holy movements and miracles found in every day life, and I seek to notice how the Holy Spirit is at work in me, and in other individual persons. I believe in the miracle of nature & creation; I believe to contemplate nature and creation is to contemplate God. This is the same almighty God who is worshipped and glorified and who has spoken to me and to many people in moments of doubt and recovery. I also believe that people come to the insight and holiness of baptism in many ways; I believe in honoring the human endeavor that strives to create truth and beauty in poetry and art; I believe in the church, as She embraces all of humanity in her love and worship of God.

A powerful contemporary religious story of how Jesus Christ emphatically loves and inspires real faith in real people? Don’t we come here, or participate online, because we want to be a part of a community heavily invested in unity & participation over division & isolation? Jesus not only declares how and where to find honor and humility…Jesus gives us so many people to honor and be humbled BY…LET US PRAY: FOR ALL WHO EXALT THEMSELVES WILL BE HUMBLED; AND THOSE WHO HUMBLE THEMSELVES…WILL BE EXALTED…yesterday, today and forever.  AMEN.