1 Peter 5:5-11
All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. 11 To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
The Gospel According St Luke, 15
Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. 3 And he spake this parable unto them, saying, 4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? 5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. 7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. 8 Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? 9 And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. 10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. “And there should be no greater comfort to Christian persons, than to be made like unto Christ, by suffering patiently adversities, troubles, and sicknesses. For he himself went not up to joy, but first he suffered pain; he entered not into his glory before he was crucified. So truly our way to eternal joy is to suffer here with Christ; and our door to enter into eternal life is gladly to die with Christ; that we may rise again from death, and dwell with him in everlasting life.
A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity1
28th June 2020, Given at Saint John’s Church in Savannah
by the Revd. Fr. Gavin Dunbar
Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,
that he may exalt you in due time.
THE FIRST EPISTLE GENERAL OF SAINT PETER 5.6
It is tempting is to seek some direct parallel between the time of Jesus and the Apostles and our own – some simple correlation of then and now – which can instruct or perhaps confirm Christians in the answers we may give to the questions of our own time. Yet Jesus himself is notoriously hard to pin down as liberal or conservative, capitalist or socialist, traditionalist or progressive, authoritarian or democrat. He eludes all attempts to categorize because he is in a category of his own. Still it is evident in the gospels – such as today’s gospel lesson – that Jesus did not identify with the high-status elite of Pharisees, Scribes, lawyers, and priests who were the entitled and privileged leadership of Israel. Indeed Jesus mounted a critique of the elite agendas – and though he was no populist or demagogue either, he directed his ministry to those whom the elite regarded as deplorables – like the publicans and sinners in today’s gospel lesson. It also is evident in the epistles – such as today’s epistle lesson – that though there were high status Christians in the early church, Christians as a community did not enjoy high social status, and could be targets for abuse and mistreatment. That low status – that “low estate”- is what today’s lessons would have us think about – both as an objective condition, and as a subjective attitude, as humility.
In the gospel lesson the Pharisees and Scribes have their noses out of joint, because Jesus was teaching the publicans and sinners they despised, and having table fellowship with them – a sign of acceptance they find disgraceful. The Pharisees and the Scribes are respectable and religious folk – confident that their own moral and ritual performance entitles them to the favor of God – and their sense of superior performance depends on having people they can despise and exclude for not living up to the standards they embrace -a standard element of the honor-shame game that is alive and well in our own society. As the social media mobs of today demonstrate, contempt and abuse of others is a way of demonstrating our own higher virtue, and advancing our own status. In response, Jesus tells them two parables – one about the shepherd who searched for and found a lost sheep, a woman who searched for and found a lost coin. The Pharisees and Scribes think acceptance by God, relationship with God, depends on their moral and religious performance, their effort, and achievement; but the parable shows us that sheep that is lost does not bring himself home; the coin that rolled under the bed does not roll out again: they must be looked for, searched for, diligently, until they are found, and then they must be brought home. And this, as the prophets (Ezekiel 34) indicate, is the work of God’s free grace, accomplished for us in Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, who comes to seek and save the lost, though it takes him to the depths of hell itself. And therefore there is no place for pride – no place for Pharisaic reliance on our own performance to make us acceptable to God. As today’s collect says, our very desire to pray is the gift of God’s grace. There is no room for pride – but there is great hope for the hopeless, those who know that they are lost, and know they cannot bring themselves home to God. As long as cling to our virtue as the grounds of our acceptance by God, then our hope will rest in the inadequate foundation of our own righteousness. Only in humility – as those without trust in our own virtue, or any claim on God’s favor – can we receive the hope of salvation which is the free gift of his grace to those who trust in him.
So today’s gospel is a great encouragement to those who empty themselves of trust in their own goodness, and recognize their complete dependence upon God’s unmerited grace. It’s a great warning to the proud, to those who seek to assert or claim status on the basis of privileges or performance – to those who seek power in this world. And Simon Peter sums up both promise and warning in today’s epistle lesson: “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble”. God will take down the arrogant – that’s a warning to the Pharisees and Scribes, to the privileged elites of this world – whether conservative or liberal. But it’s a huge comfort and encouragement to people like the Christians of Roman Asia to whom Peter was writing – who are being shamed and abused, marginalized and mistreated, because they have chosen to follow the way gospel rather than the way of respectable Roman society. It’s a situation that American Christians are likely to experience as American moral and cultural mores depart ever more radically from the Christian heritage – so Simon Peter does have a message for us now.
To them, and us, he says: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time”. Accept the low status, social marginalization, and abuse, your sufferings for the sake of the gospel, and accept it as falling under watchful care and almighty providence of God’s good shepherding. Though the proud in this world threaten the humble, humble trust in God’s providence banishes anxiety: Simon Peter says “cast all your care on him, for he careth for you”. The real danger is not the flesh and blood persons who take part in harassment and vilification but the malice of that proud spirit that works through them to under mine the word of God and destroy the work of God: Simon Peter says: “Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith”. The real danger is not loss of social status but apostasy, abandoning the faith, by conforming to the dominant culture’s moral and religious imperatives. Although Christians may face injustice and mistreatment in a society whose elites are embracing hostile ideologies, those circumstances can be given up to God in the confidence that “God in his time / Or out of time will correct this” (R. S. Thomas).
The message of today’s lessons packs a punch. Can we indeed humble ourselves beneath his mighty hand? Can we cast our care on him? Are we ready to resist the devil, stedfast in the faith? Can we follow the crucified Lord, in taking up our cross, in suffering shame and spitting for his sake? It’s a daunting prospect – yet “the God of all grace, … hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while”, and by his Spirit he will “make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen”.
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