Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
I attended the Micah Ministries Lenten Lunch prayer service this week at the United Methodist Church and Pastor Allen Fischer from the Presybterian Church was preaching. It was a treat to get to hear someone else preach for once, I am so tired of hearing myself talking all the time! (Although next week the poor folks will have to listen to me at Fredericksburg Baptist Church anyway!)
Anyway, Allen gave a beautiful homily that got me thinking more about the central reason of why we are here. He said one of the things I’ve been saying over and over these past few weeks: that the life of faith and prayer that we live is intended to perfect us as one People of God, not a bunch of individuals constantly seeking God’s attention, almost in competition with one another, focused only on ourselves and our advancement. He said it very simply, in true Presbyterian style: piety is not privatization. We are not here to isolate.
I’ve had plenty of friends who say, “I love the Church, it’s the people I can’t stand.” I’ve heard plenty of sins confessed (and am aware of plenty of my own) about how intolerant we can be of one another when others get in the way of our plans or desires—even when we call those desires spiritual—and we lose sight of the gift in front of us, talking to us, sharing our space, for a gift which we have set our sights on. It is too easy to get so wrapped up in ourselves that we totally miss the point of the present moment and those whom God has placed here with us.
Ultimately, the message is that we just aren’t as important as we’d like to think we are. Isn’t this one of the most remarkable gifts given to human beings that set us apart from other forms of life? That we can experience humility. Whether a momentary setback has caused this, or a starck realization of truth, or the compassion which might move us to help, to reach out to another human person and for that moment allow that person to be the most important thing in your life. We can choose to go last. We can set ourselves aside and recognize the value of a truth that we allow to guide us, or a love that we allow to change us.
We look to the cross in this season of Lent to unpack this mystery. How our human form is forever changed: in our lowliness God chose to reveal our high destiny by his divine touch, first in the incarnation, finally for each of us in baptism. We can never be unchanged, or changed back. And in that high destiny now charged with the divine and holy life of God’s Spirit we can choose, like Jesus did, like Mary did, like Joseph did, to live completely for another, to accept that once-and-for-all call that defines us by the one we serve. We see it most perfectly in Jesus’ total gift of himself on the cross.
For Mary and Joseph it is obvious. They were willing to respond to the Father’s call and dedicate themselves to Jesus. But look carefully at Jesus: he was willing to lower himself, taking upon himself our nature, so that we might be the object of his dedication, and that we might be a part of his identity, his Body, as Son of God. In him we see so quickly that lowliness is not seen as contrary to high dignity: they both co-exist. It might even be said that the high dignity of our humanity lies in its very lowliness. And lowliness is the state in which we are sanctified.
It takes a great deal of humility to be a person like Jesus, particularly when we begin to speak of forgiveness. Be sure to join us this week for our Parish Mission each night as we delve into the reality of forgiveness. It will prove to be a transformative week not only due to the talks, but due also to the special opportunities we have for prayer in the Presence of God during Forty Hours. Please come and spend time with us, and with God. May we grow deeply into his life this Lent.
God bless you.