Please read Luke 14:1, 7-14
Jimmy Carter has always been one of my favorite people. I think his situation was one of those situations similar to how every congregation wants a bright energetic young priest/pastor until they get one. In his case, everyone said they wanted an honest President until they got one. If there is one quality that I admire more than anything in him is his humility.
Would anyone here think, as the former President is hammering nails at a Habitat-for-Humanity house, that he has a degree in nuclear physics? Would anyone know that he had a distinguished military career on nuclear submarines? Just by talking with him, would anyone know that he is not just a peanut farmer, but an incredibly good peanut farmer? Almost all of the books that he has written since his presidency, most have been on faith and how people can deepen their faith in the living God.
I believe that President Jimmy Carter is finally appreciated for the man he is. All the pomp and circumstance of the office of Presidency hid his greatness as a human being. In fact, I think the most telling thing about Jimmy Carter’s humility is that, the good Baptist, didn’t take a negative tone after his humiliating defeat. He instead used his former position to do more to advance humanity than any of his predecessors or successors. When Nixon, Reagan, Bush (both) and Clinton were raising money for their libraries, Jimmy Carter was raising money for the Carter Foundation which seeks to forge peace and a free electorate throughout the world. If he were to hear me today, I think he would say, “Mark, we all have sins, including me.”
He has the type of humility that we associate with Pope John Paul II or with Mother Teresa. My point is that we were only able to see his humility apart from the office. If he were to have trumpeted his greatness when he got out of office, we would have asked him to move down to another seat of admiration to let someone more important sit in his seat. Because he has approached what he has done with humility, we instead lift him up to a higher seat of admiration.
Today’s message from Jesus is a simple one. It seems like such a small bit of practical advice: be humble so that you are not humiliated. But even more than telling people how to behave at parties so that they are not humiliated, I believe this passage says something about the humble God we serve.
When God wanted to come to the party of our salvation, he did not puff out his chest and say (with an Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator accent), “Ooh, I am a manly man! I will make the universe and have all these people bowing down to me! Ha, ha, ha!” God is outside of the created universe. He is beyond our comprehension. He has no need for humanity. He has no need for creation. He just created out of love. Our existence is pure gift. The narrative of Creation from Genesis shows the Father in heaven expected nothing in return.
Then, like going to a party and sitting in the corner, when he wanted to save the world, he came as a baby. His entrance, although heralded by angels and a star, was not through the halls of the king, but in a dank stable where they put him in a slop trough for a bed. He was raised by peasants. On top of that, he remained obedient to his purpose of proclaiming the Kingdom of God even when people hated him enough to kill him on the Cross.
As we understand it, and as the apostles tell us in the Scriptures, by taking the lowest seat at the table on the Cross, he was then raised to the head of the table in his resurrection. It was not a chest thumping God who came to us, it was and is a God who was willing to allow his own creation control his earthly body to the point of death. He was willing to allow us to reject him wholly and completely so that he could be raised to the head of the banquet table.
One of the most humiliating things for some people is to finally realize that their children must take care of them when they have been the parent for so long. Parents must now be subject to their children. Parents often find this situation humiliating and almost degrading, even though the children are doing what they can out of love for their parents. Most people do not handle it graciously.
But here is Jesus. “He never said a mumblin’ word.” He never tried to raise the sword or push his will upon his own creation. It was in purest humility that our God condescended to come be one of us and then be subject to us to the point of death. He did not change who he was and is. He did not have to have some incredible mid life crisis to find out that things weren’t fulfilling in his life. He did not get to his mid life and then follow the rigorous ascetic life as a nice change from his materialistic life. He left the heavens and entered into the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mother to express a humility that is shown by his obedience unto death on the Cross.
Christ’s humility, the humility of God, is a humility given to us in our Baptism.
God, my friends, shows us what true humility is. He shows us how to sit at the lowest seat at the party so that we are raised up on the last day to the choicest seats around our Heavenly Host. And God is love, my friends, through his humility.
When you and I were Baptized into Jesus, we too became part of him with access to that humility. By the small seed deposited in us in our Baptism in Christ, we can cooperate with the grace therein and have the humility of Christ. When we encounter our Lord’s body and blood in the celebration of the Eucharist, we encounter a regeneration of who we really are. When we take that gift of grace from the Eucharist, we too can put things into perspective. We, too, can understand that the lowest seat at the table often has the best view of what is really going on in life.
I often wonder, who is the wisest one in the room, the one who needs to get to the prime seat at the table to have a sense of importance, or the person who doesn’t need to be in a prime seat to understand that they are important to God? Knowing that he doesn’t need us to make himself feel better, why would he create us if we weren’t important to him?
In ending today, I wonder if you remember the commercial for a scanner that saves documents that can be accessed by any computer in an office building. The commercial shows a young man who is kind of frumpy who is in charge of filing. He purchases this new scanner that saves tons of money by saving tons of storage space through scanning documents into a central location. The commercial ends with him sitting in this artificially lit cubicle in the basement of the corporation. There is someone talking to him but all we hear is his response. He says, “CEO? I can’t be CEO. I am too valuable down here in filing.”
So, brothers and sisters, be still and know that He is God. Accept the lower position so that you can be raised up to an important position on the last day. God is humble. He gave us access to be humble through our Baptism and the Eucharist. Be humble and walk with the Lord. Amen? Amen.