Excerpts from a sermon preached at St. Paul within the Walls – Rome, Italy November 5, 2017
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
I am learning about humility the hard way. For thirty years, I wore a uniform identifying my profession, usually had the best seat in church, often held a place of honor at banquets, was greeted with respect in the marketplace, and people called me “Rev.” or “Dean.”
Then one day, it was over. My tenure was history. The newspaper articles announcing my retirement were in the archives. I had bid farewell to my congregation and staff. My books and vestments were packed. I was without title, office and church keys. My calendar was empty, except for a disconcerting number of medical appointments, and my email inbox was reduced to advertisements and list serve messages.
When that first Sunday rolled around, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I woke up late, read the paper, and drank a third cup of coffee. I thought about going to a local church, but instead, I sat in bed and wrote a poem, in which I described myself as “a little boat untethered on a big lake [with] wind and waves pushing away from familiar shore.” Like many newly retired and unemployed people, I didn’t know who I was without my title and position.
It’s hard losing your status and place in society. Those of you who have lost jobs and spouses understand. It’s hard losing the identity you’ve taken for granted. Those of you who are immigrants and refugees know what I’m talking about. And, it’s hard – really hard – losing your strengths. Those of you who are struggling with health issues know of what I speak.
One year later, I’m discovering a new way of living in the world and with it an expanded sense of curiosity, empathy, patience and compassion, especially for those who with physical, mental or emotional challenges. I’m trying to let go of my need for status…and the more I let go it, the more I experience the fullness of life of which Jesus speaks.
So today, I invite you to consider: What are your fringes, titles and seats of honor? How do you parade your status and importance around the piazza? What do you know of your less visible self that waits for what God has in store for your life? How are you falling into the fullness of your life, and if you’re not, how high are you going to climb before you trip and fall?
The virtue of humility is a complicated thing. We all would be wise to give it consideration before it demands our attention. But when it does, and it will, if we accept it, this curse will become a gift and will lead us into the fullness of life.