Dying to be Humble

MP3 Audio:  WS330311_Dn-Joseph_Dying-to-be-Humble.mp3

This homily was preached on Thursday evening, October 31, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed are ye that hunger now, for ye shall be filled.
Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one.

This is the celebration of the feast of All Saints Day, the day when we remember the righteous dead–who are not dead, but who are alive in Christ, in the presence of Christ–those righteous members of our family who we do not physically see sitting in the pews, but we see in icons, the pictures on our walls. And so it is at our houses with other beloved family members. I cannot go to Larned, Kansas, to visit my precious grandmother anymore, but her picture is still on my wall. I can’t go hug my dad anymore, but his picture is on my wall. And we have these icons here in our church to remind us that these people [the saints] are still beloved, they are still part of our family. They are not physically here because there is someplace better, there is someplace that we want to go. And so often, as is befitting, we concentrate on the glories of where they are, the glories of where we want to go. And indeed, even in today’s Gospel reading–Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.–And so we look at any present sorrows and we say, “Look, the day is coming that will be in heaven. We will rejoice! We will sit at a full banquet table, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.”

But I also sense a strong need to focus to the first part of that equation. You see, it is easy to rejoice in the future, assuming that we will inherit the kingdom of God, assuming that we will be filled, assuming that we will laugh, assuming that we will rejoice, forgetting that the first half of that is to be poor now, to hunger now, to weep now, and to be ostracized now.

Jesus did not go from Bethlehem directly to the glorious second coming. The saints that we have depicted in these icons, did not go directly from birth to glory in heaven, and being venerated in icons.

There can be no theosis without kenosis. There can be no resurrection without there first being a present crucifixion. And the same goes for us. If we will follow the path that Christ took to heaven, that means that like Him, we will have to walk the road to Calvary–maybe not the one in the Middle East, may be not to a Roman cross, but Jesus told us to bear our own crosses. Each one of us is given a cross. Each one of us is intentionally given a cross.

And so often, we don’t pray. We call is praying, but we complain. “Lord, don’t you see, there’s this cross on my back! You see this thing? This hurts! This is heavy! Get this off of me!” But this is the only path there is. This is the only road there is. You can’t get to there without first going here. It is sort of like saying, “I want to drive on 141, and I want to go all the way to Evansville, but I don’t want to go through Mount Vernon, and I don’t want to go through New Haven.” Well, you can’t do that unless you have a flying car, and even then, you won’t be on 141 anymore.

“Lord, I want to go to heaven. I want the banquets. I want the rejoicing. I want the feasting. But there’s a–did you notice I’ve got a cross on down here? When are you gonna fix this?”

What is it that causes men and women to lose heaven eternally? Sin. We learned that in Sunday school as kids. No rocket science, no deep theology. We lose heaven, we lose Christ, we lose everything because of sin.

Pride is the Root of All Sin

Well, why do we sin? Pride. There is no other reason. There’s a lot of in-between reasons, but there’s no other root cause. You say, “That couldn’t be. That’s too simple.” Well, let’s think about it:

Do you think that yelling at your spouse, or your children, or being snotty and snapping at somebody, is best for them and is the most effective way to get them to do better? Does anybody want to nod your head yes to that one? Anybody? Have any of you individually, have any of us individually, been guilty of doing that? Have you ever yelled at your spouse, or your parent, or your child, or snapped at somebody in a snotty way? Well, why do we do that? Well, because “we’re important, and the other person has no recognized our importance enough to do what we want them to do.” We never snap at somebody because we think that’s the best thing for them. We never snap at somebody in love.

How about lust? Well, that one is pretty easy to figure out. No one ever had an adulterous affair, no one ever looked at pornography on the internet, no one ever undressed a woman or a man in their minds, in their thoughts, because they thought that would be the best for the other person, that it would help the other person get closer to God and closer to heaven. No man ever imagined marrying some other woman, because he thought that would be best for her, or for his wife. No woman ever dreamed about being married to some other man, because she thought that would be the best thing for her husband, or for that other man. When we entertain thoughts like this, it’s entirely selfish. It’s saying,

“Hah. I’m important enough. I matter enough. I’m important enough that I deserve better! I see some flaws in this other person, and since I have none, well, I shouldn’t be stuck with this. I deserve someone nicer, someone prettier, someone richer.”

Pride.

Murder. Hate. No one ever murdered, or hated another human being, because they thought that would be best for the other person. It’s always selfish. It’s always saying,

“My agenda, my wants, my needs, my desires are more important than that person’s. So much so that I’m gonna deprive you of your life. Or at least mentally I will kill you. I will hate you and wish that you were dead.”

Pride.

Tithing. Almsgiving. Offerings of one’s money, of one’s time, for the Church, for missions, for the poor. No one ever neglected those things because–just in general–they thought that charity was a bad idea. You can preach a sermon on charity, and everybody will say,

“Amen! That’s good. You know, people should give to the poor. Jesus said that people should give to the poor. People should do that.”

“Oh, but not me! No, people should do it, but I’m not ‘people’, I’m ‘me’, and–and, you know, my–I’ve got other, you know, things that I need to do. I–I have–I have, uh, credit cards to pay off, I have loans to pay off, I have this to deal with and that to deal with, and I’ve gotta have this book and this video game, and I–you know–this restaurant over here, I mean, yeah, sure, I could just eat some Ranch Style Beans and cornbread, but man, I–I–I–I’ve gotta have a little fun. I deserve a little fun.”

“I deserve.”
“It’s owed to me.”
“It’s due me.”
“It’s my right.”

It’s pride.

Don’t look at your brother or your sister. Just look at yourself. Don’t even, for the moment, look for sins that you’re not sure whether they’re sins or not. Just look at the stuff you know you do wrong, the stuff that the Holy Spirit convicts you about, the stuff that you bring up multiple times when you come to confession. Every single one of those has its root in pride, having just a little too high view of oneself, a little too much self-importance, a little too much of looking at oneself and saying that you are more important than your brother or your sister.

What does that have to do with All Saint’s Day?

Humility is the Antidote  for All Sin

Well, we asked how people lose heaven, and we said that the answer is “sin”. We asked why people sin, and we see that the root of every sin is pride. Therefore, an antidote, a protection against every sin, is humility. It’s that simple.

Do you want to stop lusting?
Get on your knees before God, before your spouse.
Humble yourself.

Do you want to start being more giving with your money?
Take a little bit lower view of the importance of the things you want to do, your own ambitions, your own desires.

Do you want to start being kinder to your spouse, kinder to your children, kinder to your parents? Do you want to stop snapping at people?

You don’t have to come up with some elaborate scheme to catch yourself just before you say something nasty. No, start about three weeks before that, and start cultivating a sense of humility, start looking at yourself as less important than everybody else you know. And then when somebody doesn’t pay attention to you, you won’t mind, because you weren’t expecting them to, because why would they want to pay attention to you? Why would somebody want to pay attention to me? I’m nobody. My opinion doesn’t count. If I really took a low view of myself, then I wouldn’t even notice when people did things like that, and I certainly wouldn’t be upset with them for it.

The antidote for any sin is a godly, Christ-centered humility, a lowliness of spirit, looking at others as more important than yourself, looking at the mass of humanity and putting yourself dead last. Is that Orthodox? Well, it’s part of our liturgy! Every week, before we take the Eucharist, what do we confess? We confess along with Paul that Christ came “to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” That’s something everybody says every week, before we take the Eucharist.

We mention sinners, of whom “I am chief”. And each one of us, if we are meaning it when we say it, we are looking at our self as the chief of sinners. And we may say,

“Yeah, this other person over here may outwardly sin worse than I do, but the difference is, I’m sure that I know better. I don’t really know their heart. I don’t know how much they know. But I know what I know, and I sin anyway! That person’s not Orthodox, and they do all these horrible things. Well, I am Orthodox. What’s my excuse?”

Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am chief. If we would believe the words of the liturgy, we would be the most humble people, and we would avoid sin the most effectively.

And so we come to All Saints Day. We have asked how we miss heaven; it is through sin.  We asked why we sin; it is because we are proud. We asked how to get rid of pride, and the answer is humility. And so finally I ask,

How do we achieve humility?

Think About Death to Encourage Humility

One of the ways to achieve humility is to constantly and daily be contemplating the day of your own death. It doesn’t matter how good of a parent you are or how bad of one, how good of a writer you are or how bad of one, how good of a preacher you are or how bad of one, how good of a tailor you are or how bad of one, how good of a singer you are or how bad of one. You will die. I will die.

If you have ever been to a funeral, the day is coming that you will be the one laying in the casket. You will not be breathing. You will not be speaking a single word. No one will be listening to you, because you will not be able to say anything. You will be dead.

Someone once told me a story . . . . He was about to leave this place of work, and was wanting to make sure the computer was all setup right, and was nervous about how everything was going to work once he left, and this coworker said, “Well, if you really want to know, let me just tell you straight. Do you want to know how much difference it is going to make when you’re gone? Well, put your hand in a bucket of water. Pull it out, and see how big of a hole is left.” The traffic lights are still going to go from red to green and back again, after you’re gone. The weather is still going to continue like it always was. The crops will continue as they always have. People will hopefully weep for you. But they will continue on with their lives after you’re gone, just after you have continued on with yours, after you have lost loved ones.

Now, it is our hope that we love others enough, that we are truly missed, and that the hole left behind when we are gone is a large one. But the only way you will ever love that deeply and that truly is, again, if you cultivate that humility. And again, one of the ways to cultivate that humility is to concentrate daily on the day of your death.

There is coming a day that you will have no more to-do lists, no more that you can accomplish tomorrow, nothing more that you can hurry and get done. The day of reckoning will have arrived. You will stand before the judgment seat of God.

The angels will come to bear your soul away, in one direction or the other. The accusing angels will dig up your past and bring up every sin that they can think of. And what response will the good angels have to give them? Will they try to defend you, and then fail because they have nothing to defend you with? Or will they be able to point to the fact that you truly repented of these sins, that you truly opened up your heart and your hands to be generous with your time, with your money, with your patience, to love your fellow man?

You see, if you are going to live forever on this earth, in this body, you might not need so much humility. After all, you could always fix something tomorrow if you messed it up today. You could always try better next time.

But you don’t know if you even have five minutes left.

You don’t even know if you are going to keep breathing, or if your heart is going to keep beating long enough to hear the end of this sermon.

So it is important for us to continuously be repenting, continuously be sober, continuously recognize that today may be our last. And ask ourselves whether we are ready to stand in the holy light of the countenance of Christ.

Now, we can be encouraged when we look at the saints. We do not need to despair. For they are people just like us. They had sins to struggle with, just as we do. And guess what? they made it! They succeeded!

But you will not find one saint that ever made it because they were smart enough, because they were ambitious enough, because they were eloquent enough, because they were talented enough, or because they got enough followers.

Some of the saints were public speakers, some were not, most were not. Some were writers, most were not. Some were preachers, most were not.

But without exception, what all the saints had in common was a love for Christ and a Christ-like humility, not exalting themselves, not putting their own ambitions up on a pedestal, but humbling themselves even to the point of death, not caring about their future plans, willing to die today for the sake of Christ.

It has been said that while the goal of the Protestant church is to fill the world with books, the goal of the Orthodox Church is to fill the world with relics, to fill the world with saints.

Not one person is going to get into heaven because they were ordained, because they were a great salesman, because they made beautiful vestments, because they were a fantastic singer or writer, no one will even get into heaven because lots of people happened to listen to them and change their lives because of it. When you stand before God–on your knees–[you will be] humbling yourself before Christ, recognizing that you have nothing to bring Him, to deserve heaven, realizing that it’s a gift of Christ.

So, let us think of our death. Let us think of the goal that we, too, would become saints glorified in heaven, remembered not for our eloquence, remembered not for our intelligence, remembered not for our ambitions, but remembered for our humility. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one.  Amen. 

~

This homily was preached on Thursday evening, October 31, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
Video | This entry was posted in All Saints Day, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Icons, Particular Judgment, Prayers to Angels & Saints, Toll Houses. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Dying to be Humble

  1. tpkatsa says:

    This is one of the best articles you’ve written on here so far.

    There is a story that goes something like this. A monk was lying on his deathbed. The other brothers were very worried because this monk was very careless in his monastic duties. He didn’t do many prostrations, he found difficulty praying, he was slipshod in his participation in the services, and so on. He just really wasn’t wasn’t a great monk. So the monk died, and an angel appeared to him with a list of all these things the monk had done wrong in his life. “But I have one thing,” said the monk, “I’ve never condemned nor judged anyone.” At this point the angel tore up the list. “You are right,” the angel said as he bore the man up to heaven.

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