The Power of Humility

Sermon for Sunday, November 23, 2014
Last Sunday after Pentecost, “Christ the King” Sunday
Ephesians 1:15-23

I pray that … you may know what is…  the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.

Augustine once wrote that:
The best guarantee against the abuse of power is not only to make sure that those who wield it are honest and upright, but that they are in the habit of wielding it.

Which is to say that power takes practice.   If we wish to use power rightly, not only are we to be honest and upright, but we are to practice using it. And we have been given power.  As we hear in Ephesians:

I pray that… you may know… what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.

This morning’s sermon is about this power that we have been given, a power that we are called to practice. “Power” tends to have a bad reputation, probably because we see it abused to often: in government, in the Church, by the wealthy.  But power is a gift, and as a gift from God, power – when used rightly – can be good.   For us who believe, writes Paul, we have an “immeasurable greatness” of this power – we have a lot of power! – and Paul prays that we may know it:  “I pray that… you may know… what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”  We are not to shy away from power, then; God has given us an immeasurable power – the same power God used to raise Jesus from the dead – in order that we might use it.

Here at Trinity we have power in conventional ways:  we tend to be well-educated, we live in a well-to-do town, we do not lack for food or material goods.  But the kind of power Paul is talking about, and the kind of power we are called to use, is not rooted in conventional sources.  The kind of power that Paul is talking about is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” for – as Paul writes – “we proclaim Christ crucified.”  Our power is rooted in Christ, the King who was crucified, whose feast we celebrate today, who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,” but “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on the cross.”  It is because of Jesus’ emptying, his self-offering, his willingness to abase himself to the point of death, that we now exalt him and proclaim him as King.  It is His power – the power of humility, of obedience, of seeking not our own will but God’s – that we have in spades and that we are called to use.

God is calling us to use this power to do things like – as we heard in today’s gospel lesson – feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked,  care for the sick, and visit those in prison.  Our parish’s life would not be complete if we did not carry out these works.  And God is calling us to use our power to care for his “sheep” – as God does in today’s lesson from Ezekiel – to seek out the lost, gather the strayed, bind up the injured, strengthen the weak, and feed them all with good pasture.

God has given us the power to do these things.  And I hope that we at Trinity might continue to practice this power.  We practice this power not only as we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and welcome the stranger; we practice this power not only as we seek out the lost, gather the strayed, bind up the injured and lead them all to good pasture; but we also practice this power each Sunday as we come to the sacrament we are about to receive, as we take into ourselves the life of him who gave himself up for us, as we become the one whom we eat and drink, as his pattern of being taken, blessed, broken and given becomes our pattern of being taken, blessed, broken and given.

There are plenty of things that would hinder us from practicing this power, that would “hijack” us from practice.  For example, imagining that we are here merely to preserve a building would hijack our power.  So would letting our senses be numbed to the needs of those around us.  Or letting internal dissention consume our energies.  Or letting fear of change get in the way of trusting God’s call.  Or letting our calendars get out of hand so that we gradually squeeze God out of our lives. There are many “saboteurs” that would keep us from practicing God’s gift of power to us.

And if we are practicing this power, I am not at all concerned that it will be misused: “The best guarantee against the abuse of power is… to make sure that those who wield it are… in the habit of wielding it.”  The more we root ourselves in Christ, the more we – like Christ – empty ourselves, and are humble and obedient and faithful (in prayer, worship, service and formation) – the more we wield this power of Christ, the King who was crucified, the better we will become at wielding it, and the more Christ can use us to carry out his work of restoring this world to himself.

So today, on Christ the King Sunday, the day on which we remember that Christ will in the end be King over this world, a kingship won not by force or by brute strength, but won instead by the power of humility, of self-emptying, of obedience, of self-offering – I along with Paul pray that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened so that we might know the hope, the riches, the power that he has given us, and that we will not shy away from practicing this power, but instead claim it, own it and use it to care for His sheep.

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