Include the Excluded: Be Humble; See, Notice, and Welcome God in All People
A Homily for St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, St. Paul, MN
by The Rev. Craig Lemming, Associate Rector
Sunday, September 1, 2019 – Proper 17, Year C
In the name of Christ, our host and guest, who always includes the outcast. Amen.
Do you remember the first day of school? Think back to all the first days of school you have experienced. Do you remember all that fear and excitement? Think back and try to remember the first day of kindergarten? I remember bawling my eyes out! Do you remember the first day of elementary school? Middle School? High School? What about College or Graduate School perhaps? This time of year always reminds me of those first days of school. Those of you who are introverts like me may recall that crippling fear of being the new student, walking into a crowd of strangers, hoping and praying that you’d meet just one kind person who would talk to you; who would invite you to sit with them during the lunch break or sit next to you on the bus ride home. Perhaps you were one of the wallflowers like me, who stood at a distance or sat all alone because no one wanted to talk to you, or they were simply too caught up in the excitement of seeing old friends or making new ones to notice you and to invite you to sit with them at lunch time. I think we’ve all been there. We all know what it feels like to be an outcast; to be excluded. Today’s Gospel teaches us what to do when we find ourselves or when we notice others in this predicament. But before we explore the Gospel itself, I’d like to share with you what I have planned for the Children’s Sermon which will take place at the ten o’clock service later this morning.
Did any of you see these photographs and story that went viral on Social Media last week? According to reports when this eight-year-old named Christian saw his peer, Connor, crying, he walked over, took Connor’s hand, and lead him into their Elementary School for their first day of school. What Christian didn’t know is that Connor is autistic and that this small gesture helped Connor handle a very overwhelming situation. Christian’s mother said, “I saw him on the ground with Connor as Connor was crying in the corner, and [Christian] was consoling him,” then “[Christian] grabs [Connor’s] hand and walks him to the front door. We waited until the bell rang and he walked [Connor] inside of the school. The rest is history. They have an inseparable bond.”
Connor’s mother shared a beautiful message about how in all of our different colors, and genders, abilities and disabilities, only one thing really matters. She said, “just be kind, open your heart… it’s what we need in this world… One act of kindness can change someone’s life, can change the world. That’s all it takes.” And Connor said “[Christian] was kind to me. I was in the first day of school and I started crying, then [Christian] helped me and I was happy… He found me and held my hand and I got happy tears.” The boys said that they hope their friendship, and the moment that started it, provides a lesson. “Be nice,” Christian and Connor said in unison.
Later this morning, I hope that our Children will be able to make a connection between this touching story of Christian and Connor’s friendship and today’s Gospel. Jesus teaches that “when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14). In the first century, and maybe even still today, the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind were social outcasts. Jesus rejects the customary etiquette of reciprocity. Jesus goes against the exclusive practices of the well-to-do only inviting their respectable friends, family, relatives, and rich neighbors, expecting that they will reciprocate and repay them with an equally exclusive invitation. In the Kingdom of God, which is the Beloved Community that Christian and Connor preached last week, Jesus prioritizes inviting the outcasts to the banquet; not the well-to-do. To do this, there is only one practice that is required. That practice is Humility.
Jesus says, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). I think we can all agree that Humility is sorely lacking in society today. We hardly ever read about leaders who humble themselves. In fact, we only ever hear our leaders exalting themselves. The celebrated Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast observes that,
To be humble means to be earthy. The word “humble” is related to “humus,” the vegetable mold of top soil. It is related to human and humor. If we accept and embrace the earthiness of our human condition (a bit humor helps) we shall find ourselves doing so with humble pride. In our best moments humility is simply pride that is too grateful to look down on anyone.
Humility is simply pride that is too grateful to look down on anyone. Christian did not look down on this frightened, autistic boy named Connor. Christian saw Connor crying, noticed how afraid and overwhelmed he was, went to Connor who was all alone in the corner, got down on the ground, took Connor’s hand, consoled him, and they walked hand in hand into their first day of school. Christian embodies and shows us what humility is: pride that is too grateful to look down on anyone. We can either spend a lot of time looking down on others, or, by practicing humility, we can be in Communion with “those people” – the outcasts we exclude. They become us.
Every day is like the first day of school. People are hoping and praying for a kind person to talk to them; to hold their hand and to be with them; hoping someone will notice them and say, “come and sit at our table and eat with us.” Jesus teaches us to include the excluded; to practice humility by being far too earthy and far too grateful to exalt ourselves and look down on anyone. We can all be humble enough to see, notice, and welcome God who is in you and in me and in every person we meet, especially those whom society excludes. When we are humble enough to seek and serve Christ in all persons, no one is excluded; everyone belongs to God and to each other. This is what it means to be humble. This is what it means to be Christ. To be both Christ’s hosts and Christ’s guests in this Communion Table called life. Amen.
- David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 202-3.