Sermon For Sunday, October 27, 2013

Luke 18:9-14 “In Prayer As In Life: Be Humble!”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples Of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Blog:

For a video of this sermon, go online to:

My Aunt Viola, who was so very supportive of my call into ministry.

My Aunt Viola, who was so very supportive of my call into ministry.

One of the moments of my teenage years that transformed my life was a horseback trail ride my Aunt Viola sponsored for my cousin Reina and me and attended with us.  I remember sitting around the campfire each night talking with the others on the ride, mostly adults and several clergy I might add, cogitating on important “adulty” sorts of things.  One night the topic of conversation was The Jesus Prayer.  Not “Jesus’s Prayer,” as in The Lord’s Prayer, but The Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Obviously it is taken from the prayer of the tax collector in today’s scripture text.  I have since learned that it became a deep and permanent fixture of Christian tradition through its use in the Orthodox monastic tradition where it was prayed repeatedly until it became internalized as ceaseless prayer.  It’s intent, of course, was to draw the worshipper deeper into humble relationship with God. (1)

All I remember from that conversation, being the fairly self-absorbed teenager who was growing more and more comfortable with my public persona through choir, drama, and church activities, was a distinct disdain for this prayer, which I saw as too self-effacing and disempowering.  I did not speak up that night, for there were Presbyterian Pastors around the campfire and even then they seemed far too theologically reinforced than I could manage, but I went away assured they were in the wrong to like this prayer and I was in the right.

PhariseeAndTheTaxCollectorWell, fast-forward decades later after I have had innumerable life experiences and interactions with far too many self-absorbed folks who are comfortable with their public personas, much like my high school self, and I have a different take on this prayer.  I still believe it is not the kind of prayer that we would impose on another person, for there are many people in this world who are in forced subjugation and who are humiliated intentionally for me to ever wish this humble prayer be required nor even expected of others.  But its humility is at the core of the words, the actions, the very life of Jesus.  Coming from within the self, and flowing from authentic and honorable motives, this prayer will surely put a follower of Christ more closely in line with our savior’s desires and wishes for us than almost any other prayer.

Ah, but there is the rub.  This prayer must come from within and flow from authentic and honorable motives.  First, it must originate from within the individual who is considering it.  Far to often the title “sinner” comes from beyond us.  This is called humiliation and has nothing at all to do with the kind of humility Jesus was illustrating.  That is why when I see a family, including the abuse of children forced to hold signs that say “God Hates Fags” outside of friends’ funerals, the General Assembly of the Christian Church, or the third game of the World Series, I get angry.  Those who hold such signs and call others names are just like the Pharisee Jesus was talking about who wastes his attempts at faithful living on endless comparisons and contrasts with others and non-stop judgment and name calling.  God understands that if anyone is going to truly understand whether or not I am sinful, it will be me and me alone.

HumilityAnd that leads me to the second requirement for The Jesus Prayer to be faithfully realized: it must come from authentic and honorable motives.  I had a friend and colleague back in New York City who talked about growing up Catholic and preparing for First Communion.  He knew he had to go to Confessional for the very first time, but he really didn’t know what to confess.  So, in a vain attempt to impress the priest he sat down in the confessional and quickly said, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned.  I have committed the sin of adultery!”  It sounded like a good adult sin, right?  It even had the word “adult” right there in it!  Sinfulness born of naiveté is not the humility Jesus desires.  For others of us the sense of sinfulness flows from a real misunderstanding of scripture, beginning with generations of misinterpretation of the Adam & Eve story as well as a distorted understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion and death through the twisted lens of the atonement theory.  Sinfulness born of self-hating and self-loathing is not the humility Jesus desires.

No, our understanding of our own failures, missed opportunities, errors, lapses in judgment, and sin must come from a healthy understanding of ourselves as beloved children of God, who were created as good and worthy creatures full of potential and realized goodness.  When we know fully and completely how much we are loved by God, then and only then do we have the right and the resources to genuinely know when we miss the mark, go astray, and sin.  Without this inner sense of worthiness, we are simply engaging in self-degradation, not humility.

Humility must originate from within the self and flow from authentic and honorable motives.

Last week we explored the boldness of prayer that both had the gall and gumption to ask God for anything and everything, but then let go of the necessity for God to act and respond like we want and demand.  This week we explored the humility of prayer that has the gumption and the gall to look honestly at ourselves, not others, and takes assessment of who we are and what we are capable of out of pure love and brazen honesty.  But let me point out that both aspects of prayer, boldness and humility, require a deep and abiding patience and a willingness to be present with those who are in pain, whether others or ourselves.

This is the core of the Christian faith.  I know we are six months away from Holy Week, but if it is true then it is true now: faith requires that we wait patiently with those who suffer.  That is prayer, simply put, honestly lived.  Sacrificial waiting.