Exemplifying faith through humble obedience
Posted on behalf of Reverend Jonathan Meintjes
Date of sermon: 5 July 2015 ( 6th Sunday after Pentecost)
Where: St Francis
I hate being cold. I hate being without money in my pocket, and I really like to know that every few hours, I will have food in my stomach. So it is with this in mind that I find Jesus’ instructions in today’s Gospel to be a real challenge. He sends his disciples out quite ill equipped for the task at hand. Yet, I want to do his will, but I too feel so ill equipped.
On the back cover of Rebecca Pippert’s book Out of the Salt Shaker, she says, “I used to think that evangelism is something that you wouldn’t even do to a dog!” I think sometimes we are so daunted by the thought of actively participating in evangelism that we possibly think the same way. It is a scary concept and yet each one of us is called, in some way or other, to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. Evangelism does take on many different guises and is not merely what we consider was the domain of people like Billy Graham and Reinhold Bonke.
Talking about them, though, they had really massive logistics machines backing them. Now that is being equipped to spread the Gospel. We are just not in that league and therefore surely evangelism is not our problem. Let’s explore a little of why Jesus send the disciples out empty handed, so to speak.
A couple of pointers come to mind here.
- He wanted their faith, their reliance on God alone and not on all the things of this world. Which incidentally, often distract us from the task at hand.
- He wanted his disciples to touch the people on a one to one basis, just as they were.
- He wanted them to exemplify faith by humble obedience.
Let’s look a little closely at this. Three dimensions of this statement are important.
- Firstly humility,
- Next obedience
- And finally reliance on God or what we mean by faith.
Believe me, there is nothing more humbling than having to rely on others to meet our basic needs. The disciples were sent out to be at the mercy of the people they met. Such humility possibly needs to inform our own lives too. But humility is not something we switch on and switch off at will. It is a distinct part of our lives as Christians and needs cultivation. When I was looking at this I considered what St Benedict has to say on the matter.
St Benedict lived in the first few centuries of the Christian era and was responsible for the formation of many monasteries around Europe. He wrote a rule for these communities of monks that is as relevant for us today as it was for the monks then. Part of that rule was a twelve step process of humility to usher us into the presence of God. Let me briefly share each of the steps with you now.
- Step one was to keep the fear of God before us in obedience. Seeking for the will of God in our lives and acting upon it was vital.
- Step two was to follow God’s will and not our own. How often we feel God is saying something to us and then, because of the pressures of this world, we water down that call to make it palatable for ourselves and even logical in our minds. We are continually called to make choices either for God or ourselves.
- The third step is submission to a superior. For the monks that was the abbot of the monastery. However, for us it may be somewhat different. When I began my business people would say to me, “Isn’t it nice that you no longer have to work for a boss?” The concept of submission to a supervisor seems to be something we should aim to eliminate in our lives. Not so with Benedict. He points out that a superior is important. In our Christian context that could be our Rector or a spiritual director. We need to submit to an authority voluntarily and whole heartedly.
- Step four is perseverance. Here again we find that our contemporary world seems to tell us that “if at first you don’t succeed then try something else.” We need to revert to the original statement of, “if at first you don’t succeed then try and try again.” Perseverance will help us to build an understanding that some things we are not good at and that there are others who succeed far better than we do.
- The fifth step is possibly one that we will find the most challenging. Benedict calls for full disclosure to the abbot. Well, we are not monks but if we have a spiritual superior, perhaps we need to fully confide in that person and to confess our sins. I am aware that we as Anglicans are neither Catholic, for whom regular confession is a natural part of their religious life, nor protestant. Our protestant fellow Christians would baulk at the concept of confession. However, there is huge value in this exercise.
- Let’s move onto step six. Benedict says we should learn contentment in all things. In a world that is continuously demanding of us to desire something better all the time this is quite a hard thing to do. Whether we are in a good place or enduring hardship or sickness, can we learn to be content with our lot?
- Step seven is to put ourselves lower than others. Remember the comments of Jesus about taking one’s place as a guest at the table. He said that we should always choose the place of lowest rank and allow the host to invite us up higher.
- Step eight is to do only what is permissible. That means no bending of the rules. It also means that we need to look carefully at the laws we are expected to follow as Christians and also the laws of the community within which we live. We are probably all guilty of traffic violations and we should see them in the light of this step.
- Speak only when spoken to is step number nine. In a society that highly values communication and media, talk has become cheap. Benedict here is trying to encourage his monks to choose their words well and ensure that their speech is directed at communicating things of worth only.
- Step ten is to avoid laughter. Perhaps the most misunderstood of the twelve steps, Benedict was not saying that we should not laugh, but that rather we should avoid frivolous mirth. Often our laughter is directed at the cost of others. We humiliate people through laughter in many cases. Look at the satirical cartoonists in the newspapers for a good example.
- Step eleven is to speak gently and humanely. Our words can hurt or heal. Criticism is also so easy and yet so often it breaks the other person down and is intended to make us feel superior.
- The final step is to demonstrate a posture of humility. So often our body language gives our sentiments about others away. When we cross our arms in conversation it can indicate a barrier between ourselves and others.
If we practise these steps continuously we will certainly draw ourselves closer to the presence of God.
Our second aspect we were going to look at is obedience. How do we develop an obedience to God? St Gregory of Sinai in the 13th century pointed out that we should consciously try to keep the commandments. Think about it. In our contemporary world the commandments are considered irrelevant. There is an excuse always to break them for whatever reason. Some of them we do not even think about much. For instance we are called upon not to covet the possessions of others. However, our advertising media continually pushes that very line to make us purchase things we do not really need. Or, what about the matter of keeping the Sabbath? Ah now we are opening up a huge can of worms.
Our third aspect is reliance or faith. If God calls us to do His work can we honestly rely upon Him to equip us? The important point here is that it is not our things that will draw others to God. In fact it is when they see our weakness and our vulnerability that they will become more open to hearing the Gospel and accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Consider Paul’s condition in the New Testament reading this morning. What we need rather than things is God’s empowerment, as he did with his disciples. With His power in our lives we too will exemplify faith by humble obedience.