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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

The Humility of Love

I want to ask you: what is the most important characteristic, what the church sometimes refers to as a virtue, that has allowed you to sustain a relationship with someone you love over the long haul? I daresay that if love is what holds the relationship together (rather than force or fear or money) you’ve had to learn how to be humble. Relationships without humility don’t tend to grow; they wither, eventually shrivel, dry up and dissolve.

But there’s a rather important thing that has to occur between two human beings: humility can’t be one sided; it’s got to be mutual; exercised by all those bound together in love. Our reading from Hebrews begins, “let mutual love continue.” And while in other passages, like Philippians 2, we hear about mutual love as necessary for members of the church, here in Hebrews, this directive to mutual love draws in those outside the church, “strangers, those in prison, those who are being tortured,” those down on their luck, those who need the love of God to sustain their hope, those who need us to share with them not simply our resources of money or clothing, but the very core of our being: the love of God that sustains us.

If we’re going to demonstrate that it’s God’s love that sustains all of us, rather than our own desires and our own accomplishments, our own ability to draw attention to ourselves, and our own power in sexual relationships, then we cannot cave to our temptations to seeking these things. All the morality verses within Scripture - all of the laws - are fundamentally about the humility of letting God’s love be seen and known by others.

We hear, “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” God gave us marriage and friendship so that we would not be alone. There is something intrinsically good then, about sustaining those relationships. For marriage, this really isn’t primarily about you and the sex you have or don’t have. It’s actually about exercising the humility of self-control. It’s no secret that lust, passion, excitement, sexual arousal, can shut down our ability to reason properly. The problem is that acting on those things removes one part of the formula needed to sustain a relationship with another person: humility. Humility, in this case, sustains the trust your partner needs from you. Without humility from which trust can flourish and grow, your relationship will either fester or wither. And the fruit of this is often nasty for far more than just the two of you. And what’s seen out of this is brokenness and not grace. Let me be clear that I am not saying that divorce is not sometimes absolutely necessary, particularly in cases of mistreatment or abuse. But such actions annul a marriage because they inherently contradict God’s love, which is the whole point of marriage: seeing God’s love displayed in human form.

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." Again, this isn’t to say that money or having lots of it is inherently wrong. It isn’t. Rather, as the writer of Hebrews continues, the humility of accepting what one has and not flaunting it for power, influence or prestige, is “so we can say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?" The humility here is about showing that we are utterly dependent upon and defer to God and not to our own means of gaining a false worldly power that as our psalms state, ‘will be blown away with the wind,’ as Proverbs and our Gospels state, ‘that is utterly irrelevant in God’s final judgment of this world.” And this leads us to our Gospel lesson this morning.

Jesus says, “those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He contrasts this with those who exalt themselves. He tells a parable about those who think highly of themselves and always try to exercise the power and influence they think they have. These, Jesus says, will be humbled because they’ll find that they’ve wasted their entire lives on self aggrandizing ways that are utterly irrelevant at the wedding banquet; that is, when God comes in his final judgment. The first will be last, if they’re able to get a spot at all with God; the last, i.e. those who act with humility toward others - the very point of Jesus’s entire life and ministry - will find themselves in and with Jesus when he comes again to judge.

Again, it’s not that humility is the end goal. Let’s not make another Pharisaical law for people to follow. It’s simply that humility presses us to seek God for what we need and in doing that, showing other people that God loves us, that God provides for us, and that that provision is something they can have too. I’ve spoken about ‘our humility’ here, but our humility actually grows out of our knowledge of God. And from that knowledge comes greater trust and reliance. The more we see and experience God with us, the more ability we have to let go of our own insecurities and all the broken ways and things we cling to. In this way we can sit down with, as Hebrews says, “the stranger, the person who is in prison, or who has been tortured, or who's just lost a spouse or who’s going through a tough time at work, or who’s struggling with relationships, or various peoples’ expectations, or loneliness, or sexual appetite, or anger or depression, or those who are desperate for love and meaning without even knowing it. Humility is about opening up a space to make room for the other person’s needs to be spoken without fear, to be heard with compassion, to be responded to with kindness rather than judgment, ridicule or exclusion, to be recognized as a child of God, and so to be addressed by God himself. This, my friends, is what the law of love, the law of humility is all about. AMEN.

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