The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes
Homily for the
Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
August 28, 2016
Picture it: a hyper-active seven-year-old boy at a large family gathering at his grandparent’s house. There’s music, and laughter, and lots of noise and fun, but being the only male cousin, and being significantly younger than everyone else, the boy is feeling left out and unnoticed. So he grabs a turkey baster from the kitchen drawer, stands on a chair, and screams at the top of his lungs, “Can I have your attention please!” And the result? Absolutely nothing. He was expecting the crowds to turn their complete attention to him and to hang on his every word. But nope. People looked over at him, chuckled in a condescending way, and went back to their fun. Soon enough the boy’s mother would come over to him, take his turkey baster microphone from him, and tell him to “go play.” The boy was mad and embarrassed, and sulked off to a corner where he convinced himself that he should probably run away and join a family where he’d be appreciated.
In case you’re wondering, that little boy was yours truly…and no, I didn’t run away, but I did learn a little lesson in humility that day. Everybody knew, except me apparently, that a little kid has no business trying to gain full command of a room of adults. Unless you’re on fire or choking, a seven-year-old is meant to be “seen, and not heard,” right? Let the adults drink coffee and talk about Aunt Susie’s new wig behind her back in peace…you just go find something quiet and clean to do. Many of us here probably experienced this “growing-up” dynamic to a greater or lesser extent: we were taught as children to learn our place, and if we over-stepped we could end in a crushing display of humiliation. We were all being taught the tough lessons of humility before we had ever heard the word.
Our readings this weekend are all about humility. Our first reading from Sirach gives us some pretty explicit advice about how to grow in humility and in our Gospel, Jesus paints a nice little picture for us of what happens when we think too much of ourselves and act on it. And the price we pay for our pride? Embarrassment, shame, and humiliation. We know these are the guaranteed results of pride, and yet we continue to fall into the same old traps. How many of us use Facebook, for example, as a subconscious ego trip? How many of us brag about our jobs or our education or the vacations we’ve taken or how enlightened we are? How many of us get angry or passive aggressive when we’ve been slighted even in the smallest of ways because we thought we deserved much better? C.S. Lewis famously said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” And this is where the real struggle with humility occurs for most of us. Most of us don’t think that we’re so fantastically wonderful and that the world should cater to our individual needs. The reality is more grave…I think most of us are so desperately longing for love and attention that our lives can become consumed with thinking about ourselves and how to fill ourselves up. And we become more and more willing to risk the embarrassment, shame, and humiliation of stepping out-of-place in the off-chance of getting it.
“My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.” This is how Sirach begins our first reading, and I think he’s trying to remind us of what is really lurking behind most of our pride and our failures in the humility department. It was my loneliness and the lack of attention I was receiving that caused me to stand on that chair with a turkey baster, and if I’m honest with myself, most of my other humility failings throughout my life were brought about by the same thing. “Each one of us has a God-sized hole in our hearts,” my grandmother used to tell me, “and nothing and nobody but God will ever be able to fill it.” See pride is just one of so many ways that we try to fill that hole. Our efforts to get people to look at us, appreciate us, affirm us, and love us…we’re just trying to fill that void, we’re trying to carve out a place for ourselves, and we’re trying to make the loneliness go away. And yet the more we try, the more damage we can end up doing.
My grandmother had it figured out though…we’ve got to fill that hole, we’ve got to feed the hunger of our hearts, but we’ve got to turn to God to do it. Only through a vibrant faith life – a life of prayer, a life of trust, and a life of holy abandonment to God – will we ever be able to love and to be loved as we so long for. When we can wake up every morning knowing, truly knowing, that God loves us, we’ll be able to take the burden off our ourselves and others to accomplish that love for us. We’ll be able to exist in the freedom of being able to turn outward with the gift of our own love rather than feeling petrified that we’re under-loved. This is a work that only God can do in us. What we have to do is allow Him, with His grace, to break us of these habits of disordered self-love so that there is room for Him in us and that His love in us may be complete. The result of all of this is a truly humble person who is free to give little to no thought of him or herself because they know they have already been loved and filled…the result is a truly free person who can focus all of his or her energy on loving God and others.
Our Lord looks to us today, as He looked to the host who invited Him to dinner in our gospel, and He calls us to humility and freedom. He invites us to be radically and completely loved by the Father – so much so that we don’t care where we sit or how esteemed we are of others – and to love the way that He loves – loving them no matter where they sit in life or how esteemed they are. As we approach the sacrificial banquet of His love in the Holy Eucharist today, we pray earnestly that this good work will be accomplished in us.