Snow Covered Church, Weaverville North Carolina

A Homily for the first Sunday after Epiphany

January 8, 2017 — Not delivered, due to weather

St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, Weaverville, NC

Text: Romans 12:1-5 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen

The Christian is called to be humble.

On the surface, this is an easy challenge. Okay, we might say to ourselves, I won’t brag so much about the good things I’ve done. Great! got that one under control, we might say smugly to ourselves.

Okay, so maybe we should think a little more about this.

To be humble, to not think more highly of ourselves than we should is more difficult than we might immediately think.

Within the context of post-modern American, the advice we often dole out for our children, a difficult employee or a friend who seems to be constantly fumbling along is “have a little pride! Be dignified in what you do man!” We watch what these friends do and wonder what is wrong with them. Don’t they care what other people think? Perhaps you can already see the problem with our attitude.

Then, are these friends setting an example for how we are to be? Is this self-defeating attitude an example of humility?

No, I don’t think so, rather it is a form sloth, sloppiness, or laziness. It just as sinful as being proud. Let’s dig into how each of these sins separate us from walking with God.

To be proud, truly proud plays into our desire to be whole heartedly dependent upon only ourselves, it plays into our desire to be our own god. It says that I can do this on my own and I do not need anyone else. It says “I can do all things through myself who strengthens me,” the antithesis of the Biblical exhortation “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We see easily how this attitude breaks us away from depending upon both our God and our brothers and sisters in Christ for the strength and grace that we need. It breaks us away from depending upon God for our everything and from truly loving those who walk with us in Christ.

Are we then to be completely dependent upon others? Is our attitude to be apathy?

No, this isn’t the way either, to be slothful or lazy, to depend on others for all we need is just as bad. This attitude disregards our God-given abilities, disregards his goodness to us. It disregards the gifts of God. When we do not use the gifts that God has given us, we say to Him, “psh, we don’t need these gifts! No! we don’t even want them!” This is the same sin, distorted into something equally as ugly. It is the other side of the same coin.

So, what’s a Christian to do?

The better way is this – that we learn to give thanks for the gifts that God has given us and use them to His glory. This doesn’t mean that you must become a missionary in Africa or a pastor. Some are called to these roles, and they are good callings. However, many are called to other vocations.

I remember, not so long ago, times of feeling lost, wondering, “am I doing what God has called me to do?” Perhaps you are in the same place, or perhaps you are in a transitory time in your life. Chance are, if you start to seek God in all that you are doing, and you come to be content and at peace in your work, in your daily tasks then you are doing the will of God. That the calling of the Lord isn’t necessarily to trudge through the distant lands risking your life for the glory Christ, but doing good in the moments that He gives you.

I heard a story once about a woman who would pray that she would pick out the right socks each morning for her husband. I am not suggesting that we do this, but perhaps you should give thanks that you have socks, or give thanks for the friends that gave you some fun socks for Christmas. For this might seem like small things, but aren’t they a blessing?

On a quick pastoral note, one of the jobs of your pastors is to help you discern your vocation if you’re at a moment of struggle, if you’re wondering what you ought to do next, please know our doors are always open. If you’re entering a new career, or it seems like all the doors have slammed shut in your face, let us pray with you for you. Let’s sit down and have a cup of coffee, and chat. Or find a Christian brother or sister who you can talk to. If you do feel dissonance in your vocational pursuit start with prayer, and the reading of the scripture and reach out to others for prayer. God will place you where you need to be.

How do we live out our simple vocations?

Mothers and fathers – pray for your children and pray with them, love them well, raise them in the discipline of the Lord, teaching them of all His goodness.

Children – listen to your parents, do as they guide you, honor your father and mother, for it is in honoring them that you learn to honor God, learn to pray, read scriptures and give thanks for all things.

Teachers – teach with grace, and wisdom, so that your students will grow in all wisdom.

Students – study hard, pray for God’s wisdom to use all that you are learning for His glory.

Retirees — ask God what you can do with your spare time, not squandering it away, but using it for His glory, devoting yourself to good works.

Those who are living the normal American life, with a 9-5 job that seems completely unrelated to the glory of God, do not compartmentalize these things. Rather do the tasks that are set before you to the best of your ability, not for your own end but to the end that God is glorified. Our actions speak as loud as our words, so if you are constantly preaching the gospel and are lazy or proud, what witness to the glory of God have you performed?

There’s a little book called “The Practice of the Presence of God.” This book is a collection of letters, small meditations and remembered conversations with a monk named Brother Lawrence. This man was a simple monk, he wasn’t an abbot or a great theologian, but a man who entered the monastery with the desire to seek God. He was content to wash dishes and to purely be in the presence of God.

His prayer, that has been remembered for the centuries since his death, is the following: “Lord of all pots and pans and things… make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.”

It is in these simple words that Brother Lawrence made himself a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God. It was not through some elaborate self-flagellation or over ritualization of life that he entered the presence of God, but instead by taking every moment and giving it back to the Lord. He performed even the most menial of tasks to the glory of God.

How would this attitude change how we do, everything?

Laundry and dishes would no longer be a task done grudgingly, but rather joyfully. Shoveling snow would be done with a glad heart. Our work wouldn’t be done, simply because we had to, but with thanksgiving to God.

Of course, entering this is a difficult task, and at times it will seem foolish or as though it’s too much. But, through careful habits of the mind we return to this again, and again. This is the renewal of the mind that St. Paul writes to the Roman Christians about. It is a giving over of all, that the Spirit sanctify and return our minds to God, that we can do all things for good.

There are Christians in the freelance writing world who, start their day with a prayer – not that God would give them bountiful profits, but that He would use the gifts He has given them to His glory to bless others. Other Christians seek to develop community through their work. Likewise, there was a scientist, who was a Christian, who, to remind himself where all knowledge came from, would stop before he started his work and remind everyone “be quiet! For I am about to ask God a question.” His research was a form of seeking God for him.

What little habits of the mind would transform the way you approach your work? Trivial or great? What habits would transform how you spend your time?

This is what we are challenged to do. To present ourselves, at the Holy Communion table, and every day in all we do as living sacrifices. We are called to give ourselves, our souls, and our bodies to His service. We are called to give our all to the Glory of God. Whether it be in parenthood, in being a good employee, in being a kind friend, in being a good steward of the gifts that we have been given or any other task we remember the reformation adage “soli Deo gloria,” to glory to God alone! No matter how simple or grand our lives are, we give them all to God, to His glory.

And brethren, do not forget, in all things, be humble.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen


One comment on “A Homily for the first Sunday after Epiphany”
  1. Janet Dunn says:

    Dear Ian,

    What wonderful words….how many times have I muttered at dishes, laundry and other things. I try to thank God for all I have and all that He will provide. I am thankful often through my day and pray for others, but it is humbling to read your words. I know that when I ask that he remove the beam in my eye before I try to pick the splitter out of another’s eye, that it is a reminder to look to me and how God wants me to move forward with Him. It is to follow him and not my own wonderings. His gifts are immense and my hope is that I will continue to open my mind to more fully follow His path for me. Thank you, love you and may God Bless us all.

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