November 01, 2017
By Timothy Haut.
Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12 (NRSV)
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Every autumn I lead a walking tour of beautiful Fountain Hill Cemetery. The stone markers are normally as mute as the granite out of which they are chiseled. But the stories of the once-vibrant people who walked the earth in this corner of the Connecticut River valley have not all been forgotten. There are old ship captains, such as Samuel Mather, who set a record for the fastest trip from Australia in the Gold Rush days on a clipper ship "Nightingale." There is a perfect cube marking the resting place of the minimalist modern artist Sol Lewitt. People come to visit the tiny stone inscribed simply "XYZ," where over 100 years ago the town buried an unidentified robber who was shot by a night watchman while breaking into the local bank, and whose grave was visited one day each year by a mysterious woman in black. But my favorite is the tilting stone over the grave of Lucy Southworth, who died in 1870. On her stone is the simple epitaph: "She hath done what she could."
I don't know much about Lucy. I don't know if we are supposed to imagine that the poor woman didn't have much to work with, but she did the best she could. Or perhaps instead, as I prefer to imagine, she is a saint who used up her earthly life to the maximum, investing every day, every relationship, every talent with all the love she had to give. That is what I wish for my own life, I think. And it is the great hope for all of us, who will never be powerful or rich or famous. Our humble, ordinary lives can be the instruments of God's glory and grace.
Jesus once admonished his disciples to disdain the path that seeks the spotlight, that yearns for recognition and reward. It's enough, he said, to be humble. The word has the same root as our English word "humus," which means dirt. Good dirt, but dirt. It's where we all come from. We say it in the Committal Service at the cemetery: "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust." It reminds us, when we lean toward self-promotion, when we are tempted to wave around our broad phylacteries and long fringes, that all human beings are all cut out of the same cloth, all fashioned from the earth that we'll scrape off our shoes at the end of a long walk in the woods. But somehow God has chosen to invest that good earth with a holy breath, loved us into life, called us to cherish each sweet day and every ordinary person we meet. And we are invited to walk humbly with our God, as Micah reminds us, because in our humility, God's grace and love kindle, grow, and flame.
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble. We all want to be noticed, appreciated, recognized, loved. But help us to be content to be good dirt for you to mold and fill and use for love's sake. Keep us connected to the earth and to each other so that we may fly together into your heaven. Amen.
Rev. Tim Haut is the Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Deep River, where he has served for 37 years. He routinely wears striped socks because a painful love demands it, and they give him great joy.
November 01, 2017