Homily, Generous with Vulnerability
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24=5C, 2022
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Four people. Four Stories. Four Lessons on Generosity.
Today we continue with part three of our sermon series on what it means to live generously. So you’re invited again to take your journals, maybe take some notes, sketch some drawings, and I’ll offer you two more prompts at the end.
Four people. Four Stories. Four Lessons on Generosity. Part Three.
A while back I was talking with my spiritual director about my weaknesses. Which is always something fun to talk about, isn’t it? I was sharing with him about my perceived weaknesses and how frustrated I was with them. And how I just wanted to do this important work but I kept on making mistakes. It didn’t to seem to come naturally to me. I was letting people down because I couldn’t get this one thing right.
So we sat there in silence for a moment after I spewed out all of my frustrations.and thoroughly beaten myself up And then he asked me a question. “Derek, what if your weaknesses are gifts? What if your shortcomings are opportunities? What if your vulnerabilities are actually prerequisites for the work you are doing?
I think Jesus is perhaps asking us a similar question in today’s gospel. In today’s gospel Jesus tells a parable about the prayers of two people. The first prayer came from a Pharisee, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people, and especially not like that guy over there.” The second came from a tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Now as parables go, this one seems to be fairly straight forward. It’s a lesson about humility. It’s a warning against pride. After all, no one is fooled by the pompous prayer of this Pharisee. We’ve all met people like that—full of themselves and never able to acknowledge their own mistakes. The tax collector is the clear hero in this parable. Because even though his life is a bit of a mess, we can’t help but feel compassion for the guy who acknowledges his own shortcomings.
And so we walk away from this parable thinking we ought to be more like the tax collector: humble, modest, and self-critical in our prayers.
But I don’t think that’s quite the message of this parable. At least not in the way it is sometimes understood. Sadly, the Church through the centuries has often had a strong tradition of imparting to its members self-flagellation as a virtue. That it’s good to be hard on ourselves. That we should always be beating our chest and whipping our back for the horrible and sinful people that we are.
But what if humility is not about being hard on ourselves? What if humility is about being generous with our vulnerabilities?
What if in this story the tax collector is lifted up not because he was hard on himself, but because he was honest with God about his shortcomings? He didn’t hide them. He didn’t ignore them. Instead, he offered them freely to God. The tax collector generously offered the wholeness of himself, holding nothing back.
The Pharisee didn’t do that. The Pharisee clearly saw himself as good and generous. He even lived up to our own Good Shepherd Generosity Statement which challenges us to strive toward tithing, giving 10% of our income. But as much as he gave, he still withheld something of himself from God. His vulnerabilities. His weaknesses. His sins. Those things, he kept to himself. Perhaps thinking God didn’t want them. Perhaps too afraid to offer them as gifts. And thus, as much as he gave, he didn’t fully understand what generosity means.
Like the Pharisee we often would rather get rid of or ignore our vulnerabilities and shortcoming than offer them up to God as gifts. And if we can’t ignore them, we’d rather get frustrated with ourselves and beat ourselves up privately before then putting on a brave face when we appear before others in prayer at church.
But when we generously offer our weaknesses to God, God receives them as a gift of ourselves. When we generously offer our shortcomings to God, they become opportunities for healing and wholeness. When we generously offer to God our vulnerabilities, we see that they are really prerequisites to being justified by God.
Have you ever thought about that? When you offer to God your shortcomings, God doesn’t take them begrudgingly with anger and a slap on the writs; God receives them as gifts with love. When you lay your vulnerabilities here at the altar, whether they be sins or mistakes or worries or plain imperfections, God receives them as gifts, with mercy, and transforms them into something good and beautiful.
All it takes is being authentic with God about our struggles, rather than pretending we have it all together.
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
What is the lesson, then, we learn from the story of the tax collector’s prayer? To be generous with our vulnerabilities, just as God is generous to us.
And here’s the most powerful part of this passage we don’t want to miss, at the very bottom, the very last line: “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” The purpose of humility is not be put ourselves down, but to be honest about our vulnerabilities so that God can lift us up.
God is simply not interested in shaping us into tiny people full of shame and self-hatred. God wants for us healing and wholeness. God wants to lift us up. God wants us to be full of joy and love. God wants everything for us. But we can only receive what God wants for us, if we offer everything of ourselves. Not just the good parts. But all the parts.
So get your journals ready. Here come this week’s two prompts.
- 1.What vulnerabilities have I withheld from God?
- 2.How might I offer them generously a a gift?
Lord, teach us to be generous with our vulnerabilities, just as you have been generous to us. Amen.