You are a precious human being, made of dirt and God’s breath, and God, who knows what it is to live as you, invites you to see and love all others made like you.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 22 C
Texts: Luke 14:1, 7-14; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
God loves playing in the dirt.
That’s what our ancient Hebrew forebears tell. After their first creation account of an eternal, almighty God speaking creation into existence, they tell a completely different creation story. In the second account, they tell of a God who gets down to earth on divine hands and knees, plays around in the mud, and makes humans.
Then, this hands-on God breathes life into them. Even what the Hebrews called humans in the story tell this wonder: the man isn’t referred by name, only as “earth,” or “dirt,” in Hebrew “adam.” Adam. The woman isn’t referred by name, only as “life,” or “breath,” in Hebrew “chavah.” Eve.
These ancient Hebrews give us the gift of understanding each human being as a precious, miraculous merger of dirt and breath, earth and God’s Spirit.
Hold that for a moment as we listen to Jesus today.
Because Jesus asks you and me, who hear this story of an awkward dinner party, to be humble.
In the Greek of the New Testament, as well as in the Aramaic Jesus spoke, and the Hebrew of the Jewish people, the words for “humble” and “humility” meant to “bring down.” You could use it to describe leveling a hill, or, as we know well from Isaiah, a mountain being laid low.
But “bring down” gets us into all sorts of trouble. It leads to proud, privileged people telling oppressed people to be humble, literally putting them down, and covering that sin with the assumed virtue of divine command. We still see that today, especially from people who do the same job I do. But it also leads people who are struggling, who do not have privilege and status, to put themselves down, trying to be obedient. Neither is what Jesus means.
It’s the Romans who help us. Latin speakers used a different image for this concept than “bringing down.” “Humus” in Latin means earth, ground. And the Latin words you and I still use for this idea come from that word for earth: humble. Humility. Literally: grounded.
To be humble is to be down to earth, Latin says. And if you join that to what the Hebrews believed was the heart of humanity, earth filled with divine breath, you see an astonishing wonder in Jesus’ teaching today.
Actually, Jesus is his teaching.
The Word of God from before all time, God’s Sophia, Wisdom, creating with the Creator and the Spirit at the beginning, became human. A being of dirt and breath, just like you and me. The ancient Hebrews thought God liked playing in the dirt. But the first to trust in Jesus as God’s Messiah believed God actually became dirt.
To be down to earth, humble, the divine, all-powerful, eternal God became one of us. Lived in and experienced being made of the same minerals and water and breath that make us who we are.
Because – and this is most important – God loves these beings of dirt and breath. Loves you. Loves me. And God needed to see us as we are, from our view. To learn about us from inside our skin.
That means today’s writer to a different group of Hebrews is giving the wrong incentive.
This preacher says “do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” But Jesus, God-with-us, sharing our dirt and our breath, says, “do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, you will entertain a human being. No more, no less. But a beloved person made of dirt and breath, like you.
The preacher of Hebrews isn’t wrong. We might entertain angels among us. And Christ taught us to look for his face in every person we meet. That’s a blessing we don’t want to forget.
But today Jesus says, how about seeing everyone else as dirt and breath, just like you, when you look in their eyes? Whether you see one of our smallest, Annika, baptized with her brother James today, or the two revered saints among us whose centenary-plus birthdays we rejoice in today, from youngest to oldest we’re all dust, dirt filled with God’s breath. And that is precious and holy to God.
All the things we seem to notice and categorize most, color and gender and size and age and culture and language and customs, all these are just God’s frosting on the cake, God’s delight in diversity. They are to be treasured and valued and enjoyed. But at the core, Jesus says, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. And so are all you meet. So love them, because they are you.
And if Christ can change how our eyes see, so many things will be healed.
All our categories – rich, poor, friends, enemies, stranger, neighbor, race, gender, creed – make objects out of beloved people. If you’re jockeying for good seats at the party or for the front of the line, you’re seeing objects, not people. If you support oppressive structures and value some people more than others because of how they present themselves, you’re seeing objects, not people. If you live in privilege and expect you deserve things, and are offended if you don’t get them, you’re seeing objects, not people.
But Jesus says true life is found when you look into the eyes of every human being you see, and see another human being. Not a category or a type or an object. A beloved child of God. And as more and more see with these eyes, all oppression and violence and hatred and all that ails our world will fall apart.
So, if you want to be humble as Jesus asks you, just remember your Latin.
Remember that to be humble is to be down to earth. To be who you are. Rejoice that you are a precious, miraculous merger of dirt and breath and you are not the only one.
Open your eyes, and see all these others God has made and rejoice. Find and live in that mutual love for and with all people that the preacher to the Hebrews urges, and then see what God will change inside you and in this world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen