May 5, 2019 – Can Humility Save Us?

Text:  John 21:1-19

Last Tuesday, I joined 20 people for intercultural conversation at Centre for Christian Studies. The event was organized and facilitated by my partner, Ha Na Park and me in attempt to bring the voices from the margins to the centre. A very diverse group of people from a dozen different communities of faith came together for this important dialogue. Speaking from the heart, we shared our struggles and hopes. We named some of the hindrances in fulfilling our callings, and the vision of becoming an intercultural church. When an organization goes through its structural change, people usually experience a sense of loss, confusion or chaos. What was manifest at the gathering was how the marginalized within the church have been affected most by the change. A sense of distrust, helplessness, frustration were expressed in the conversation circle.

A recent graduate from Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre, a very promising leader of the church, can’t find a place for her gifts to be used within the church structure. It was clear how the system fails her, not the other way around. For there is no room in our current system, at least in our region, to support new ways of doing the church. Whatever doesn’t fit in with the system, does not go, and is not recognized as a foreseeable option.

It was painful to see how the lack of vision or the lack of courage within the church affects this minister of Christ, who spent countless hours and money to serve the church but can’t find her place. The recent structural change reflects that the church is in survival mode. When the church operates out of scarcity, it is the powerless who have to deal with the consequence.

Another participant who, grew up with the First Nation communities because her father was ministering to Indigenous people, shared something that was right on the mark. She said that the problem with the United Church is that it is self-congratulatory, and that it needs humility. I couldn’t agree with her more.

Humility, like any other virtue, requires a life-long learning. The dictionary defines humility as the quality of not thinking that you are better than other people, but that doesn’t really explain why it is an important quality.

Humility is one of the seven sacred teachings for Indigenous peoples. They learn it from wolves. The wolf represent humility because of its giving nature and devotion to protecting and working for the good of the wolf pack. This is the way the wolf pack works. The first 3 wolves are old or sick, and they set the pace for the entire pack. If it were the other way around, they would be left behind, losing contact with the pack. After them come 5 strong ones, the front line. In the centre are the rest of the pack members, then the 5 strongest following. The last is alone, the alpha. He controls everything from the rear. From that position, he can see everything and decide on the direction. He sees all of the pack. The pack moves according to the elders’ pace and help each other, watch each other.

If only we, human communities learned from the pack of wolves! One thing we all can agree on is how the family grounds us. Unlike friendship, which can be forgotten or lost, once we become part of a family, we are constantly affected by it. Even if there is an estranged member, no one in the family is able to be free from the relationship to the person. A family is a life-long school for us to learn humility. The truth is that no one lives in a vacuum; everyone has a place where they came from, and belongs to a family no matter how big or small. So, everyone has an opportunity to learn and practice humility.

Our Christian understanding affirms the radical relationship of God’s family bound by love not blood. We are children of God, and sisters and brothers of Christ not because of anything we’ve done but because of what we receive and believe in – the radical love that is so strong that it can dissolve all the existing boundaries, moving us from a place of fear to a place of abundance.

This radical love gives us assurance that we are not alone. Our creed begins and ends with such a bold statement. It talks about two things. First, we are born of God, and belong to God. Second, there are a myriad of relatives of ours who are also born of God, and belong to God. In other words, radical love makes the whole creation one family, in which everyone and everything must learn to live harmoniously. Love and humility always go hand in hand.

That’s what Jesus teaches Peter at the BBQ on the beach. Three times he asks Peter, “Do you love me?” And he says, “Feed my lamb”, “Tend my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep.” He doesn’t say, “Feed some random lambs.” He says, “Feed my lambs.” The same kind of loving relationship between God and creation is required of us if we truly love God. The next thing Jesus says to Peter is how love will lead him into humility. “When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” Although the Bible explains in the bracket that this indicates how Peter is going to die, I think there is more than that. It’s about humility. Knowing where he is from, and who his relatives are, Peter can practice humility even to the death. The love he has found in Christ doesn’t guarantee him safety. Instead it leads him into a radical humility, watching over others, especially those who are weak or powerless, just like a pack of wolves.

I wonder what it will look like if the church embodies humility in its relationship with the marginalized, especially with Indigenous communities. I am not sure how much we will look different, and sound different, if we do. But one thing I am sure is that we will be like the gathered disciples around the charcoal fire. There will be a deep silence, and we will be in awe because of the abundant love we will experience and share, and we will watch over each other.