An Invitation to the Humble Life

At the end of her poem, “The Summer Day”, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver asks us, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Ash Wednesday is an annual reminder that I am mortal. That I really only have one wild and precious life. Every year, it’s an occasion to pause and think about what kind of life I’m living. From the dust of the earth we came, and back to that dust we shall all one day return. Ash Wednesday's the beginning of the season of Lent, in which we are invited to reflect on the kind of life we’re living, and reevaluate our priorities on the road to Jerusalem, the Cross, and ultimately the empty tomb.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is inviting us into the humble life. The text is a series of exaggerated statements about how we should behave:

"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them. Whenever you give alms, do not sound the trumpet before you in order to seek out attention. Whenever you pray, don’t stand on the street corners, but go into a private place. Whenever you fast, don’t make a big deal about it by being miserable."

The kind of life Jesus is setting out for us is a humble life. The humble life doesn’t seek praise or the recognition of the righteous deeds done. The humble life doesn’t need accolades for living faithfully. The humble life doesn’t brag about how pious it is. The humble life instead trains its heart for God, and lets go of needing the world to validate it and give it meaning.

What does the invitation to the humble life mean for us, today, on the first day of Lent 2016, at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley?

I believe that Jesus is inviting us to turn away from the mad rush of a culture in which there is never enough - never enough time, never enough money, never enough fame, never enough recognition. 
I believe that Jesus is inviting us into a life of authentic relationships that take our time, that take our investment, and that take our very hearts and souls.
I believe that when Jesus invites us to fast, it is not to showcase that Christians can “give up” a luxury, but rather that we see and understand our abundance; and, fasting is an opportunity to embrace solidarity with those who live without.
I believe that Jesus invites us to fast not just from material things, but also from our indifference, from our apathy, and from our consumer identities.
I believe that Jesus invites us to live humble lives where our words only mean as much as our actions. And our actions must be sincere, done from a place of love, and not a place of vanity or pride.
I believe that Jesus invites us into lives that are not lived for ourselves alone, but for God and all of God’s creation.

And if we say yes to this life - to this counter-cultural life of  humility and integrity, I believe it means we must repent of the ways that the world has its hooks in us - deep in us.

We must repent of believing we are not enough in God’s eyes.
We must repent of believing our worth is only measured by our productivity, or our bank accounts.
We must repent of judging others by their status, or their wealth, or their popularity.
We must repent of seeking the accolades of a culture that consumes blindly, and reorient our lives to be mindful, to be present, and to give abundantly.

Jesus invites us into a life with God. This life is the humble life. It doesn’t promise mansions, or Teslas, or a 100K starting salary. But it promises deep relationships, where you are known and loved as you are. It promises the shattering realization that YOU are a beloved child of God - and you cannot be bought or sold. For you have already been redeemed.

This Ash Wednesday, as we turn our hearts and minds toward the road that leads to Gethsemane, I ask you - will you join Jesus in the Humble Life? Will you take these 40 days and repent of the ways our culture has whispered that your worth lies in your product? Will you seek the quiet moments to find God, who has been calling out to you, reminding you that you are a child of the Most High? That you were created for a life of relationships - to God and to others? That you are redeemed and deeply loved?

This Ash Wednesday I ask you, what are you planning on doing with your one wild and precious life? You are dust and to dust you shall return. I hope you repent and turn to God. I hope you shrug off the need for validation by a world that is interested in monetizing and consuming you. I hope that you see the gift and grace that grows from a life of prayer, and honest relationships, and of seeking justice for those oppressed. This Lent, I hope you hear Jesus calling you, inviting you, to the humble life.

Friends, as we journey through Lent together, I ask you to prayerfully consider - what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?