Monday, January 6, 2020


After we celebrate the miracle and the mystery 
    of the Incarnation,
    we pause to consider the difference it makes 
    for our lives.
The wise men show us how to live
    in a world where God has become human.
They are pictures of how we keep two of the vows
in our Baptismal Covenant.
Today we look especially at those two promises:
    First, to seek and serve Christ in all people.
    Second, to respect the dignity of every human being.
When God takes on human nature, 
it changes how we see other humans.
It changes how we look at each other.

Today’s Collect sets out the theme of our lessons.
O God who wonderfully created
    and yet more wonderfully restored 
    the dignity of humankind.
The wise men didn’t just kneel before the divinity of Jesus.
They knelt before his humanity,
    because God had made humanity holy. 
Bishop Tutu says that if we really believed 
what the Bible teaches about human nature,
    we would genuflect before each other as we do
             before the Blessed Sacrament.
The wise men showed us how to respond to Jesus.
The Baptismal Covenant tells us where we find him 
       – in each other.
We seek and serve Christ in all people 
 and respect the dignity of every human being. 

The wise men’s gifts are our prototype
    of honoring the dignity of humankind,
    which, as our Collect says, 
God wonderfully created in the beginning
       and more wonderfully restored in the Incarnation.
But what would that look like?

The wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh 
to honor Christ in the stable of Bethlehem.
How do we honor  Christ in the stables 
      of each other’s lives?

Harvard Professor Donna Hicks 
        mediates conflicts around the world.
She has worked with insurrections in Latin America,
    civil wars in Africa, and religious strife in Ireland.
In her first book, Dignity, Hicks says that 
    wherever conflict rages in the world,
    if you scratch the surface you’ll find a dignity violation.
Somebody has felt disrespected.
From wars between nations to fights in the family,
    most of our conflicts boil down to dignity.

Hicks says that respect can be different for people 
who have done something to earn our respect.
Where she says respect I’d use the word admiration.
Admiration depends on what someone has done.
But respect for dignity belongs to who someone is.
Dignity goes with the turf of being human.
Baby Jesus in the stable hadn’t done a thing.
The wise men paid him homage for who he was.
Respecting someone’s dignity isn’t about their resume.
It’s about their humanity.
Christians vow to respect the dignity 
      of every human being.
But how? I am still looking for concrete actions.

Just as the wise men brought three gifts to the stable,
    Hicks says there are 10 gifts we need to give people
             to respect their human dignity.
She calls them The 10 Essential Elements of Dignity.
Her list adds up to a pretty good 10 commandments 
    for how we treat each other at home, at work,
    at Church, and in the world.

Number 1 is Acceptance.
    Approach people as neither inferior nor superior to us.      
Number 2. Inclusion
    Show others they belong. 
3. Acknowledgement
    Give people your full attention by listening 
      and responding without judgment.
4. Safety
    Keep people safe physically from bodily harm
    and psychologically from being humiliated.
5. Recognition.
    Recognize others for their talents, hard work,
    thoughtfulness, and help.
6. Fairness
    Treat people in an evenhanded way 
     according to agreed on rules.
7. Benefit of the Doubt
    Start with the premise that others are acting 
     with integrity and good motives.
8. Understanding
    Believe that what others think matters 
    so try to understand their point of view. 
9. Independence
    Encourage people to act on their own behalf
    so they can feel in control of their lives.
10. Accountability
    When you have violated the dignity of another person,

The rules are perfectly simple.
But putting them into practice is hard.
It takes persistent discipline.
It takes attention and effort. It’s work.

It’s hard because all of us have had our dignity violated
    at one time or another, probably a lot of times.
Those wounds could make us compassionate
guardians of each other’s dignity.
But 19 times out of 20 we build ourselves back up 
by taking someone else down.  
It would be oh so satisfying to take down the person 
    who disrespected us,      
    but usually we have to find someone else to pick on.
Defensiveness, disregard, and contempt easily 
       become habits, unconscious habits. 
We dismiss and undercut each other without
even being aware of what we’re doing.

I’ve seen so many marriages start well,
    until one spouse steps on the other’s dignity,
    then the second spouse stomps back, and so on
    until they have done a 20 year flamenco dance 
    on each other leaving a couple of embittered pancakes 
              before the divorce.

The public square is spattered with rage and contempt
      because working people feel disrespected
      by cultural elites.
Ethnic and religious minorities feel disrespected
      by the same people who feel disrespected
      by the cultural elites. 

The Church is as fallible as any human organization,
    maybe more so.
But our purpose in the midst of this bloody fray
       is to be a model and a training ground 
       for mutual respect.

And what do we get out of mutual respect?
Awareness of the good. Encounters with Christ.
Life surrounded by people we respect is a whole lot better 
than a living with people we judge, dismiss, or ignore.
Respect feels good whether we’re giving it or receiving it. 
Wise people from Sophocles to today’s psychoanalysts
    teach us that respect and care for other people
    is the key that opens our narcissistic case of ego
    and sets us free for life, abundant life.

Here, in our church relationships, this is where we practice 
the 10 Essential Element of Dignity.
If we practice those 10 things here, 
    it will change our marriages, our businesses,
             and even our government.
If we church folks seriously put those 10 commandments         
    in practice, the world will change.

But we don’t have to do it all at once.
We can take baby steps.
We could change the world this year 
       with one simple practice
-- not an easy practice, but a simple one.
Whenever we hear someone say something 
      that strikes us as wrong, instead of responding,
    how could you think something so idiotic, 
    we might try saying, Tell me more about that.
The simple practice of asking curious questions
    instead of vainly trying to argue others into agreement,
    breaks down walls of defensiveness and contempt
    that separate us from godly relationships 
           with one another.
That alone, just that, would be a critical infusion 
of the Kingdom of God into a troubled world.