Communion Of Saints: some “leftovers” from the table.

The church is the fellowship of those who confess Jesus as Lord. She is the bride of Christ, his chosen partner,loved by Jesus and loving him: delighting in his presence, seeking him in prayer—silent before the mystery of his love.    Our World Belongs to God # 35

The church is a gathering of forgiven sinners called to be holy.  Saved by the patient grace of God, we deal patiently with others and together confess our need for grace and forgiveness. Restored in Christ’s presence, shaped by his life, this new community lives out the ongoing story of God’s reconciling love,announces the new creation,and works for a world of justice and peace.

Our World Belongs to God #39

 

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The term “catholic” is never applied to the church in Scripture. Some protestant traditions don’t like that word as it triggers the notion of Roman Catholic. At the most basic level this word means universal—across time and space. Now the church as it appears in the New Testament consists of a number of churches or communities. The picture we have is one of local churches linked by common belief in Jesus Christ rather than a universal church. There is not an example of a centralized/conglomerate church entity. There doesn’t seem to be an original denomination. However, these local churches we hear about do have one core thing in common; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These local churches then (and now) are part of a larger picture and a deeper story—the story of God. In last week’s Apostle’s Creed message, the point was made that you can’t say, “I believe in God the Father, Creator of Heaven and earth to Jesus Christ, who was crucified, died, buried, and rose again on the third day…and then just skip over the lines about the Holy Catholic Church and Communion of Saints. It is an all or nothing. Belonging to God in Jesus Christ means belonging to a people.

When it comes time to answering what does the Holy Catholic church and communion saints mean? The Heidelberg Catechism points out some practical answers. First of the catholic/universal church “I am and always will be a “living member.” I sense some action—learning and growing. What does being a living member entail for you?   The communion of saints means “I share in Christ gift and will share in those gifts readily and cheerfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.” The catechism is saying, Jesus defines my identity and that identity leads me to action. What kind of church member will you be?

There needs to not only be this personal question, but there are also important collective and communal questions for the local church, ones that we need to always ask ourselves, Does your church love each other? Do they like being together? Are we actively making friendships with each other? Are we patiently dealing with each other? Do we really forgive one another?  Read again the two faith statements from Our World Belongs to God, does this describe us? These are vital question not just for our sake, but also for the sake of Jesus Christ. It is his church, not ours.

A couple weeks Bob Troast made his way back to worship for the first time in a long time. I trusted God that it was important for Bob and for us that he could share a little of his life lately. Bob took time to speak on what it means for to say and live the faith statement, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. Bob also pointed out how grateful he is for the church’s love and support for he and Gert in this season of their lives. He also made it clear “I miss the communion of saints.” Bob offered to do host a group at his house to gather and talk about prayer. To me little expressions like this are what it means to say and live with the conviction “I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints.” It was a great reminder to me and I hope for everyone in church to not take this communion for granted. It also reminded me don’t wait to be asked when it comes to offering yourself and investing your time, energy and gifts to the body of Christ. “I am and always will be a living member.” What kind of living member will you be?

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Being a Witness

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him,“Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him.  As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

+Acts 1:6-11 9 (New Living Translation)

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The charge that we hear is a charge to all of us. To us Jesus says “you are to be my witnesses.” To be a Christian is to join up with a long line of witnesses, members of something called the Body of Christ on earth, bearing witnesses to a love and power that moves the planets and heals the hearts. This mission, this purpose belongs to us all.   The church doesn’t have a mission, it is a mission. Mission isn’t just a line item in our budget, something we fund for others to do, something that gets that proverbial “moment” in our worship service. We are people with a mission—that is if we follow Jesus, we follow him in what he is still carrying out

What does it mean to be a witness? The book of Acts tells us a lot of stories. A few weeks ago I received this wonderful modern parable from a wise member of Cedar Hill, Gordon Kuipers. It was left in my mailbox with the sticky note saying something along the lines of, “I’ve been doing a little writing again, thought this was worth sharing, do with this what you will.” I immediately knew what I was going to do with this story. I’d use it someplace in an upcoming sermon from the book of Acts!

“How might a person become A Communist, A Democrat, A Mormon or A Jehovah’s Witness? Looking into any of these profound changes we may discover a certain process probably very similar for all of them…

Let’s say someone moves into the Salt Lake City area in Utah. Chances are most of the new neighbors are Mormons. Many of them are Mormons because that’s how they have been brought up. You night say they have inherited their Mormonism. Is their Mormonism therefore their conviction? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Then there are people who have studied many faiths very seriously, they have been seekers; and they have come to the conclusion that Mormonism is really their conviction. And there are people who have very different faith background or they had no serious faith history at al but because of what they have heard, learned and observed they have chosen the Mormon faith and life style as their own. How might they have come to this conviction?

Chances are they observed the life style of the Mormons living in their area. They saw how they reacted to happenings in their neighborhood and witnessed their seriousness, their kindness and that they were always there when help was needed, no matter where, no matter by whom. So they became friends, they visited back and forth, cooked meals for each other, watched each other’s children, helped each other with transportation and car pooled together. They were invited to and visited area senior groups and special neighborhood happenings and watched ball games. They sat on each others patios, enjoyed meals together and shared recipes and jumper cables. Then they accepted invitations to attend their neighbor’s Christmas party, football game and worship services and found that the sermons were filled with kindness and love, the music was great and the church much involved in local activities.

They felt they’d wanted to belong some place, they discovered much that was attractive to them, they didn’t have to make a choice between seven or eight Mormon churches, everyone with a different name; so what was holding them back from joining their Mormon neighbors? Now think about this again and exchange every reference to Mormon and Mormonism to Christian and Salt Lake City to Wyckoff (or your respective neighborhood) and consider the similarity. Think about it, does it soiund familiar, does it sound inspiring?”

This certainly inspires me. It also reminds me how “unnatural” this is for me.  The power of the Holy Spirit is a necessary prerequisite to this way of life.

Gluttony: My Stomach is Bigger than My Heart.

 

 

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.”  Philippians 3:18-19


 

When we think of gluttony in those biblical terms as a master or our god, then you can see how big and bad a vice can become in our lives. What is vicious about gluttony is these pleasures begin to dominate all of life. In talking about greed, there was the phrase about “being possessed by our possessions.” Likewise, we can think of gluttony as being consumed by what we consume. This vice degrades us into being mere pleasure seekers. That is what gluttony is all about.

Morgan Spurlock who currently has a weekly documentary show on CNN Inside Man did movie several years back called Super Size Me! This filmmaker and star of his own movie decided that he would to eat nothing but McDonald’s food for thirty days. That’s right: for three meals a day—breakfast, lunch and dinner—everything he ate would have to come from old Ronald McDonald’s kitchen. Part of the stipulation was that during this month he would eat everything on the menu at least once. He could order a salad, just not every time. If he were ever asked if he wanted to “Supersize” the meal, he would respond yes. During that month, Spurlock also gives up walking to work and travels purely by car.

The slim and active man who is also a vegan, has quite an adjustment adapting to the McDiet. Just two days into the challenge Spurlock hits the McWall. He orders a double quarter-pounder with cheese and to go with it about a pound worth of fries and 42 oz. coke. He sits in his car and begins to sweat. He gets what he calls the McGurgles in his stomach and soon loses his lunch on the parking lot.

After just five days, the once lean man has picked up 9 ½ pounds. By the end of the challenge it is 25 lbs. in all. His cholesterol climbs to 230, and he begins to have heart palpitation. A doctor monitors him along the way and tells him that he is concerned about his liver functioning.

Within a month this man starts to shows signs of an addict. Between meals he frequently has feelings of depression, moodiness and frequent headaches and lethargy. On the one hand, this is stunning to see and on the other hand, you can be surprised at what a McDiet would do to your body. Even within a month we see that low grad beef with the mayonnaise based special sauce, milk shakes and fries is not going to make you feel all that well. The movie is an extreme demonstration of the old saying, “you are what you eat.” A compelling example that if you want to be healthy, and then you have to eat healthy. The sad thing is that many Americans have a diet very similar to this man’s experiment. An experiment that shows how addictive and destructive gluttony can be.

This is an extreme example of what can happen to a human being when our stomachs run the show. This also seems to be a depiction of an obvious example of gluttony.

Drawing from the historical tradition, Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung covers 5 forms of glutton in her book Glittering Vices. They fit into the acronym FRESH.

Fastidiously– Being a food snob (a coffee, beer, wine, cheese, meat, organic, etc.) You only will eat the best or a particular. You are a picky eater in the refined sense of the word. Can you thank God for your food when you get the wrong order?

Ravenously—Eating too quickly. Like a shop-vac, you suck down everything around you. What is your hurry? You don’t have a whole lot of time to taste and savor what you are eating.

Excessively—Eating too much and perhaps too often.

Sumptuously—Eating to feel full. Do you feel like an empty person without a full stomach? How often do we go to the kitchen to find something to eat when we feel bored and restless (and maybe not even hungry)?

Hastily— Eating greedily. The greedy eater is also the kind of person that I think of at the all you can eat buffet. Taking one whole plate just for the fried perch and piling up the second plate with other things. Taking 2+ helpings to prevent disappointment of returning later to find nothing left. Kids are often guilty of acting this way, so are grown-ups who unfortunately look like little kids.

There are many avenues of gluttony and each ultimately leads to a destination of dissatisfaction. This is the case for a couple reasons. First, bodily cravings are always temporarily satisfied. We will always get hungry again. Second as human beings, yes, we are physical, but there is more to us than that. Satisfying our pleasure of eating (and every other pleasure for that matter) doesn’t fill up the whole person. Gluttony isn’t only a food issue. People in church will sometimes say of a sermon or a service, “I wasn’t fed today.” Could this sometimes be an issue of gluttony?

Along comes Jesus and it is not accidental that he speaks the way that he does it John 6. He comes in the midst of messed up, gluttonous human beings and speaks to our needs. You are hungry. I am the bread of life. He speaks to the disciples in verse 32-34;“Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” (You get the sense they are thinking of physical food)

 Jesus then speaks on of the I am statements of the gospel of John; “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. As often the case with Jesus, he speaks to and addresses real human needs. In doing so shows that there is something deeper at stake. For the disciples they may be fed with bread and fish, but there is a deep hunger inside them that needs satisfaction. Perhaps the same hunger we feel today. A hunger we can try and fill in any number of ways. “I will satisfy your deepest hunger”. That is the promise of Jesus. Elsewhere in John 10:10 he says, “I have come to give you life to the fullest measure.”

The next time you find yourself going to the kitchen for a snack, it is worth asking, am I really hungry right now or is there another dissatisfaction going on right now? What can the hunger of our stomach tell us about the habits of our heart?

 

 

 

 

Gluttony: More than Watching What You Eat.

 

“You know what I like about restaurants? You learn a lot watching things eat.”

Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) The Departed


Of all the seven sins—envy, vanity, sloth, greed, anger, lust, gluttony is maybe the most graphic for us. Images come quickly to mind be they good ones or not. With this one a lot of stereotypes crop up. For instance, I think of the concept of the all you can eat buffet. Once while I was a college student my two best friends and I went to one of these buffets to gorge ourselves. After getting the most we could for our money, we all sat around the table—breathing heavily, making wisecracks, talking about girls and sports. One of my friends scanned the restaurant and made the gentle observation; “Boy, there are some serious eaters.”

My mom also had a traumatizing experience in one of these all you can eat buffets. One year while she was employed with the Red Cross they had a Christmas party buffet style. Unfortunately, one of the patrons died of a heart attack near the main buffet that evening. This person had the status of DNR—do not resuscitate. Meaning, “If I die, leave me, don’t do CPR, and don’t attempt to save me.” Well that is what happened she was left right on the floor of Old Country Buffet. This didn’t slow down the flow of traffic. Folks continued to come to the great banquet buffet to get their fried fish and prime rib. A sad display of how human beings can sometime act in less than humane ways.

Serious eaters, willing to walk around death for a fourth helping of food. That is what I first think of when I think of gluttony. It is really a caricature. Is there more to it than that? The concept of gluttony occupies an interesting location in our American culture. If you look at the topic of greed, the Bible has a lot to say. When it comes to gluttony however, there is much less to glean.

Gluttony is kind of funny sometimes, but really, it is more sad and pathetic. Psalm 8 speaks of humans as being crowned with glory and honor. Image bearers of God. When we think about our capabilities and capacities—to send a man to the moon and back, to play musical instruments, accomplish athlete feats, have spiritual communion with God and fellowship with one another. It is incredibly sad to think of others going back up to a buffet stepping around a dead person as they do so. Or to think of a person hunched over a plate of food shoveling in as if he can never have enough. It is a tragic picture—because as humans the pleasure of food can never completely satisfy. (Even if the sales pitch tells you it will).

It can be a truly helpful thing to watch our diets. It also might be helpful to count or calories and carbs (although it at times become obsessive and ironically gluttonous in a perverse form). It is also important to watch our heart. One of the ways we can monitor our heart is by monitoring our level of consumption. This includes, but is not limited to food. It includes, toys and trinkets, gasoline, time watching TV (“binge watching” a show anyone?).

Paying attention to our level of consumption is a practical 21st century North American necessity to the ancient axiom of Proverbs 4:23: Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.” It is not only a matter of watching our waistlines, it is matter of watching our souls too.

 

 

 

 

Lust and the Need for Community

 

Since God made us male and female in his image, 
we respect each other as equals, 
not flaunting or exploiting our sexuality. 
While our roles and capacities may differ, 
we are careful not to confine God’s gifts and calling
to the shape of our cultural patterns or expectations. 
Sexuality is disordered in our fallen world—
brokenness, abuse, pornography, and loneliness are the result—
but Christ’s renewing work gives hope
for order and healing
and surrounds suffering persons
with compassionate community.                     Our World Belongs to God #45

In his book on the Seven Deadly Sins, Will Willimon tells the story of a student who came to speak with him. This student was deeply troubled by his own lust. He confessed that he had downloaded pornography from the Internet. In the course of the conversation the 23-year-old student said, “I really want to do better! I think that God cares about my thoughts and actions. I’m really trying to follow Jesus and I don’t want any part of my life to be isolated from discipleship.” The professor telling this account reflected and came to this conclusion; “Sometimes I wonder if the church called lust a deadly sin because in its wisdom the church knew that there was just about no sin more difficult to banish from our thoughts by ourselves.” In other words, we are not meant to follow Jesus in solo.

Thats the thing with lust, it breeds on privacy and isolation. Lustful people often feel shame. They hide their sin. So it is not dealt with. Christian discipleship is too demanding to go at it alone. Like the young man many of us too have that sense “I want to do better.” Deep down we know that Jesus Christ died not only to forgive our sins, but that too we might be free from them. That is why we need each other. We need to be part of a group that enable us to be better than we could be on our own. Each of us here need that in our lives—to be part of a community that makes us more like Jesus than we can be on our own.

The call before us is not a heroic view of the moral life. None of us have the strength or the determination as an individual to resist sin. God doesn’t expect heroic individualism. He wants us to be part of a family—a new people. As lonely, weak, and detached individuals, we don’t stand a chance. Being part of a family enables us to be holy. We are reminded of this especially today in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We absolutely depend upon one another to grow in the grace of Jesus Christ.   In 1 John 3 we hear this beautiful mandate for the people of God, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

A Calvin professor I once had puts it in very simple terms, “The best advice for resisting lust is not to get an Internet filter (although you should have that too!), but to have good friends. If we have genuine friendships win which we learn to give and receive love in a healthy and satisfying way, we will be less inclined to wander off looking for sham substitutes and quick fixes. Good friendships teach us how to respect one another, to offer appropriate physical affection, to appreciate and care for others without looking for something in return, to trust one another.” She goes on to say, “If your relationships with others and with each God adequately feed your need to love and be loved, you will see through and despise what lust has to offer.”

The heading of this post is a statement from Our World Belongs to God. I have always appreciated the thoughtful theological expressions in this testimony. I find it to be very practical in application. At times, it is very specific in addressing specific social and cultural concerns. The above statement speaks specifically about sexuality. The statement below speaks more broadly about the church but it does it in very tangible terms:

“The church is a gathering
of forgiven sinners called to be holy. Saved by the patient grace of God
we deal patiently with others
and together confess our need
for grace and forgiveness. 
Restored in Christ’s presence, 
shaped by his life, 
this new community lives out
the ongoing story of God’s reconciling love, 
announces the new creation, 
and works for a world of justice and peace.” Our World Belongs to God #39

Both of these statement talk about the church being a place of broken people. It reminds me of a great saying I learned in seminary from the Professor of Pastoral Care Ron Nydam, “A healthy church is a place where it is ok to have a problem.” When it comes to lust, and every other challenge, struggle, and broken way we experience sexuality, I like the thought of a caring, compassionate and healing community. I just have no idea what this looks like. Maybe my imagined standards for such an environment are too lofty and unrealistic. On the other hand, maybe the church has a very long way to go.

Daffy Duck and Habit of Greed

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The topic of pride brought to my mind the Looney Tunes character Wiley Coyote came to my mind and I made a couple comments about him. When I thought of greed a more notorious Looney Tunes character came to mind—Daffy Duck. Our clip takes place someplace in a cave in what I presume to be the Middle East. Bugs Bunny and Daffy are on their way to vacation in Pismo Beach, CA. As he often, Bugs misses the turn in Albuquerque. They end up in cave with a massive treasure. Outside of the cave door stands treasure guard Hassan with his big sword.

Now as silly as Daffy may be, his actions get to the heart of greed. “Mine, mine, mine!!” Avarice is the condition of the heart that leads us to say, “I want it all.” Avarice is a deep craving to get it all and if that happens, well there is still the craving for more. Not only that there is the desire to protect all you have. Of course the heart that says, “mine, mine, mine!” doesn’t leave much room for God, or neighbor, and sometimes little room for reality itself.

The rest of the Looney Tunes episode shows the cycle of Daffy’s greed. He gets the treasure gets chased away by Hassan with the sword, gets bailed out by Bugs Bunny and then goes back for the treasure once more to start the cycle over again. At one point while they hide behind a rock Bugs asks, “What’s with you anyway?”   Daffy breathing heavily replies, “I can’t help it, I am a greedy slob it is my hobby.” Greed has a way of becoming a hobby. Greed as an activity done for pleasure. Something leisurely. A pastime. Maybe greed has now moved past baseball as our national pastime.

Of course, greed is a deadly pastime. A destructive hobby. The reason being is that avarice is not just about having more. Avarice is always concerned with what is mine! With Daffy Duck we see the truth in humorous terms. The greedy person becomes possessed by his possessions. Money and stuff take ownership of the supposed owner. None of us know another’s heart or even our own heart for that matter. We can get glimpses of the greedy heart readily. A greedy person’s attachment to wealth can wear many faces. The obvious might be the overflowing shopping cart. But it also can be seen in a single purchase. Greed can be shown in an aggressive stock portfolio, but it may also be seen in a conservative one too. We may expect a greedy person to have a purse full of credit cards. She might just as easily have a safety deposit box with a few carefully guarded treasures. A greedy person could be a person with a garage full of expensive cars. A greedy person could also be a person with a closet jammed full of “great deals.”

In this season of Lent it is helpful to acknowledge some of those greedy habits in our lives. Like Daffy, it is helpful to confess “I can’t help it, I’m a greedy slob, it’s my hobby.” By God’s grace, we don’t have to stay that way.

 

The Subtly of Sloth

 

Lord’s Day 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism tells us that we belong body and soul in life an in death to Jesus Christ. He has paid for our sins, he sets us free, he watches over us.  The first answer concludes; “Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.” This is a great faith statement and a very practical way to open a lengthy catechism.  It is a reminder that as Christians we can’t just say; “I’m saved! I belong! Praise the Lord!” Then sit back and assume God is done with us.

Few of us would verbalize this sentiment, but the way we behave is a real indicator of what we really believe. In any given CRC congregation Adult Sunday School and small groups are a tough sell. It is the proverbial “arm twist” to get people to plug themselves in to opportunities to further grow. This seems to be symptomatic of a deeper issue that we believe we have “graduated” once we finish high school or college or maybe after we have made our profession of faith.

We can talk about the sanctification process in mechanical terms, which can be helpful.  We must also always keep in personal and relational terms.  One of the pictures of the Christian life is like that of a marriage. Being married and being a Christian both involve accepting a new identity.  An identity that gets lived out each day for the rest of your life. On the wedding day a man and woman makes their vows and from that point on they are married. After the honeymoon, being married means living out those vows on a daily basis. All that ‘til death do us part’ stuff gets put into action.  Their love and identity has a now and not yet character to it.  The relationship is a gift and it has a life-transforming task involved.  My pastoral care professor referred to marriage as a “redemptive-mess.”

Marriages and friendships give us a good picture of what goes wrong in the vice of sloth.  For all the joy and benefits a friendship or marriage can be burdensome.  They can take a lot of work.  It demands something of you if you want to see it flourish. It may take getting off the couch, going to the bedroom and saying, “I am sorry for what I did to you.” Even when you don’t feel like it. It may take you going up to your BFF at school, not texting her or writing her on Facebook and saying, “I am really sorry for things that I said about you.”  Love takes work.

We were reminded on Sunday that sloth is a way of avoiding the work of love. It comes primarily in two forms—apathy and avoidance.

Apathy—which says, “I don’t care.”  I don’t care about my own spiritual state.  I don’t care about the needs of others.  I don’t care about what God wants me to become.  I’ll choose the easy way.”  I doubt any of us would say, “Yep that is what I say.”  What we do or don’t do speaks volumes.   Here are some actions of apathy, or maybe better said inactions. See if any of these fit.

+Being restless or bored with my spiritual life. I know sermons are not the easiest thing to sit through.  With that being said from my perspective, each Sunday I see a whole lot of restlessness and boredom. How does the rest of the week look any better?

+Resisting the effort to change anything about myself.  You might not be too open to the process of transformation, either in yourself or in your surroundings—like the church.

+Choosing not to get involved on behalf of others. “I’m ok, you’re ok”

+Doing what is easy instead of what is important. Being busy but with mundane things.

+Reacting to people’s situations with cynicism; mocking others.  Compassion and empathy is part of the hard work of loving your neighbor.  Hate is easy. Love takes courage.  We might see sloth most clearly in our lack of care for others.

Sloth also comes in the form of avoidance—which loves to wear the mask of busyness.  Activity as a cover-up for avoiding God and what he calls us to become.

+Being too busy for worship or devotions. In other words not spending quality time with God. Too busy for God.

+Making excuses to get out of encounters that might remind you of your spiritual identity and its real demands on you. In other words, your are fully committed to the shallow life.

+Workaholism—maybe it is your job, it could just as well be school.  This is when you live with the lie What I achieve through the journey of life is more important than who I become.”  That is an exhausting lie to live with.  It can often look very noble too. Working hard to provide for the family. The pastor working hard for the church.  But what about the pastor who works hard for the church and neglects God himself. The busy pastor is the slothful pastor.

+Filling your time with entertainment, food, sports, and sexual pleasure—anything that will distract you from what you should be doing. This form of avoidance is known as escape.

+Oversleeping.  One of the best ways to avoid reality is to hibernate through it.

In talking about sloth as sin to overcome, we first need to remember the depths of God’s love for people. It is hard to pick one bible text to be a catchall.  One that fits really well is Romans 5

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” “So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.”

This passage reminds us that God loves sinners.  Jesus dies for slothful people.  He dies for people indifferent to the love of God.  People who don’t have much going for them and who can make much happen.  That is the heart of grace—undeserved gift.  Becoming friends with God through Jesus. This grace doesn’t stop it at God has done for us on the cross.  It continues in what God is doing in us. Writer Anne Lamott puts it this way; “The secret is that God loves us exactly the way we are and that he loves us too much to let us stay like this.”  God is highly invested in seeing us to become a certain kind of person.  That Holy Spirit transformation always has a Christ-like trajectory.

 

Envying Amadeus

“The envious person resents another person’s good gifts because they are superior to his or her own.  It’s not just that the other person is better; it is that by comparison their superiority makes you feel your own lack, your own inferiority, more acutely.”

+Rebecca Konyndyk De Young Glittering Vices

amadeus_ver5

One of my favorite teachers from my Calvin College days, Rebecca Konyndyk De Young wrote a wonderful book on the Seven Deadly sinshttp://www.amazon.com/Glittering-Vices-Seven-Deadly-Remedies/dp/1587432323/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1394659316&sr=8-1&keywords=glittering+vices.

In it, she references what has now become a lost gem from the 1980s, the film Amadeus.  It is one of the best movie illustrations covering the vice of envy.  The drama of this story is fueled by this underlying dynamic of envy.   Amadeus is set in 18th century Vienna and it chronicles the relationship between a court composer named Antonio Salieri and his well know rival Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Salieri had come from a household with a father who was completed uninterested in music.  Salieri’s dream was to become a great musician so much so that he promised God his devotion and chastity if only God would make him a great composer.

Mozart arrives on the scene with his outstanding musical talent.  Salieri is astonished.  Soon his dreams of greatest are crushed.  He becomes enraged.  Why would God lavish such amazing gifts on such an arrogant, shallow buffoon?  Envy takes hold of Salieri from his first encounter with Mozart.  Strangely enough, this envy is nurtured long after the death of Mozart.

This scene depicts the beginning of the envy toward Mozart and a resentment that spills over to God.

The movie begins in Salieri’s elder years.  A priest comes to speak with him about his guilt in hastening Mozart’s death.  Salieri’s confession recounts the story.  When the priest arrives on the scene the aged Salieri playing piano from his wheelchair.  Salieri introduces as the most famous composer of Europe. “I have written forty operas alone!”  He asks the priest if he has had any musical training.  The priest replies, “I have had some training in Vienna.”  Salieri uses this as an opportunity to test his reputation.  He plays a few tunes he has written expecting that one of them will be familiar to his listener.  “This one was very popular in its day,” but the priest shakes his head, embarrassed that the does not recognize any of them.  Wait says Salieri.  “What about this one?” He plays the opening measures of a tune.  The priest lights up immediately “Yes, yes I know it.” He continues humming the tune after Salieri lifts his hands from the keyboard. “What a charming tune.  I had no idea you wrote that.”  Salieri’s face darkens with malice.  His eyes narrow.  “I didn’t” he replies. “That was Mozart.”  You feel the bitterness as he says this.  A bitter envy that has come to define not only his musical career, but his entire life.

Salieri’s encounter with the priest only validated the truth that he cannot bear to admit and cannot escape.  That is that his own musical talent will always be second rate and second best when compared to Mozart’s God given gifts.  At one point in the movie the priest consoles him saying, “all men are equal in God’s eyes.”   Salieri raises his eyebrows, “Are they?”  After his rivalry with Mozart he can’t bring himself to believe it.  The movie Amadeus shows how envy can own a person.

Green With Envy: The Unique Sickness of a Deadly Sin

 

It is helpful to distinguish envy from its nasty cousins.  We often speak of envy and use synonymous words like jealousy, covetousness, and greed.

Jealousy is kind of a good and bad thing.  Usually when we are talking about a jealous person it is not a good thing.  “She gets really jealous.”  It is not a compliment, like “She is hilarious!”  Jealousy is about love.  It is about protecting the thing you love.  We would all agree that a wife should be jealous if she finds out her husband took another woman to the movie theater.  She wants to protect her marriage and her husband—she has a right to be jealous we would say.  But if this same wife lectured her husband that “he is not to talk to other women” because he was visiting with another woman in the lobby after church, we would say, “come on stop being so jealous.”  The problem with jealousy is that we can love in the wrong ways, we can be selfish, inappropriate, insecure and over-protective with our love.  God says of himself in Deuteronomy 5, “I am a jealous God.” God is the only one who gets it right all the time.  He has a name to protect and he does so with jealousy. Jealousy is about protecting something we have.  Envy is about what we don’t have (and being bitter about this reality).

Greed as I will preach on later in this series is essentially “I want it all” or maybe “I want more than him.”  Greed is more about stuff.  It is materialisticEnvy is about people.  “I want what she has.”  Does that sound like coveting?  The 10th Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Coveting, like greed, is also about stuff.  It is about stuff that we would like to have or own.  “I want his car.”   Think about King David.  He coveted his neighbor’s wife, Bathsheba the wife of Uriah.  He simply really wanted what he saw and what didn’t belong to him.  He didn’t envy Uriah for having Bathsheba as his wife.  He didn’t want to take away Bathsheba from Uriah.  He simply really wanted (lusted another one we will get to) Bathsheba. Envy is about who we are.  Envy is about resenting someone else for what they have and who they are.

All of these sins remember are rooted in pride. Pride is that human predicament of putting ourselves at the center of things and moving God to the sidelines.  One of the many problems with this as we see with envy is that it gets very lonely being at the center of things.  It is miserable.  It is exhausting trying to get acceptance by bring others down.  In the end that never gets the job done anyway.

Like all forms of pride, playing God is all the envious person can do.  The strategies are all a big charade.  It is a sad game of pretend.  The envious person cannot give herself enough talent or success.  They cannot make themselves excellent.  They cannot give themselves enough worth.  Nor can they make others less than whom they are. Envy is an enemy of love.  For envy to win it is to destroy love between you and others and you and God.  Envy is a loser’s game.  To win in envy is to lose.

The only way out of this loser’s game of envy is to find a new foundation for our self-worth.  Envy is a game of comparing.  It is a conditional kind of love.  If I can best_______ then I am a worthy person.  A great analogy is this.  Moving out of envy might be like that of making the move from dating to marriage.  The premise of dating includes the need to outdo the competition in order to win affection and secure the relationship.  Another reason why high school is not always fun and often fully of envy.  Marriage on the other hand is a working from a secure relationship.  It moving from secure to greater love. We will hear more about this motivation and self-worth on Sunday.

The Folly of Pride: A Humorous Look at a Deadly Problem

“The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as of the greatest virtues.”               +Rene Descartes ‘Le Discours de la Methode,’ 1637

“The shortest and clearest way to state the relation between sin and folly is to say that not all folly is sin, but all sin is folly. Sin is both wrong and dumb.  Indeed, wherever the follies are playing, sin is the main event.  Sin is the world’s most impressive example of folly.”                                            +Cornelius Plantinga Jr. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be

  

wile_e_coyote_and_the_tnt_by_bjnix248-d3d8xsa

The well-known phrase from Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” has a way of painfully ringing true in our everyday lives.  Pride has a way of leading to bad judgments.  That deep satisfaction with yourself can lead you to make stupid decisions.  The warrior who thinks of himself as invincible isn’t a warrior for long.

The person who thinks of himself as a genius is well on his way to folly.  Just think of that wonderful Looney Tunes character Wile E. Coyote who defines the form of pride known as hubris.  Hubris is excessive pride or extreme arrogance.  In the case of Wile E. Coyote, hubris is amusing and humorous (at least to most of us).  The coyote is always trying to catch that pesky roadrunner, and he does this by very elaborate measures.  The coyote who in one of the rare times he talks refers to himself “Wile E. Coyote: Super Genius.”  In the case of the Coyote, he often has complex devices from the ACME Corporation.  Every one of his plans flops. The catapult always finds another way to backfire.

Here is a clip that demonstrates pride going before the fall:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEFmFMeXV3E

Looney Tunes creator Chuck Jones would uses Wile E. Coyote’s engineering hubris and combines it with “Murphy’s Law” (Anything that can go wrong will go wrong).  The more elaborate the ACME device the more monumental the FAIL!  For whatever reason the coyote always ends up being more humiliated than harmed by his grandiose plans. Pride goes before the fall.

Wisdom is often described as an understanding (discernment) about God’s world and the ability to fit in this world. Foolishness (folly) then is being out of touch with everyday reality. Wile E. Coyote is a comical example of this tragic problem. The self proclaimed, “super genius” always plays the part of the fool.  Is it any wonder that the greatest enemy to Wile E. Coyote always seems to be gravity

wile-e-coyote