Pride: Inordinate Self-Esteem

Engraving showing a crowd of people engaged in prideful behaviors

The Seven Deadly Sins or the Seven Vices – Pride by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week in a conversation about the Seven Deadly Sins someone asked me if I had ever seen the movie, “Seven.” I had seen the movie but forgotten about it.

I think it came out around the late nineties, and it was a film about a serial killer whose victims are chosen because in his opinion they represent each of the seven deadly sins: anger, avarice, envy, gluttony, lust, pride, and sloth.

Morgan Freeman, who plays one of the police detectives, makes this remark at one point:

People don’t want a champion; they want to eat cheeseburgers, play the lotto and watch television. I don’t want to stay in a society that embraces and nurtures apathy as if it were a virtue. We see a deadly sin on every street corner and we tolerate it; we tolerate it morning, noon, and night … it’s easier to steal what you want than earn it, easier to beat a child than to raise it … love takes effort and lots of hard work.

Love does take a lot of effort and hard work.

Pride short-circuits an important dimension of the effort and hard work of love: compassion.

It is important to note that pride is also a healthy quality; we all need a strong sense of pride in our lives.

What makes the difference? [read more via downloadable PDF]

 

Sloth: the Poisoned Will

I chose the image on the bulletin cover this morning because it is such a humorous and accurate depiction of how we generally think of sloth.

Drawing of sloth riding a tortoise.

Speed is Relative by Josh Billings. Click the pic to get the t-shirt.

In this picture a sloth, the slowest moving living creature on earth is so lazy it is hitching a ride from a tortoise, the world’s second slowest moving creature on earth!

The picture actually does portray what sloth is, and is not, in terms of the seven deadly sins.

Sloth is not idleness.

There is an Italian phrase, “dulce far niente” which loosely translates, “the sweet doing of nothing.”

In the harried and hurried world in which we live restfulness and inactivity of body and mind is sometimes our most needed spiritual practice.

No, sloth is not restful inactivity, or recreation, or even a sluggish disposition.

Sloth is something entirely different.

The late Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck described sloth as a major cause of evil and a primary source of psychological illness; he said sloth is the main reason Americans are failing at human relationships. [read more via downloadable PDF]

Gluttony: A Journey into the Wilderness

When facing temptation, we have to decide what to release and what to grasp.

Satan tempts Jesus with food.

Jésus au désert (detail) by Barthélemy Parrocel [Public domain or CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On this first Sunday in Lent, we enter a season that lasts 40 days, marking the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness tempted by the Satan.

I say “the Satan” because it is important to remember that Satan was not an enemy of God, but one sent by God to test human beings in various ways: in our gospel reading from Luke it is the Spirit of God that drives Jesus into the wilderness to face temptation (lures, attractions, offers, or invitations).

Why?

This was an intense time of discernment during which Jesus learned to let go of some things in order to pick up/ grasp others.

Few go through such a process voluntarily, but without this type of wilderness experience much in life is lost. [read more via downloadable PDF]

Lust: The Well-Known Deadly Sin

This week begins a six-week sermon series on the infamous “Seven Deadly Sins.” You will not find this literal list of human offenses anywhere in Scripture, although references to and examples of each of them are found throughout the Bible.

A Seaons of Becoming: Restoring and being restored for the transformation of the church and world

Click the image above to download a list of devotions for your use throughout the season of Lent. We hope it adds meaning and depth to this season for you.

The list commonly known today comes from a fourth century monk from Marseilles by the name of John Cassian who created the list as a way of guiding his fellow monks.

Pope Gregory adapted the list in the sixth century and it became widely accepted as not only important for monastic life, but for secular life as well: 1. Lust, 2. Pride, 3. Anger, 4. Gluttony, 5. Greed, 6. Envy, 7. Sloth

Transfiguration Sunday is a good time to explore this particular list because it provides a powerful example of one deadly sin on John Cassian’s list; and if the purpose of following Jesus is to transform us then examining what went wrong with Peter’s response on the mountain can only be to our benefit.

I think it is helpful to remember the literal meaning of sin means to “miss the mark” and comes from the example of an archer trying to hit the bullseye. Looking at these aspects of life that appear basic to our human nature is not meant to defeat or judge us, but to allow self-awareness to transfigure us. [read more via downloadable PDF]

Changes

There is an old denominational joke about United Methodists.

Question: “How many United Methodist does it take to change a light bulb?”

Answer: “Change?!”

I have actually heard the same joke told inserting a number of various denominations in place of United Methodists.

Picture of two rocks on Racetrack Playa in Death Valley. Grooves in the sand lead away from the stones.

Racetrack Playa, Death Valley by Daniel Mayer [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The truth is that people tend to resist change, preferring images and assurance of stability; maybe this is why God is often described as a rock- a solid rock, a mighty rock, an immutable rock, an immovable rock, a rock of refuge.

The Source of all creation, however, is never motionless; as Scripture proclaims and nature demonstrates, everything in life is dynamic and involves change, and it is best for our wellbeing at every level (spiritual, physical, and emotional) to understand this and learn to live into the changes we are called to make over a lifetime as followers of Jesus.

One of my favorite examples of the pervasive dynamism of every form of creation is found in Death Valley. [read more via downloadable PDF]

Different Parts, Same DNA

Scientists are able to regenerate body parts from a patient’s own cells, shaped especially for their role within the body. Like different parts of a body all sharing the same DNA, we have been assembled by God to be the body of Christ for the world.

Picture of Fred Rogers next to a quote from him: "I believe that appreciation is a holy thing--that when we look for what's best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we are doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we're participating in something sacred."Organ transplants have been saving lives for years.

By simply checking a box on our driver’s license renewal form, or adding a line to our wills, our kidneys, livers, lungs, hearts and more can be transplanted to increase the quantity and quality of the lives of other people.

I was vividly reminded of the impact this technology has on everyone involved in a transplant process as I watched a PBS program last week about a family living in Haines, Oregon.

There are five children in that family, and because of a particular combination of DNA unknown at the time of their birth, every child has or will need at least one heart transplant in order to survive. One daughter has already received a second heart after the first one failed nine years following the transplant. [read more via downloadable PDF]

The Holiness of Equality

Quote from Dr Martin Luther King: Our lives begin to end they day we become silent about things that matter.For many like John, who met Jesus during his life and ministry, and for many who meet Jesus through the gospel and spiritual practices today, Jesus is the living embodiment and fulfillment of these words from Isaiah, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

This identity and awareness of a unique presence is present at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry- in the calling of the first followers, or disciples.

There is debate among scholars whether or not these men knew Jesus from an earlier encounter or relationship. Those who believe they did see this passage as a “setting off” point following a period of preparation of sorts.

Others believe John, Andrew, and Simon (to become Peter) never met Jesus prior
to this account. [read more via downloadable PDF]

One Day at a Time

When we worry in the presence of God, we are essentially doubting God’s promise to be with us. (Isaiah 43:1-7)

Worried people sitting under a tree

“Captive Jews Weeping by the Waters of Babylon” by Ferdinand Ruscheweyh (1785–1845) (www.judentum-projekt.de) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is no doubt plenty of stuff to worry about in this world. Yet, often, we worry about the wrong things.

Yes, it is important to be prepared and to be cautious in life, but if we’re smothered by chronic anxiety, we’re going to find it hard to live a life of joy and significance.

The ancient people of Judah, who were captive in Babylon, were no doubt filled with anxiety. Yet, God speaks through the prophet to tell them their anxiety is misplaced. And, for one very good reason: “I will be with you,” God says. [read more via downloadable PDF]

Redemption

Scripture: Jeremiah 33: 14-16, Luke 21: 25-37 ~

This text from the gospel of Luke is one of those passages that is difficult to interpret; it is also one open to many different interpretations.

Fig Tree, King's College, Bonham Road, Hong Kong By Froiaresumra (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Fig Tree, King’s College, Bonham Road, Hong Kong

Over the centuries there have been people who attempt to predict the end of the earth, the end of time as we know it through events occurring in their lifetime: earthquakes and volcanoes, human pandemics, wars, and other calamities.

We see this, too. You can find any number of television evangelists, public speakers, and books filled with such predictions and “proofs.”

This is not to say that none of these things will never trigger a cataclysmic event, but the point of Jesus’ response here is that no-one can know the future; no being but God can answer this question about the end of time, and it is a useless waste of the time we now do have, and the life that we do have, to worry about it.

We have better things to do while we and the world are here: to quote a favorite passage from Hebrews: “to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:11-14)

The late feminist theologian, Letty Russell, advocated what she termed an “adventology” in which followers of Christ are to be watchful for the in-breaking of God’s reign on earth. This watchfulness involves looking for and being attentive to the places in which we, who are called by God and have been gathered by God’s grace, may also be agents who participate and help in God’s dismantling and reconstruction of the world.

I find Dr. Russell’s words particularly hopeful this year when there are so many things we could point to as “signs” of the end.

It helps to be reminded that others before us observed the same erratic natural catastrophes and brutal human behaviors and still raised their heads in hope.

Reflection Question:

Where do you see evidence in our world of God's realm of justice and love breaking in?

Give Thanks for These Things

The Old Testament passage from Jeremiah 33 emphasizes and reminds us of God’s promise to gather and reconcile humanity and creation.

As followers of Jesus we believe this promise is already in the process of being fulfilled, and that we are part of this redemption.

This is the hope of Advent; it is why we wait, watch, act, and live as people with a hopeful future despite the current circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Sometimes in the midst of our contemporary social angst it is difficult to remember to live with our heads lifted in hope, even as Advent beings and we are caught up in holiday festivities.

Airport security and airline travel is one example of a mix of celebration and anxiety.

Making it through airport security can be a challenge on both a physical and emotional level.

We understand that it is all for the sake of safety, which we are all concerned about given recent acts of terrorism.

But as if you aren’t stressed out enough by the whole process, now some experts are looking at ways to measure your anxiety as you stand de-belted, disheveled and shoeless in the security line.

The idea is to determine whether you are exhibiting the stress of a would-be terrorist or merely the anxiety of a parent who just dragged three screaming kids past the terminal gift shop.

While we now walk through metal detectors and bomb sniffers, the next thing we may have to face is what some are calling an “anxiety machine.”

This machine uses “FAST” (Future Attribute Screening Technology) that works on the same principle as a polygraph. That is, it looks for sharp changes in body temperature, pulse and breathing.

The difference is that in a polygraph, the subject answers questions, while this machine simply tests people as they walk through. In practice, people whom the machine identifies as suspiciously stressed would then be taken to another area and interviewed in front of a camera that measures minute facial movements to determine if the subject is lying.

All of that makes removing your shoes, belt, and pocket change sound hassle-free by comparison.

Even though the machine is years from possibly being fielded, it already has critics. Some people do not believe the machine will work because it will subject innocent travelers to what amounts to a medical exam, bringing up a whole host of privacy issues.

Others doubt the reliability of the technology itself. “What determines your heart rate is a whole bunch of reasons besides hostile intent,” says Timothy Levine, a Michigan State University expert on deceptive behavior. Reasons such as being late for a flight, for example. “This is the whole reason behavioral profiles don’t work.”

Think about it. If this thing were waiting to scan us at the airport today, there’s a pretty good chance most of us would wind up setting it off.

Just last week there were more shootings in our country — protestors at a Black Lives Matter rally in Minneapolis, and a violent automatic weapon attack at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado; many continue to face major economic downturns with jobs, Paris remains in a state of emergency … and that’s just as of this writing. We’re stressed about our personal lives and stressed about the world, let alone about whether or not our toothpaste got packed in that little baggie.

Chances are that most of us would be in for some questioning about what’s making us so anxious.

Jesus Told Us to Expect This

But we have to remember that Jesus warned us there’d be days like this.

Read this apocalyptic passage in Luke 21 again, and you’ll notice there is anxiety all over the place — and not just the kind that comes from missing a flight. Jesus is talking about the kind of anxiety that would cause people to miss the signs of God’s presence in our lives and world.

First, you have natural signs — the whole cosmos in an anxious uproar, along with the “nations” who will be “confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves” (v. 25). This would seem to be describing the kinds of natural disasters we’ve seen in recent years, such as the “roaring of the sea and the waves” of the 2004 Asian tsunami. But we have to remember that apocalyptic language is more often symbolic than literal. The reference to the “sea,” for example, is used throughout the Bible to refer to the primordial chaos that was present at the dawn of creation (Genesis 1:2).

In the Bible’s most famous apocalyptic book, Revelation, it’s interesting to note that in the vision of the new heaven and new earth there would be no more sea (Revelation 21:1) — no more chaos. For now, though, Jesus is using stark imagery to describe world-shaking, chaotic events that many will interpret as the end: these events will cause no small amount of anxiety.

“People will faint from fear and from foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:26).

It’s at this point, Jesus says, that he will be seen “coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (v. 27). Again, the idea isn’t so much to be looking up to anticipate a cloud-surfing Savior but to recognize that the ultimate sign of the kingdom coming will be the full manifestation of Christ the bearer of righteousness and the Prince of Peace.

Jesus borrows the cloud imagery from Daniel 7:13, another apocalyptic vision, and Luke uses the image to link Jesus’ ascension with his return (Acts 1:9). Just as the sea represents chaos, clouds represent glorification. Despite the chaos in the world and all the anxiety it produces, Jesus promises that God will set the world right once and for all in some future, unknown time.

Faith, Not Fear

Page from the Pray Codex with an ink drawing of a man with hands raised in prayerIn the meantime, however, followers of Jesus are not to be queuing up for a run through an earthly anxiety machine.

Instead, we are to be observant and seeking the signs of God’s presence where it is already within the world initiating reconciliation and redemption.
Jesus says that means paying attention and approaching life with faith rather than fear. Jesus urges us to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v. 28). The fig tree parable reminded the disciples to vigilantly look around for the signs of the kingdom and Jesus’ own eternal “words” instead of constantly focusing on the daily stress-producing news of calamity and disaster (vv. 29-33).

When we identify and name the fears, anxieties and distractions of the people around us, we can begin to offer them hope and help them through toward a journey with Christ. “Be alert,” says Jesus, and help others do the same.

Pray for Strength

Beyond alertness Jesus also encourages disciples to pray for the strength to “escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (v. 36).

Some biblical scholars see Jesus’ warnings here as a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which would take place within the lifetimes of those listening to him — thus the reference that “this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place” (v. 32).

But whether Jesus is referring specifically to the impending destruction of the Temple or not, the greater point is that amid impending disaster and anxiety, Jesus urges us, like them, to keep our heads up, praying for the strength to weather the storms of life with hope, standing firm in the future Christ signifies.

If our anxiety is setting off alarms everywhere we go, it might be time for us to step back, take a deep breath and pray.

There is no better way to lower your heart rate, your blood pressure and your body temperature, as well as your anxious spirit, than slowing down and communing with God. Jesus reminds us of this.

The journey, though tough, will end well, and everything will be as good in the end as it was in the beginning of creation.

In a recent Leadership Wired newsletter article, “Be the One: Serve” John Maxwell said:

“In life, it’s not what happens to you, but what happens in you and through you that counts. When adversity visits your life, you have two choices: to be a victim or a victor. Victims allow life circumstances to get them down, and they spend their lives asking others to redress the grievances life has dealt them.

Victims are needy and demand to be served. Victors, on the other hand, rise above the challenges they encounter. They rebound from life’s hardships with newfound strength and they use their strength in service of those around them.”

So, in the words of Rev. Dr. Letty Russell, let us be adventologists- watchful followers of Christ, victors not victims of the circumstances of life, living with heads uplifted in hope.

Prayer

Hidden God, wherever you are in your own kind of space,

We watch and wait for you to startle us to wakeful newness in this Advent season.

Come and thrust into us the spirit of daring and courage to make flesh on earth a bit of the kingdom of heaven.

Come to open the inns of our minds and hearts to the miracles of your compassion and purpose as Jesus demonstrated them.

Come and make your own transforming way in the desert of our confusion and wilderness of me and mine,

So we may walk with Jesus the hard way of justice, mercy, and peace among the people of earth.

Come and lift up the valleys of our discouragement, doubt, and denial,

And make level the mountains of our greed and pride,

So we may see your glory revealed once more in us and in all our brothers and sisters, from the shepherd to the magi lofty.

Come and fulfill through us Mary’s vision of mercy stretching to all generations,

Of the proud scattered, and the powerful punctured, of the rich emptied and the poor filled, and our lives magnifying your grace.

Come lace our songs, our shopping, our celebrations with your mystery and strange magnificence,

And let us sense it in the small, strange stirrings of the earth and of our hearts, now and always. Amen.

~ Ted Loder, “My Heart in My Mouth”


Originally delivered November 29, 2015, by Rev. David Weekley at St. Nicholas United Methodist Church.

Image credits:

  • Fig Tree by Froiaresumra (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Pray Codex, see page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons