The Seven Deadlies: Envy

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached December 12, 2010 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Isaiah 35:1-10: "they shall obtain joy and gladness"
Matthew 11:2-11: "the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he"
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Our first song comes from Minnesota singer-songwriter Peter Mayer. The song is called "Brand New Harley" and comes from his Million Year Mind album.

You might think I'm a banker,
and on weekdays, it's true
But underneath this poly-cotton blend is a skeleton tattoo
Which I got when I was drinking,
And I'm showing off this weekend
On my brand new Harley-Davidson
I might work in an office and look respectable and clean
But you should see me dressed in leather
on my American machine
You would swear that I'm blue-collar,
On my 15-thousand dollar Deluxe, brand new Harley-Davidson
Come Friday evening, I don't shower, I don't shave
And I put my little earring in,
And it's time to misbehave
Yes I will clean your teeth on Monday,
Or put braces in your mouth
But don't flash 'em at me Sunday, boy,
Or I just might knock them out

I don't know about any of you, but high school was probably one of the worst times of my life. It probably is for everyone.

We're young and just really trying to find out who we really are - but it's a difficult job. It's made all that more difficult because we are constantly comparing ourselves to our peers. Are we as pretty as the prom queen? Are we as hunky as the quarterback? Are we as popular as the preppy kids? Are we as liked by the teachers as the straight-A students?

High school is a time when we find out who we are and where we're going to fit in society in our lives. Me? I was out in the smoking area with the burners and the losers. Just like the little train with the square wheels in the Christmas classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, I was set adrift on the Island of Misfit Toys. I was never able to hang with the pretty and the popular, and was always "this-close" to the straight-A student, but could never quite get there - well in English anyway. I was always at the bottom of the pile in math.

Envy is probably the number one sin we commit while we're in high school. We are forever comparing ourselves with others, and more often than not judging ourselves as coming up short. So, we envy those who are pretty and popular, while we skulk around with the misfit toys in the smoking area.

Sometimes that envy lives on after high school in the form of becoming a weekend biker on that brand new Harley Davidson. Envy is indeed a tough sin to shake, no matter what our age.

I was saved in high school however, by a dead white philosopher named Ralph Waldo Emerson. I met Emerson in English class and his essay "Self-Reliance" literally saved my life in high school. He cured me of my envy when I read this:

"Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it."

"Insist on yourself; never imitate." In that moment I understood the prophet Isaiah - the desert of my life rejoiced and blossomed.

Emerson was the voice of the prophet telling me to "Be strong, do not fear!" My eyes were opened to my own beauty, my deafness to my own strong inner voice cured.

I was no longer crippled by the envy that consumed me when I looked at my classmates. Instead, that Holy Way highway opened up before me. I only wish I had had a Harley to take to that open Holy road.

My psychologist, he told me that it's important that I ride
So I recreate my warrior who is pent up nine to five
And it's therapy for hours,
On my fifteen-thousand dollar
Deluxe, brand new Harley-Davidson
I kick off my loafers,
Put on my big black boots
And I swear and curse while I rehearse for,
My nasty attitude,
Yes I will do your taxes Tuesday,
So you get some money back,
But call me CPA on Saturday,
And I'll have to kick your ass

"Be strong, do not fear!" This is how we dispel the sin of envy, because at the heart of envy is fear. We're afraid that we're not good enough, not smart enough, and that not enough people really like us. We fear that other people have it all together while we flounder around helplessly.

Envy is dangerous because it can lead us to some seriously sinful places. When we envy others we see them as a problem, an obstacle, or as competition. That leads to antagonism, rivalry and contention, strife and opposition. We cannot trust others while we envy them. We cannot love others while we envy them. We cannot be compassionate to others while we envy them. As Matthew Fox reminds us, "envy eats a person from the inside and prepares the way for actions that are violent, hateful, and irreversible."

The only way to overcome this envy is to "insist on yourself; never imitate."

The ancient Hebrews knew something may still need to learn - instead of going the way of violence and hate, we must follow the Holy Way that lead us back to ourselves - back to that inner authenticity that God has given us as a precious gift. On this Holy Way, we find no violence:

"No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there."

When we walk the Holy Way - when we trust in our original blessing within - God does some amazing things - the wilderness of our lives becomes flourishing paths with streams of water flowing abundantly. Dangerous roads become secure places where we can walk with assurance. The blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame not only walk but leap for joy. The exiles return home - some may even ride in on their Harley.

Breathe deeply.

Come Friday evening, I don't shower, I don't shave,
And I put my little earring in,
And it's time to misbehave,
Yes I will clean your teeth on Monday,
Or put braces in your mouth,
But don't flash 'em at me Sunday, boy,
Or I just might knock them out
No I'm not in a costume,
Bet a junk bond I'm real
I am an archetypal man astride a stallion made of steel
I'm a rebel, I'm a gangster,
I'm a whiskey-drinking prankster,
On my brand new Harley-Davidson
Harley Davidson - Harley-Davidson - Harley Davidson
Vrooom!

A fable is told about an eagle who was envious of another eagle that could fly better than he could. One day the bird saw a sportsman with a bow and arrow and said to him, "I wish you would bring down that eagle up there." The man said he would if he had some feathers for his arrow. So the jealous eagle pulled one out of his wing. The arrow was shot, but it didn't quite reach the rival bird because he was flying too high. The first eagle pulled out another feather, then another--until he had lost so many that he himself couldn't fly. The archer took advantage of the situation, turned around, and killed the helpless bird. If you are envious of others, the one you will hurt the most by your actions will be yourself.

Breathe deeply.

Our next song comes from singer and songwriter Keb Mo. Born Kevin Moore in Los Angeles in 1951, Keb released his first album in 1980 and has been going strong ever since. This song is called "I'm Amazing" and comes from his Grammy winning 2004 album called "Keep it Simple."

Brothers and sisters, I need to talk to you
This might sound strange
And you'll probably think I'm crazy and I've lost my mind,
Well, okay
I'm amazing; I'm incredible,
I'm a miracle, a dream come true
I'm marvelous; I'm beautiful,
Guess what? So are you.

In our Jesus story we find our guy near the beginning of his ministry. His predecessor John the Baptist is already in prison for revolutionary preaching against the powers that be. John had gathered many followers, but he always insisted that someone greater was to come after him - someone who would bring about a true revolution.

John did not envy Jesus. John, like Emerson would advise centuries later, trusted in himself. He was no imitator. He knew his role was as a messenger - someone to prepare the way so someone truly great could come.

John, however, saw that great person as someone who would lead an outward revolution - who would lay an ax to the rulers of the day and literally overthrow those who continued to oppress the Hebrew people.

Jesus, however, had a much more revolutionary message to deliver. Jesus' job was not to come and overthrow the Roman oppressors. Instead, as German theologian Eugen Drewermann writes: Jesus' task was "to enable men and women to become whole and capable of doing the good that lies dormant within them and that they want to realize."

Jesus' message then is simple: "You're amazing! You're incredible! You're a miracle, a dream come true. You're marvelous. You're beautiful!"

Jesus knew that if he could truly spark a revolution within each person - a revolution that took them down that nonviolent Holy Way - there would be absolutely no chance for anyone to become an oppressor over anyone else. Jesus said, "You're amazing! And guess what? So are you, and you, and you, and you!"

All creation sings of the glory of God! What Jesus offers us is the chance to be what he was, both fully human - dealing with all the sins that plague us - and to be fully divine. By being our true selves we can fully transcend all that seeks to hold us down, imprison us, or oppress us.

This is a dangerous message, one those who want to keep their power over us don't want us to hear or understand. They want us to continue to think that we're powerless, that we're not amazing or incredible. They want to keep us slaves to our sin of envy. As long as we envy any other person, we will never become who God had truly intended us to be.

This is the commonality of all the sins we've explored. As long as we give in to our acedia, our sloth - we'll be too lazy to walk the Holy Way to our authenticity. As long as we lust for what we're missing in our outer world, we'll be too preoccupied to walk the Holy Way to our authenticity. As long as we give in to anger, we'll be too worked up about the state of the world to walk the Holy Way to our authenticity. As long as we are overcome by our fear, we'll be too timid to take those first steps along the Holy Way to our authenticity. As long as we give in to our gluttony, we'll be too stuffed to even stand, let alone walk that Holy Way to our authenticity.

As long as we give in to our pessimism, we won't even be convinced that such a Holy Way to our authenticity even exists.

Jubilants, the via Negativa is all about freedom - it is all about removing the shackles of these sins that bind us and keep us from experiencing the wholeness that God has called us to.

Drewermann asks: "When are we going to really live? How much confidence is needed before men and women dare again to take their own lives into their hands, before they dare to reclaim their own responsibility and power to act, before they risk going after and making something out of that which they see and want for their own lives?"

Jubilants, when are we going to really live?

People, It's becoming clear
I can feel it down in my soul.
I know that I am you and you are me.
Uh-oh.
And I'm grateful for the simple things
That we take for granted every day
Listen, I can walk I can talk, I can use my mind. Okay.

I'm amazing; I'm incredible,
I'm a miracle, a dream come true
I'm marvelous; I'm beautiful, Guess what?
So are you.

That don't mean we're better
than anyone or anything
It's a call to come together and accept responsibility

Jesus offers us healing. When he shows up the blind see, the lame walk, and the deaf can hear.

All the sins we have explored during this via Negativa cripple us in so many ways - we forget how amazing we are, and how amazing the world around us really is. We are blinded to the beauty of creation, to the beauty of other people, and to our own beauty. We only see the ugliness and despair around us. We are deaf to the music of creation, the birds, the rustling of leaves in the wind. We only hear the din of traffic, background music, the beeping of alarms and ringing of cell phones. We cannot walk under the heavy load of sins that the world encourages us to make our own.

Be healed, tonight, Jubilants! Let the scales fall from your eyes, let your ears be opened, take up your mats and walk upright - because you are amazing. The whole world is amazing. Stop seeing the world as the world wants you to see it, and instead see through the eyes of mystery. Realize that in every moment there is more going on here than you can know or see. Revel in the mystery - see the beauty, hear the music, take a walk through this world of wonder!

The cure for all these ills is one simple thing - praise. We have no time for acedia, for lust, for anger, for fear, for gluttony, for pessimism, or for envy when we are praising. When we praise we put aside thoughts of competition or envy and instead honor the good in creation and in every human being around us. Instead of cursing that slow driver in front of you praise them for their caution. Instead of cursing the long line ahead of you, praise God for the time to slow down and take in the marvel that is this world.

It's all holy, Jubilants - every moment in life, every person who passes by you, every creature that see, every plant, every cloud, every piece of laundry, every dirty dish - all holy - all worthy of praise.

Matthew Fox reminds us that, "Praise is what we are about on this earth - it is how community happens."

We are a community of praise here at Jubilee! Circle. We are a community that heals not just others, but ourselves, because we realize that we are amazing, we are incredible, we are miracles, we are dreams come true - and, guess what, so is everyone else.

With that realization, however, comes responsibility. When we praise, when we truly can see, hear, and walk, we understand that this amazing, miracle of a world is our responsibility.

We have inherited a great treasure - a beautiful world that demands that we work for justice and peace. The only question we need to answer from here on out is: How can we help other people? How can we help other people realize that they, too, are amazing, incredible, miracles, dreams come true? How can we help others begin their journey on the Holy Way and realize this amazing inward revolution?

Jubilants, be warned, when we embark on the Holy Way, we are starting a revolution that those in power will not like. People who understand that they are amazing, incredible, miraculous dreams come true are dangerous to the established order.

"Be strong, do not fear!"

The Holy Way is the peaceful way, no matter what the dangers. Here we take responsibility to experience awe, reverence, and gratitude. Here we take responsibility to let go and trust the darkness. Here we take responsibility to create and contribute to the world. Here we take responsibility do justice and practice compassion - and to live into the "Oh, Yeah!" of celebration.

"Be strong, do not fear!"

I invite you, Jubilants, let us walk that Holy Way together as an intentional, progressive, inclusive, community

And be amazing, incredible,
You're a miracle, a dream come true
And I'm marvelous; I'm beautiful,
Guess what? So are you.

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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