During the season of Lent we have been turning our attention inward to notice the battle lines drawn in our desires. The traditional seven deadly vices map the territory in our hearts which are claimed by evil and ruled by pride. So far we’ve covered four of them – vainglory, envy, wrath and sloth. But rather than summarize each of them I want to imagine how putting these soul killers to death might transform our church into an even more diverse, vibrant, stable and loving community. Here are a few thought experiments on vainglory and envy to get your imagination going for the rest:
What would it be like to experience God in a community devoid of vainglory? One of the exotic fruits of the humility which destroys this sin is authenticity. When each of us have come to terms before who we are before God alone – in all our strengths, weaknesses, desires, gifts, limitations and capacities, we stand before one another in the truthful beauty of our real selves. The compassionate love of Christ enables us to acknowledge our limitations without fear. Our gratitude for his unfailing acceptance motivates us to recognize the glory he has wrought in our lives without the need to curry favor. Insecurity is dangerous, and we spend a good amount of time in relationship trying to read people through the layers of self-protective posturing it encourages. Is there any greater relational relief than knowing that what you see is what you get? People who know and accept themselves before a God who crossed heaven and hell to call them his friends are safe people; they aren’t desperate for recognition because they are already seen and loved by the only One whose judgment matters. Imagine the sorts of people the light and warmth of such a community would draw – the addicted, abused, discriminated, poor and lonely.
What would it be like to experience God in a community devoid of envy? The subtle work of envy is easily detectable at a roiling boil of resentment but at lower temperatures it can even mask itself as humility. When we look at the giftedness, beauty or goodness of others and think, “why bother? What do I have to contribute?” we are experiencing a species of the same thing. Envy feels diminished by the glory of others, and where there is no envy not only are the contributions of others appreciated, but we see the need for our own unique contribution. We aren’t intimidated about what we have to offer because we see that our community needs us as much as we need others. It’s one thing to own who you are before God in all the struggles, victories, strengths and weaknesses; but to actually be grateful for them is to see God’s work in your life as valuable. Most of us have heard of the 80-20 rule in churches – 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. Imagine what our community might be like if 100 percent of Bread&Wine felt as though who they were (the unique shape of their spiritual journey) and what they had to offer (in their availability, gifts, experience and ideas) was a special assignment from God to the desperate needs of our community? Nothing mirrors the kingdom of God like the equilibrium between giving and receiving in a community where we have needs at the same time we are needed.