Gluttony

Sabbath Day Thoughts — Luke 16:19-31 “Gluttony”

This is the fifth in a series on the Seven Deadly Sins.

For many people, an unexpected consequence of the pandemic has been unwanted weight gain.  42% of US adults have reported gaining an average of 29 pounds.  What did we expect?  We were homebound and stressed out. The gyms were closed, yoga and dance classes cancelled, and we stopped jogging with our buddy.  We were ordering take-out and having groceries delivered.  If only we hadn’t started baking sourdough bread and discovered the recipe for the Cheesecake Factory’s original cheesecake.

Obesity has been on the rise in the US for decades.  In the year 2000, 30.5% of us were obese.  By 2021, that statistic had swelled to 42.4% of us.  All that weight puts us at increased risk for diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and cancer.  The annual cost of obesity to our health care system is $147 billion.  Weight loss is a growth industry, raking in $253 billion in 2021.  According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, our weight problems won’t be improving any time soon. Unless we change, half of all Americans will be obese by 2029.  One in four Americans will be severely obese, that’s more than 100 pounds overweight.

A parallel consequence of the pandemic has been an increase in world hunger.  In 2021, 957 million people across 93 countries did not have enough to eat, a jump of 161 million people from before the advent of COVID-19.  239 million people are in need of life-saving humanitarian action.  21.3% of the world’s children suffer from stunted growth, due to chronic malnutrition.  Hunger is a problem that cannot be solved by emergency food aid alone.  We need a concerted global effort to develop sustainable food systems.  There is more than enough food produced to feed everyone on the planet, but we have lacked the global will to ensure that everyone has enough.

Our Lenten consideration of the Seven Deadly Sins continues this morning with gluttony, from the Latin gluttire, to gulp down or swallow. Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, taught that gluttony is the unrestrained desire for food that harms the individual and prevents human flourishing.  The Roman philosopher Cicero saw gluttony as a matter of wrong priorities, saying, “It is necessary to eat in order to live, not to live in order to eat.”  The influential medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas saw gluttony as a moral wrong, an inordinate desire for food that adversely affects our spiritual life. Aquinas cast gluttony as a form of idolatry in which our god is the belly.  Within the Christian tradition, we have seen over-indulgence in food as particularly egregious when it exists side-by-side with the hunger of our neighbors.  Dante envisioned a special Hell for gluttons, lying in filthy, cold slush amid a never-ending icy rain while watched over by a giant stomach with three worm-like heads.  Eeeew!

Contemporary thinking on gluttony invites us to consider the social, psychological, and spiritual context of the sin.  In her book Glittering Vices, Prof. Rebecca DeYoung of Calvin College casts gluttony as a sin of self-gratification, an ultimate expression of “Me” culture in which it is all about us.  The social sciences invite us to see how our human relationship with food has shifted over the course of centuries.  Once upon a time, only the elite could over-indulge in food, but with the rise of the middle class, a well-stocked table was seen as a sign of vitality, prosperity, and success. Somewhere along the way, that sign of prosperity and success went off the rails.  We eat for any number of reasons other than necessity.  We eat out of boredom, stress, tiredness, and anger. Overeating can just be a habit.  Or, we may have never learned proper portion sizes.  Who belonged to the “Clean Plate Club” as a child or was told that there were starving children in India or China or Africa who would love to have our dinner?  Professor Graham Tomlin of Oxford University suggests that beneath those social and psychological forces that promote gluttony, there is a deep spiritual need.  We mistakenly use food to try to satisfy the deeper craving within us.  The craving for God.  What a poor, dissatisfying substitute.

Our biblical paradigm of gluttony is Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man feasts sumptuously every day, seemingly oblivious to the suffering of the neighbor who begs at his gate.  Lazarus is poignantly described: starving, sick, too weak to keep the dogs from licking his festering sores.  Death brings a great reversal.  While the rich man suffers eternal torment, Lazarus is welcomed and comforted like a beloved child. We learn that the rich man was not unaware of his neighbor’s suffering—he recognizes Lazarus and knows his name.  In life, the rich man simply chose to not see or assist his starving neighbor.  Instead, he indulged his own lavish appetite.  Jesus suggests that our unbridled consumption and our choice to be blind to the need of our neighbors creates a willful gap that allows suffering to flourish in this world, a gap that has eternal consequences for the life to come.

The remedy for gluttony is found in the virtue of temperance. Temperance is an antiquated word with negative connotations that spring from America’s failed experiment with Prohibition.  Perhaps better words for temperance these days are moderation or self-discipline.  Aristotle characterized temperance as finding the “Golden Mean”—doing the right thing in the right amount in the right way.  Aquinas believed that we don’t need to abstain from the pleasure of good food, but we do need to make discerning choices about what and how we eat, shunning those pleasures that are “immoderate and contrary to reason.”  In Paradise Lost, 17th century poet John Milton had the archangel Michael extoll the virtue of temperance which leads to a long and happy life.

“There is, said Michael, if thou will observe

The rule of not too much, by temperance taught

In what thou eat’st and drink’st, seeking from thence

Due nourishment, not gluttonous delight,

Till many years over thy head return:

So mai’st thou live, till like ripe Fruit thou drop

Into thy Mother’s lap, or be with ease

Gather’d, not harshly pluck’t, for death mature.”

Nowadays, advocates of Positive Psychology, which focuses on individual and societal well-being, teach that temperance is one of six core virtues that increase happiness when we build upon them.  Temperate people develop the capacity to handle the complexity of life. They choose to face things calmly and insightfully. Temperance allows us to control our impulses and delay our gratification in pursuit of future goals.  For Christians, temperance equips us to weather difficult times with grace, because we see the long view and trust that God is with us and change can come. Temperance finds its expression in us when we find a healthy moderation and balance in life, creating the right environment for us—and our neighbors—to thrive. 

Our biblical model for temperance is Jesus.  His critics may have alleged that he was a glutton and a drunkard, but Jesus made choices about food to serve the Kingdom of God. Jesus chose fasting in the wilderness as an act of spiritual preparation.  Yet, the first miracle of his ministry was one of feasting.  In Cana, the Lord turned water into wine to save the day at a wedding banquet.  Jesus used meals to build community. He welcomed to the table outsiders, like sinners and tax collectors, and insiders, like Pharisees and disciples.  Jesus was concerned about hungry people.  He fed multitudes with meager resources and miracles of multiplication.  Jesus gave us a holy meal, the Lord’s Supper, to remind us of his great love for us and the ultimate sacrifice that he would make for our sake on the cross.  Jesus liked to eat, just like the rest of us, but he made intentional choices about where, when, and how he ate in order to achieve his mission and give glory to God.  Now that’s temperance.

How might we follow Jesus in practicing temperance?  We can be informed by scripture.  The psalmist affirms that food is God’s good and generous providence: all creation looks to God “to give them their food in due season.” By God’s generous hand we “are filled with good things” (Psalm 104:27-28).  We have a role to play as stewards of that generous providence of God, not only for ourselves, but also for the world around us.  We remember that when the disciples wanted to send away hungry people, Jesus stopped them with the words, “You feed them” (Mark 6:37).  Our personal concern with food needs to be a global concern for feeding a hungry world, for ensuring that Lazarus does not languish at our gate while we feast sumptuously.  Changing our thinking about food can draw us closer to God and closer to our most vulnerable neighbors.

Changing our thinking about food can also change how we understand ourselves.  Learning and implementing temperance in our personal relationship with food may feel harder, but the behavioral science surrounding weight loss tells us there is hope.  We can set dietary goals and be accountable, even if that means keeping a food journal or finding a trusted friend to encourage us.  We can be aware of what tempts us most and take time to notice when the craving kicks in.  We can practice some selective abstinence from foods that are most likely to sabotage us, whether we stop buying the potato chips or we take a break from sugar during Lent.  We can make better choices, cultivating an appetite for healthier foods.  We can also look to things other than food for our personal satisfaction, like a good book, music, fellowship, scripture, nature, creativity, learning, prayer, or exercise.  Healthy change is possible with the help of temperance, the Holy Spirt, and some hard work.

So, let’s give temperance a try.  What do we have to lose other than the 29 pounds we gained during the pandemic and the hunger of 957 million of our world neighbors? 


Resources

Valeria Sabater. “Temperance is Key to Your Psychological Well-Being” in Exploring Your Mind, Nov. 15, 2021.  Accessed online at https://exploringyourmind.com/temperance-is-key-to-your-psychological-well-being/

Lesley Lyle. “Developing Temperance” in Positive Psychology, March 2013. Accessed online at thepositivepsychologypeople.com.

Gernot Laganda. “2021 Is Going to Be a Bad Year for World Hunger” in Food Systems Summit. Accessed online at un.org

Kaia Hubbard. “The Pandemic Has Worsened the US Obesity Epidemic” in US News and World Report, Sept. 15, 2021. Accessed online at usnews.com

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Accessed online at virtuescience.com.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Accessed online at newadvent.org.

Francine Prose. “Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony” from Gluttony (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 2006). Accessed online at blog.oup.com.

CNN Staff. “Obesity in the US Fast Facts,” May 27, 2021. Accessed online at cnn.com.

Graham Tomlin. “Gluttony” in The Seven Deadly Sins (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2014).

Kimberly Winston, “Gluttony and the Seven Deadly Sins” in Religion News Service, Nov. 22, 2016.  Accessed online at religion news.com.


Luk 16:19-31

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”


Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

Happiness

Poem for a Tuesday — “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon

“There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.”

in Claiming the Spirit Within, ed. Marilyn Sewell (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996). p. 119.


Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) grew up in Michigan but settled as a young adult in New Hampshire at the family farm of her husband, the poet and academic Donald Hall. Jane published four books of poetry in her too-short life. Her work is celebrated for her exploration of rural life, nature, and living with depression. She received the prestigious Hopwood Award at the University of Michigan and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. At the time of her death from leukemia in 1995, Kenyon was the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire.


“So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” — Luke 15:20


Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Lust

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Lust” 2 Samuel 11

This is the fourth message in a Lenten Sermon Series on the Seven Deadly Sins.

We don’t often talk about lust in church.  Passion and sexuality are God-given gifts, part of our essential being, and key to God’s best hope for the creation.  They can be the crown and ultimate fulfillment of our most committed and caring relationships.  Yet, when misused and expressed as lust, passion and sexuality can have destructive consequences.

Consider adultery. Until a few decades ago, adultery was still a criminal offense in many countries where Christianity is the dominant religion. Adultery is technically illegal in 21 states in the US. New York is one of the few states that considers cheating on your spouse to be a sin. Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, among others, have felony charges against it. Most couples marry with the expectation of fidelity, and yet extramarital affairs persist.  22% of married men and 14% of married women have committed adultery.  Adultery, as a breach of marital trust, is emotionally traumatic for both spouses.  17% of marriages that go through an incident of cheating end in divorce.

Lust among Millennials is expressed in hookup culture, which has replaced traditional dating on college campuses.  In hookup culture, relationships are purely physical and very brief—a few minutes, a couple of hours, or overnight.  Sexual intimacy is followed by no further communication or connection that could lead to attachment.  Often, drinking is involved.  One in three students characterize hookups as “traumatic” or “very difficult to handle.”  One in ten students say that they have been sexually coerced or assaulted.  Professor Lisa Wade of Tulane University says that hookup culture is “a punishing emotional landscape where caring for others or even simple courtesy seem inappropriate.”

The most prevalent expression of lust in our culture is pornography. More than 90% of young men report that they watch porn with some regularity. The world’s largest pornography website Pornhub reports that 90 billion videos are watched on their site every day by 64 million visitors. $3,000 is spent every minute. Research suggests that porn is bad for our committed relationships.  A 2016 study by the University of Oklahoma found that divorce rates double when pornography enters the marriage.  56% of divorce cases cite obsessive interest in porn as a contributing factor.

According to Aristotle, lust is an irrational, insatiable desire for pleasure that increases the more it is exercised. Thomas Aquinas taught that lust is a “voluptuous emotion” that “unloosens the human spirit and sets aside all reason.” In his Inferno, Dante Alighieri portrayed unrepentant lustful souls in Hell, eternally buffeted and driven by the force of a whirlwind. From antiquity through the 19th century, artistic depictions of lust are typically female.  Maybe we can blame it on Prudentius, who in the fifth century described the deadly sin of lust as “lavish of her ruined fame, loose-haired, wild-eyed, her voice a dying fall, lost in delight.”

In our modern understanding, we acknowledge the harmful unrestrained, sometimes escalating, sexual impulse of lust.  Yet, we also recognize the interpersonal abuse of lust. Our Friday night hookup isn’t regarded as a person with social and emotional needs to be respected or reverenced.  They are just a means to get our “rocks off” (as the Rolling Stones once said).  Jesus understood this.  That’s why he taught that when we look at others with lust, we have committed adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:27-28).  In lust, we dehumanize and objectify others, looking only for our self-satisfaction.  Lust can also lead to the abuse of power.  The #METOO Movement shined a spotlight on successful men, like Harvey Weinstein, who used their personal, professional power to coerce women into sex.  In Old Hollywood, they called it the casting couch.  Now, we know it’s rape.

Our biblical paradigm of lust is King David.  While the younger men went off to war, the aging king let his eyes roam and his lust call the shots.  He abused his power to use Bathsheba to gratify his needs.  Then, when there were consequences, he hatched a series of plots to escape responsibility. Uriah was summoned home to sleep with his wife, but when the younger man proved too honorable, things got darker yet as the king engineered his death.  David may not have shot the arrow that took Uriah’s life, but he was the murderer, nonetheless.  History and Hollywood have suggested that Bathsheba was somehow to blame for the King’s lust.  But we know better.  I like to point out that the only sound we hear from Bathsheba in this terrible tale is her wailing of lamentation for the husband she loved.

We find the remedy for our lust in chastity.  Chastity has gotten a bad rap, conjuring up images of prudish men and women with their shirts buttoned up and a withering gaze for anything flirty.  So, perhaps I should begin with what chastity is NOT.  Chastity is not abstinence, although in practicing chastity, we may make choices for abstinence at different times in our lives.  Chastity is not sexual repression, pushing down within ourselves or punishing ourselves for our natural sexual impulses.  Chastity is not refusing to think about or talk about sex, as if sex isn’t a normal, natural part of being human.  Unfortunately, we tend to project all those unnatural, unhealthy qualities onto the virtue of chastity.

Aristotle taught that chastity uses rational principles to govern and bring into order our sexual desire.  He saw it as a natural discipline to be learned and practiced, saying, “as the child should live according to the direction of his tutor, so the appetitive element (lust) should live according to rational principle.”  In Christian thinking, chastity is more than just thinking our way past our sexual impulses.  Robert Kruschwitz, a Senior Scholar at Baylor University, says, “Chastity is a habit of reverence for oneself and others that enables us to use our sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.”  I’ll break that down.  In chastity, we are at peace with our bodies and our sexuality—we see their God-given nature.  Then, we bring a loving reverence for ourselves and others to our intimacy.  We honor ourselves as creatures made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), and we revere the image of God in others.  We bring love and respect to our intimate encounters for the sake of the other person’s good and ultimate happiness.  In chastity, those sexual impulses that we all experience are governed by Christ’s great commandment that we love God—and we love others as we love ourselves.  When we get right down to it, chastity is a choice to live in love. To bring agape to our sexuality.

Our biblical model of chastity is Joseph, the youngest son of Israel’s Patriarch Jacob (Genesis 39).  After Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous older brothers, he was bought by Potiphar, the Captain of the Egyptian Guard.  Joseph served as Potiphar’s personal attendant, and the bond between the two men grew so close that Potiphar entrusted Joseph with his entire household. All was well that ended well until Potiphar’s wife cast her lusty gaze upon the well-built, handsome young Hebrew.  She commanded Joseph, “Sleep with me!”  Joseph refused the temptation, seeing that if he said “Yes,” he would betray the kindness and generosity of Potiphar and the love and goodness of God, who had blessed Joseph amid his misfortune. 

We can push back against the harmful consequences of lust in our society by practicing the virtue of chastity.  G.K. Chesterton taught that “chastity, like any value or virtue, is a positive thing that you gain, not something that you give up.”  Indeed, this notion of chastity as a gift or quality earned after moral struggle dates back to the 13th century.  Thomas Aquinas was said to have fought long against the temptation of lust.  According to tradition, when Aquinas prevailed, the angels gave him a rope belt as a sign of his victory.  Soon after his death, his followers began to wear chastity cords in hopes of a similar victory over lust.  Aquinas’s chastity belt is preserved today at the Cathedral in Cheiri, Italy.

In the absence of Thomas Aquinas, chastity belts, and the intercession of angels, there are some steps that we can take to nurture our formation in chastity.  We can acknowledge that lust and sexual urges are part of who we are.  We can learn to recognize what our triggers are, whether it is loneliness, a work trip, porn, or a fraternity party with too much alcohol.  We can be attentive to and mindful of our thoughts and physical state, and then we can choose not to act on those impulses.  It helps to have a small circle of trusted, honest, confidential friends who can hold us accountable, with whom we can share our temptation and find encouragement.  We can find role models who inspire us in the way of chastity at its best, whether it is Jesus or Thomas Aquinas or Captain America, who waited so long for his best-gal Peggy.  We can also accept that chastity, like any other virtue, is one that we can fall from.  Even Jimmy Carter admitted that he had felt lust and committed adultery in his heart.  And yet we trust that even as we fall, the grace of our Lord Jesus is sufficient for us.  We can begin again.  Perhaps most important of all, we need to talk about lust and chastity with our children and grandchildren, who will one day find themselves in the midst of that emotionally punishing landscape of hookup culture.

Well, my friends, we’ve done it.  We have talked about lust in church.  The roof has not fallen in.  Instead, we’ve taken an honest look at the world out there, where the God-given gifts of passion and sexuality have gotten misdirected into adultery, pornography, and hookups.  Lust may abound, but so can chastity.  Let’s choose chastity.  Let’s make that reasoned, respectful, loving choice for ourselves.  Let’s make it for the sake of others.  Let’s teach it to our children.  Amen.

Resources:

Lisa Wade. “The Rise of Hookup Culture on American College Campuses” in Scholars Strategy Network, August 25, 2017. Accessed online at scholars.org.

Alexandra Solomon. “What Hookup Culture Means for the Future of Millennial Love” in Psychotherapy Network, Oct. 5, 2020.  Accessed online at psychotherapynetworker.org.

Content Team. “Adultery” in Legal Dictionary.  Accessed online at legaldictionary,com.

David Schultz. “Divorce rates Double When People Start Watching Porn” in Science, August 26, 2016.  Accessed online at science.org.

Content Team. “Porn Addiction” in Psychology Today.  Accessed online at psychologytoday.com.

Robert B. Kruschwitz. “Chastity as a Virtue” in Christian Reflection, 2016.  Accessed online at baylor.edu.

Adam Jeske. “The Seven Deadly Sins: Lust” in InterVarsity, March 15, 2014.  Accessed online at intervarsity.org.

Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics, Book 3, Ch. 12. Accessed online at virtuescience.com.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae. Accessed online at newadvent.org.


2 Samuel 11:1-18, 22-27

11 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3 David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. 5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

6 So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord and did not go down to his house. 10 When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” 11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” 12 Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, 13 David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” 16 As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. 17 The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. 18 Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting; 22 So the messenger went and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men gained an advantage over us, and came out against us in the field; but we drove them back to the entrance of the gate. 24 Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall; some of the king’s servants are dead; and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” 25 David said to the messenger, “Thus you shall say to Joab, ‘Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another; press your attack on the city and overthrow it.’ And encourage him.”

26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.


James Tissot, “David Sees Bathsheba Bathing,” https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/d/images/3/3a/King_David_Bathsheba_Bathing.jpg

The new song

Poem for a Tuesday — “The new song” by Sydney Carter

“Be faithful to the new song

thrusting through your

earth like a daffodil.

Be flexible

and travel with the rhythm.

Let your mind

be bent by what is coming:

making is

a way of being made

and giving birth

a way of being born.

You are the child

and father of a carol,

you are not

the only maker present.

How you make

is how you will be made.

Be gentle to

the otherness you carry,

broken by

the truth you cannot tell yet.

Mother and be

mothered by your burden.

Trust, and learn

to travel with the music.

in Sydney Carter. The Two-Way Clock: Poems (London: Stainer & Bell, 2000).

Sydney Carter (1915-2004) was an English poet, writer, and musician. He graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, in 1936. Carter’s commitment to pacifism led to his controversial stance as a conscientious objector during World War II. He was among 1,300 Quaker volunteers who served as drivers in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, spending his war years in Greece, Palestine, and Egypt. Sydney Carter was best known for writing Lord Of The Dance in 1963, as an adaptation of the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts. He once said that he saw Christ as “the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ, I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other lords of the dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.”

(quote from Carter’s obituary in The Guardian, March 16, 2004)

Photo by Travis Saylor on Pexels.com

Wrath

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Wrath” Acts 7:54-8:3; 9:1-5

New York Police are investigating what looks like a case of road rage in Harlem on Tuesday.  After a dispute between a motorcyclist and a driver, surveillance video shows motorcyclists surrounding the car and an argument ensuing.  The 63-year-old driver and his 35-year-old son were pulled from the vehicle, thrown to the ground, kicked, and robbed.

Last week, Atlanta Braves outfielder Marcell Ozuna told his teammates he was sorry for an arrest last year on charges of aggravated assault by strangulation and battery after police officers said they witnessed him attacking his wife. Ozuna, who attended court-mandated counseling, says, “I learned how you treat a person, how you be a better person, how you be the best daddy, how you be a human being. You learn everything from that.”  He hopes the public can forgive him.

In Fresno, a long-running feud between next-door-neighbors came to a head last month when a yard sale ended in violence.  According to witnesses, the two men were having a heated argument outside their homes when one picked up a pellet gun and shot the other.  When the police arrived, the shooter had walked away to cool down and the victim had broken his collar bone in a fall.

We all get angry.  It’s part of how we are hardwired.  Presented with threat, a part of our brain called the amygdala kicks into gear, telling us to fight or flee.  Anger can get us out of dangerous situations or motivate us to change.  Indeed, anger can be constructive, like Jesus turning over the tables in the Temple as a righteous protest against the exploitation of the poor.  Yet, anger, especially when it is long-held, disproportionate, or explosive is destructive, for ourselves and others.

Theologians have long called our uncontrolled feelings of anger wrath.  The Medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas wrote that anger is a good and useful passion, but becomes evil when the order of reason is set aside.  Aquinas described the daughters of wrath as “quarreling, swelling of the mind, contempt, derision, clamor, indignation, and blasphemy.”  Poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri said that wrath is “the love of justice that has been perverted to revenge and spite.”  In his Inferno, Dante imagined the eternal punishment for the wrathful: dismemberment while still alive.  16th century painter Hieronymus Bosch in his painting “The Seven Deadly Sins” depicted wrath as two drunken neighbors violently quarreling.  One has clearly been hit over the head with a chair.  The table is overturned, hats and cloaks are cast off, blades are drawn, and a long-suffering wife tries to intercede.  

Our Biblical example of wrath is Saul, that’s the Apostle Paul before his come-to-Jesus moment.  Saul saw himself as the ultimate defender of the Hebrew faith.  He once described himself to the church in Philippi as “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:4-6).  When the followers of Jesus demonstrated a new interpretation of the Torah, Paul got angry, and then his anger grew into hatred and violence. First, Saul sponsored the execution of the deacon Stephen.  Then, he rounded up and imprisoned followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and Samaria.  Next, unwilling to stop with the elimination of Christians in Israel, Saul traveled to the Roman province of Syria to launch a new program of persecution there.  It would take an encounter with Jesus himself to turn things around for Saul.

In our own lives, wrath has physical and relational effects.  When we are in the throes of wrath, our hearts race, our blood pressure spikes, and our blood courses with adrenaline and noradrenaline.  We lose our capacity to monitor our emotions and actions.  We lack objectivity.  We are incapable of empathy, prudence, and thoughtfulness.  Wrath behind the wheel of a car can escalate to road rage, yet it is also seen in speeding, tailgating, and flipping off another driver.  Wrath can explode in marriages with acts of domestic violence, yet it is also revealed in that same fight that we have over and over again for years. We’re a little like the late comedian Phyllis Diller who quipped, “Don’t go to bed angry; stay up and fight!”   Wrath between neighbors can devolve into a feud, but it can also look like someone with their anger button stuck on, who takes exception to anything and everything that someone else does.  We feel so self-righteous about it, too.  But it’s like author Ambrose Bierce once wrote, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

Although we all struggle with wrath, we have a powerful weapon for that spiritual battle: the virtue of patience. The Latin root of patience pati means to suffer or endure.  According to Aquinas, a person is patient because she or he is able “to act in a praiseworthy manner by enduring things that hurt” without being unduly saddened or troubled by them.  When we are patient, we keep control over the impulse that suddenly and naturally arises when something disagreeable happens to us.  Patient people aren’t doormats or victims who allow themselves to be steamrolled in conflict. Rather, those who are patient choose to control themselves amid difficult circumstances for the sake of what is right – they trust that a way forward can be found with time and effort.  You might even say that in patience we freely bear the small cross of facing someone’s anger and bad behavior for the common good that makes healing possible.

Our biblical model of patience is, of course, Jesus.  Just look at his relationships with the two apostles who would become the lions of the early church.  Remember Peter?  Peter tried to talk Jesus out of the way of the cross.  Peter would sleep through Jesus’ anguish in Gethsemane.  Peter would resort to violence when the Temple guard arrived.  And Peter would deny Jesus three times.  Yet the long-suffering Jesus saw in Peter the gifts of leadership that the early church would need.  With great patience, Jesus restored Peter to right relationship with the three-fold invitation to feed the flock that Jesus was entrusting to his care.  Likewise, Saul, that Hebrew born of Hebrews, that greatest of persecutors, got turned around by Jesus on the Damascus Road.  Thanks to the patience of Jesus, Saul was redeemed.  Saul became Paul, the great evangelist to the Gentiles.

The bad news about patience is that these days there is less of it to go around.  In 2012, UMass researchers Krishnan and Sitaraman determined in a study of 6.7 million internet users that we can lose patience in as little as two seconds.  Buffering leads half of viewers to abandon videos in ten seconds.  The faster our internet connection is, the more impatient we become.  Scientists theorize that the rapid pace of technology is rewiring human brains to be less and less patient.  Is it any wonder that road rage incidents in Texas have doubled in the last year?  Jesus, take the wheel!

The good news about patience is that we can cultivate it.  We can grow our capacity to stay patient amid all the experiences that can make us angry.  A good place to begin is simply thinking before we speak.  Whether we count to ten or we take a minute to gather our thoughts and make a reasoned response, a little time can keep us from responding in ways that hurt and escalate anger.  We can also think about how we express ourselves.  It’s okay to let people know we are angry, but we can do it in a non-confrontational way.  Be clear and direct with statements that take personal responsibility for feelings.  “I feel angry. . . I feel irritated . . . I feel frustrated . . .”  Identify some possible solutions to the conflict and try to work toward a mutual agreement.  Humor, not sarcasm, can deflate heightened tensions.  “George, I’m angry that you chopped down the cherry tree.  I may not ever win the Great British Baking Show, but you’ve set me back about fifteen years in my quest to bake the perfect cherry pie. What would you like to do to make this right?”

In addition to those strategies in the moment, we can use some simple skills that help us to manage the side-effects of our angry encounters.  Take a walk.  Give yourself a time-out.  Listen to music.  Write in your journal. Imagine yourself in a relaxing place.  Not only do these practices relieve the physical effects of anger, they equip us to observe and reflect upon our own behavior.  We begin to see that we can make different choices.

Finally, even when we are not able to successfully resolve our angry encounters, we can choose to not hold a grudge.  The practice of forgiveness releases us from bitterness and creates the graced space where a relationship can find redemption.  When we are clean out of forgiveness, we can always borrow some from Jesus, who had plenty of mercy for Peter, Paul, and for us.

Well, my friends, we all get angry.  This week will bring a fresh batch of headlines about road rage, domestic violence, and community feuds.  We’ll feel our hearts racing, blood pressure rising, and our tempers flaring when the car we are following stops dead at the intersection of Route 86 and Brandy Brook Avenue, or when someone forgets to put the trash out again, or when the neighbor hangs yet another banner airing their political opinions.  But we can take a deep breath and have patience.


Resources:

CBS News Team. NYPD: Driver pulled from car, kicked and robbed by motorcyclists in possible road rage incident, CBS News, March 17, 2022. Accessed online at cbsnews.com.

Jake Seiner. “Ozuna addresses Braves after domestic violence ban ends” in AP News, March 14, 2022.  Accessed online at apnews.com.

Nic Garcia. “Fresno man in hospital after being shot by neighbor, police say” in ABC30 Action News, Feb. 20, 2022. Accessed online at https://abc30.com

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae. Accessed online at newadvent.org.

Krishnan and Sitaraman. “Video Stream Quality Impacts Viewer Behavior,” Amherst: UMass, 2012.  Accessed online at people.cs.umass.edu.

Adam R. Shannon. “The Sin of Anger” in The Seven Deadly Sins.  Accessed online at deadlysins.com

Charles Pope. “The Seven Deadly Sins: Anger” in Catholic Standard, April 4, 2019. Accessed online at cathstan.org.

Christopher Muther. “Instant Gratification Is Making Us Perpetually Impatient” in The Boston Globe, Nov. 2, 2016.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “10 Tips to Tame Your Temper.” Accessed online at mayoclinic.org.

–. “Control Anger Before It Controls You” in Journal of the American Psychological Association, January 2005. Accessed online at APA.org.


Acts 7:54-8:3; 9:1-5

54 When the elders heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. 8 1 And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison. Then, Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”


Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

Kildavnit

This stone altar persists in the 8th-12th c. Church at Kildavnit (County Clare), roofless but still a place of prayer and remembrance. In this week when we marked St. Patrick’s Day, I remember my Irish ancestors, the Beattys, Dohertys, Ferrigans, McCaffreys, Shannons, Carlins, Boyles, and Murrays.
Go raibh míle maith agat! 
(That you may have a thousand good things!)

“The Famine Year (The Stricken Land)” by Jane Wilde

“Weary men, what reap ye? – Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye? – human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, hunger–stricken, what see you in the offing?
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger’s scoffing.
There’s a proud array of soldiers – what do they round your door?
They guard our masters’ granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping -would to God that we were dead;
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.

Little children, tears are strange upon your infant faces,
God meant you but to smile within your mother’s soft embraces.
Oh! we know not what is smiling, and we know not what is dying;
We’re hungry, very hungry, and we cannot stop our crying.
And some of us grow cold and white – we know not what it means;
But, as they lie beside us, we tremble in our dreams.
There’s a gaunt crowd on the highway – are ye come to pray to man,
With hollow eyes that cannot weep, and for words your faces wan?

No; the blood is dead within our veins – we care not now for life;
Let us die hid in the ditches, far from children and from wife;
We cannot stay and listen to their raving, famished cries –
Bread! Bread! Bread! and none to still their agonies.
We left our infants playing with their dead mother’s hand:
We left our maidens maddened by the fever’s scorching brand:
Better, maiden, thou were strangled in thy own dark–twisted tresses –
Better, infant, thou wert smothered in thy mother’s first caresses.

We are fainting in our misery, but God will hear our groan:
Yet, if fellow – men desert us, will He hearken from His Throne?
Accursed are we in our own land, yet toil we still and toil;
But the stranger reaps our harvest – the alien owns our soil.
O Christ! how have we sinned, that on our native plains
We perish houseless, naked, starved, with branded brow, like Cain’s?
Dying, dying wearily, with a torture sure and slow –
Dying, as a dog would die, by the wayside as we go.

One by one they’re falling round us, their pale faces to the sky;
We’ve no strength left to dig them graves – there let them lie.
The wild bird, if he’s stricken, is mourned by the others,
But we – we die in a Christian land – we die amid our brothers,
In the land which God has given, like a wild beast in his cave,
Without a tear, a prayer, a shroud, a coffin or a grave.
Ha! but think ye the contortions on each livid face ye see,
Will not be read on judgement – day by eyes of Deity?

We are wretches, famished, scorned, human tools to build your pride,
But God will take vengeance for the souls for whom Christ died.
Now is your hour of pleasure – bask ye in the world’s caresses;
But our whitening bones against ye will rise as witnesses,
From the cabins and the ditches, in their charred, uncoffin’d masses,
For the Angel of the Trumpet will know them as he passes.
A ghastly, spectral army, before the great God we’ll stand,
And arraign ye as our murderers, the spoilers of our land.”


Lady Jane Wilde (1821-1896) was an Irish poet, nationalist, and collector of folktales. She wrote under the penname of Esperanza. Her father died when she was three years old. Although largely self-educated, she is said to have mastered ten languages by the age of eighteen. When her husband died suddenly, she was left indigent. She lived with her older son in poverty, supplementing their meagre income by writing for fashionable magazines and producing books on Irish folklore. Her youngest son Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was the most popular British playwright of the 1890s but ran afoul of the morality of his day. In January 1896 as Lady Jane was dying, she appealed to visit Oscar at Reading Gaol, but her request was denied. Her “fetch” appeared in Oscar’s prison cell as she died at her home in Chelsea.


“He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.” — Luke 1:53

Unexpected Manna

Poem for a Tuesday — “Unexpected Manna” by Gary H. Holthaus

“Those ancient Greeks

Who had a word for everything

Were more articulate than I.

Those Israelites

Who could not spell

The name of God

Are closer kin to me.

Some thing too highly prized

Or close; those that skirt

The edge of pain

Will always be unnamed.

So you,

Falling on my days

Like unexpected manna,

Alter every image

And rearrange my mind

So wholly

I am rendered silent

Gathering in my self

So quietly

That what you do for me

Remains unnamed.”

in The Gift of Tongues, ed. Sam Hamill. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 1996. p. 129.


Gary H. Holthaus has been one of Alaska’s most important thinkers and writers. He came to Alaska in 1964 to teach in Naknek with a special interest in helping Alaska Native students remain in school. He was the first director of the state’s bilingual education program. The Founding Director of the Alaska Humanities Forum, Holthaus spent nearly twenty years developing programs, including The Alaska Quarterly Review, one of America’s premier literary magazines and a source of powerful new voices. He is a past recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the author of eight books of poetry and three works of narrative non-fiction, and a Unitarian Universalist Minister.


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Envy

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Envy” Genesis 4:1-12

This is the second message in a Lenten series on the Seven Deadly Sins.

Aristotle described envy as the pain we experience when we learn of the good fortune of others.  We see the ability, resources, or excellence of our neighbor, and we want that for ourselves.  Thirteenth century scholastic theologian Thomas Aquinas characterized envy as an active, escalating resentment.  Seeing our neighbor’s good fortune, we first seek to lower their reputation, perhaps through tale telling or criticism.  Next, we feel joy at the other’s misfortune, or we feel grief at our neighbor’s continuing prosperity.  Finally, over-focused on their success or well-being, we feel hatred.  Augustine taught that envy is a truly diabolical sin because it seeks to minimize, end, or destroy what is good in our neighbor, and we, consequently, rob our community and world of that God-given goodness.  Last week, I shared that C.S. Lewis characterized pride as the anti-God sin.  Well, envy is the anti-neighbor sin.  Envy stands in bitter opposition to that second half of Jesus’ Great Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The root of envy is the Latin word invidia, which means unseeing or blind.  When we are envious, we don’t see things as they truly are.  We waste our time in over-focusing on the lives of others, and we fail to see and pursue our own unique God-given gifts and purpose.  The Medieval poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri depicted the sin of envy in his Divine Comedy.  The envious are second only to the prideful in their fall from grace.  In Hell, they plod eternally under grey cloaks made of lead.  In an act of poetic justice, their eyes are sewn eternally shut with metal wire, unable to see their neighbor or themselves.

That most essential biblical paradigm of envy is the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4).  Cain, the farmer, brings a portion of his harvest as an offering to the Lord.  Abel, the herdsman, presents to God the best of his flock—the firstborn with the choicest and fattiest portions.  Abel gave God the best while Cain did what was adequate.  Instead of learning that God deserves our first-fruits, Cain was filled with envy at his brother’s acceptance.  Even after God cautioned Cain about the destructive power of envy, Cain met his brother in the field and murdered him.  The world was robbed of Abel’s gifts and Cain was cut off from his family and even the land.

In the New Testament, Matthew’s gospel tells us that the Chief Priests and elders of the Temple handed Jesus over to Pilate for execution out of envy (Matt. 25:18-20).  Then, they ensured that Pilate could not extend mercy by persuading the crowd to call for the release Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Influence and money changed hands to ensure Jesus’ death.  Envious of Jesus’ wisdom, gifts, and God-given authority, those Temple-insiders conspired to discredit him and rob him of his life.

We know envy when we see it.  The legendary voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer described the experience of her family.  They lived as sharecroppers on the plantation where they had once been enslaved.  Thanks to the hard work of her father and mother and their twenty children, the family prospered.  Her father was able to save enough to buy a team of mules to work more land.  Their dreams crumbled when an envious white sharecropper poisoned the mules. 

Envy is manifest in the realm of athletics.  On January 6, 1994, U.S. Figure Skating Champion Nancy Kerrigan was brutally attacked as she prepared to defend her national title.  Badly bruised, Kerrigan withdrew from the competition, and her rival Tonya Harding took the title.  An FBI investigation ultimately determined that the attack on Kerrigan was prompted by envy.  Harding with her husband and bodyguard conspired to take Kerrigan out of the competition and ensure Harding’s own bid for the Olympics.

Social theorists say that we live in an Age of Envy, which is fueled by social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.  Professor Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan says that envy is at an extreme today because we are constantly bombarded by photo-shopped lives.  Barraged by images of the achievement and joy of others—the spectacular vacations, the joyful families, the workplace accomplishments—we feel envy.  We resent others, and we feel bad about ourselves.

Envy manifests in our lives when we gossip.  We defame the character of our imagined rival and undermine their standing in the community.  We criticize and belittle their accomplishments.  We refuse to acknowledge their gifts and abilities.  We undermine their efforts to get ahead.  We attack their expertise and sabotage their work.  When I was an undergrad at Colgate, a top student in the pre-med program was caught spitting in the test tubes of his rivals to ruin their research.  Our envious actions don’t make us feel any better.  Instead, we are left dissatisfied with who we are and what we have, resentful about our lot in life, and unhappy with the world as we know it.

The remedy for envy is found in the virtues of gratitude and kindness.  Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation for what we have been given and thankfulness for the generosity of others.  Martin Luther taught that gratitude is “the basic Christian attitude” because God is the selfless giver of all good things, and we are all immeasurably blessed.  Gratitude doesn’t forget or ignore the negative aspects of our lives, but it sees the good even amid the hardship.  The 18th century prophet of the Great Awakening Jonathan Edwards believed that our gratitude is the clearest measure of our spiritual health, because gratitude reveals our awareness of the presence and goodness of God in our every day.  Gratitude is the enemy of envy because we see and savor the goodness of God in our own lives, and we acknowledge that God is at work in others in ways that bless them and bless the world around them. Gratitude restores our right relationship with God—we become like that Samaritan Leper, who returned to give thanks to Jesus, falling down at his feet and praising the Lord (Luke 17:11-19).

Professor Robert Emmons of University of California Davis has been the preeminent scholar of gratitude for more than twenty years.  His research has found that when we cultivate gratitude, it is good for us and others.  People who keep a weekly gratitude journal by recording the ways they have been blessed feel better about their lives and are more optimistic.  Folks who maintain a gratitude list—a master list of their blessings—were more likely to make progress toward important goals in school, work, relationships, and health.  A daily time of focusing on gratitude increases our alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy.  The daily discipline of gratitude also makes us more likely to help others and offer our support.

That leads us to our second weapon in battling the sin of envy: kindness.  Aristotle described kindness as helpfulness toward someone in need, not in return for anything, but to simply benefit the person whom we are helping.  Kindness is the exercise of charity, compassion, friendship, and sympathy simply for its own sake.  Studies at Yale University have suggested that kindness is inherent in human beings.  Babies have the impulse to be kind, and we can all testify to the natural sympathy of children, to their innate desire to show concern for a peer who is in distress.  Mark Twain reminds us that kindness is active.  He said, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see,” because we are out there doing it.  One of the amazing dimensions of kindness is that in practicing it we often find that we are blessed.  My seminary professors called this mission-in-reverse.  Even as we reach out to help someone else, we find that our interaction touches our heart, expands our understanding, or makes a new friend.  We often get so much more out of our kind impulses than we put in.

The biblical paradigm of kindness is, of course, The Good Samaritan (Luke 10).  The Samaritan rises above prejudice to come to the aid of his wounded, vulnerable Jewish neighbor when no one else will.  He cleans wounds, takes the man to shelter, and pays his way, all out of kindness.  According to Jesus, kindness like this is what truly makes us neighbors.  Gratitude and kindness are the antithesis of envy because they make us mindful of God’s incredible goodness to us and turn us to our neighbors with open hearts and willing hands.  Thanks be to God.

I suspect that as we go forth into the Lenten season, we will experience envy.  We’ll be scrolling through our Facebook feed and feel envy’s gut-punch as we read of our neighbor’s epic vacation.  We’ll wear a forced smile when our friend tells us they are putting in a new kitchen.  Our neighbor will retire early, and we’ll resent their leisure.  Envy will rear its ugly head.  But we can get the better of it.  Count your blessings.  Give thanks to the one who fills our lives with goodness beyond measure.  Pay it forward.  Reach out to the world with kindness.  The world will be blessed—and so will we.  Amen.

Resources

Becky Little.  “How the 7 Deadly Sins Began as the ‘8 Evil Thoughts’” in History, March 29, 2021. Accessed online at history.com.

WJS Martin. “The Seven Deadly Sins: Envy” in Anglican Way Magazine, Feb. 14, 2016.  Accessed online at anglicanway.org.

Charles Pope. “The Seven Deadly Sins: Envy” in Community in Mission, April 5, 2019. Accessed online at blog.adw.org.

Moya Sarner. “The Age of Envy” in The Guardian, October 9, 2018.  Accessed online at theguardian.com.

Walter Brueggemann. Genesis. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982.

Robert A. Emmons. “Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness” in Dimensions and Perspectives of Gratitude. Los Angeles: UC Davis, 2010.


Genesis 4:1-12

1 Now Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”


“Cain and Abel” by Titian Vecelli, oil on canvas, in the collection of Santa Maria della Salute. https://www.titian-tizianovecellio.org/the-complete-works.html?q=Titian+-+Cain+and+Abel

View from Masada

The mountaintop fortress of Masada was built by Herod the Great as a winter retreat and refuge, complete with palace, storerooms, cisterns, and impressive fortifications. In the Jewish Revolt against the Roman occupation, Masada was taken by Sicarii rebels in 66CE. When the Romans retook Jerusalem (70CE), pockets of Jewish resistance persisted. The last of these was at Masada. Flavius Silva and a legion of Roman soldiers encamped at the base of the mountain and laid siege. Unable to take the fortress, Silva instructed his men to build an enormous tower and ramp to reach the walls. When the building project neared completion and the fall of Masada was imminent, the rebels killed themselves (April 15, 73CE). Two women and five children, who hid in an empty cistern, survived to tell the story. This photo looks out from the walls of Masada to the plain below. Can you see the remains of the Roman Encampment from the first century siege?

Masada by Isaac Lamdan
“Who are you that come, stepping heavy in silence?
–The remnant.
Alone I remained on the day of great slaughter.
Alone, of father and mother, sisters and brothers.
Saved in an empty cask hid in a courtyard corner.
Huddled, a child in the womb of an anxious mother.
I survived.
Days upon days in fate’s embrace I cried and begged
for mercy:
Thy deed it is, O God, that I remain.
Then answer: Why?
If to bear the shame of man and the world.
To blazon it forever–
Release me! The world unshamed will flaunt this shame
As honor and spotless virtue!
And if to find atonement I survive
Then Answer: Where?
So importuning a silent voice replied:
‘In Masada!’
And I obeyed that voice and so I came.
Silent my steps will raise me to the wall,
Silent as all the steps filled with the dread
Of what will come.
Tall, tall is the wall of Masada.
Deep, deep is the pit at its feet.
And if the silent voice deceived me,
From the high wall to the deep pit
I will fling me.
And let there be no sign remaining,
And let no remnant survive.”

in Isaac Lamdan: A Study in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Poetry, ed. Leon I. Yudkin, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971.


Yitzhak Lamdan was born in Mlinov, Ukraine in 1899 and received a religious and secular education. During World War I, he was cut off from his family. He wandered through southern Russia with his brother who was later killed in a pogrom. Lamdan became a Communist and volunteered for the Red Army before returning, disillusioned, to Mlinov , where he began to publish Hebrew poetry. He immigrated to Palestine in 1920, and worked as a ḥaluts (Zionist youth), building roads and working on farms. In 1955, Lamdan was awarded the Israel Prize, for literature.

God speaks to each

Poem for a Tuesday — “Gott spricht zu jedem” by Rainer Maria Rilke

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

got to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

/

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist. He was the only son of an unhappy marriage. His mother mourned the death of an earlier daughter. During Rilke’s early years, she sought to recover the lost girl through the boy. According to Rilke, he had to wear “fine clothes” and “was a plaything [for his mother], like a big doll.” He attended military school and trade school before studying literature, art history, and philosophy in Prague and Munich. He was a mystic, proto-modernist, and early proponent of psychoanalysis. He traveled extensively throughout Europe and Russia before settling in Switzerland. At the time of his death from leukemia, his work was largely unknown to the reading public, but his posthumous followers have been many. He is now considered the most lyrical and influential of the German early modernists.

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