-Rev Melissa Fain-
This is part of a new series on the seven virtues. Consider starting from the beginning!
"Pride Comes Before the Fall"
"Pride comes before the fall." If I never hear that phrase again the world will be a better place! Pride is one of those words that clearly carry it's own vice and virtue all its own. There are few who would question what's wrong with personal pride in a job well done. It's only when we slide that pride into the deadly sin category we begin to shudder a little at the implications.
Bad pride is a cement. It's our inability to change once we know we're wrong. Bad pride would rather live in a past lie, than a potential future. Bad pride is a hope killer. Yep, you read that right. Pride is the killer of God's hope. That kind of pride is deadly dangerous.
Humility When Tied to Deadly Pride
The virtue of humility is the ability to see the bigger picture. If pride is cement, humility is the jack hammer. It breaks up our stubborn nature to see the hope on the horizon. It sets us free. We don't admit our failure to cower or fall in. We admit failure because it's failure. It keeps us from God's path. Accepting what has been with clear vision, allows us to move on.
Humility When Weaponized
I really need to stress that I used to be an introvert. I know I said this just a few weeks ago, but no one who knows me today would be able to pick me out from a line up twenty plus years ago. And sincerely, when I say introvert what I really mean to say is broken extrovert. There was a time that simply standing up for myself was a huge accomplishment. Getting in front of a group of people and just stating something simply and sufficiently was a challenge.
I wanted to celebrate when I was able to pull it off.
Only there were those around me who thought everything should be done in supplication, head lowered, never taking credit. I mean, these were people who didn't need to take credit, because they were out in the lime light. They never needed to say what they did because everyone could clearly see they were the ones who did it.
I, on the other hand, used to be someone no one noticed. Literally, there were days the teacher would take role and to my face say, "Where's Melissa? She's late!" There'd be days I'd be in a room of people where the leader counted who was in the room and they wouldn't count me. How would I know it wasn't me. When they'd recount, they'd use their finger and pass over me as they counted! You mean to tell me, God wanted that person, my younger broken self, to be seen less?!
I remember living in that complete unworthiness. I wasn't worth it. I failed because I wouldn't amount to anything. I was ignored, because there were people worth more attention.
It was in college, sitting across from my minister, telling her I was going into ministry, that something clicked.
Humility as an Action of Hope
When I decided to talk about my call to ministry, I seriously thought people would laugh in my face. I was a C student in middle school, and by no means any greater than average in high school. My denomination required a Masters level study to be an ordained minister. I wasn't good enough.
Then my minister raised up my call, and celebrated it.
It changed my view on humility. Humility is accepting what God has called you to do, even if you don't feel you are in a place to do it. Many of us get the negating side of humility. Tesla dug ditches so he could fund his work. Many will sacrifice glory for the sake of the call. We often forget that sometimes humility is also accepting something bigger and greater in our nothingness.
Now this doesn't change what I think of myself. When someone tells me my words moved them I try to take myself out of the equation. (After all, God once used a donkey to talk to a prophet.) When I glorify myself I give myself too much credit in a world where God deserves so much more. I just remember there are times when the call is to speak, so I speak. Humility has become sometimes opening myself up instead of closing myself off.
Humility is accepting failure, because in accepting failure I'm accepting what can no longer be, and using the pieces to build something new.
I'm living into hope.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
There are seven virtues tied to the seven deadly sins. We love to talk about the sins. There was a whole movie where the villain forced people to die by them. (Seven was probably one of the first rated R movies I was openly allowed to watch.) It led you to morally question the motivations of punishing sin with sin. I won't give away anything if you want to go spend a few bucks and rent it.
But what about those virtues? In the musical Camelot one of the knights of the round table sang about how terrible they are:
Now, perhaps his motivations were a bit off. The knights were bored after Camelot became a place without wrong. What fun is vanquishing sin, if there be no sin to vanquish?
No matter if you are or are not a vanquisher of sin, the virtues are meant to be symbols to a better life. They are meant to temper the soul, to sharpen one’s spiritual being. Which is why we need to spend a few weeks talking through them. The virtues, if properly used, will do just what is said. It will temper and sharpen. If used incorrectly, they can also be used on others as weapons of submission and power. Think of it like a hammer. The hammer was created to be a tool. It was meant to assist us in every day projects. Someone could take that tool and kill someone with it. It doesn’t change the purpose of the tool, it simply means we need to understand tools can be dangerous too.
Over the coming weeks I'm going to look at virtues being used as weapons.
The most important part of these virtues being misused and manipulated, is when they become unhinged from their counter sin, or when the inability to live up to the virtue is seen as the sin instead of the obvious inability. Then there are those that maintain power with virtue as a chain of oppression.
I'm looking forward to these weeks. I hope you are too. Think of it as an early Halloween present.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. 2 The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.
8 “Or what woman, if she owns ten silver coins and loses one of them, won’t light a lamp and sweep the house, searching her home carefully until she finds it? 9 When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”
Luke 15:1-10 CEB
Breathing life into the text
When I first began really writing things down, I was fearful to share. Half of me didn't understand how writing worked. I'm not talking about conjunctions, adverbs and the like (even though if there was one place I'm the least helpful to my kids, it would be language arts. I'm talking about the life of words. A writer is the creator. They slave over the text, ordering the image they want to convey. The reader breathes life into that image.
I didn't want people misconstruing what I was saying. I didn't want my words to be used in a way that was never intended to be used. The words felt so important, I kept them locked in a journal, promising to never share them until I could also stand up for them. I wanted to carry the entirety of the text, when it was only my responsibility to send the words out into the world.
I was also worried about stealing.
That might sound crazy considering I give my words away every week. How can one steal what has been freely given? Well, words deserve authors. It used to eat at my soul to know I was spending my very expensive education to yell out in the wilderness. Then, knowing others would grab my words and get paid for them on Sunday morning at 11am, nearly broke me. I didn't like that the life being breathed into my words took the name of plagiarism. I actually spent a whole year barely writing anything of real value, because of this.
Responsibility doesn't always reside with power
We are drawn to see those in power as those who are right. After all, there is a reason they have the power, right?
The Pharisees had the power, the money, the building. They had everything. What did they do with it? They cut people out. They made themselves the gate keepers to salvation. The people in need were no longer in the temple. They were on the streets.
Jesus didn't have the power or the money. He didn't have the system to help him do what he needed to do. He did what he needed to do in spite of the system, not with help of it.
We want to believe the future is in the physical church. I get it. Really I do. I love my churches. The people within them changed my life for the better. It's just that we're not called to those who get it. We're called to the tax collectors and sinners. You have to seek those out. Wander the wilderness. Go to Nineveh. You have to realize others are not going to see the purpose or reasoning behind those actions. Some might tell you to curse God and die (or in other words give it up.) Some might tell you to "do what's right" and come back to the institution. All these things sound good on paper, but it's sacrificing call for comfort.
You can't change the system within the system. If the Pharisee's could see they were outside of the mission, they would have gone to God. They acted the way they did because they thought they were right.
Uncle Ben was wrong. Power doesn't always lead to responsibility. Sometimes, people have to be responsible with the power working against them. Sometimes the power is the problem, and doing the right thing becomes so much more difficult.
Sometimes we're the Pharisees.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said,26 “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when you have laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it will begin to belittle you. 30 They will say, ‘Here’s the person who began construction and couldn’t complete it!’ 31 Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him? 32 And if he didn’t think he could win, he would send a representative to discuss terms of peace while his enemy was still a long way off. 33 In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.
Luke 14:25-33 CEB
Those who know me, like really know me, understands that I like to create and build. The essence of my nature, is to perceive potential and bring that potential into being.
Sometimes all those pieces come together and it's amazing. When it's me myself and I, I can confidently play out the plan, and I know it will work. I don't need someone else at my craft area. I can create amazing Halloween costumes for my kids, or draw up signs for scouts without anyone else's help.
Other times, always when the perceived potential involves others, I must lament the loss of what was never allowed to be. I worded it this way on purpose.
Like you probably did, my first read through of our scripture seemed to warn against action. Remember 2008? At least in the metro-Atlanta area, there were a ginormous amount of unfinished building projects left to rot! How many contractors lost everything to the Great Recession, while their paid concrete did nothing except became an eye sore to the general public? It appears this scripture screams to our 2008 selves to stop!
Back in 2014 I wrote on "abundance" versus "just enough." Biblically, God is going to give the people just enough to get the physical project done, while offering an abundance of Spiritual needs. When God's physical plan doesn't have enough, that's the result of the gluttony of someone else. While I feel the message is universal, I wrote it for myself. I could feel a transition happening in our family. We were reaching the end of survival mode where "just enough" was literal penny counting! I wrote it to warn myself: as I was entering a place where my family's security was going to be a bit more stable, I needed to remember I could become the glutton. I could keep someone else from having just enough.
This is where we get back to our scripture for today. I come from a long line of dreamers, but unlike Joseph and his amazing technicolor dream coat, any dream won't do. I'm far more interested in dreams that have meat, or have purpose. There are things in this world that need help. We should be able to easily fund mission. Meeting the needs of our greatest needs should be the easiest task. Yet it's not.
We get antsy to give up our abundance to build anything. (Especially for those who've felt the sting of poverty and have come through the other side.) This scripture says something extremely difficult to hear. Let me give you the "too long, didn't read version."
TL:DR- You can't build anything unless you are willing to sacrifice and give up something to do it.
This is why we have so much trouble building dreams with meat. We live in a world where sacrifice means less and less, and scarcity means more and more. On one side we're being offered quick and easy solutions to difficult problems, on the other side the Rainforest is burning and what's been burned will never be returned.
Yet Jesus still asks us to give it up, plan, and build. It's scandalous. It's potential. It's a choice. Together it's possible. Alone, it's a fool's errand. Ultimately, here's the big truth: We have more value and worth than we realize. The real reason potential never happens isn't because the items were not there to build, but because we made ourselves believe we had less than we actually did. We just need to bring ourselves to act. Tomorrow might be too late.
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