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I’ve had multiple requests for the prayer from last Sunday, which was for elected officials at all levels of government.
O, God, we pray today for those who lead us in our community, in our nation, and in our world. Give to each one renewed energy for their lives and for their tasks of leadership. On this day may they find their bodies rested and their spirits restored. Give to each a new understanding of their position. May they see new possibilities for policy making and new possibilities of good for the people they serve. Reveal to all elected officials a common purpose that benefits all.
We pray that Christ’s heart would be expressed in both the way they do their jobs and in the outcome of their efforts. Banish pride from each life and remove vanity from all hearts so that their only desire is to serve the citizens they represent. Lead them even to sacrifice if necessary in order that they might perform their duties without regard for themselves or reelection. Banish personal ambition from each life and remove vanity from all hearts so that their only desire is to serve the citizens they represent.
And make us citizens that are worthy of our Constitution, worthy of our Bill of Rights, worthy of our liberty, and worthy of great leaders. For we know that if you grant our petitons, then we shall have the nation we desire.
In the name of Christ, our Lord, Amen.
The week I preached on this sin I conducted anecdotal research to see how many people thought they were prone to greed. Few people did. They admitted to anger, envy, and gluttony, but no one confessed a problem with greed. A few attributed greed to others, but not to themselves.
These isolated responses backed up my assumption: the face of greed has changed and few of us see it as a spiritual problem affecting us. The old image of greed is a character like Ebenezer Scrooge, sitting in a cold room, counting gold coins while earing fingerless gloves. Occasonal news stories back up our image when we hear of a woman in Detroit who was found frozen to death in an unheated house. Later authorities discover she had hundred’s of thousands of dollars in her bank account.
Or, we visualize Michael Douglas in the nearly 30-year old movie, Wall Street, saying “Greed is good.” Greed is something that afflicts hermits who count their money, or Wall Street “fat cats,” none of whom we identify with. Therefore, greed is someone else’s problem, not ours. Anyone teaching or preaching on greed today must overcome the listeners’ rationalizations of why they are not greedy. We need images of greed that fit our generation.
One modern portrayal of greed is shopping. People joke about it all the time: with number stickers such as “shop until you drop,” shopaholic,” or simply “gone shopping.” Our greed is not counted in gold coins, but in pairs of shoes or tech items. We don’t keep the objects of our greed in bank accounts but in rental storage units because there is no longer any room in our homes. We find sweaters or shirts in the bottom of a drawer that we forgot we had purchased. Older relatives die and we find item after item in the house – unused and with the price tags still affixed. We can’t stop shopping or spending on ourselves. We must possess – and that impulse is greed.
The second way the greed of our generation expresses itself: the more we have the less we give. We convince ourselves we will be more generous when we have more, but statistics show that as we have more, we give away a decreasing percentage of what is ours. Does spending more on ourselves imply generosity or greed?
Greed is a product of fear, often the fear of not having enough. The financial industry preys on this fear all the time: you won’t have enough to retire, or to send children to college, etc.
Or fear may express itself as the anxiety of missing out on what everyone else has. Consider how many times we hear the word “deserve” in advertising. We deserve what others have, so we must spend on ourselves.
What a terrible way to live. The anxious life of greed reveals its toxic nature. It is a “deadly” sin because it murders joy.
Consider a better way:
Matthew 6: 25-34 (ESV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Trusting God is the antidote for greed.
Perhaps both are one and the same: the greed with which we cling to what we should let go, and the fear of letting go. Fear tells us that things might take a turn for the worse. A sparrow in one’s hand is better than a pigeon on the rooftop. I am sure of what I possess, but I am not so sure of what I shall receive upon letting go what I have. Emil Brunner in Sowing and Reaping, p. 31
I’ve had multiple requests for this prayer, which I’ve taken the liberty to edit.
Lord, when you said “I was a stranger and you took me in,” we had no idea how many of you there would be. We had no idea that you would fill cars and trains. We had no idea you would appear as people at the borders looking for admission, hoping for help. We expected you to look like us, not that you would practice a different religion. We had no idea that you would bear the name refugee.
We pray today for refugees around the world who are strangers. Those who have come to a place where they don’t know the language, don’t know the customs, don’t know a way in, and have no network of help. We pray that you would use your people to welcome you as the stranger. May each refugee who knocks at the door find hospitality, opening to welcome them. May each find that a reception so gracious that recognize the gospel and hope. We pray that each one would come to know Jesus.
Remind us that the hope of the world is Jesus and remind us that His kingdom will never end and that His purposes will never be thwarted. Remind us that no enemy shall ever thwart what he wants done and no sheep of His fold will be lost. We place not our confidence in ourselves or in our abilities or in our wealth, but solely in your power. May the things we have, the things that we care about, the things we do, find themselves a part of what you are doing in the world today. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Green is the color of spring. Plants send out new shoots, dormant grasses revive, and trees bud into new life. Green is the color of plant life and those who grow flowers or vegetation well are said to have a green thumb. Green represents life among plants.
So why is the deadly sin of envy associated with the color green? Because in ancient cultures, a shade of green, different from plant life, is connected to death. Look no further than John’s Revelation: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (6:8). The word John uses for “pale” is cloros, the root for chlorine. Pour some bleach (Clorox gets it’s name here) into a clear glass and see what color it is. This color is associated with death because after life leaves the body, the corpse turns pale green as red blood cells break down. Before embalming was a common practice, people saw the dead as this color during the decomposition process. Pale green was also associated with various illnesses, particularly those which affected the liver. Pale green is not a color we wish to be. Consequently, Ovid, Chaucer, and Shakespeare all refer to envy as green. Dryden calls jealousy (often associated with envy) the jaundice of the soul. Envy is a deadly, sickening sin.
Angus Wilson points out the irony of envy, the only deadly sin which promises nothing except heartache: “All the seven deadly sins are self destroying, morbid appetites, but in their early stages at least, lust and gluttony, averice and sloth know some gratification, while anger and pride have power, even though that power eventually destroys itself. Envy is impotent, numbed with fear, never ceasing in its appetite, and it knows no gratification, but endless self torment. It has the ugliness of a trapped rat, which gnaws its own foot in an effort to escape” (Seven Deadly Sins, p. 11).
Wilson is correct. Sloth seems to offer rest, greed wealth, lust pleasure, gluttony fullness – but envy promises absolutely nothing except sorrow. It is a moral boomerang that, when thrown at another, returns to us. I cannot find the quotation but remember another say it is like poisoning our enemy’s food, then eating it ourselves. Envy takes the heart out of praise we feel obliged to give a professional colleague. It keeps us silent when we hear a rival unfairly criticized. It makes us quietly glad when that rival fails. It is not a psychological problem which therapy will eliminate; rather, it is a sin for which we need to repent each time it rears it’s toxic head within our hearts.
Here are some additional helps for anyone leading a Bible study or preaching on the sin of envy.
Envy is the root of many familiar biblical stories: Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers, Saul and David, the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
“His eye was forever fixed on what he didn’t have.” Hugh Howey in The Sand Omnibus (Kindle Locations 2407-2408). .
“Envy is the religion of the mediocre. It comforts them, it soothes their worries, and finally it rots their souls, allowing them to justify their meanness and their greed until they believe these to be virtues. Such people are convinced that the doors of heaven will be opened only to poor wretches like themselves who go through life without leaving any trace but their threadbare attempts to belittle others and to exclude—and destroy if possible—those who, by the simple fact of their existence, show up their own poorness of spirit, mind, and guts.” Denise Mina, in Still Midnight, p. 101 .