Proper 8’24
30 June 2024
Wisdom 1.13-15;2.23-24
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

“Seek the LORD while the Lord may be found, call upon God while God is near, let the wicked
abandon their own unrighteous ways of living, and thinking: and let them return to the LORD,
and God will have mercy upon them; and will abundantly forgive them.”
– Isaiah 55.6-7 KJV, The Message (revised)

My grandfather lived to be 98 years old, besides his good health he enjoyed a keen sense of humor and had lots of common sense! One day he was sitting on a bench outside of the courthouse, a man approached and in typical neighborly fashion my Papaw asked, “Hi, how are you doing?” The ill-humored man snapped back, “Why, are you a doctor?” My Papaw fired back, “No, but I’m a pretty good veterinarian, and I know a jackass when I see one!” Yep, I think my grandfather made an accurate diagnosis!

Diagnosis is actually a Greek word, and pronounced in Greek as “dee-ah-knowsis” and means “to know thoroughly.”1 Without an accurate diagnosis there’s really no way to figure out what the right treatment is, or even if there is a treatment available. There can be a great relief just in knowing what the condition actually is – at least then we know what we are up against and can try to address the health problem.

We know how helpful a diagnosis can be for taking care of our physical and mental health but today’s society, for all of its knowledge has forgotten the that this applies to our spiritual health – our soul!

Sin, is one of those helpful words that’s been hijacked by fundamentalists to the point that we tend to shy away from it. But the early Church knew the importance of an accurate diagnosis of the soul. Through early theologians like Tertullian and Evagrius Ponticus, it was observed that there were some sins that appeared to be more harmful or deadly to the human soul than others. Eventually, Pope Gregory in the 6th cen. wrote them down and have become known as “the seven deadly sins.” Although there is no one place in the bible where these are listed, they are mentioned individually throughout scripture – they are traditionally listed as: Envy, Wrath, Greed, Pride, Lust, Gluttony, and Sloth. Throughout history the “seven deadlies” have been explored through the arts and literature and in modern times, in movies, such as “Amadeus” about the life of Mozart, and his envious rival Antonio Salieri and “Seven” a true crime story based on each of the seven deadly sins, starring Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Brad Pitt.

It’s a fact of the spiritual life that every generation has to figure out what it means for them to live a righteous and godly life in their own generation. Confronted by the forces of evil within society a righteous path has to be carved out, often going against the grain of the surrounding culture.

Our first reading today is found in the apocryphal book known as either the Book of Wisdom, or the Wisdom of Solomon which is only read from eight times in our three-year lectionary cycle. This fascinating and somewhat peculiar reading, was written about 100 years before the birth of Christ, during the struggles of the Jewish people in exile surrounded by a Greco-Roman culture (secular, in other words) that viewed them with doubtful suspicion.

In understanding this passage it’s helpful to read the verse that comes before it: “Do not invite death by the error of your life, or bring destruction by the works of your hands…” next is where today’s reading commences “because God did
not make death.” As it was observable then, so it is now that sin and death are linked together – sin is a terminal condition. The reading mentions what the writer believed to be the first if not the greatest of the seven deadly sins: “but through the devil’s envy, death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.” (vv. 2.23-24) Envy, is arguably the first sin even before Adam and Eve’s eating of forbidden fruit because it dealt with Lucifer’s falling out with God due to his envy of God’s power and authority, not simply having power like God’s but wanting to take God’s power and possess it.

This was very similar to the envy experienced by Mozart’s musical nemesis, royal court musician, Antonio Salieri. Salieri not only desired to have Mozart’s talent and the fame that came with it, he wanted to see Mozart’s downfall, his death, and to see his talent taken away and given to him. Envy, like a deadly poison was slowly eating him up on the inside.

What are some other manifestations of envy that we can see in ourselves? Author Rebecca DeYoung listed these: feeling offended at the talents, successes, or good fortune of others; selfish or unnecessary rivalry and competition; pleasure at other’s difficulties or distress; ill will; reading false motives into others’ behavior; belittling others; false accusations; backbiting (saying something bad, even if true, behind another’s back); slander (saying it out in the open) initiation, collection, or retelling of gossip; arousing, fostering, or organizing antagonism against others, making fun of someone’s abilities and failures, or bullying…”p.46 Ouch that’s a bit too close to home lets talk about Salieri and Mozart ha!

No doubt about it Envy is a deadly business and almost always fails in its vain efforts.

The good news is that there is a way through and beyond this deadly sin. Again, early Church fathers and mothers countered each of the seven deadlies with the Seven Virtues: rather than envy – gratitude; rather than pride – humility; rather than wrath – patience; rather than lust – chastity; rather than greed – charity; rather than gluttony – temperance/self-control; rather than sloth – diligence.

Each of us struggle with all of the seven deadly sins at one time or the other but it seems observable over time that most of us have a pet sin, our Achilles heel that often trips us up. Which one is it for you? Envy, Pride, Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Wrath, Sloth?

We find that our answer won’t be found in another self -improvement program driven by willpower but in receiving on a daily basis the unconditional love of God that is we are dearly loved right in the middle of our mess, and improvement is made possible by God’s grace that empowers us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit within us.

“Come Holy Spirit, create in us holiness,
Lift up our lives to thy standard of right;
Stir every will to new ventures of faithfulness,
Flood the whole Church with thy glorious light.”
– third verse of “Father all loving” Hymn#568

Tune in next week when we will revisit the next deadly sin – the sin of Pride.