Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 118, 145
1 Corinthians 2:6-16
How do we overcome the vanity that affects our relationship with God?
Yesterday I watched an amazing video on YouTube. A group of tourists, animal watching in Africa, were watching and filming a herd of gazelles crossing the road ahead of them. Suddenly, a previously unseen leopard leapt up and grabbed a gazelle in mid-bound. Neither the herd of gazelles nor the vehicle filled with tourists expected such a sudden attack. The leopard lay completely camouflaged in the grass beside the road. The gazelles seemed to think the presence of humans had removed natural threats – and I am betting the tourists thought the same thing: fearsome creatures flee before our presence. The vanity that derives from human nature so often drives our decisions and behaviors.
Today’s scriptures dramatically illustrate what happens when human vanity comes between humankind and God. That vanity comes in a variety of forms and from a variety of sources. As God points out in Hosea, when he took care of Israel’s needs, the people became too comfortable and forgot about him. The Corinthian battle comes between fully-human and fully-God, and in Matthew it happens when a public declaration backfires. In our imperfection, too many openings allow for personal vanity, however it manifests, to interfere with our relationship with God. When it interferes, the outcome never works out in our favor.
I relate with many of the people in the passages today, but the Israelites in the time of Hosea sound so much like the people of today. When things go well and we are comfortable, we like to reward ourselves with congratulatory “job well-done” statements. We like to brag about the things we have accomplished, to show-off the things we have done. When our things, our works, take precedence to our relationship with God, the relationship suffers. History shows those things going well, crumble when we rely solely on our own wisdom.
Maintaining humility proves challenging to even the most sincere, but as always, God gives us the tool to make it possible: the Holy Spirit, or the “mind of Christ,” as Paul writes to the Corinthians. Christ’s experience as fully human and fully God bridges that gap between our human nature and godly purpose. We have available something the early Jews and Herod did not have, THE Spirit that guides us to understand our purpose from the perspective of God. No matter how much I want to be me, he wants me to be much more. To borrow a phrase from politics: I didn’t build it (me).
Just as the gazelles and tourists never anticipated the ambush about to take place in their midst, we rarely anticipate the challenges that can overwhelm our well made plans. Our vanity disintegrates when dashed with reality life brings our way. Relief comes when we mend the relationship we have with God, yet we keep repeating the cycle.
Let us keep our hearts open to the Spirit that keeps our vanity weak and our relationship with God strong.