Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Deep Emotions: Jealousy

The second in my 2010 Lent sermon series on Deep Emotions. This sermon was delivered to the Stockton Presbyterian Church on 2/28/10. Scriptures used for the sermon were Exodus 20:4-6, Mark 9:33-37, I Corinthians 3 .

We like to have our conversations about The Greatest. The Best. These are the discussions that fascinate us. We make our lists and debate the data. Our discussions about the greatest include...

  • The 27 Yankees or the Big Red Machine?
  • The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?
  • Washington or Lincoln?
  • The Great Gasby or Ulysses (These are books, for those who don't know)
  • Casablanca or Citizen Kane (These are movies, for those who don't know)
  • Muhammad Ali…well, I guess if your nickname is the greatest that hinders discussion.

The Gospel of Mark tells us about a who is the greatest discussion that was not beneficial or fruitful.
“The disciples did not answer him because they were talking about which of them was the greatest.”
To which Jesus answers: oh, that is an easy question to answer: none of you are. He brings a child to them and reframes greatness.

Unlike many of our 'greatest' discussions, the disciples argument about which one of them was the greatest was rooted in jealousy. Jealousy is defined as
Mental uneasiness from suspicion or fear of rivalry or unfaithfulness
The secondary definition is
Vigilance in maintaining or guarding something.

Jealousy can be confused with its synonym Envy.
Envy has to do with possession. HAVING what someone else has.
Jealousy is about resentment. It is rooted in insecurity and anger.

I think I am oversimplifying it, but generally speaking, envy has to do with things, and jealousy with people.

The Apostle Paul, in his words to the church in Corinth, reminds people that they are to be about the Lord, not about one follower of Jesus over another. There should be no camps or teams in the Christian faith. The following 5 principles are taken from I Corinthians 3.


1. Produces worldliness, not godliness (3:3)
While God calls us to have love for people and creation, a basic generic understanding of the world, we are also commanded not to become like the world. That is, we are to become godly, like God. God is saying, “follow me”. Jealousy makes us want to become like other people. God is saying, "become like me".

2. Not based on reality, but self (ish) perception (3:4-7)
I do not feel that all self-perception is selfish. But jealousy does grow our selfish perception. God is real. The twisted perceptions that grow when we allow jealousy to take root within us are not real. We can overcome jealousy be rooting ourselves in what is real. God is real, and God's kingdom is real. Let us work for that kingdom. We do not work alone. By working together: a common purpose guides you.

3. It destroys, not build up (3:10-17)
Our jealousy burns, God’s judgment refines. Paul uses the image of fire to show that what is not building up God's kingdom is something not built upon a solid foundation, and will be burnt away. Our jealousy burns within us when we do not put it out. God's fire, rather than destroying, acts as a refining agent. The common illustration is that of gold, where fire burns away remnants in order for the gold to be made pure.

4. It is foolish, not wise (3:18-20)

5. You already have everything you need. (3:21-23)

Jealousy decieves into thinking we need something, or someone else. But God has already provided for us. In that sense, if we have Christ, we have everything that we need.

Today, our thoughts end with a different idea about jealousy, one which we have not often considered. But one of the names for God in Hebrew Scripture is Jealous. Our initial reaction is we might not know what to do with this name? Is God immature? Has God not developed emotional tolerance? Is God like a little child who cries when he doesn't get what he wants?

Perhaps our second definition of jealousy is helpful here: Vigilance in maintaining or guarding something. Isn’t that what God is trying to do for us? His jealousy is all the things ours is not.

God’s jealousy is: holy, real, building up, wise, offering all things
Our jealousy is: worldly, perceived, destroying, foolish, nothing

Like anger, jealousy is rooted in passion. Our understanding of God is that God is passionate, loving us, wanting us to love him, not bowing to idols that lead to an empty way of life. Protecting us from that which destroys us, maintaining health in our spiritual life.

Let us free ourselves from jealousy. Let God be jealous, God is the only one who knows how to do that with righteousness. We are called to love: God and neighbor. That effort can take a lifetime of energy and devotion.

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