Archives for September 2007

God cares about everyone, Pentecost 18, Proper 21 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 or Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 or 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

How could anyone stand to have a poor man lying in the doorway, covered with sores, those sores being licked by stray dogs – a poor man who longs for nothing but the crumbs that fall off the table? Aren’t we outraged that a rich man, dressed in purple and fine linen, who feasted sumptuously every day, ignored this poor man? We’re not surprised when he ends up in Hades and can’t even get a tiny drink of water. We’d never do that to anyone, would we? What was that rich man thinking of?

It’s easy to feel pretty self-righteous about the rich man. It’s also easy to think that this isn’t a hard parable to understand. The poor man who suffered on earth is rewarded in heaven because those with the means to help him while he was alive didn’t. The rich man who had more than enough – lots more than enough – is sent to Hades because he didn’t share. Serves him right.

But wait a minute. That’s a bit too easy. If we understand this parable right away, it must be that it strikes a chord with us. It’s a lesson we hear all the time. Those with many gifts must see that those with nothing get the assistance they need to live a decent life. If you’re rich, give to the poor. This is obviously a moral lesson for rich people, churches, and nations, and there you have it. So we’re through, and we can all go home, right?

But then what do we do with the verses of Luke that come before and after this passage? This story of the rich man and Lazarus is the last in a whole series of parables Jesus tells in Luke. Jesus seems to be on a teaching frenzy. He’s told stories about a good Samaritan, a rich fool, being watchful and faithful, about a great banquet, and a dishonest manager. Jesus ends with this story that teaches a lesson that pertains to every one of us. The Book of Common Prayer says it well: “Do not let the hope of the poor be taken away.”

A few verses later the apostles say, “Increase our faith!” What does that mean? What do they want? In any case, what they get is Jesus telling them they have to change. Jesus preaches the kingdom of God, which means he preaches and teaches a different way of seeing and a different way of living. To be part of God’s kingdom, to live that way, is to see people differently. Then we feed the hungry not because we think it’s the right thing to do, but because we see their hunger, see as if we were hungry, and then act accordingly. To see another the way God sees that person is to live in the kingdom of God.

Maybe these disciples are a little bit nervous. After all this teaching, all these lessons on what it means to live a godly life, they may be beginning to see where they’ve fallen short and they don’t want to end like the rich man. Maybe they’re thinking it might be better to suffer now and wind up standing at the side of Abraham in eternal life. Maybe suffering here and now is the guarantee of blessing there and then? You know, “Suffer now, take up your cross; God will only give you as much hardship as God knows you can handle. If life here is tough, don’t worry: heaven is paved with streets of gold.”

We get a lot of this one-sided theology from TV, websites with pretty pictures, or self-help books. Yes, of course, there’s a great deal of suffering in life. There are people like Lazarus all around us. Maybe we don’t see them lying at the gates of grand houses surrounded by dogs licking their wounds, but we see them lying on the streets of our cities. Some of them we don’t see at all. Poverty today is often a hidden problem. And Jesus is not teaching his disciples that we need to be poor too. He’s teaching us that we are poor too, for every last one of God’s children is dependent on God for everything, even for life itself.

So, is eternal life the only place where we’ll really be happy? Is that what Jesus is saying? Can we just hope that when we die, we’ve been good enough to merit standing with Abraham? That’s a depressing idea. We sometimes think we need to figure out all the rules and regulations that will merit the kingdom for us. But the kingdom doesn’t work like that; it’s a gift. We can’t earn it, no matter what we do. We are all dependent on God, in need of God’s grace.

And yet we are all rich, all of us. Not just most people in this country or most people in our congregation. There are too many who have too little, even in our own congregations (unless we’ve so alienated the poor that only the rich are left). But every last person on earth is rich in one respect: God’s unmerited, unbounded love.

God cares about everyone. Therefore those who live by God’s kingdom are bound to do the same. We give out of our richness, whatever that is. And we all have something to receive as well. What could the rich man have received from Lazarus if he had been willing to open himself to the possibility? Maybe he could have learned from Lazarus to be thankful for a healthy body as well as a fine house and table. Maybe he could have learned the joy of receiving a gift he didn’t merit, if he had given such a gift to Lazarus.

But merit is a tricky notion, isn’t it? In a way, Lazarus did merit a gift of care from the rich man, not because of what he did but because of who he was. And who was Lazarus? Not just a poor beggar, but a fellow human being, another child of God, someone else in God’s image. God’s care for all of us means that everyone in need merits help from those in a position to give it. It also means that givers all are potential recipients, not only of the gratitude of the needy but also of the lessons their lives have to share with us.

Written by the Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz
The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is executive director of the Center for Ministry in Small Churches at the School of Theology, Sewanee, Tennessee, and assistant professor of Contextual Education. She is also publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal of ministry and liturgical preaching.

Child of the light, Pentecost 17, Proper 20 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 or Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 79:1-9 or 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

There’s a T-shirt that perhaps you’ve seen. It reads simply: “Love is for losers.” Now probably to the wearer, the phrase is only a humorous expression of teenage angst or rebellion. But set next to today’s gospel reading, it suggests a different view of love, friendship, success, competition, and worth.
If what we value most is wealth and prestige, then love is at best an idle pleasure, and at worst a distraction or an impediment to our struggle to succeed. On the other hand, if what we value most highly is love itself, particularly the godly love that we are to show to all our neighbors, we will be willing to risk, and indeed even to lose, everything for the sake of love.

The steward in Jesus’ parable is after wealth, in any way he can get it. Not content to be a trusted steward managing the household of a wealthy man, he sets out to skim off an extra share of the wealth for himself. Not surprisingly, his employer puts an end to this as soon as the wrongdoing comes to light. The steward, now deprived of his source of income and prestige, runs one last scam in order to buy some goodwill with a few households that are in debt to his former master.

This operation, too, is completely at the master’s expense, and you’d expect him to be doubly furious. Instead, the master commends his dishonest steward for his craftiness. We can only suppose that the master, being a wealthy man, understands only too well the rules of cutthroat business dealings. He doesn’t like being stolen from, but he can still admire the artistry of the crime.

Now there’s no reason to assume that the wealthy man has himself been dishonest. It seems clear, though, that he lives in a world where wealth and prestige are the primary goals. He’s used to a system based around competition for a finite set of goods, so he understands the motivations of his crafty steward, and applauds his cleverness, if not his dishonesty.

That system is the one known to the generation of the “children of this age,” as much now as in Jesus’ time. But what is the alternative that Jesus offers? What new view of the world is illuminated for the “children of light”?

He encourages his disciples to make friends who “may welcome you into the eternal homes.”

In place of the worldly system with its assumption of scarcity, competition, theft, and loss, Jesus proclaims and lives out a new paradigm. The new society of the kingdom of God is a seemingly paradoxical system in which the more that is shared out, the more abundant the source becomes.

A recent issue of Time magazine featured a cover story about Mother Teresa and her long struggle with a sort of spiritual dry spell, one that lasted for many years up until her death. Her confidential letters to her spiritual directors have now been published (against her stated wishes, by the way), and they reveal that she felt, in her own words, “darkness and coldness and emptiness … so great that nothing touches my soul.”

At the same time, Mother Teresa continued to speak and to lead and to teach about serving Jesus by serving the poor and the sick and the downtrodden. In her book Loving Jesus, she wrote:

“If we nourish our lives with the Eucharist,
it will be easy for us to see Christ in that hungry one next door,
the one lying in the gutter,
that alcoholic man we shun,
our husband or our wife, or our restless child.
For in them, we will recognize the distressing disguises of the poor: Jesus in our midst.”
Even as holy a woman as Mother Teresa has not been without her critics, and some have been quick to accuse her of hypocrisy, of preaching a message of love and God’s service in public, while feeling no presence of God in her heart and mind. To “the children of this age,” this seems like crafty duplicity, speech about love while the feeling of love is absent.

Mother Teresa’s continued faith and continued work with the poor and downtrodden, however, speak volumes about her truest convictions and her patience in doing God’s work without hope of personal reward. She treated each person she met as a reflection of Jesus himself, Christ in a “distressing disguise.” In turn, she and her sisters became the image of Christ to those whom they served.

Other critics have suggested that the money donated to the Missionaries of Charity might better have been spent building hospitals, or working for social change to tackle poverty as a whole. The children of this age don’t easily perceive the value in tending to those who are already at death’s door, and who can offer nothing in return. They perceive only a loser’s love, given to losers.

Mother Teresa lived as a child of the light, however, and she was able to offer something that could never be bought, earned, saved, or protected, only given – the sense of dignity and value with which God sees each person. Surely these are the “true riches” of which Jesus speaks. If you “have not been faithful with what belongs to another,” if you have not loved them as an infinitely precious child of God, “who will give you what is your own?” Who will return to you the reflection of your own dignity and worth?

Mother Teresa shows us a new and better way in which love can be for losers. By giving up everything to serve Christ in the poor, she was rewarded by a superabundance of Christ’s love. Perhaps she no longer received the consolation of Jesus in prayer because she had Jesus constantly before her to touch and to tend. And so she lived in a superabundance of love, seeing Christ in all people, and showing forth the image of Christ to all people.

Written by the Rev. Cole Gruberth
The Rev. Cole Gruberth is a recent graduate of General Theological Seminary and a newly ordained deacon. He is an associate rector at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Poway, California.

God is deeply in love with each of us, Pentecost 16, Proper 19 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 or Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 14 or 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

God is deeply in love with each of us. Not just humanity in general, but each and every person. To make this truth about God plain, Jesus tells two parables, about a lost sheep and a lost coin, and about how their owners searched and searched until they found even just one that was missing.

A true story: A little girl was looking at the things in her mother’s jewelry box. One item particularly fascinated her – an opal that had once been set in a ring, but had come loose from its finding. The little girl liked the opal a lot. She liked how it sparkled, how its iridescence gave it different colors depending on how she held it and in what kind of light. She liked looking at this opal so much that she took it out of the box and carried it around, until she became more interested in something else and she lost the small stone.

When she told her mother, her mother began the most thorough search of their house the girl had ever seen. Her mother looked under rugs and between the sofa cushions. She swept. She looked everywhere. She was so energetic in her search that the little girl knew that what was lost must truly be precious. The little girl had no idea her mother owned such a treasure. Did her mother own precious gems? Was she really the daughter of royalty?

She asked her mother, “Is this the most precious jewel?”

Her mother said, “No, there are jewels worth far more, that cost more. But this one was given to me by my great aunt, and since she gave it to me, it’s precious to me and I want to find it.”

Jesus says God is like a woman who, when she loses one of her ten silver coins, does not say, “Well, I still have nine others, that will just have to do.” No, the woman turns her house upside down until she finds the one lost coin.

A certain parish has an endowment for outreach that was started from found coins. Two parishioners started it and others joined in. When they find change on the ground, it goes into the endowment for outreach. They collect their found coins during the year in a jar, and then put them in the Easter offering so this found money can be used to serve people who need it. People who participate get really excited about finding money. Sometimes the money is easily accessible: you see a penny and pick it up. Sometimes one has to be a bit more adventurous. One parishioner reported riding a bicycle down a busy street and seeing a bright shiny quarter. A whole quarter for the jar! Should she stop in the middle of the road? In traffic? What risks should she take?

Thankfully, God has no such limitations. God is like a woman who will turn her house upside down to find even one coin. God is like a shepherd who will search high and low for even one sheep. There are no bramble bushes, no deep ravines, no alley ways, or hidden corners, or closets into which God will not go to find those who are lost. Even just one.

In the parable, the woman is so excited at finding her one lost coin that she calls all her friends. “We have to celebrate! I found my coin that was lost!”

And just like that, says Jesus, the angels of God rejoice when even one person who is lost is found, when even one person repents, comes home, allows God to embrace them and say, “You are mine. I love you. I would search and search the whole world if I had to.” Even for just one.

Jesus told these parables because at the time, a group of people were grumbling about what kind of people Jesus was busy finding, what kind of people Jesus was inviting to the table and eating with. These grumbling people were religious people, sure that they themselves were safely in God’s fold, safely deposited into God’s change purse.

Maybe they didn’t realize that they too were lost ones that God was trying hard to gather up. Did they know that God was turning the world upside down to find tax collectors and sinners as well as good religious people, to claim us all as God’s own sheep, God’s own precious coins?

That’s what God did. From the beginning, God’s Spirit has been sweeping through the world seeking people to rejoice in belonging to God, whether they deserved it or not. And in Jesus, God really did do something to turn the whole world upside down. The God of the universe came among us as a human baby named Jesus, who lived and died as one of us, stretched his arms out to us from the cross to welcome the lost, the least, the losers. Even just one.

God still yearns to gather us all up, so that not even one more person ever feels lost, as if they have to do it on their own, as if they’re not worth a cent, because even just one is precious to God.

Maybe it’s significant that when the woman finds the coin that had been lost, she throws a party for all her friends. Hear the irony: the woman may be thorough, but she’s not miserly. She may be meticulous, but she is not a wizard of home economics. She found one coin, and then spent who knows how many to throw a party! Is it irony – or is it grace?

If we are the coins in the story, so precious to God that even just one is worth everything, and the occasion of finding just one is cause for great celebration, then we are God’s coins, and our lives are to be spent in the cause of seeking and finding and celebrating. God doesn’t just tuck us away in some safe-deposit box, a heavenly coin collection waiting for our value to increase. God says, “Let’s have a party now.”

Even just one means everything to God. Even just one is cause for great celebration. Even just one who offers himself of herself to be spent for God’s purposes is a great blessing for the whole neighborhood.

In our worship this morning we practice God’s economics. We gather, acknowledging that all we are and all we have comes from God, belongs to God, is loved by God, can be given and offered and spent for God. We offer our time, our talents, our money, and the produce of our hands and our minds in God’s service here in this place, out in the neighborhood, and in the world. Our ministries are varied, but each one is valuable, each one is important to God, because even just one enables us to continue God’s work of seeking and finding and celebrating.

Even just one. Even just you. Even just me. Precious to God. And precious here, in God’s house, in God’s family.

Amen.

Written by the Rev. Amy Richter
The Rev. Amy E. Richter is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Milwaukee, WI, and is also a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Email: amy.richter@sbcglobal.net

Counting sheep, Pentecost 15, Proper 18 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 or 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

It seems that Christians are obsessed with counting sheep. How often do you hear Christians of all stripes asking each other about the size of each other’s congregations? Often we hear folks asking, “How many do you have on a Sunday morning?” We marvel at so-called mega-churches. We feel good when we see a large crowd in church on Christmas or Easter and wish that it was like that every Sunday. A large crowd at a worship service is considered a success.

In our gospel teaching today, we hear that “large crowds were traveling with Jesus.” If Jesus were a good church programmer, he would have dispatched some of the apostles to get everyone’s name, phone number, and home address. He would have made sure everyone felt welcome. Perhaps he would have fretted over his sermons, making sure that each one was a practical, uplifting message that the crowd would come back for again and again. If they were singing psalms, he would have made sure the tunes were easy and appealing to the largest group possible.

Jesus wasn’t a good church programmer. This is because Jesus wasn’t calling crowds; he was calling disciples. Jesus wasn’t concerned with being popular; he was concerned with helping people transform their lives. Jesus knew that no matter the size of the crowd, it was all temporal anyway. It didn’t matter in the larger scheme. Jesus was leading people toward eternity, not temporal things like material success.

When Jesus sees the crowds, his instinct is not to wow them. His instinct is to make each person aware of the cost of being his disciple. It is this awareness of the journey that brings about transformation. He tells the crowd that unless they can detach completely from everything they are holding onto emotionally and physically, they can never really be his disciples. He tells them – and us – that we have to detach from our family systems, from our very lives as we know them. We have to be ready to take up a cross.

This is a familiar message to Christians. We know that this is what Jesus keeps telling us, but when we get overly concerned with our institutional success, we lose sight of the heart of the matter: discipleship.

Jesus is calling us again to consider the cost. When we do not consider the cost, then we are like a builder who makes no budget for a project or a king who makes no contingency plans for a battle; we are bound for lackluster results and frustration.

When we consider the cost of following Jesus, then we will deepen our spiritual lives. We will hold in front of our prayers our need for discipleship, not membership in an institution. When we make discipleship and not the size of the crowd the number-one priority of our life as a church, then we are about making disciples, not growing membership rolls.

When we are counting the crowd and not the cost, we get into the dangerous habit of thinking we are in control of the movement of the Holy Spirit. We begin to think that we can “grow” the numbers. We become proud in our endeavors to draw and keep a crowd instead of trusting in God with all of our hearts. We also get trapped in our frustrations at not being able to draw and keep a crowd. This becomes the major focus of our life together as a church.

God sends Jeremiah down to the potter’s house to make a point: God is the potter, we are the clay. We and our endeavors to be the church are in God’s hands. We are not called to manipulate and manufacture the outcome; we are called to be faithful as baptized ministers of the gospel.

We are to be the kind of ministers that Paul is asking Philemon to be: putting aside our past grudges and our need to be in control. Paul is asking Philemon to begin anew with Onesimus. Paul asks Philemon to do even more than he is asking him to do.

It’s our spiritual and religious task to become good, pliable, usable clay. God makes the pottery. We become good usable clay when we put scripture and tradition at the core of our community. We gather to study life-matters found in the gospel and the teachings found in our Catechism and Baptismal Covenant. When a community places these things at the center of its common life, it can’t help but grow and be fashioned into a beautiful and sustainable piece of pottery made by the Creator.

We also become workable clay for the potter when we apply reason to our study. We study in community so that we can hear and experience other points of view. This will make us grow inside; as we grow inside our discipleship blossoms. As our discipleship blossoms, we become more and more attractive to others. We become pieces of art made by our Creator that others admire and wish to become part of.

If we work primarily on our discipleship, then we will be prepared to minister to the crowd. Then we have something to offer them. Then we will begin to imitate Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 9, Jesus sees the crowd and has compassion for them. He sees that they are helpless and harassed like sheep without a shepherd. He reminds the disciples that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.

We are called to be those laborers. We reach out to the crowd with compassion. When we encounter the crowd, we let them know that we are offering them the Good News: God in Christ has reconciled us to each other, to God, and to all of creation. We are new creation. We are the priesthood of all believers. We invite the crowd to join us on our pilgrimage. We show them, not tell them, how our lives have been transformed by the gospel and by the sacraments we celebrate. Each of us becomes a catechist. This is the cost of our discipleship. Drawing a crowd this way takes time. Many will turn away. But those who engage will engage deeply and profoundly.

Maybe then we can stop asking each other about numbers and start sharing with others the depth of our discipleship.

This is where we are headed with Jesus: eternal life. Eternity is a long time. Eternity puts all of our anxieties about numbers on Sunday into perspective. Jesus is calling us on a great adventure. It’s an adventure that is full of tension, healing, bold thinking, and new life. It goes beyond our Sunday worship out into our everyday lives. So, indeed, we seek out the crowds not to count them but to have compassion for them. Counting the crowd doesn’t make them stay engaged; showing the crowd our transformed lives brings them to Jesus.

Written by the Rev. Paul DeLain Allick
The Rev. Paul DeLain Allick hails from the plains of Montana and North Dakota. He graduated from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in 1996, and for the past decade has experienced a wide variety of ministries in the Diocese of Minnesota, serving in Native American, African American, and suburban parishes, as well as campus ministry.

And the glory is not ours, Pentecost 14, Proper 17 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Sirach 10:12-18; Psalm 81:1, 10-16 or 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

There are two senses of the word “pride.”

Sometimes “pride” refers to the self-respect and strength needed to sustain a group in the face of hardship. Thus we have the slogan used in one area of a small Midwestern city: “Pride in the South Side.” Pride of this kind can be acceptable, even necessary.

Another meaning of this word refers to inordinate self-esteem, a self-esteem that is out of line, excessive, unreasonable, and thus dangerous. Pride of this second type is attacked vigorously in today’s readings.

Our passage from Sirach declares, “The beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours forth abominations.”

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus counsels us to take the lowest place at social events and calls on us to show hospitality to those unable to repay the gesture.

Hebrews takes this point and runs with it. Show hospitality to strangers. Demonstrate concern for prisoners. Respect marriages. Shun greed. Do not give in to fear, but live by faith. This passage is loaded with calls to remedy our pride by how we live.

Destructive pride stands in contrast to pride based in self-respect. Yet destructive pride also stands in contrast to something else – a different sin, but a related one. This other sin goes by the name of “accidie.” Sometimes I wonder if this sin is the more common of the two.

In his book Disordered Loves: Healing the Seven Deadly Sins, William S. Stafford offers us this case study of someone with a mild case of accidie:

“Deidre had a cold childhood. She was never quite able to please her parents, never got very much love. She worked hard to win her law degree and does fine work with federal litigation. The salary and the success aren’t as exciting any more, and she’s a bit bored and lonely. The meat market of singles bars turns her off; besides, she’s in her late thirties and doubts she could compete. Deeper friendships are hard, as she’s busy. She was married for eight years to a man who would never fully commit himself to her; never unreservedly love her; and she is not ready for that risk again. As for God, she never thinks much about the god of her childhood religion.
“A major job in the Department of Justice is opening, but it would force her beyond her present limits as a lawyer. Perhaps it is safer not to hope much or try too hard. She’ll do paperwork tonight, then maybe drink some wine and watch a video.”
Pride errs when it places self at the center, when it builds a high tower of isolation. In contrast, accidie involves a person shrinking from existence, slipping into a pool of hopeless non-being. What these sins have in common is they refuse our status as creatures dependent on God. They reject the gift of created, contingent life. Some of us violently assert ourselves; we sin boldly. Others of us shrink into nothingness; rather than climb up, we slide down.

Both accidie and pride are based on a truth ripped from its proper context.

The truth behind pride is that we are something, we are creatures sustained and loved by God. What’s the fatal falsehood? Pride refuses to recognize that we are not God.

The truth behind accidie is that we are nothing, creatures utterly dependent on God for existence from each second to the next. What’s the fatal falsehood? Accidie refuses to recognize that we are loved by God.

In some places the preacher’s priority may be to help people overcome their pride. But in many places in our culture, the priority lies in helping people overcome their accidie.

To overcome accidie, it is helpful to recognize its different forms. William Stafford mentions three: sloth, self-abdication, and despair.

Sloth involves laziness, inertia, procrastination, and shirking responsibility. It is more subtle, more serious than the stereotype of a teenager who resists taking out the trash. Sloth appears when, for no good reason, we turn down opportunities for service and growth.

We avoid interaction with our children or grandchildren. We sleep in on Sunday morning. We value spiritual practices like Bible study, but never get around to them. We sidestep anything that may make us think. Any of these may be symptoms of sloth.

According to Stafford, self-abdication means “to empty out one’s self in idol worship rather than growing toward God, seeking significance in some other human being or cause or circumstance.”

We can live for specific other people and call it love, when in fact it is idolatry, worshipping someone else in place of God. We can become workaholics, or fanatics for some cause, even a religious one, that prevents us from having a life, much less a life with God. Our culture often drives women to engage in self-abdication, but this form of accidie can afflict men as well.

Where accidie can lead us finally is to despair. Here we reject that God is always doing a new thing. We slam the door of our heart on even the possibility of grace.

William Stafford summarizes the overall dynamic of accidie. “Spiritual withdrawal and depression,” he tells us, “often start with dishonest prayer, refusing to raise some issue with God, rejecting a summons, getting tired of God’s silence and walking away. It is natural enough to feel hurt or rejected by God, when disaster leaves wounds, or if one’s spiritual aspirations are simply left hanging for years. Yet those might be taken as invitations to the cross, to die to one’s own self in a new way and live in sheer dependence on God even in the dark. Accidie rejects that invitation. It chooses to live and die on the margins of its own nothingness rather than launch out further into the abyss of God.”

Such then is accidie, a disease of soul no less dangerous than pride. For many of us, accidie is not something that happens rarely; it is instead a chronic condition. Where can we find relief? What is its remedy?

We must see our emptiness, not as a horrid absurdity, but as a necessary prelude to that true life, which is not the swelling our ego, but an unexpected gift from God.

We must believe that the way to fullness takes us through emptiness. William Johnston in his book Mystical Theology: The Science of Love reminds us that this is the pattern found in the Bible. For example, “Abraham ready to sacrifice his only son, is filled with joy as he hears the promise that his offspring will be more numerous than the stars of heaven or the sands of the seashore. Mary cries out that God has regarded the emptiness of his handmaid; so all generations will call her blessed. Blessed are the poor – the radically empty – for they shall be glorified. The merciful, the hungry and the mourners will inherit the kingdom.”

The way out of accidie means conforming our lives to the pattern of Jesus, to the paschal mystery we shout in the Eucharistic prayer: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

The way out of accidie is to live the Eucharist: accepting our emptiness because we have faith that this emptiness will be occupied not by self, but by God.

When pride takes over, we are full of ourselves. When accidie takes over, we slip into nothingness. But when Christ takes over, his experience becomes our own. An emptying occurs in order that we may be filled. A dying takes place that we may rise again. We recognize ourselves at last in the light of humility; as it says in 2 Corinthians, “as dying, and see – we are alive.”

And the glory is not ours, but it belongs to God.

Written by the Rev. Charles Hoffacker
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and writer. He is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications, 2002). E-mail: charles.hoffacker@gmail.com.