(Advent 3, Jn 3.23-30)
“The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Sometimes it is really hard not to be envious, isn’t it?
I know that we all practice counting our blessings. And of course we know that life is never perfect.
And if you are old enough, you have probably already sampled that greener looking grass and found out that it comes with the same weeds as yours does.
But still. We see people that seem to have life by the tail, and find ourselves daydreaming about the lives that we imagine they have.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to play golf for a living? Or write best selling novels? Or star in movies? Or making a killing in the stock market? Or start a business of our own that takes off and becomes a global sensation? Who doesn’t want to be smarter or prettier or drive a better car? Or win the lottery?
And so in this race to get ahead in which we all seem to be competing with each other, it is often very difficult to be genuinely happy for those people we see that just seem to be luckier in life than we are, isn’t it?
Our natural instinct is more often to begrudge the good fortune of others, because we really wish it was us instead of them, huh?
In fact, I remember a time when I was so envious that I even begrudged someone their misfortune. A story . . . .
I haven’t seen Scott for 40 years, but I still remember him. I guess you would say that he was my childhood nemesis.
Now Scott and I were friends – certainly not best friends or anything – but friends. But I thought Scott just had things a lot easier than I did.
1. He lived on the right side of the tracks. I lived on the other side.
2. He was tall. I was short
3. His hair was straight and easy to comb. Mine was curly and unruly.
4. And it always seemed to me that the very things that came easy for him – were the same things that I wanted, but never managed to get enough of.
Now among the things that Scott and I did together was to play on the same Little League baseball team through those years when we were ages 10-13, or so.
Now, I absolutely loved baseball when I was a kid – it was by far my favorite sport.
And the teams Scott and I played on together were always pretty good - but never great. Our destiny was always to finish second or third and no higher. But we loved to play.
And as many years ago as that was, I still vividly remember this one game, in particular that happened when we were about twelve years old.
Now, I always played second base and because Scott was taller than the rest of us, that automatically made him the first baseman. And he was a OK as a first baseman. But he wasn’t exactly the most coordinated player at that age. He ran like his feet were a little too big for the rest of his body.
Anyway, we were involved in this really close game near the end of the season. My team was ahead by one or two runs and the other team was batting in the last inning. I remember that they had the bases loaded with two outs. The batter hit a pop fly into shallow right field near the foul line. So I ran as fast as I could toward the foul line. At the same time, Scott was also backing up to catch it. And the right fielder was coming in.
Anyway at the last moment, I dove straight out, parallel to the ground, and made . . . the most unbelievable catch in Little League history.
I immediately jumped up and held the ball up for the umpire to see that I caught it, and I went sprinting toward our dugout in celebration.
And everybody was running out toward me. The coach, the players off the bench, the parents in the stands - were all coming out to congratulate me. I can’t tell you how proud and exited I was. And as the crowd of people got near me I sort of opened my arms to be hugged by my coach.
And I must have closed my eyes for a moment, because the next thing I knew, they were all gone.
I mean, they had all run right past me. I was stunned – so I turned to see what was going on. And there was Scott – still out there in right field. You see Scott had been backing up to catch that same ball. Except that while I was busy diving on the ground to make the catch of my life,
Scott stumbled backward over me and fell and hit his head on the ground. And there he was. Lying out there in right field, acting like he had been shot or something.
And stealing my one and only chance for fame and glory.
Of course he was OK.
But the only reason my catch is not listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the best catch in Little League history is because Scott couldn’t back up without falling down.
You know, I never was really sorry that he hit his head either. Still not. After all, he had literally stumbled into the attention that I thought I had coming – that I had worked hard for and that I deserved.
Oh sure, the coach of the other team and a couple of other people came up later and told me what a great catch it was, but it wasn’t the same. In fact, it was all I could do to smile at people.
Here, we had just won the most exciting game of the year, and I all I could think about was that someone else was soaking my rightly deserved attention. By getting hurt.
How ungraceful is that? . . . . . . .
John the Baptist tells his friends that, No, it is not all about him.
But his friends can’t believe he could be that graceful. After all, wasn’t he the first to preach repentance and forgiveness? Didn’t he just start a successful ministry from nothing? And now that people are just beginning to come in great numbers - to come from everywhere in the region - this Jesus-come-lately is taking away some of his best members. Jesus is getting the credit and attention that he, John, deserves. How can he not be envious? ……….
But John says, that not only does he rejoice at Jesus’ success, but that his joy is fulfilled. Because he knows that he must decrease while Jesus’ ministry increases.
He must decrease so that Jesus can increase. He came to point the way to the Son of Man. But if John’s own light is too bright, then Jesus won’t be seen.
The same is true for me. And for you. We must also decrease so that Jesus will increase in us. And in those around us.
But please understand – there is nothing inactive about our decreasing. Decrease does not mean that we just sit back and do less. And let the Lord to do the work. No – decrease means that we continue to do the work of our many ministries – but with the recognition that when we do them it is not all about us.
We contribute our time and talent and treasure, but not so that we will be recognized and honored for what we do. We do it because it is what our God asks and expects of us.
Therefore envy and pride should never be part of the picture.
Worrying about who gets the credit or the spotlight is just not part of a graceful life.
In fact I would say that envy and grace are absolute opposites.
Envy and grace are opposites. (repeat)
So what about this life of grace that allows Jesus to increase while we decrease? If it doesn’t mean decreasing by doing less, then what does it mean?
Well let me tell you what grace looks like. It looks like Jinkins Hall did for our Thanksgiving feast three weeks ago. When it was filled with all sorts and conditions of people, who came to get something good to eat. And more importantly, came to feel better about themselves. Because we gave up our seats at the table, and listened to their stories. We decreased. So that the love of Christ within us could increase.
Grace looks like our looks like our Saturday work day yesterday and our work at the Silk Purse. And grace looks like the blankets and warm clothes that we have been collecting for those who are cold.
Grace looks outward – at what we can do for someone else. Envy looks inward – at what we think we need or we deserve.
Grace is a glass that is half full with plenty to share. Envy is the same glass that is half empty, and needed to be saved in case we run out.
Grace is a life of counting our blessings – of being thankful for what we have. Envy is counting the blessings of others and wondering why we don’t have as many.
Grace is forgiveness of those who do us wrong. Envy festers in us like a sore that won’t heal.
Grace happens when we get our egos out of the way, so that God can direct our lives and that Jesus can be seen in us. Envy claims to be in charge.
Grace is an active life in which our desires for ourselves are intentionally decreased in order that we may work to increase the knowledge and love of the Lord in others.
Grace is understanding that we are only made whole by nurturing that Christ within us. By thinking less about who we want to be and more about who God wants us to be.
Dear Lord, that we would decrease so that he will increase.