A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Lent 1 – Vainglory

Rev. Doug Floyd

Lent 1 2023
Rev. Doug Floyd
Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. All the tempter’s seductions fell to the ground. Each temptation focused on a distorted desire of the human heart. No hint of distortion was found in the heart of Jesus. The devil could not get a foothold. His words passed through with no power.

Humans rarely recognize the devil’s temptations because some thoughts and actions are so second nature. During Lent, we are praying to bring these behaviors into the light, so that we can repent and be changed.

Each Sunday we pray a general confession of sin. During Lent, we are invited to a deeper work of repentance. For some of us, a list can help. For example, we could reflect on the 10 Commandments and ways we have offended God’s call to a holy life. We could use Paul’s list of disobedience in Romans 1 or his works of the flesh list in Galatians 5:19. I’ve been thinking that we might pause over the seven deadly sins this year.

The church has almost two thousand years of reflection on these sins and how they get a grip in our lives. Talking about the vices is not a thing about works vs the law. In and through Christ, we are forgiven and welcomed into the communion of faith. How do we grow up into the way of love for which we were created? As it turns out, the vices are distortions of God’s design. They reveal disordered love. By God’s grace, we seek to reorder our loves so that we can properly love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

One of the primary books I’ve consulted for this study is Glittering Vices by Rebecca Young. I will barely be able to cover her rich details during Lent, and I would recommend her book to everyone. I’ve also consulted a book by one of my old professors; Animated Parables by Terry Lindvall explores the vices through animated films.

Pride is usually considered the root of all the other vices. Many Church Fathers believed pride played a role in the other seven vices. It was like the trunk of a tree with the seven vices beings limbs on the tree. The traditional deadly sins include vainglory, envy, sloth, avarice, wrath, gluttony, and lust. The Desert Fathers, John Cassian, Augustine, and Aquinas saw how these become strongholds in our lives and often fuel other sins.

Studying the vices was a part of a larger movement of studying the virtues as well. All these were rooted in a desire to grow more Christ-like in word, thought, and deed.

I will try to briefly discuss vainglory this week.

Vainglory is not mentioned often but as I discuss it will become obvious. Rebecca DeYoung offer this definition, “Vainglory is the excessive and disordered desire for recognition and approval from others.”[1]

In a 2003 interview in Christian Century magazine, Garrison Keillor talked about his insufferable ego. He says, “I lust after recognition, I am desperate to win all the little merit badges and trinkets of my profession, and I am of less real use in this world than any good cleaning lady.”[2] This is a pretty good description of vainglory. We desire to be affirmed in what we do and who we are, and that is not wrong. But this desire can exert great power over us in all areas of life.

We live in a culture fixated on vainglory. Consider the celebrities who vamp for the camera, and the fans who gobble it up. It is a selfie world. Our social media can easily become a place to offer a picture perfect image of our lives. Deyoung writes, “Our life’s adventures are more satisfying when filmed and shared, just as our child’s spot on an elite sports team or our own completion of a road race warrants a sticker on the back window of our SUV. More mundanely, we often feel a bit flat if we have a really productive day at work but no one to tell about it.”[3]

We’re good at finding places to take glory. Most books. Most books read. Best lawn. Best mom. Cleanest kitchen. Best recipe. Nicest car. And on and on and on.

What about our entire fashion industry? Consider a younger woman and an older woman. The younger woman with a thin figure delights in the latest fashions, the high heeled shoes, and more. Now I’m not suggesting these are wrong but they can feed vainglory. Consider an older woman whose figure has changed and she is self-conscious. If the younger woman and older woman work together both may have to deal with the subtle draw of vainglory.

Or what about when you’re at an event and question time arrives. This is a perfect opportunity for vainglory to rear its head, and someone ask a question that has more to do with what they know than what they want to know. John Cassian used this same example over 1400 years ago. Humans have been seeking glory for a long time.

The Church Fathers warned that vainglory can easily be connected to our growing life of faith. Thomas Aquinas quotes John Chrysostom, “While other vices find their abode even in the servants of the devil, vainglory finds a place even in the servants of Christ.”

As we make progress in our spiritual growth, we face the temptation to want recognition. “Look at me everyone, I’m laying my life down on the cross!” I know that because I’ve been that. I’ve been the guy who imagined preaching to thousands as people fall down and cry out to God.

Vainglory can easily show up in our daydreams. I’ve always been good at dreaming about me being cheered on by the admiring crowds. Vainglory can look like boastfulness, talking too much, and dominating conversations. Vainglory may cause us to wear a mask and hide our weaknesses. This makes me think of a song Mark Heard sang many years ago.

These plastic halos
They seem so out of place
Behind the mask
lurks a scarred and fragile face
We lie so spiritually
Familiar smiles displayed
Misleading masquerade

We hide our pain
We try to laugh
Fools to think our tears
Would provoke holy wrath

In stone-gray silence
We do not face our fears
We bite our lips
And we press on
with feeble cheer
With hearts of sadness
We say our thankful prayers
Refusing comfort unawares

Vainglory is a need that is out of order. We need to be loved, to be affirmed, and to be glorified, but our glory is rooted the glory of God. Thus Johann Sebastian Bach wrote “Soli Dei Gloria” (to God alone be the Glory) on all his compositions. Our glory is to bring glory to God. The birds bring glory to God by being birds. And birds are glorious to behold. The flowers bring glory to God in blooming. We delight in their vast shapes and colors even as we give glory to God. All creation echoes His praise. Once we understand our calling as images of God to bring Him glory in all things, we can enter the dance of love without worrying about our reputation, our appearance, and our successes.

Here are some patterns that may help us as we seek to turn away from vainglory. The ancient Celts would look at cultivating these habits as medicines for our soul to help cure our tendency toward vainglory.

Cultivate the habit of celebrating other people.

Cultivate deeper relationships. This one habit will show up again and again to help us combat the deadly sins. We need to know one another profoundly and love deeply.

Spend more time listening to people instead of talking so much. We might try asking people more questions about their lives.

It’s okay to be awkward. It’s okay not to know the answer. It’s okay to ask for directions.

One way to unlearn vainglory is to love and serve in hidden ways. Consider this quote from Middlemarch by George Eliot, “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

“Aquinas opposes vainglory to the virtue he calls “magnanimity”—a virtue that, like vainglory, is unfamiliar to most contemporary people.”[4] We want to become magnanimous people: people who acts of love and virtue inspire others to follow suit. Consider the Bishop in Les Miserables. He responds to the theft of his silver by giving Jean Valjean even more silver and sending him out with his blessing. Jean Valjean is so deeply impacted; he pours out the rest of his life in kindness and love.

Now I’ll be honest with you, as I’ve read about these vices, I see myself. I hope and pray that you also will see yourself. I would pray that we might truly make this a holy lent, pursuing Christ, and asking Him to free us from patterns of selfishness and leads us into patterns of His life-giving love.

[1] DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices (p. 42). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] The Christian Century, March 22, 2003, pp. 20-21.

[3] DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices (p. 45). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices (p. 49). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


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