“FROM LAZINESS TO DILIGENCE"

SERIES: “SPRING CLEANING 2.0”

PROVERBS 6:6-11

APRIL 3,2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            Last year after Easter, we embarked a spiritual spring cleaning sermon series. Maybe you remember it. We used the image of Jesus cleansing the Temple, which he did at Passover during the spring, and we looked at cleaning up our thought life, our attitudes, our habits, and our commitments.

            Well, this Sunday after Easter we will embark on another “spring cleaning” sermon series based upon what the church has called, "The Seven Deadly Sins.” The seven “deadlies” emerged in the fourth century AD and were used for Christian ethical education and for confession. Though the sins have fluctuated over time, the currently recognized list includes pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. There is a parallel tradition of seven virtues which are the polar opposites of the seven sins, and in this series we will pair the goal, the virtue, with each sin, the “deadlie” we need to clean up.

            Of course, hearing the list, we may ask, “What’s so deadly about these seven? Compared to murder, rape, and anger, lust and greed and sloth seem rather tame? After all, tell me one war that has been started because of sloth! If a nation were slothful they would never get around to invading another country.” 

            Well, they are “deadly” because they are the origins of other vices. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, they are deadly because they destroy the life of grace and charity within a person. 

            In doing research for this message I stumbled upon a most intriguing theological website. It is called "The Seven Deadly Sins of Gilligan's Island." I am not making this up. You can check it out for yourself. Seven people on the island. Seven sins. 

             How many of you have seen at least one episode of Gilligan’s Island? Well, according to the website master, the Professor represents the sin of pride. What else are you going to feel after rigging up a ham radio with wire and two coconuts? Mary Ann? Oh, she's an easy one. Envy. Always envying the glamorous Ginger. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to discern that Ginger is the embodiment of lust on the island, or at least the object of lust on the island. Thurston Howell, III, is an easy candidate for greed. After all, "What kind of person takes a trunk-full of money on a three-hour cruise?" The Skipper merits two deadly sins, anger and gluttony. He always seems to be furious with Gilligan, forever whacking his "little buddy" with his hat, not to mention gorging himself with papayas. 

            The website does not assign a deadly sin to Gilligan, so that leaves sloth to Mrs. Thurston Howell, III, whom her husband called “Lovey.” According to the same webmaster, "She did jack … “blank” … during her many years on the island and everybody knows it." 

            Well, I hope that's helpful. Many fine books describe the theological mechanics of the seven deadly sins, but it’s easier to discover how the “deadlies” work in every day life by watching a few re-runs of Gilligan’s Island.  At least, it would be for me!

            The “deadly” I want to tackle today is sloth. I chose it because that’s how I felt Monday morning.  I had a Holy Week hangover, and more specifically an Easter hangover. For Holy Week, you want to be at the top of your game.  You get a lot of visitors/guests during Holy Week, and since you only get these folk once or twice a year, you want to give them your best shot. Then, when it’s all over, you feel tired and the last thing you want to do on a Monday morning is write another sermon.  So I chose sloth as the beginning point in our new spring cleaning sermon series.

            A sloth is a mammal about two feet long. It hangs upside down on trees. It sleeps about 15 hours a day. When it moves, it does so very slowly. The Ty Company patterned one of their Beanie Babies after one. They called it "Slowpoke the Sloth." The sin of sloth is like that. Saint Thomas Aquinas "It's the sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good.” Let me repeat that. “It’s the sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good.”

            A number of years ago, the Upper Room produced a wooden nickel with the words “Round Tuit" on the surface. It was meant to be a spiritual reminder to get around to the things that we plan to do.

            We need to write a thank you note, but we don't get around to it.

            We need to work out in the morning, but we don't get around to it.

            We need to mow the lawn, but we don't get around to it.

            The sin of sloth seldom gets “around to it.” Sloth says, “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” As an aside, Amazon sells twenty-five of these “Round Tuits” for $12.95 plus shipping.

            Back to sloth. In the early Middle Ages, as the seven deadly sins took further shape, the Greek word “acedia” came to describe what we refer to as "sloth." And acedia could certainly describe someone who was just plain lazy. But, more accurately, it came to describe a person who was spiritually lazy. What might that mean today?

            Well, spiritual laziness might mean coming to worship services on Sunday, listening to what a priest or pastor tells us week after week, but never really taking time to reflect upon and to put those teachings into practice. Spiritual laziness might mean giving lip-service to the importance of the Bible in our common life together but really never reading the Bible on a regular basis. Spiritual laziness might mean that a person sings "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" but really never spends enough time with Jesus so that a friendship with the man is truly constituted.

            “Sloth," then, describes a person who remains in a beginning state of discipleship, year after year after year. The leaders of the early church believed that one's eternal life was a gift from God. They also believed that one's internal life required discipline, study, commitment, and a lot of hard work, which some Christians are wont to do. As Peter Gomes, chaplain at Harvard University puts it, ”It's startling how many adult Christians walk through life with a second-rate, second grade Sunday school education."

            So that’s sloth, now let’s move to its polar opposite, the corresponding virtue, diligence.

            I love what Solomon, the primary author of Proverbs, does with his son in our passage for today. In our passage for today he takes his son out to the backyard and has him study ants. Reading between the lines his son may have somewhat challenged in the chore department. Reading between the lines, his son may not have had the best work ethic. I think of the  humorous words of Ronald Reagan.  He said, “"It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?”

            Solomon’s son apparently did not want to take a chance. He was like that teenager who said to his friend, "I'm really worried. Dad slaves away at his job so I will never want for anything. He pays all of my bills. He’s setting aside money for my college education. And Mom not only has a part-time job, but she also spends every day cooking and cleaning up after me, and even takes care of me when I am sick."

            "So, what are you worried about?” his friend said.

            He said, "I'm afraid they might try to escape!”

            Rather than trying to escape Solomon takes his work challenged son outside and points out a mound of ants, and says to him,

 

            Go to the ant, you lazybones;

 

            By the way that accusation reminds me of the time my dad and I came inside for lunch after working outside in the yard all day.  My father, grew up on a farm, and he loved to work outside on the weekends, every weekend, all day. He could do that in Southern California, and he came inside for lunch, and as he headed back out, he noticed me on the coach, watching TV and eating a giant bowl of chocolate ice cream. He pounded my upper arm on the way out and said, “You lazy bum!” Fifty years later I still remember his words. My guess is Solomon’s son remembered Solomon’s "lazybones" jibe.

 

            Go to the ant you lazybones; consider it’s ways, and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food for in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest.

 

            The conversation Solomon had with his son gives us some insight into how truly wise and brilliant Solomon was. I say that because there is no creature on earth with a better work ethic than an ant. So, parents and grandparents, take heart. If your child, grandchild, is little "antsy" that’s not all bad!

            Also, before we go any further, let me clarify something. It should be noted that Solomon has no problem with leisure. After all, even God rested on the seventh day. The contrast in Proverbs is between labor and laziness, and not between labor and leisure. We all need time off, time away, to recharge our batteries. There is nothing wrong with leisure, there is, however a problem with laziness, and that’s Solomon’s concern here.

            Back to the ant. Let’s underscore a couple of ant qualities. And I know this can be a little humiliating being five or six feet tall and having to bend down and learn from its ways! But what lessons the ant teaches us! Specifically, note two things.

            First, the ant is a self-starter. It doesn’t need a supervisor, a chief or a ruler or an officer looking over his shoulder. It never hears “you lazy bum” or “you lazybones,” because an ant gets after it on his own. An ant is a picture of the diligent person described In Prov. 10:4. Turn with me there. Let’s read it together.  Proverbs 10:4. “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” That’s the ant. An ant is a self-starter.

            Second, the ant is a focused worker and planner. The job of most ants is to find food so that the colony can eat. The ant may make as many as four round trips a day to food sources, which may be over four hundred feet from the nest, but that is the task and the ant focuses on it. Summer, Fall, Spring … maybe not winter if it lives in Nebraska … it’s focus is storing up food.

            So, that’s Solomon’s object lesson to his son and what does all this mean when it comes to our spiritual life? If we are serious about moving from spiritual slothfulness towards spiritual diligence we do so through an an old, old set of spiritual habits, of spiritual efforts that do not "save" us … please don't confuse this … but rather give Jesus room to work in our lives.  I’m talking about classic spiritual disciplines, like giving prayer, worship, study, fellowship, solitude, fasting, meditation and the list goes on. These spiritual disciplines help to keep our inner lives in shape.

            Now a lot of us work out on a regular basis. I called Bill Hutto last week and he was about to leave the gym. I told him to tell Jim “hello” because I have not been to see him in long time. Some of us walk regularly. We work to maintain a healthy exterior, but our inner lives get neglected. So this week think of the spiritual disciplines we are currently practicing on a regular basis. What are we doing on a regularly to feed our soul?

            Do that and Solomon will never accuse us of being a lazybones.  Amen.