Sermon for Jan. 16, 2011: The Slothful and the Hungry; the Beatitudes and the Seven Deadly Sins

Proverbs 6:6-11

Matthew 5:3-10

The Slothful and the Hungry

I was in a conversation recently when the topic of trusting God versus working hard came up. I mentioned the Proverb about the hard-working ant, which my friend had not heard of. When I was growing up we used to read the Proverbs, so I was familiar with it. It thought you would like to hear it.

The first line is great: “Go to the ant, you lazybones” (Prov. 6:6)

by Ojforce

In the old King James it said, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard.”

We are in a series on the Beatitudes of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, paired with the Seven Deadly Sins (suggested by Jeff Cook’s book). The Beatitudes of Jesus define for us “the life well-lived,” the “blessed life.” The Seven Deadly Sins are the church’s best thinking on the fundamental obstacles we face as we try to live the way our Lord Jesus taught us to live. We all confront our natural tendency to engage in pride, envy, sloth, greed, lust, wrath, and gluttony.

So far we have looked at the deadly sin of pride as the opposite of the beatitude of being poor in spirit, and the sin of envy and the beatitude of mourning for the missing pieces in a world of suffering and pain.

Today we focus on the deadly sin of sloth, paired with the beatitude:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt. 5:6)

Sloth? Us?

We don’t use the word “sloth” any more – it’s archaic now. We are more likely to use words

sloth?

like “laziness or indolence” today. We normally use words like that for people who won’t get up out of bed or off the couch and go out and get a job or go out and cut the grass when it needs cutting. That kind of sloth is clearly wrong; and like the Proverb about the ant said,

10.  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,   11. and poverty will come upon you like a robber, (Proverbs 6)

In a different setting I might spend some time on that topic, but I don’t think that’s our problem here. Most of us are people who have worked hard all our working lives. We take care of our homes and our automobiles, and a great number of us work in the church and our community. So, we can check “sloth” off the list of sins that we deal with, right? Not so fast.

If we think about sloth, not as “not doing anything” but as “not doing the things that need to be done” we may open the door to new rooms that need some cleaning out.

Sloth as Trivial Pursuits

In our culture we have endless opportunities to spend most of our lives in trivial pursuits, to the neglect of doing things that need to be done. A life spent in trivial pursuits is a life of sloth.

Now, of course I am not against entertainment in general, or sports, or shopping or festivities – even Jesus took time out for fishing and for wedding celebrations (which were multi-day events in his time). He even supplied the wine for the party.

But I am talking about a life in which there is little or no time for making a difference in the world, or in the community, or in the life of the church because trivia is given first priority.

Just as in stewardship season I challenged us to examine our giving compared to the amount

hours

we spend on entertainment and travel, so I think we are called to examine the amount of hours we give to entertaining ourselves compared to the time we spend making a difference in the world. Sloth is letting meaningful things remain undone because our time is consumed with trivial pursuits.

I’ll never forget the rhyme I heard as a young person at a camp one summer:

“Some men die in battle, some go down in flames,

others die by inches, playing silly games.”

I do not want “silly games” to sum up my life. That is not the blessed life that Jesus taught us to live.

Sloth as Apathy

There is another kind of sloth besides trivial pursuits: it is the sloth of apathy. One of the

...

worst words of the modern world (said with a dismissive sigh) is, “Whatever.” People say, “whatever” when they hear about something they don’t want to be bothered about. It literally means, “I don’t care.”

“There are people without homes.” “Whatever.”

“There are families who cannot afford both food and utilities and medicine” “Whatever.”

“There is genocide in Africa.” “Whatever.”

“There is a great injustice in our home-owners insurance system.” “Whatever.”

A person may be a workaholic but care nothing about poverty, hunger, access to health care or the horrific state of many of our prisons – and this apathy is the sin of sloth. It is wrong not to care.

Sloth as Spiritual Laziness

Besides trivial pursuits and apathy, there is one more way in which we all struggle with sloth: spiritual laziness.

Something that is often harder for us to do than cutting the grass, doing the laundry or grocery shopping is prayer. It takes discipline. It takes motivation. It takes time. It’s not obvious right away that anything comes of it. The same with reading scripture with attention to it’s message for our own lives. And because it is not easy, we make excuses for not doing it, and then we believe our own excuses.

How is this compatible with the greatest commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37)

The Seven Deadly Sins are real obstacles. Our natural, default way of living, unless we consciously, daily work on our spiritual lives is to be people of pride, envy, sloth, greed, lust, wrath, and gluttony. To neglect the spiritual battle is sloth. And this is why there are so many Christians who have made so little progress. Sloth.

Hunger and Thirsting to be Put Right

The alternative to the life of sloth is the beatitude:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt. 5:6)

Righteousness simply means being “put right.” Blessed are those who long for things to be put right, for their hunger and thirst will be filled.

Hungry to be Personally Put Right

This hunger and thirst to be put right starts with our longing to be put right personally. No one gets through life without damage. All of us have our dark sides, our weaknesses, our wounded parts. All of us have developed bad habits, inappropriate ways of relating to others, dysfunctional responses to the pain in our lives. We all need to be put right.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to be put right personally. Blessed are those who care that there is a gap between who they are and who they should be. Blessed are those who discipline themselves daily – with the same dedication that they make sure they get daily food and water – to be put right. Blessed are those who do not follow the path of least resistance, the slothful path, but who hunger and thirst to be transformed by God’s Holy Spirit in that incremental, daily way that the Spirit works as we daily submit ourselves to him.

Hungry for the World to be Put Right

But our Hunger and Thirst to be put right does not stop with ourselves. Blessed are those who

...

hunger and thirst for the world to be put right: for wars to end, for corruption to cease, for human rights to be upheld, for justice to be done.

Blessed are those whose hunger and thirst for a world put right is so strong that it motivates them to think, pray, organize, vote, and act to make a difference. Blessed are those who volunteer in organizations working to put right things that are wrong, such as hunger, poverty, injustice and discrimination and intolerance.

Blessed are those who refuse to live the slothful life of trivial pursuits, apathy and spiritual laziness, but who hunger and thirst so much to be put right themselves, and for the world to be put right, that they respond with action and dedication.

Blessed are those with this kind of hunger and thirst, for they will be filled. They will know the deep satisfaction that comes from living a life of meaning and purpose. They will know the joy and peace that comes from a day spent giving of oneself. They will know how God’s presence is more real to those who “love the Lord with all their heart, soul and strength.”

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