Ash Wednesday Sermon: SLOTH

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Many, many thanks to Pastor Chris Westmoreland for allowing me to fill in for him last night at Long’s Chapel UMC. 

Tonight we’re starting a sermon series on the seven deadly sins. And you know, I told my son about this sermon series and he said, “Dad, that sounds horrible! Y’all are gonna spend seven weeks talking about sin, telling people how sinful they are, beating them up, making them feel bad?”

And I said, “Hold on. Two things. Number one: You don’t know the lead pastor of Long’s Chapel. Chris Westmoreland would never do that. “

“And number two: For each deadly sin we’re going to talk about a fruit of the spirit that gives life. Sort of like the antidote.”

And my son said, “Oh. Well, that actually sounds pretty good!”

So, tonight we’re going to talk about the deadly sin of SLOTH.

Did you know the sloth is the slowest animal on earth?

If a sloth caught a football on the one-yard line and ran it for a touchdown, it would take nine hours for it to cross the goal.

Sloths spend most of their lives hanging upside down in trees. They eat, they sleep, they even give birth just hanging there. They only come down about once a week to use the bathroom.

The sloth has one goal in life, and that is to expend as little energy as possible.

Let me say that again: The sloth’s way of life is to expend as little energy as possible.

And that’s a perfect illustration of the deadly sin we’re talking about tonight

Now some of you are hearing this and you’re thinking, “OK, I’m good on this one. If there’s anything I’m not, it’s a sloth. I work hard, I stay busy, I’m constantly on the move – that is not me.”

Well, hang on. Sloth as a condition of the soul is not the same thing as laziness.

Spiritually speaking, sloth is an addiction to comfort. It’s when you love comfort more than you love God. It’s when you love comfort more than you love other people.

Sloth is a tendency to choose comfort over growth.

And so if your comfort is found in always being busy—if you bury yourself in your work so that you can avoid anything that’s uncomfortable—then, guess what? You’re a sloth.

 Jesus has something to say about this. In Revelation, chapter 3, Jesus is speaking to an entire church that’s slothful – although he uses a different word for it.

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

Laodicea was an ancient city in what is now Turkey. They were very wealthy, they were very well off, and they were very comfortable.

And here’s the problem: Sometimes when you have all you need to get along in this world, you stop realizing your need for God. You become complacent.

Here’s what Jesus has to say about that:

15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—

“Lukewarm.” That’s Jesus’ word for complacent. Slothful. Addicted to comfort.

16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 

And that phrase “spit you out of my mouth” really means VOMIT. So Jesus is saying, “Your complacency makes me sick. Your slothful, complacent, lukewarm faith makes me want to throw up.”

Now that’s pretty harsh. But hang on. It gets worse:

17You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing …”

Laodicea was the richest city in their area, and they were proud of it. In the year AD 60 there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed the city and the Roman government came around with aid money to help them rebuild, and they said, “Nah, we don’t need it. We’re rich. We don’t need a thing.”

And Jesus says:

17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 

Laodicea was famous for three things:

  • They were a banking center, and they had lots of money. They had banks full of gold. And Jesus says, “Yes, you have money. But I say you’re poor.”
  • They had a medical school that was famous for producing an eye medicine – a salve that would treat eye disease and restore people’s sight. And Jesus says, “Yes, you have eye medicine. But I say you’re blind.”
  • They produced this beautiful black wool that you couldn’t get anywhere else and they used it to make really fancy clothes. And Jesus says, “Yes, you have fancy clothes. But I say you’re naked.”

They had money, eye medicine, and fancy clothes, but Jesus says, “When it comes to your spiritual lives, you are poor, blind, and naked.”

And then Jesus says this:

18 I counsel you to buy from me …

Now, hold up. How do you buy things from Jesus? Does he take MasterCard? Does he take American Express? Can you use Bitcoin?

How do you “buy things” from Jesus? There’s only one way. You come to him in humility and you ASK.

You admit that you don’t have it and you need Jesus to give it to you. You ASK HUMBLY.

(And you know, some people would rather die than do that.)

Jesus says,

  • I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire,so you can become rich;

That’s a reference to faith that has been tested– real faith—passionate faith – not lukewarm faith.

You can’t buy that with money—but you can ask Jesus for it!

  • I counsel you to buy from mewhite clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; 

That’s a reference to forgiveness – Jesus washing them clean – the white robes worn by the saints throughout Revelation.

You can’t buy that with money—but you can ask Jesus for it!

  • I counsel you to buy from mesalve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

That’s a reference to the Holy Spirit, who alone gives you the power to see what’s really going on

You can’t buy that with money—but you can ask Jesus for it!

So let me sum this up: The church at Laodicea was “lukewarm” because they were comfortable. They were the richest city in their area. They didn’t need anything. And that comfortable complacency bled over into their spiritual lives. They failed to recognize their need for God—which made them slothful—which made Jesus sick.

And unfortunately, that sounds a lot like … US.

We need to hear Jesus say to us, “You think you’ve got it all together; but the fact is you’re poor, blind, and naked. And your complacency makes me sick.”

Now, bear with me—I know this sounds harsh—but hang on, because it’s about to get better!

Look at verse 19:

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline …

In other words, Jesus only says this stuff to us because he loves us!

He’s not trying to beat you up—he’s trying to help you. He’s trying to save you from a spiritual condition that’s deadly.

Sloth does not give life.

(Yes, they actually die like this!)

Sloth does not make you happy. It does not help you accomplish goals. It does not make you closer to God. It does not strengthen your relationships with other people.

Jesus hates sloth because he loves you!

Why does complacency make Jesus sick? Because he’s some hard taskmaster who wants his servants to produce? Because he hates to see people taking it easy?

No. Complacency makes Jesus sick because he sees what it’s doing to you.

And he loves you.

And he wants to see you full of life and joy and passion.

And so Jesus says, “be earnest and repent” (Rev. 3:19b).

To repent means to turn around. Let’s say I get in the car and I want to go to Tennessee (from my home in Lake Junaluska). So I hop on I-40 Eastbound, and along about the time I get to Asheville, I wonder how long it’s going to take me to get to Tennessee. When I pass Black Mountain, I start to worry. “This is not looking good.” When I get to Old Fort I realize that I’m really not getting where I want to go. So what do I do? Put more gas in the car? Drive faster? Listen to a different radio station?

No. If I’m on I-40 Eastbound and I want to get to Tennessee, what do I have to do? TURN AROUND.

And that’s what repentance is. It’s when you look at your life and you say, “I don’t like where this is going. I don’t like where this is going to end up.” And you turn around. You come back to God.

And that’s what Ash Wednesday is all about. These ashes are a sign of repentance.

This is a way to say to God and all the world that you are serious about turning around. You’ve seen something in your life that is not headed in the right direction, and you’re coming back to God.

And the beautiful thing is that you can do this right now. One thing I’ve learned living here at Lake Junaluska is that if you are on I-26 and you start day-dreaming and you miss an exit, you’re going to have to go a long way before you can turn around! Once I was driving to Charlotte and I missed the exit for Highway 74. I had to go all the way to South Carolina before I could turn around!

The Good News is, if you’re dealing with sloth, or any other condition that needs to change, you can turn around right now! You don’t have to go to South Carolina. You can come forward in just a few moments and receive the ashes as a sign that that you’re ready to turn around now!

And we invite you to do this because Jesus loves you. Look at verse 20:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

In the ancient world, meal sharing was an act of friendship and love. It was a sign of relationship—a sign of intimate fellowship.

And Jesus says, “I wanna have that with you—if you’ll just open the door! I want to come in and have a relationship with you.”

Now remember, these are the same people to whom Jesus said, “Your complacency makes me sick.” But thank God, he doesn’t end with that!

He says, “Your complacency makes me sick because I love you. And I want something better for you. I want to give you something better than sloth. It’s called …

LOVE

That’s the antidote to sloth! That’s the spiritual fruit that gives life.

Love conquers sloth!

And I’ll give you an example: Let’s say it’s the end of a long day, and I’m lying on the couch, watching television, being slothful. And all of a sudden my wife Lorie starts choking on a pretzel. I’m not going to lie there and go, “Gee, I really ought to be more disciplined.” No. My love for her propels meto jump off the couch and give her the Heimlich maneuver!

Love conquers sloth!

So whether your sloth takes the form of laziness – or your sloth takes the form of busy-ness where you hide from things that are uncomfortable – either way, the answer is love.

If you’re dealing with sloth, you don’t need to do more—you need to LOVE more.

You don’t need more discipline, you need more love.

You don’t need to ask God to make you more diligent—you need to ask God to make you more loving.

Love is an energy that moves you. Love is a fruit of the Spirit that empowers you to leave your comfort zone

Love conquers sloth!

It’s really interesting that when Jesus is talking to these people who are lukewarm, complacent, and slothful, he doesn’t say, “Get up and do more.” He says, “Sit down and eat.”

“Enjoy a love relationship with me, because love conquers sloth.”

So what if we make Lent a time to open the door to a deeper love relationship with Jesus?

Maybe you’re giving up something for Lent. Let me make a suggestion. Instead of saying, “Look, God, I’m giving up chocolate! Look how disciplined I am,” say, “Lord, every time I don’t eat chocolate, remind me of how much I love you—and how I want to love you even more.”

Maybe you’re doing a special study for Lent—Bible study, devotions, whatever. Instead of saying, “I’m gonna read, I’m gonna study, I’m gonna learn, I’m gonna get really smart…” instead of that task-oriented approach, use your Spiritual Disciplines as a way to “open the door” to a love relationship with Jesus.

Let’s make Lent a time to open the door to a love relationships with Jesus. That’s the way to overcome complacency. You don’t need more discipline. You need more love.

LOVE CONQUERS SLOTH.