This past Saturday I had the opportunity to preach at Aldersgate. We are in the middle of a sermon series focusing on the Seven Deadly Sins. I preached on ‘sloth’ and used Mark 10.17-31 as my text. I want to share with you my notes and writing on the topic below. You will also find audio of my sermon at the bottom of this post.
In the book, Sinning Like a Christian, by Dr. Will Willimon, we are able to find three possible causes to explain why we today enter into an apathetic, sloth-like state.
Lack of Courage
Sloth and apathy are found throughout the gospels. Listen now to the writing of Saint Mark.
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. – Mark 3.1-4
This story from the third chapter of Mark’s gospel provides us with our first possible cause of sloth.
There is a difference between seeing a homeless woman outside of a Metro station and ignoring her, and seeing the same woman and responding.
There is a difference between knowing that there are people throughout the world who do not have access to clean water or sanitation and doing nothing, and knowing the plight of those people and responding.
There is a difference between seeing a man whose hand is outstretched and deformed and ignoring him, and seeing the same man and reaching towards him.
The difference is courage, being able to stand up for what is right or to boldly respond to God’s prompting, takes the courage to place our own priorities and needs to the side, and open ourselves to the ways God wants to work through you. Being filled with apathy, despair, and sloth results in our inability to respond to God’s call and initiation with courage. Sloth creates a lack of courage the enables us to swat away the outstretched hand, reaching to us for a warm meal or a clean glass of water.
Let’s look again to Mark 10.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
In the case of the rich young ruler, apathy takes shape in the form of sadness. In verse twenty-two of this evening’s scripture reading it tells us that, “When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving…” Grieving and sad.
The rich young ruler was filled with sorrow that he was unable to respond to God’s prompting. If we look closely he was so filled with grief that he did not even stick around long enough to hear the rest of Jesus’ response to his question. When we fail to respond to God’s prompting, the outstretching of opportunities to share God’s grace and mercy, we can become so filled with sadness that we begin to view ourselves as the victim. We take the plight that we see, place it on ourselves, and become filled with malice and spite.
And if you think that the rich young ruler is the only one who’s sloth has been grown out sadness, you’re wrong. This cause of sloth, sadness occurs for most us when we sit down to relax with a bowl of popcorn. Whether is it Sara McLaughlin holding an emaciated dog or a video of African toddlers with bloated bellies, many of us, myself included, will immediately change the channel. When confronted face-to-face by the poor, many times we simply change the channel.
The third cause of sloth is directly correlated to the second. The sadness we see around us, the Sara McLaughlin ASPCA commercials, the homeless family living under the bridge we drive by everyday on our way to the office, or the children down the street who live in an abusive home, can quickly change from sadness and or belief that we are unable to respond, to our inability to see that the need even exists. We are so inundated by need, especially those who have ever signed into any form of social media, that we have become desensitized. We can become so numb to the world around us that our eyes glaze over and we blankly wander through our daily routine.
The outstretched hand, or the commandment to sell everything and give the money to poor, becomes something that we are no longer able to see. And as a result we throw ourselves into our own little world of corporate monotony, which prohibits us from being able to see the opportunities to participate in the transformational work of God’s grace.
All three of these causes are interrelated, one can lead to other. The problem with sloth and apathy is that unlike it’s animal namesake, it does not move slowly when taking over our spiritual life.