Summary: There is a big difference between taking a Sabbath and being lazy. Lazyness separates us from our own potential, from the love of others, and from the grace of God.
Are You a Lazybones?
February 20, 2005
Twenty three years ago, I was one of seventeen men and women who stood before the Annual Conference and was ordained into the United Methodist ministry. We had all written thousands of words explaining our personal histories, our theology, our understanding of ministry, and our acceptance of Wesleyan standards of conduct and piety. We had submitted written sermons and had gone though oral evaluations of sermons which we had preached. We completed more psychological tests than I can remember, and had submitted to rigorous physical exams. We had been interviewed by members of the Board of Ordained Ministry which was the body recommending us for ordination. The final piece was the vote of the clergy members of the Annual Conference because they are the ones, ultimately, who cast the deciding ballots and agree that candidates are acceptable and worthy to become one of those ordained for Word, Order, Sacrament, and Service.
There is an historical examination given to ordination candidates by the bishop which dates back to the very beginnings of our church. One of the questions is this: Will you…be diligent? Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary.(The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. 2000. paragraph 327.9).
Wesley had this thing about laziness. He was, like most great leaders who change the religious, political, educational, or social landscape of the world, a type A personality. He was never still, always on the move, always doing something, always working to bring about his vision of a renewed church and nation.
During the last fifty years of his life, it is estimated that he traveled 225,000 miles, mostly on horseback; preached somewhere around 40,000 sermons (which averages more than 2 a day); and visited Ireland 42 times. Over one eight week period when he was 85 years old, he preached 80 times. (“Endless Line of Splendor” 1975. Halford E. Luccock and Webb Garrrison. Evanston, Illinois: United Methodist Communications).
As we continue this series of sermons on the seven deadly sins, we come this morning to sloth, sort of an outdated word for laziness. That is not a word I would use to describe John Wesley. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a lazy summer day with nothing to do except sit out in the shade with a big glass of iced tea in one hand and a book in the other. I’m not sure that because I enjoy a lazy afternoon, it makes me a lazy person.
For the past 14 years or so, since Toni and I have both been engaged in full-time ministry, we have been very diligent about our day off. Friday is the day. We, quite frankly, are lazy on Fridays. Actually we try to begin our Fridays on Thursday evening. Toni’s favorite television show is ER, and we do our best to be home from meetings in time to turn it on. When we go to bed, we turn the alarm off and sleep in until we wake up. When we finally get around, it is time to go to lunch - generally Mexican. The afternoons are spent in a movie or Barnes and Noble, or if she can get me there, the mall. At the end of a hectic week, and before the business of Saturday and Sunday rolls around, we find a thirty-six hour window to be lazy… to relax and reconnect, to rejuvenate, to have fun together, to recharge our batteries, and to remember why we married one another.
And here I am today talking about sloth, laziness…which is one of the seven deadly sins. Funny, I don’t feel like I’m sinning on Fridays. Most of the time, when I sin, I really know it. I don’t always admit it, but usually I know it deep down in my soul. But Friday? I’m hard pressed to call that a sin.
Let me tell you right off that there is a difference between rest and sloth, between rejuvenation and laziness. Idleness does not necessarily translate into sinfulness.
Let me take you back to the first chapter of Genesis. Do you remember the order of creation? Day 1...the separation of light from darkness. Day 2...creation of the sky. Day 3...the creation of the dry land and vegetation. Day 4...the sun, moon, and stars. Day 5...living creatures of every kind. Day 6...humankind. Men and women. Adam and Eve.
What happened on the seventh day? On the seventh day, God and the entire creation rested. So you see, on their very first full day of life, Adam and Eve rested. In all honesty, they hadn’t done much yet. They couldn’t have been very tired. But they rested. They observed God’s Sabbath. Even though they didn’t know it yet, they were practicing the fourth commandment: remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).