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04.24.11 A New Beginning (Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth), Mark 16:1-8 Sermon Summary

by on April 26, 2011

Summary Points:

  • What Sloth is and what it isn’t
  • Deadly thoughts or deadly sins?
  • Three strategies for overcoming Sloth, and the power to do it

In the movie Se7en, psychopathic serial killer “John Doe” systematically tortures and kills his victims as punishment for their having committed one of the “Seven Deadly Sins.” But with the sin of sloth, the movie gets it all wrong.

In Se7en, Victor is murdered because he’s lazy. Maybe laziness is a sin, but it isn’t what the deadly sin of sloth means. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, sloth is the fourth of the seven deadly sins; half-way up. And that’s what sloth as a deadly sin does—it causes us to give up half-way.

The Seven Deadly Sins were formalized by Gregory the Great of Rome in the 6th century. He modified a list of Eight Deadly Thoughts from a 4th century abbot in northernTurkey named Evagrius. Some people wonder whether Evagrius’ “thoughts” are better than Gregory’s “sins,” since mere thoughts aren’t necessarily sinful.

On the other hand, thoughts lead to actions, and that’s what makes these thoughts—at least potentially—sinful. And it is the nature of sinful actions to compound and escalate. That’s what makes them potentially lethal (“mortal” or “deadly”). And if we follow theologian Paul Tillich’s definition of sin as that which estranges us from God, ourselves, and others, then thoughts can, indeed be sinful.

Evagrius called sloth the “Noonday Demon” that attacks monks between 10am-2pm. He describes the situation during which time seems to drag on and we keep checking the clock out of boredom. We think about other places we’d rather be. We begin to resent all the sacrifices we’ve made. We think about what might have been if we had chosen a different path sometime in the past.

It was Sloth the noonday demon that attacked King David one afternoon such that he saw beautiful Bathsheba bathing on the next roof over. He committed adultery with her, and then had her husband murdered. It was Sloth the noonday demon that presented Jesus with his “last temptation” as he hung on the cross from noon till three.

And Sloth the noonday demon attacks not only in the middle of the day, but in the middle of our lives. Anytime we find ourselves saying, “The spiritual life is a waste of time; Prayer doesn’t work; Living according to righteousness doesn’t pay; I should just give it up,” we’re experiencing the temptation of Sloth. And, one should know, this is completely normal and natural. Some argue it is even healthy and a progressive step in the spiritual life. Temptation presents an opportunity to trust God and grow spiritually. Don’t get caught bemoaning your temptations. Thank God for them, embrace them, then overcome them.

So how might we overcome the noonday demon of Sloth? Here are some strategies.

First, think of one thing you can do that would help your spiritual life. Traditional responses include learning new ways to pray, joining a book club, spending time in nature. But if you will simply spend time in solitude, prayer, and/or conversation with others, listening for God’s direction, something will surface. Sloth will tempt you away from doing it; overcoming sloth is as simple as doing it. James 4:17 says those who know what they ought to do but don’t do it, for them that is sin.

Second, don’t underestimate the simplest spiritual exercises. All Jesus wanted from his disciples in his hour of greatest need was that they “watch and pray” with him. Ours is a “doing” culture. Watching and praying seem so passive to us. But this is what strengthened Jesus for his ordeal, and he knows this is what will strengthen us for ours. When Jesus was tempted by Sloth, watching and praying worked for him. It will work for us.

Third, after the resurrection, Jesus told his disciples to “wait.” He would come to them in Jerusalem or in Galilee, but they must wait for him. Ours is a culture that hates to wait, but by not waiting we often miss the appearance of God. Isaiah 40:31 says those who wait on the Lord shall have their strength renewed. In the midst of oppression by “evil” forces, the author of Psalm 37:7 advises us to “wait patiently,” for these evil times will end. Sometimes overcoming the noonday demon is as simple as waiting through the temptation.

For us to overcome the temptations of the Seven Deadly Sins, we have first to recognize them (learn what they are), name them (admit their presence in our lives), and then trust God to overcome them. This is what we’ll be doing through the next six weeks in worship. And let us never underestimate the power of God to work in us to overcome these sins. For Romans 8:11 says that the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us also. And if God can raise Christ, God can give us new life.

Thoughts for Further Reflection

  • How can the difference between laziness and sloth help you distinguish between the physical or psychological refusal to do something, and spiritual temptation which can lead to growth?
  • What is the one thing you can do to enhance your spiritual life? Is it time to move from the couch to the pew? Or if you’ve spent a lot of time on the pew, maybe from the pew to the pavement outside where you can help someone?
  • Instead of looking around at others who “have it better than you,” what if you looked “up” towards the life God has hidden for you in Christ? How would that affect your mood and your behavior?
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One Comment
  1. Terence permalink

    Great commentary on the subject of laziness & procrastination. I never thought to look at it like this. I’m off to gather internet research on Sloth!

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