The Sunday Sermon: Palm Sunday – April 14, 2019
Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:6 – 13
Download the message to play on your own device: Coming Soon
Hear other parts of this service…
Sloth: Do Not Be Weary in Doing What is Right
It ends this morning – not our Lenten journey. We have one more week, a profound six more days in Lent. But our journey through the seven sins ends today, just in time for Holy Week to begin. And what a fascinating Sunday to end and begin on.
Palm Sunday is always a fascinating gathering. As the most profound week in our lives of faith begins, we have a parade and sing Hosanna songs, led by children and choirs with palm branches waving and carpeting our way. And then, not even an hour later, we turn. Even as the palm branches fall and the loud “Hosannas” ring out, perhaps, the Way of Jesus, the sacrificial love of God incarnated in Jesus, begins to be rejected.
It’s being scorned in our Gospel stories most notably by the Roman Empire but also (and increasingly) by the Jewish religious authorities of the day. The crowds, who only days or perhaps hours before celebrated Love itself, will begin to turn, finally saying “crucify it.” We are part of that crowd, perhaps less and less every year. Dare we hope we’re learning and living more into “all God created us to be” each year? I hope so, but still … we must admit we’re not there yet. Out closing hymn this morning will turn our gaze from parade to passion, forcing us to begin a week that asks us to look squarely in the face of temptation, denial, betrayal, and death. What a fascinating Sunday Palm Sunday always is. No less so this morning!
On this morning of parades we engage our seventh and final “Deadly Sin:” Sloth.
When we began this sermon series on March tenth, the first Sunday of Lent, I did look ahead to see what the subject of our examination would be today. Palm Sunday is so unlike the other five Sundays of Lent. Would an exploration of a “deadly sin” even work on this special Sunday. I saw that we would be engaging Sloth and at first thought we’d best make another “twofer” out of the fifth Sunday – as we did on the third – and keep this one focused on the traditional rituals and messages. But we didn’t. And I’m glad. You will be, too, when this time of worship is over.
“The old is dying. The new is coming.” Let’s pray together …
Before we read our scripture, let’s explore our weekly “death” a bit. Sloth is most often understood as laziness. Like most, if not all, of the death we’ve explored this season, we can very easily define and dismiss it as something “simple” like “when we’re lazy.” But like all of the death we have explored this season, Sloth is much more than what it is “most often understood to be.” If “laziness” was all that sloth meant or means it surely would have fallen far short of inclusion in any list of deadly sins. No … indifferenceor lack of caringare more accurate definitions for this piece of death.
As we consider it in this deeper way, understanding Sloth as lack of engagement, not because we’re lazy, but because we’re indifferent, then this vice threatens the very heart of the good news as it was revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In the Gospels and other New Testament writings that share the one we call Christ, everything about him shows his rejection of sloth and indifference. His ideas on love, ideas that would create the world’s next major religious movement are centeredon caring and compassion, even – and especially – for those on the outside of society. Those ideas, those values, that belief was a central part of the first Christian communities gathering in his name and following his Way.
Listen for the Word of God. Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let’s get a few things out of the way right up front: In the opening verses of this passage, Paul is nottalking about people who want to work and for one reason or another and can’t. He is criticizing an “unwillingness” to work, not an “inability.” And Paul is not telling us to shun our “idle” members completely. Simply (or not so simply) we are charged with holding all accountable, including ourselves. We must make a very clear distinction between the life among a community of believers that calls us to offer hospitality and care to the least among us and the poor beyond us, to those who cannot care adequately for themselves or their own, and our responsibility to do our own part, to “pull our own weight.” It’s those who could be doing something and aren’tthat are the problem.
And after addressing idleness, Paul speaks to the “busybodies. The Greek phrase translated for us in the NRSV as “busybody,” means something like those who bustle about uselessly. Paul is teaching us that slothfulness is more than a failure to do anything. It’s a failure to do anything “that matters.” The people in Thessalonica may be “busy,” but some (many or most?) care too much about trivial things and not enough about things that matter. Neither the idle nor the “busybody” contribute to the well-being of the community. They are full of sloth. What about us? In our own personal lives and in our community here at church.
Each of us needs to take responsibility for our own life – physical and spiritual. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? But how much do we rely on others to provide our food, entertainment, and even physical exercise? Or at least our access to it? Fast food restaurants, on demand binge-worthy television, and drive thru fitness rooms. All nice, even needed, sometimes, but who’s really in control? And likewise how much do we rely on others for our spiritual life? Sitting in the pews Sunday after Sunday, week after week, relying on the preachers to tell us what the Bible says, or the rest of the congregation to do our praying for us. The idle ones, who only moments ago, seemed like others long ago and far away in Thessalonica are looking more and familiar to us! If we don’t read the Bible for ourselves, if we don’t have our own prayer time, no one else can do it for us. Each of us needs to take responsibility for our own life – physical and spiritual. And …
Each one of us must life out those lives of faith in community, with that community, and for it. That’s a commitment we’ve made to each other and, you may be surprised to consider, those outside this community. They know we’re here. They know what’s going on, or what’s supposed to be going on. How are we doing? Do people on the inside – you and I – and those on the outside of the church look in and say, “That is not a place I would want to be.” Or do we create a place, a space, that makes us and others stop and look: “Maybe there is something happening that I want to be a part of.”
It can only be the latter, a place where others, and we, ourselves, “want to be” if we are doing more than “trivial, useless” things. It can only be such a place if we are doing things that matterhere – for people personally, individually, for the betterment of this community, and for love of the world. Sloth – indifference, apathy, lack of caring or concern are deadly to us – as individuals and as a community. And, as we noted at the outset, everything we know about Jesus from the Gospels and other New Testament writings shows his rejection of all things “slothful.” Let us consider this day, Palm Sunday, as the most “engaged, concerned, compassionate, purposeful” day in Jesus life thus far.
Jesus has had his sights set on Jerusalem for some time before he enters the city on this day. In all our Gospel accounts, after gathering followers, proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom or (as Ashia so beautifully introduced it months ago) the “Kindom” of God, and after showing those with eyes to see and ears to hear how God intended, and intends, us to live together, he turned his sights to the Capital of Empire and began to approach it not – as we’ve prayed all season long – with a swordto challengeit, but with love to transform it. Last night he and his disciples reached Bethpage and Bethany near a place called the Mount of Olives. As morning dawned his sent two of his disciples to a village ahead of them to find a donkey for him to ride in on in order, according to Matthew, “to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet.”
Far from the deadly sin of Sloth, Jesus is doing something that “matters” today, showing how deeply he “cares” for those who are part of his community and for those who have never heard of him before, for you and for me and for all of those who will be charged with carrying on his message God, not gold; that Life, not death; and that Love, not hate must triumph over all that is wrong. He’ll give his life for this extraordinary idea. Jesus is doing something that matters today. He could have turned around. He could have used the adoration and the worship he receives today and used it to force his adversaries into reconciliation, if not outright submission. But he didn’t. His Way doesn’t. What about us and our “way”?
It’s one thing to be in the crowd that cheers the one on the donkey forward. It’s another thing to climb on ourselves. What keeps us off the “mount” each year? That is a question we should ask everyday of our lives, but one that takes center stage on this day. Let it not beindifference, apathy, or an outlook on life that just doesn’t care about ourselves, our community, or the world that is watching the “parade. If we are get anywhere close to conquering this vice, this death, we must continue to seek answers to the questions that are complete this morning.
Where is there sloth right here at Pewee Valley Presbyterian? Sloth in our personal lives, or at our places of work, or in our families, or right here when we are gathered in Christ’s name? How is that sloth keeping us from emptying ourselves, from seeing the truth, from connecting to those who need to experience the Love of our God the most? Where is the sloth in your life that keeps you from being all you were created by God to be and that keeps othersfrom doing the same?
We have asked those same questions of every one of the deadly vices we have engaged this Lent. This is the final set. “We are called as partners in Christ’s service to ministries of grace. We are called to respond with deep commitment.” And so we will. How long will it last this week? Until tomorrow? Or Thursday? Or perhaps all the way to “Good” Friday? Let’s begin with one more song. If you’re comfortably able, will you stand with me and let us sing of our call from God, even as we turn our gaze to week’s end.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / April 14, 2019