Proper 28, Year C - Sunday, November 18, 2007

I preached this sermon this morning. (I write for the ear, so if you can't figure out the long rambling, completely grammatically incorrect sentences, try saying them out loud.) Seemed to speak to the masses. Honestly, I was preaching it to myself, but isn't that usually the case?

There are times, when I am standing in front of a huge stack of dishes or staring at the unbelievable pile of laundry in the basement that I find myself totally unable to move, immobilized by the overwhelming task at hand.

I start to panic, thinking about ALL the THINGS I have to do, how there’s never enough time, and in the split second before I start making my lists or plowing into the work I am motionless, not knowing even where to start.

Paul warns us this morning to steer clear of idleness, or disorder, as the Greek would say. But we don’t have to be warned. We already know that being idle is bad – the message is all around us. That is why we busy ourselves doing things, working hard, cramming in exercise and sleep and maybe time for ourselves when there is nothing else to do or no one else to demand from us.

To be idle is to stop moving and in our fast-paced world those who stop or go too slow in the wrong lane are tailgated and bullied out of the way. And so, while we scurry around keeping from being idle or are pushed out of the way if we’re not fast enough we watch as parts of our lives lay seedless because while we do … do … do, what we are … (apart from that doing) is eroding before our eyes.

The problem is that those things which are demanded of us from the outside are often very important – vital, even and rarely can be put on hold. Those things that are demanded of us from the inside – from our very depths – they are easier, for some reason, to push aside. They are drowned out by all the other noise around us and by all the work we HAVE to do. Our inner needs are easier to overlook and neglect, and the still small voice that is God, the still urging that freezes us just before we rush into doing more STUFF – that spirit that moves with in us to keep from being idle – gets neglected. And that’s why we’re tired and stressed, worn thin and too darn BUSY.

There will always be too much to do. There will always be more need than we can ever satiate. There will always be potential that is not realized. There will always be a great vastness that we can never fully fill. And the temptation will either be to freeze, unsure of what to do or where to begin. Or to push our needs aside and go back to the mindless minutia that soothes us into believing that when we do stuff, we are accomplishing great things.

Either temptation – to freeze or to put aside our needs – is dangerous because they both lead to idleness. Don’t be fooled into believing that business is the opposite of idleness. Business only covers up our spiritual and internal laziness. Doing stuff – getting things done – is rewarding because we have a product; we can see the results. But the work of the soul, the hard work of the spirit, that is much harder to pinpoint concretely. Those results take time, are slow to reveal themselves, and don’t have much value in the world. And so we put it off, in favor of getting something done.

The other problem is that nurturing ourselves, the person God created so long ago, and nurturing our relationship with God is a demanding and overwhelming task, especially if we haven’t done it in a while.

I read a story about a monk who went to his monsignor in despair because he was so far behind in his prayers that he was afraid he would never catch up. The monsignor replied with this story:

A man had a plot of land that had become a wilderness of thistles and thorns. He decided to cultivate it and said to his son: “Go and clear that ground." But when the son went to clear it, he saw that the thistles and thorns had multiplied. He thought, “It is going to take FOREVER to clear and weed all this" so instead of doing anything he lay on the ground and went to sleep. He did this day after day. When his father found him doing nothing, the son explained his discouragement. The father replied, "Son, if you had cleared each day the area on which you slept, your work would have advanced slowly and you would not have lost heart."

It is easy to become disheartened, to be overwhelmed, but we are called to cultivate our weedy and thorny selves, and our thorny and thistle-y world all the same.

Sometimes I leave those dishes in the sink and watch TV and for an hour. I get lost in some show and forget about the dishes. But when I get up again and walk back in the kitchen, there they are waiting to be cleaned. And the same is true of ourselves and our relationship with God. We might avoid it for a while, but the need remains, and God calls us back, begs us to relationship with him, and demands that we grow. And such growth can be scary because while we are digging around in the dirt and pulling up weeds, we might discover things we have hidden or forgotten about for a long time. We might have to admit that we have be negligent, that we have been sleeping, instead of pulling up the weeds and tending the land.

But we need not be afraid.

First of all, God already knows everything – the things we try to hide, the fact that we haven’t prayed as often as we should. God sees everything inside us and he loves us just the same. In fact he loves us because of what we are – those things we have done and those things we have left undone – and he loves who he has created us to be.

Secondly, if we are willing to put our trust in Him he will not let us down. When we trust our busy hands to him and give our idle hearts over to him, He will quiet our hands and strengthen our hearts to do the hard work he calls us to do. The hard work of the soul, of the spirit - loving God, loving our neighbor, and, yes, even loving ourselves. When we trust in him, he helps us to follow the sometimes crooked and rocky path, rather than the one that is straight and easy. He encourages us to get our hands dirty pulling out the weeds that would choke our fertile ground.

He tells us to cast our nets fearlessly into seas that seem to be without fish – those seemingly empty places – the empty pews, the empty purses, the empty hearts and relationships. And when we are willing to cast our nets in places that seem without gain, he gives us the miracle that fills them to the point of bursting. He lets us believe that they will be filled and they are.

If we trust in God, we can take those moments of paralysis and turn them into graceful pauses, where we recognize that still small voice telling us to slow down and focus on what’s important. Not the dishes or the laundry, or that phone call you need to return, or the person whom you can never seem to please, but the One who only wants You, the real you, the one He created and knew even before you were born.

Then we can shift from being ‘mere busybodies’ (as Paul writes) and to live into his will for us; to become that which he created so long ago. Then we can get out of the rut of idleness and live out God’s will for this world – helping those in need, spreading the Gospel without fear, boldly loving as He loves us – one still small moment at a time. Amen.

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