Last week’s sermon was on sloth (acedia). This was the sin with which I believed I struggled with the most. It turns out, that I struggle with all of them, and as I read on about gluttony, I’m becoming more and more uncomfortable. Anyway, I thought I was lazy, and maybe I am, but slothful?
I was not prepared for what I read in preparation for that sermon. I was surprised by the way the author (Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, GLITTERING VICES) described the subtle way sloth sneaks up on us. She begins by saying that the vice of sloth is opposed to the virtue of Christian diligence. This got me thinking . . .
In the UMC, we don’t really talk about the work of sanctification much, do we? I’ve given the Sanctifying grace talk at Emmaus, and while I add my own flavor to it, I basically follow the given outline. We talk about the work that God does in us, and I don’t wish to denigrate that. God has done amazing work in me. I am not the same person I was before that night in my room when I finally understood that grace was for me, not just near me, but for me. My journey from that night to sitting here in my office at Bend UMC has taken me years and I’m not finished yet.
On the other hand, God doesn’t do all the work. We have to work, don’t we? If we do not sit silently in prayer, everyday . . . if we do not spend time studying (really studying and arguing about) the Word . . . if do not spend time with the Body of Christ, how does God accomplish sanctification? More to the point, why are we afraid to talk about the work we do in sanctification?
When I wrote my credo, Dr. Charles Wood accused me of pelagianism. I wear the heresy well, and I still we have a part to play in our own salvation. We open ourselves to the work of God. This is not a passive “being open.” Instead, there are practices that open us – pray, study, accountability groups, corporate and private worship, the sacraments. Or as Br John Wesley would say, we attend upon the ordinances of God.
I’m not saying anything here I didn’t say in my sermon or that I haven’t said before, but even as I write, I fear the pushing my words too far, that I might stray into works righteousness. Why do we shy away from telling folks, ‘this is what you need to do to grow in Christ?” Truthfully, we seem to be all about evangelism, spreading the Good News, but what about after the Gospel has been received. If we don’t talk about the habits of a Christian life, aren’t we cheating those whom we evangelize? If we promise the healing of God, but fail to tell folks about the ways we have encountered that healing, aren’t we cheating them? Christianity is not about a magic prayer, it’s a way of living, in every moment, living as one who follows our Lord Jesus Christ, taking purposeful steps as we follow Jesus and the teachings he left with us.
What I mean is, we have to mean to be a Christian. It’s intentional. It takes diligence. Why don’t we tell people that? A life in Christ is not a get-out-of-hell-free card. In fact, it can mean storming the gates of hell. And it takes diligence to be the person who would do that. That, by the way is salvation, being the kind of person who would give her very life, my soul to save another (but that is an entirely different blog. My statement needs a great deal of unpacking, so don’t take it at face value). But if I’m not willing to work to become that kind of person, how will God work in me to make me that kind of person?
I’m trying to throw some of my caution to the wind and perhaps step over the line into heresy to get you thinking. In this day and age, we’re not so much about burning at the stake, so why should we fear heresy – at least in our questioning? We are allowed to push our boundaries, are we not, to learn where they are? If it is God who saves us, will God not also save us from our own heresy?