"Do Your Due Diligence!" - from the Seven Deadly Sins series: Sloth

Proverbs 6:1-11
My child, if you have given your pledge to your neighbour,
   if you have bound yourself to another, 
2 you are snared by the utterance of your lips,
   caught by the words of your mouth. 
3 So do this, my child, and save yourself,
   for you have come into your neighbour’s power:
   go, hurry, and plead with your neighbour. 
4 Give your eyes no sleep
   and your eyelids no slumber; 
5 save yourself like a gazelle from the hunter,
   like a bird from the hand of the fowler. 
6 Go to the ant, you lazybones;
   consider its ways, and be wise. 
7 Without having any chief
   or officer or ruler, 
8 it prepares its food in summer,
   and gathers its sustenance in harvest. 
9 How long will you lie there, O lazybones?
   When will you rise from your sleep? 
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
   a little folding of the hands to rest, 
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
   and want, like an armed warrior. 

Maybe as a child—or as a parent to a child—you read the story of the grasshopper and the ants. The ants are so diligent, spending each summer day storing away food for the winter. The grasshopper, on the other hand, is happy to enjoy each lazy summer day, hour after hour doing whatever he wants to. Of course when the winter comes there is no food and the grasshopper appeals to the ants for help. They do not hold the grasshopper’s nature against him and share their food. He promises to be more diligent the next year. But I wonder what happened when the sun began to share its warmth again! Last week we began our sermon series on the Seven Deadly Sins by thinking about Wrath—the sin of allowing our anger to lash out at others, ourselves, even God. Each of the sins has an opposite virtue associated with it. The virtue for Wrath is kindness. Today’s sin is Sloth, a sort of laziness or apathy. The virtue for Sloth is diligence. I don’t know much about grasshoppers—whether they are lazy at all—but I feel sorry for the creatures known as sloths. These gentle creatures are by nature slow and sleep often. They were branded with this name because someone assumed they understood the sloth’s nature and judged them lazy. What about you and I?

Sometimes we need lazy days to deal with all we face during our busy lives. For me, those lazy days are Mondays. I am very scarce on a Monday. Even if I pop in to do something, the staff knows I am not really here. I prefer to spend those days by myself, watching a movie, playing an Xbox game, taking a nap, whatever. The constant running of our lives can have harmful effects on us. But the other side is just as bad—it does us no good to sit around all day, aimless and restless. Today I want to discuss the spiritual side of sloth. How our laziness about our relationship with God can be destructive and cause us to miss out on great growth and happiness.

People love to tease pastors about sleeping through sermons. I’ve often said that if these 20 minutes are so are the best opportunity you have to rest then use them as a means of grace, by all means! Even the most dedicated of church members tend to nod off sometimes. My prayer is that it’s not the content that is so sleep inducing, but who knows? Maybe it’s the gentle tone of my small town South Texas voice. (Consider that the cue to wake up if you’re still able to do so!) Sloth in worship isn’t just about falling asleep during sermons—it’s about the mind wandering during our worship time. In my last appointment there was a woman, a doctor, who dutifully took notes during every sermon. It always made me feel so proud. Then one day I noticed a slip of paper left where she sat. It was her grocery list! We intentionally offer silence before the pastor prayer—not to make for a more accommodating rest, but to confront the noise of everyday life. Use that time to pay attention to what God is saying to you—rather than filling those precious moments with your own needs. Maybe singing isn’t your thing—but hymns or anthems aren’t moments to drift off to think about tomorrow’s schedule or the Cowboys’ offseason needs. Listen to the words. Feel the music in your soul. Be aware of God’s movement in your life at this particular moment. John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, was known for his diligence in worship. Take out your hymnals for a moment and turn to page vii for his Directions for Singing. Do you pay that much attention to the singing? The messages? The prayers? Do not allow sloth to hinder your worship of God.

You know I am a Star Wars geek, so it was a combination of thrill and confusion when I learned that The Force is a growing religious identification in Europe. Yes, it is true that when I walk through the automatic doors at the grocery store I imagine myself a Jedi; but turning to George Lucas’ thoughts as a source of comfort and challenge in my life? I don’t think so. Many people are concerned about the secularization of US society, even the rise of atheism and agnosticism. But the most frightening trend for me is the number of people of simply believe nothing. We are facing in our society a real crisis of faith. By that I mean that more and more people are choosing "none" when asked about their religious identity. I'm not talking about atheists or agnostics- these are not doubters or unbelievers- they're people whose response is, "Meh." The hot religion statistical trend of recent decades was the rise of the “Nones” — the people who checked “no religious identity” on the American Religious Identification Survey — who leapt from 8 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008. The “So Whats” appear to be a growing secular subset. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s Landscape Survey dug in to the Nones to discover that nearly half said they believed “nothing in particular.” David Kinnaman wrote You Lost Me, a book about young people outside of the church. “I’d estimate seven in 10 young adults would say they don’t see much influence of God or religion in their lives at all.” Check out these results from a recent survey, reported in the Washington Post this week:

— 44 percent told the 2011 Baylor University Religion Survey they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom,” and 19 percent said “it’s useless to search for meaning.”
— 46 percent told a 2011 survey by Nashville, Tenn.-based LifeWay Research that they never wonder whether they will go to heaven.
— 28 percent told LifeWay “it’s not a major priority in my life to find my deeper purpose.” And 18 percent scoffed at the idea that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.
— 6.3 percent of Americans turned up on Pew Forum’s 2007 Religious Landscape Survey as totally secular — unconnected to God or a higher power or any religious identity and willing to say religion is not important in their lives.

Those are real numbers for today. Now combine them with some projections facing the United Methodist Church in the coming decades, as reported by Dr. Lovett Weems of the Lewis Center for Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary:

--Death rate for UMs 35% higher today than in 1968

--Until 2009, the UMC continued a 30 Year pattern: growing revenues, less members. Over the last three years membership has continued to drop, and we’ve seen a massive decline in giving. We’re looking at some very big financial measures to fight against these trends, which will require a major change in how we do the business God has called us to do.

--For the next ten years or so, the death rate will continue to be about 9%. After that, deaths are expected to increase very year- growing to more than 10% by 2030. During those years, 2030-2050, if current tends continue, the UMC may well cease to exist in many parts of the country. There will be a higher death rate during this time than at any point in US history since the introduction of antibiotics. 50% more deaths in 2050 than 2010. 

We need to reach more people, more young people, and more diverse people. I was so pleased to hear from our own congregation these same priorities when we offered a survey last Fall. The feedback was: reach younger people; offer more varied worship experiences; offer more fellowship opportunities.  We have made all three of those priorities for this year. But we need everyone’s help. Invite your friends or neighbors who do not have a church home to some of the great opportunities for growth we offer: Bible study, challenging worship, hands on ministry to those in need. We have fun activities coming in the spring to invite friends to: Blessing of the Animals, Easter Eggstravaganza, Sneaker Sunday. Invite everyone you know to Easter Day worship. We’ll have a very interesting sermon series after Easter. The best way to combat spiritual sloth is to invite others. Your church has made a difference in your own life. What could it do for others?

It’s fitting we would talk about Sloth this weekend, as we prepare to observe a holiday in Dr King’s honor tomorrow. Dr King personified Diligence. He took an active role in the leadership of the Civil Rights movement because he was young and willing to risk- more established preachers did not want to risk status, etc. A quote a friend posted on her Facebook the other day summed Dr King up well: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Much of the resistance Dr King faced was from within the church itself. Many Anglo pastors basically said, “Yes, this is injustice. And we’ll deal with it. At the right time.” Sloth. What if Dr King, Rosa Parks, and the many other leaders just gave up and waited? Would we still have segregation today? Would we still regard US citizens as second class? What other situations do we turn away from because the climate is too challenging?

“Do your Due Diligence” is a phrase often used in business: as in, “We’ve done our due diligence on the deal. It’s makes good sense. Let’s go for it.” It has to do with doing the background work to make whatever goal achievable—so there are no surprises. We’ve been handed on a great legacy from past generations who did their due diligence. And we benefit from it. The question we must ask is: are we doing our due diligence to reach future generations for Christ? Are we sharing the life-transforming grace of Christ for others? Will they benefit from our legacy?

Churches are getting older. Money is tighter. People are struggling with basic needs. Fewer and fewer people self-identify as religious. We can choose to confront this reality like the grasshopper or the ant. Sloth is destructive because we do not invest our God-given energy in ways that help to share the gospel and change lives for Jesus Christ. We give in to apathy, just sitting around, not concerned about the coming winter, just our present comfort. God calls us to move beyond that place. As the writer of the Proverb said, “Get up, lazybones!”