Tuesday, November 19, 2013
We have all sorts of cute little expressions that warn against idleness. Idle hands are the devil's workshop or an idle mind is the home of a fool, to name but two. These are hard words to a nation of couch potatoes. On the other hand, in our earnest attempts to schedule every last moment of our lives or the lives of our kids, we have taken them to heart for all the wrong reasons. Today we hear the call of Scripture to be wary of idleness – appropriate words for Christians coming to the end of another church year of grace.
Though St. Paul here is speaking of physical laziness as well, I want to focus upon the idleness that is not simply a lack of physical activity. Included in the idleness which St. Paul warns about is about the pursuit of that which is trivial, meaningless, and unimportant. This idleness conflicts with the received tradition of the Gospel. This idleness pursues the curious, strange, odd, hidden and unknowable while ignoring that which is the plain truth of God’s Word. It is speculation about the hidden and the love of what will not be known here that is higher than the revealed love of God in Christ and what God has clearly disclosed for our salvation.
Idleness is a great danger to the faith. More of a danger than what we often realize. Flipping the channels the other night I came across a so-called documentary on the Lost Books of the Bible. It presumes to say that we cannot trust what we have in Scripture and there was a vast conspiracy to hide certain things about God and Christ. This is the kind of idleness that St. Paul warns us about. When we ignore the truth in favor of curiosity and speculation about the odd, the strange, and the inconsequential. The truth of God can be ignored as well as denied and perhaps it is a greater ill to ignore than simply deny the “thus saith the Lord”.
It is incredibly easy to become complacent with the truth of God in His Word. Our itching ears get excited over the whimsical and fantasy while yawning in the face of what is clear, pointed, and directed to save us. It is the culture of new and different which has become one of the dominant pursuits of modern culture and life. We find it easy to abandon the truth of the Law in favor of a meandering morality in which nothing is wrong and there are no sins and we find it easy to ignore the Gospel of Christ’s suffering and death for a non-specific idea of love, acceptance, and tolerance. This is the idleness that will undo the Church and our own faith.
We complain that we are bored but we have a million toys to play with. We complain that there is nothing on TV though we get more channels than we can count. We feel the need to be entertained all the time and complain about it all the time. We live in a culture in which that which is new is always good and that which is old has no value. We live an internet age when images flash before us at dizzying speed and we pay little attention to much of anything.
Then we come to Church on Sunday morning or when we sit in Bible study we find ourselves bored by the same old content. What we forget is that tradition is not an enemy of the faith but an asset for us. Repetition is the surest way to remember. Funny how people new to the faith are amazed at the richness of the constant rhythm and routine of the Sunday Divine Service and longtime Lutherans no longer recognize the great treasure of the liturgy, of the Word and Sacraments, of creed, catechism, hymn, and confession.
St. Paul insists that we dare not exchange this sacred deposit which the saints have bequeathed to us in favor of the shifting sands of idle speculation. It is our calling to guard this faith, to keep this tradition alive, and to pass it on faithfully to those who come after us.
This truth is not some museum piece to be admired but the Word that delivers upon its promise. This sacred truth which has become our possession by faith is the Law that cuts to the quick exposing our sins, lies, and weak justifications for wrong. It is the Gospel which trumps every effort to save ourselves with the true currency of redemption – the blood of Christ. We live out this truth in the high calling of our daily lives. It is what we teach our children. It is what we hold up before the world. It is what we cling to when change and chance have made everything seem temporary or transitional.
According to St. Paul, it is our greatest temptation to pass on our doubts instead of our confidence, our fears instead of our certainty, and our opinions instead the facts of the faith. Though this might have been a problem in St. Paul's day, it is surely epidemic in our day. Christians fly from one thing to another, from one church to another, and from one doctrine to another as if we knew nothing for sure. But that is the point. What Christ has fulfilled, the prophets promised. What Christ has done, is for the whole world. His birth, death, and resurrection are the most certain and secure facts on which any life is built; to ignore these in pursuit of trivia, the curious, or the speculative is to lose that which gives and sustains our lives.
Tradition is by definition the living faith of the dead – what remains true even in their death and what gives to the dead everlasting life. We have no fear of tradition. What we ought to fear is traditionalism – the dead faith of the living, the motions without the substance, the form without the faith, the feelings without the facts. Idleness is when we depart from that which God has revealed to us and which the saints have passed down to us because we are preoccupied with trivia, with speculation, and with curiosity. Idleness is when we exchange the truth that endures forever, for the whim of the moment that is here today and gone tomorrow. When the unknowable means more than the known.
Jesus does not worry if He will find fat or lazy people when He comes in His glory. What He asks is if He will find faith. Idle bodies and busy minds render our present life with all the frailties inherent in our flesh since the fall. But idle minds in pursuit of idle trivia and idle hearts in pursuit of the speculative are the temptations of real Christians who love other things more than His Word. Amen