Deadly #5 in Series for Lent
The sloth is an extremely odd animal. The sloth lives in trees, much of the time hanging from a limb by its four strong feet. It’s strange, sloths sleep, eat, and travel through the forest upside down; which means they see everything upside down. Can you imagine “living upside like that?” And yet that’s exactly what many of us do.
A. What do you think of when you think of the word sloth? Lazy and lethargic, right? That’s become the accepted definition. And while it’s not wrong from a Christian Perspective, it’s sort of upside down. You see, from a spiritual perspective, sloth has more to do with the lack of diligence and discipline in our spiritual life than it does with the energy level of our work.
We think of sloth as slow and plodding but from a spiritual perspective, sloth can manifest itself in frantic busyness which is usually rooted in never taking time to quiet the spirit or simply be in the presence of God. Sloth is spiritual laziness which comes from the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride. Pride tells us we don’t need to pray. We don’t need to study Scripture. We’ve learned all we need to know about the faith and God. The job we have is too important, meaning I’m too important, for that kind of stuff.
Pride is the deadliest but sloth runs it a close second because once sloth becomes attached, it’s difficult to get the claws to turn loose. They dig in and hold on and erode our resistance to all the rest of the Seven Deadly Sins. It saps us of energy until all our defenses are down and the Seven Deadly Sins take over completely.
Without Spiritual Diligence in practicing the Daily Disciplines of Prayer, Bible Study, acts of kindness and attending to the Means of Grace, over time we become spiritually flabby and weak. And that’s when Pride, Greed, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Sloth and Anger take hold of our soul and like a python begin to slowly squeeze “the life that is real life,” as Paul calls it, right out of us.
Every single one of the Seven have their root in the lack of Spiritual Diligence and Discipline.
Lack of the Discipline of Prayer and Worship, which remind us that we are the created and not the creator, leads to Arrogance or Pride. The lack of discipline in giving thanks to God for the gift of life, for what God has provided, for the people God has placed in our lives leads to Envy and Greed. Lack of discipline in the basic appetites of life, and in all areas of life, leads to Lust and Gluttony. And lack of Discipline in the control of our emotions leads to Anger.
B. Sloth has a very simple antidote; Discipline and Diligence. As Methodists, we should know what those are, that’s how we got our name. In the very beginning, John Wesley and a small group of believers called themselves the Holy Club. They were dedicated to helping each other live out their faith and developed “rules” or disciplined “methods” to do everything. Because of this, they were sarcastically called “Methodists” which John Wesley quickly adopted as the name for the movement. Our governing book, which lists the methods by which we order the life of the church and all of its ministries is even called, the Book of Discipline.
Each of the methods which Wesley and the others developed were ways to keep our hearts and minds on the things of God; ways to help each other and those less fortunate; and ways to draw us closer to God. The end goal is to become like Christ. And that takes Discipline and Diligence.
SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 4:22-32; 5:1-2 (NRSV)
 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,
 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
 and do not make room for the devil.
 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.
 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,
 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,
 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Did you notice that? Did you notice what Paul said? “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”
Paul understood that Anger is a natural part of life. It is actually part of our personal defense system. Anger is NOT a Sin. Inappropriate use and the lack of control of our anger is. I like the way the Message puts it: “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry – but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.”
Somebody said we are as big as the things that make us angry. Ambrose Bierce said: “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” I think that’s what Paul meant when he said, don’t make room for the devil.
I like the advice I heard years ago. Never kill a fly with a sledgehammer. When you are wronged, the question is not are you big enough to do something about it, but are you big enough not to?
III. DEALING WITH ANGER:
A. The number one way to deal with Anger and Sloth and all the Seven Deadly sins is with Diligence; Spiritual Diligence in the Spiritual Disciplines which focus our lives on God and serving God through Christ. But there are also some attitudes we can adopt and actions we can take to help with inappropriate anger.
BE CAREFUL HOW YOU EXPRESS ANGER. My favorite angry outburst in a movie is the scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation after Clark Griswold gets his Jelly of the Month Club card instead of the big bonus he was counting on. But that’s not suitable for church. There’s another movie, though, that has a great scene in it. Kindergarten Cop, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
When detective, John Kimball, is assigned to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher, he quickly learns how hard it is to manage a classroom, especially one filled with Kindergarteners. It doesn’t take long before he loses control of his unruly students and his temper. WATCH
We have to be careful how we express our anger because anger can hurt others. There are creative ways to let our anger out. Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson paid a $1000 fine for disputing a strike called by umpire Joe West. On the memo line of his check Dawson wrote: “Donation for the blind.” That’s all it took to let go of it.
B. KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR UP FRONT. Have you ever noticed that anger can cause you to do some really dumb things? Several years ago William F. Merten of Mt. Clemens, Michigan, shared about a memorable argument he had with his wife. The argument was well under way as they left a party one evening. In the car, words continued to fly. They weren’t driving in the best part of town, so they stopped arguing long enough to lock the doors. Then they started again.
Merton said his wife had really worked up a storm, and after a few choice words from him, she shouted, “Stop the car and let me out!”
Merton pulled over. His wife unlocked the door and got out, but then she looked around and got back in again. Looking a little sheepish she said, “Take me to a better neighborhood.”
The absurdity of the situation broke them both up and killed the argument.
In that same vain, Mary and I went to San Francisco a few years ago. A member of our church worked for Southwest and got us free tickets. The only thing was, we had to fly stand-by. We knew the rules and we weren’t in any hurry. It gave us time to watch people. We got to Los Angeles Airport and were waiting for a flight to San Francisco which was fogged in. Two different flights had been cancelled, others has been delayed. One flight to St. Louis was delayed because of fog as well. And another was cancelled because of mechanical failure.
As the terminal became more and more crowded; more and more tense, it also became more and more angry. In the background of all of this, every now and then a voice would announce, “Would the owner of the blue sedan license number xxx, please move your car, you are in a tow away zone.”
The tension and anger were getting serious and ratcheting up. Voices were getting louder and louder. People were growling at each other. All of a sudden one of the SW attendants picked up the mic and announced. “May I have your attention please? Will the owner of the lime green Volkswagen please move your car. It’s not going to be towed, it’s just really, really ugly and we’re tired of looking at it.”
The whole place cracked up. The laughter broke the tension in the room and totally deflated it. In just a few seconds everything went from horrible to good. KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR UP FRONT.
C. DON’T HANG ON TO YOUR ANGER, BECAUSE ANGER KILLS. Freud said anger turned inward leads to depression. Anger held in and stewed upon turns to bitterness and resentment.
Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Max Lucado talks about the destructiveness of anger and says: “Resentment is when you let your hurt become hate. Resentment is when you allow what is eating you to eat you up. Resentment is when you poke, stoke, feed, and fan the fire, stirring the flames and reliving the pain. Resentment is the deliberate decision to nurse the offense until it becomes a black, furry, growling grudge.” (1)
Frederick Buechner says: “Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor the last toothsome morsel of both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back; in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback,” he says, “is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
A Kansas City Newspaper carried a story shortly after Independence Day last year about a 28-year-old Kansas City man who accidentally blew up his kitchen.
Apparently this guy spent the night of July 3rd celebrating with a group of friends. The group, “who’d been drinking heavily,” were shooting off fireworks for several hours that night, disturbing neighbors who got fed up with it and called the police.
Someone, in attempting to hide the stash of fireworks from the police, stuffed them in the oven and then forgot about them. About 3 a.m. the homeowner decided to bake some lasagna and turned the oven on to preheat.
“It blew the kitchen all apart,” said authorities afterward. “The walls were all blown out, the oven flew right through one of the walls.” Flying glass caused some slight injuries, but otherwise no one was hurt.
When I read that story I immediately thought about people who have hurts and anger and resentment that they’ve stuffed deep down inside themselves – just like those fireworks were stuffed in the oven. All those deeply felt pains, anger and resentment are just lying there waiting for someone to light the oven or strike the right match. And when that happens, everybody better stand back.
The sad thing is, it usually blows up all over the ones we love the most. Don’t hold on to your anger. Anger kills. It kills body, mind, and spirit; sometimes by slow poisoning; sometimes by huge explosions. But it Kills. DON’T HANG ON TO YOUR ANGER, instead:
D. TURN YOUR ANGER OVER TO GOD. This is where the hard work and discipline of being a Christian comes in because it takes diligence to turn our anger over to God
I think it’s extremely import for parents and grandparents to teach their children how to control their temper. It’s important for all of us to model the proper expression of anger. Anger is only one letter short of danger.
In the violent hair-trigger society in which we live, we have to learn how to manage our anger.
I ran across a story which I think can help us all, if we diligently see it as a model for our lives and not just a nice story. There was a certain man who bought a newspaper at a newspaper stand. He greeted the newsman very courteously, but in return he received very gruff and discourteous service. The vendor would rudely shove the newspaper in the man’s face. But the man would politely smile and wished the man a very nice day. This went on for several days. One day a friend saw it and asked, “Does he always treat you this rudely?”
“Unfortunately, he does.”
“And are you always so polite and friendly to him?” The friend asked.
“Yes, I am.”
Flabbergasted, the friend asked, “Why are you so nice to him when he is so rude to you?”
The man paused for a second and then said, “Because I don’t want him to decide how I am going to act.” Nobody can make you angry without your consent. We need to let God consecrate and control every aspect of our lives, even the emotion of anger. If we surrender our anger to God’s control, and use it for His glory, we can model for our children, our community and each other what the power of God, through the presence of the Holy Spirit can do in the name of Christ. TURN YOUR ANGER OVER TO GOD.
Two men stood in front of a taxi cab arguing about who had the right to the cab. While they argued, the wife of one of the men stood and watched. After they had argued for a few of minutes, one man became calm, opened the door for his opponent, and returned to his wife
Curious, his wife asked him why he’d suddenly allowed the other man to take the cab. The husband explained, “Well dear, he needed the cab more than we did, he was late for his martial arts class. He’s the teacher!”
We all get angry sometimes. Even Jesus got angry. Getting angry isn’t a sin. Inappropriate use of our anger is. Paul’s policy for dealing with anger is the best “Be angry but don’t sin.”
And that takes diligence. Don’t let Sloth infest your house or your life. Be diligent in your spiritual practices or one day you might look up and realize that your house has been infested by the Great North America 5 Toed Sloth, and it’s you.
Be diligent in your spiritual practices.
BE CAREFUL HOW YOU EXPRESS ANGER
KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR UP FRONT
DON’T HANG ON TO YOUR ANGER.
TURN YOUR ANGER OVER TO GOD.
Or as Paul says, “Clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Do that by practicing diligence, especially in the area of your spiritual life.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven (Waco, TX: Word, 1996), 100.