January 25, 2015: Dealing With the Plague of Spiritual Lethargy

Let us pray: Dear Savior, it is so easy to get bogged down by all the stuff of this world that we lose sight of what’s really important. Surely, our daily existence is important, but our eternal relationship with You is even more important. So, today help us to reorder our priorities, embrace repentance actively, and attach ourselves more to our eternality than to our three score and ten. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF THE CHURCH!

TEXT: I Cor. 7: 29-31

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

I hate being sick. I hate missing a Sunday, like I did last week because of illness. Like many of you, who are suffering or have suffered with the “plague” recently, I hate the feeling of lethargy and weakness that it causes. You wake up after a long night’s sleep and an hour later you wish you could go back to bed! Ugh! It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

This residual effect of being worn down from the “flu plague” is an apt metaphor for the spiritual life of a Christian. It’s also what St. Paul is getting at in our lesson. Sin just plan grinds us down and leaves us spiritually tired and feeling a bit helpless, doesn’t it? And since sin affects all aspects of our lives, getting so caught up in the minutiae of life is part of that “wearing down” process. It’s subtle. Often we’re not even aware it’s happening, until things get out-of-hand. So, today let’s take a little time to ponder and examine:

DEALING WITH THE PLAGUE OF SPIRITUAL LETHARGY

I

All of today’s lessons touch on this issue. Our OT lesson from Jonah speaks of that great prophet going to the greatest city of the world, Nineveh, and calling those proud people to repentance. They were so caught up with commerce, power, and making money that they never gave God a second thought. Jonah’s message was: “But unless you do give Him a first thought, you’ll lose it all.” Or, “the ‘stuff’ of this life isn’t the be-all and end-all of existence.” It must have been a powerful sermon or two or three because these heathens actually did heed that message, changed their ways, and God “did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”

Our Gospel lesson from Mark 1 outlines Jesus’ original message to the people of Galilee: “The time has come, the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Peter and his brother Andrew heard it. Jesus called them to follow Him and they did. In short, Christ roused them out of their spiritual lethargy of complacence, the Spirit enflamed their hearts with an urgency of God stuff instead of man stuff, and the rest is history. Shortly after this, Jesus did the same to James and John with similar results. He got them to see that repairing nets and catching fish wasn’t the be-all to their lives. No, catching men and making an eternal difference to others was….

II

And now we come to St. Paul writing to the Corinthians. They were just like us. Some were concerned primarily about making money in the commodity market. Others were caught up in local gossip and their version of TMZ. Most just struggled to survive, make meals, find food, repair their house, and hope that the local tax man wouldn’t hit them too hard. Still others doted on their wives or husbands, lived for their children, and cursed bad weather. To all these people God was an afterthought. Eternal life and heaven or hell, well, they weren’t real because they had not experienced them. Like most folks today, they simply felt that when it came to God stuff they would hedge their bets, pay lip service occasionally and hope for the best. In short, they were plagued by spiritual lethargy.

To them and us, Paul writes: “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For the world in its present form is passing away.”

This past Tuesday a funeral was held in Mankato, Mn for one of my former professors, a prince in Israel, Prof. Mark Harstad. He succumbed to his cancer after battling it for the past six months. Mark was a strong, robust man most of his life. He was a loving husband and father, a talented educator, a gifted preacher, and a steadfast friend. For the last six months when he was up to it, he sent emails to our clergy and preached to them about his situation and about getting ready, being ready all the time, for heaven. His cancer could be termed a Plague” but not of spiritual lethargy. Instead it was something that drained his body but energized his soul by fixing his gaze upon even more on Jesus Christ. Mark died in Christ. He died knowing that Jesus had paid for all his sins on the cross, rising from his grave, and then ascended into glory to prepare a very special abode for him. Looking at his body which was wasting away, Mark didn’t give in to spiritual lethargy. Instead, “He walked by faith and not by sight.”

In his emails Mark never directly spoke of Paul’s words of our lesson. But the truth they contain was always pre-eminent on his mind. “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short.” And it was for him and is for us! We all need to distill our focus on Jesus Christ, on repentance, on being forgiven by God’s Son, on communing with the eternal body and blood of Christ, upon valuing our relationship with Jesus above all others, and with using our earthly blessings as a way to further His kingdom instead of indulging in mere self-gratification. Spiritual lethargy will leave us with a tiredness of soul that will last forever. Whereas spiritual awakedness energizes our souls even as our bodies give out.

Paul concludes with a simple sentence which generates a huge meaning: “For this world in its present form is passing away.” Not “will pass away” but “is passing away” right now before our very eyes. Mark saw that played out in his cancer-ravaged body. If we really open our eyes, we’ll see evidence of it, too. Everything changes. Nothing truly endures. Except Jesus. Only Jesus. “Who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.” And never forget, as the Great Physician of body and soul He alone has the cure for the plague of spiritual lethargy…..Amen