A Sermon for Covenant
Idlers and Busybodies
2 Thessalonians 3:4-13
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
November 17, 2013
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
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There was once a girl, of the busiest sort, who was always scurrying about, bustling from this to that, carried most days by the winds of worry and by the adrenaline of to-do lists and self-imposed deadlines and actual deadlines, and she moved to the rhythm of the ever-ticking clock in her brain and was often jolted this way, then that way, by the constant sounding of internal alarms, reminding her of this commitment, that goal, this project-in-waiting, that obligation.
She was a good sort of girl, very reliable, often called efficient, many times named by her colleagues Most-Likely-to-Succeed, though what her success would entail no one could articulate. She was much too busy being mildly successful at everything to be wildly successful at any one dream. She had very little time for dreaming actually, but she was most excellent in her reliable service.
She was a genius at saving money in the market, juggling sales and coupons and price comparisons in her mind like a master mathematician. She was a whiz in the kitchen, could serve up seven dishes perfectly timed and piping hot all at the right moment—nothing ever burned. She was a whiz at the workplace and wonderful with the children, always whisking them from this educational program to that. She never stood up a friend, was always 5 minutes early. All her bills were paid in advance. Every six months, she faithfully made it to the dentist.
One day, this girl felt a little rumbling in her tummy. Bread. She realized she was hungry for a bit of bread. Glancing hurriedly at her watch, she calculated that she would be late for her next meeting if she stopped for bread, and she couldn’t have that! “Bread!” cried her belly. “Shush!” cried her planner.
To her humiliation, all through the meeting, her stomach kept up the protest. It growled and it gurgled; it produced all manner of unsophisticated sounds. On it grumbled, louder and louder like a big angry cat. The woman thought about excusing herself from the meeting to feed the persnickety feline, but she didn’t want to disappoint anyone with her absence, so on she sat and took diligent, copious notes.
Alas! the meeting ran long and she had no choice but to rush from there to the store to pick up her order before it closed. On the way, a baker stood outside his shop offering samples and the smells beckoned her, pulled her, slapped her in the nose, but she turned the other cheek and walked on.
Later, at the next meeting, there were pastries sitting out for attendants. Her stomach looked at the generous platters and saw relief, but the mathematician in her brain was already busy counting calories—oi! You really shouldn’t!—and by sheer will power she pulled herself away from the extra hip fat lurking so deceptively in the succulent desserts. Intimidated by her self-control, women all around the room cut back on their own portions lest they look like pigs, which is how, unbeknownst to her, the meeting host far overpaid for catering that didn’t get eaten.
Finally, at half past seven, it was time to go home after a long day’s work, but as she headed down the long hallway that led to the parking lot, she began to feel a little wobbly. Her legs began to shake; her head went dizzy. Darkness seemed to be overtaking her vision; her mouth went dry and she felt quite nauseous. She reached out her hands to steady herself, but it was too late. Down she dropped, passed out from hunger. When the paramedics arrived, they asked her what she had eaten that day, but she couldn’t remember. There had been no time for breakfast, no time for lunch either, and obviously she hadn’t yet made it home for dinner . . .
“What did you eat yesterday then?” they asked. She found she couldn’t remember that either. Embarrassed, her face went red. Surely she had eaten something! Why couldn’t she remember? Behind her, the Employee-of-the-Month poster gleamed on the wall, her straight white teeth stretched wide in a perfectly photogenic smile.
There are those who refuse to work for their bread and there are those who refuse their bread by working. We cannot speak honestly about the sin of idleness unless we speak of both kinds. Idleness is not sitting on your bum—though it can be that—idleness is doing that which keeps you from doing what you are meant to do. Idleness is any form of wasted energy. Idleness is abusing the clock rather than honoring it, trying to coerce time to meet your demands rather than opening time patiently like the gift it was designed to be. The author of 2 Thessalonians speaks of idlers and busybodies and they are one in the same.
Eugene Peterson says there are two reasons for being busy. One is being busy because we are vain; we want to look important. The other reason for being busy is that we are lazy; we indolently let others decide what we will do instead of resolutely deciding for ourselves. We don’t put forth the necessary effort to refuse what we need to refuse. In other words, busyness is not a virtue, whichever way you slice it.
Idleness is a failure of discernment, a not-paying-attention to what you most need to do. It is a spinning your wheels rather than moving forward, lots of activity, very little meaning. Idleness is believing you must earn your bread but never eat it. The opposite of idleness is recognizing that ALL your bread is gift to you, then breaking out in spontaneous acts of gratitude, stuffing your face and cutting up slices for your friends.
Idleness is what we do when we believe in scarcity and lack: we twiddle our thumbs or we obsess in worry or we imagine five hundred energy-draining ways to fix things or we engage in aggressive competition against our neighbor because what else can be done when there isn’t enough to go around?
Too often we act out of fear, our fear of failing, fear of losing, fear of disappointing. This is an idle waste of our energies. By contrast, a belief in abundance, a trust that there is enough, that we are enough, opens the way for right participation and meaningful action in the world. Good work always arises out of love and love is abundance.
Idleness is the inertia that keeps us from loving well—this is less a laziness of body and nearly always a laziness of spirit, a wilting of our courage. Love, after all, is a frightening endeavor. Some people keep really busy so as not to remember that they have forgotten to be brave.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes, “The poor ego is always looking for an easy way out. Deep in the wintry parts of our minds, we are hardy stock and know there is no such thing as a work-free transformation. We know that we will have to burn to the ground in one way or another, and then sit right in the ashes of who we once thought we were and go on from there. But another side of our natures, a part more desirous of languor, hopes it won’t be so, hopes the hard work can cease so slumber can resume.”
What is your true work? Whatever it is, it will take courage, and it will likely take time.
Patience is on the opposite end of the spectrum from idleness. Scurry is often a sign that we guilty of the sin of sloth, that we are avoiding our real work, that we are indulging our impatience and our fret rather than feeding the stomach of our trust. When you are not being idle, the belly of your soul is slightly bulging, full of nutrition, of daily bread, of the nourishment meant for you and not the nourishment meant for another.
This is key: distinguishing your work from the work of others—knowing the work that is meant for you keeps you humble, keeps your ego quiet, saves you from the exhaustion of comparison, fires you up with the sense of calling that is all your own. Only you can learn your lessons, do your work, intake your meal. Trying to live off other’s scraps of insight and dedication and depth will get you nowhere. To siphon off another’s fuel will feel to your soul like gnawing on an empty wooden fork, like gulping down a glass of air. Don’t try to borrow from what others have achieved. Do the work you are meant to do. Attend to your stomach when it is hungry. Give thanks for your food. Sleep when you are tired. Work hard when you are called. Rather than earning your bread, honor your bread by doing the work set before you. Once you know what to do, don’t run away and do not hide. Once you reach the chasm between your dreams and reality, don’t turn back. Leap.
And the God who called you will be abundantly faithful, will bring you to completion, will catch you when you jump or recreate you with wings, Amen.
 Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor (Eerdmans, MI: 1989), 18.
 Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves (Ballantine, NY: 1992), 432.