Mark 9:30-37

Why Are You Lazy?

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Mark 9:30-37

Why Are You Lazy?

By Rev. Amy Butler

As many of you know, the Pastor’s Sunday school class has been holding a series of discussions centered around various episodes of the TV show, The Simpsons.

You may be skeptical, but I have to say, there’s more spiritual depth to the Simpsons than I’d thought prior to preparation for this class. Anybody is welcome to join us on Sunday mornings or Tuesday evenings for viewing and discussion.

The reason I bring this up today is because the TV show The Simpsons centers around several notable characters, one of whom is the father of the family, Homer Simpson.

Homer is known for many things, most especially the time, energy and hard work he invests in living out his deep love for beer, donuts, TV and sitting on the couch. Though he works his hours at the local nuclear power plant, much of Homer’s free time is spent either at Moe’s bar, drinking beer with the boys, or settled at home on the couch with a bag of potato chips and the TV tuned to Canadian Football League games . . . or bowling.

Homer is someone who fits the stereotypical image of one we’d call lazy, as couch-sitting, bowling-watching and beer-drinking all describe that persona. So, I did some research this week on the etymology of the American colloquialism, “couch potato”. We all know what it means, but to someone who is not familiar with American slang, it could sound puzzling. The phrase was first recorded in 1979, so it’s fairly recent. Beyond that fact there is some dispute about what exactly it implies. Some think that it refers to the act of sitting on the couch eating potato chips. Others feel it encompasses more than that . . . implying that the person labeled “couch potato” is not necessarily eating potato chips but IS spending excessive time laying around on the couch as a potato might–almost in a vegetative state.

Whatever its origin, the phrase is not one you’d throw around as a high compliment, that’s for sure. Let’s be honest: we really don’t like people who are lazy couch potatoes like Homer Simpson; we belittle them; we create welfare systems that penalize them. We don’t EVER want to be called lazy . . . thought of like Homer Simpson, someone who sits on the couch munching potato chips; someone whose main objective in life is the attainment of donuts; someone who spends most of her time engrossed in television shows of questionable value.

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To be called a couch potato implies that one is lazy, and as Americans we are not happy being called lazy. In fact, America is known as a country with a very rigorous work ethic. We work longer and harder than workers in other developed countries. Our country is the land of the 24-hour 7-11 Store and automated prescription renewal!

So how dare a sermon be entitled “Why Are You Lazy?”

And as Americans, we’re generally not. At least not by the couch-sitting, potato-chip eating standard (okay, MOST of us). But if we look long and hard at what Jesus was trying to teach today in our Gospel lesson, we might begin to realize there’s another way to define lazy . . . and it might very well describe you and me.

All of our scripture passages today have to do with work—what work is good and what work we should be busy doing. But all of these passages also point to the fact that we Americans might need to learn more than anyone else: frantic work does not equal good work.

Constantly being busy does not necessarily mean we are investing our time well. And constant busyness in efforts with little lasting eternal consequence . . . well, that kind of use of our time could very well be called laziness.


Because our efforts are not bringing about the results we claim to believe in. And if we work for what we don’t believe in, even if we’re working hard, we’re being lazy.

Laziness is not just sitting on the couch drinking beer. Laziness is working our fingers to the bone . . . for things that don’t matter at all.

It’s clear that even Jesus had a word or two to say to his disciples, who were busy doing what they THOUGHT was important, but, in the end, what really was not important at all. Witness what was going on in the gospel passage we read today: the disciples were in a heated disagreement. They were arguing about which one of them was the greatest . . . which one of them would amass enough “work” to give him the highest status in the kingdom of God.

Jesus poignantly showed them that what they were after was just a big waste of time. He did this by pulling a child onto his lap and saying, basically, that it was time spent with children that mattered—not affairs of state or high-level meetings. Just the care of a child.

You and I wouldn’t know the significance of Jesus’ action at that point because we are not members of that society. Children were, however, the lowest of the low . . . in the version of the Greek used here, we wouldn’t even know if the child in question was male or female. In those days it was common to abandon a child after birth, as a method of birth control, because a family could not feed another mouth. All those gathered around Jesus trying to hear his compelling words, or trying to make sure they had a prominent spot in the leadership of whatever organization Jesus would certainly start up . . . all of them knew the significance of Jesus, a man, ignoring their concerns about power and status and, instead, bending over to pick up a wandering child.

Jesus was trying to illustrate that the kinds of things that really matter, the efforts around which we should be investing our time and energy, are things like placing value on the most valueless ones in our society . . . in living our lives so that we consistently demonstrate that we believe in justice and the living of the Gospel, and these are the things to which we offer our time and energy.

Do you think perhaps that in a society where we spend 2 years of our lives making phone calls to people who aren’t home, 6 whole months waiting for the traffic light to turn green, and another 8 months reading junk mail, that we might benefit from a long hard look at our lives, to see what we’re really invested in?

Martin Luther was the famous Protestant reformer of the Middle Ages. Even if you never took one theology class you will probably have heard of Martin Luther because the work he did to reform the church totally changed society.

In fact, we’re followers of the reformation tradition of Martin Luther (that’s what we are–just a quick church history note), so we should know that during the Reformation Martin Luther had great and vehement objections to the inclusion of the book of James in the canon of scripture. In fact, Luther hated the book of James because James seemed to be all about works, not grace.

The heart of Martin Luther’s reforms of the church centered around the belief that grace trumped works at the end of the day . . . . Martin Luther preached long and hard that what we do with our time is inconsequential . . . that in the end God’s grace was all that mattered.

Luther’s message was an important one, because he lived during a time when the church structure was becoming oppressive and the grace of God had gotten lost. People were being taught they had to pay for forgiveness, and that God was keeping a strict tally of the actions of each person. People had forgotten about the grace of God that redeems us and forgives us, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And Luther wanted to remind people that endless tallying of behavior wasn’t the essence of faith. Because of that he didn’t much like the book of James.

But upon closer scrutiny of the book of James, particularly of this morning’s passage in light of the Gospel lesson, I have to say that I wonder about what Luther was thinking, because the book of James is not only about works . . . it’s about what inspires those works as well, about what our lives say about what we value . . . about whether we’re lazy.

And isn’t that what the question of why we’re lazy is all about in the end: looking long and hard at our lives to see the fruit of what it is we say we believe? Our lives DO speak, and they tell the world about the state of our hearts. If our lives evidence involvement in and commitment to causes that have no eternal significance, then it could be said that we are lazy people.

Take a look at James’ words on what it means to live a life in pursuit of the things that really matter in the end:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. . . . For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

According to James, what we do says an awful lot about what we believe. How we live, how we interact with others, the manner in which we choose to spend our time . . . these will reveal the essence of our hearts. And taking a close look at what we do with our effort, energy and time might lead all of us to a huge surprise–to the surprise that though we are frantically busy, we’re actually lazy about the things that really matter.

Here’s a challenge for all of us this week. I tried it and believe me, it was excruciating. First, make a list of all the things you feel you value in your life, things like relationships with friends; a marriage; children; prayer or other spiritual discipline; your work; your car . . . whatever it is you feel most strongly that you value.

Second, keep a schedule for a couple of days. Our ushers will have worksheets for you to take home with you today if you’re willing to take on this challenge. Mark down for each hour what you spent the majority of your time doing. Laundry, watching TV, sleeping, working, whatever.

Third, sit down for a few quiet minutes and compare the two documents: your list of what you say is important and your actual schedule.

If you are like me, you’ll be shocked at how disproportional the two documents end up. I say I value my children, but most of my time is spent at work. I say I care about my health, but very little time on my schedule is devoted to exercise. One of the top things on my list is relationship with God . . . but I couldn’t believe the disproportionate time I spend answering email in comparison to time in prayer and scripture study.

I realized doing this exercise that I am, very often, lazy in the way Jesus tried to underscore for his disciples. Busy, busy, busy, but not investing my life in things that really matter.

And even though Martin Luther didn’t like him very much, I think James had a point. The efforts in which we invest our time reveal the state of our hearts . . . and at the end of the day the question of whether we’re lazy about the things that matter will be very evident in our lives: a harvest of grace, honesty, justice and peace . . . or a whole lot of nothing all that important.

Clovis Chappell was a Methodist minister who pastored all over the country and held prestigious teaching positions at Duke Divinity School and Harvard Divinity School. He was a preacher who excelled in the use of flowery oratory popular in pulpits of the 1930s, but some of his illustrations are timeless.

For example he used to tell a story about two steam-powered cargo boats making a trip to transport cargo from Memphis down what was then the busy “superhighway” of the Mississippi River to the bustling port of New Orleans . As they traveled side by side down the river some of the sailors on one of the boats started yelling across to the sailors on the other boat, taunting them about how slow they were going. Hot competition ensued.

As they raced down the river, one boat began falling behind. They’d had plenty of coal for regular the trip down the river to the Port of New Orleans. But they didn’t have enough coal for a competitive race. As the boat dropped back, one young sailor on one of the boats took some of the ship’s cargo and tossed it into the ovens. His strategy worked! When the other sailors on the boat saw that the supplies burned as well as the coal and pushed their boat into the lead, the sailors began to fuel their boat with the material they had been assigned to transport.

Guess what happened? They ended up winning the race!

But they arrived at the Port of New Orleans with none of the cargo they were supposed to transport.

And this is the very thing our scripture passages try to warn of today. When we live our lives giving lazy attention to the things that matter, we might very well end up at the finish line with nothing of value to show for our years of work. The Apostle Paul probably said it best in his letter to the Ephesians, so as you think about your life, about the time you spend and about the call of Jesus to invest your life in things that matter, hear these words from Ephesians chapter 5:

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 . . . . Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. . . . Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

Why are you lazy? Why am I lazy? Because we spend so much time in efforts that have no eternal significance. No matter what the “couches of our lives” might be, if we’re serious about following Jesus then it’s time to get up off the couches of our lives and participate in work right alongside him, to loved children and preach of peace, to challenge evil and oppression and live lives that actively and doggedly usher in God’s grace for everyone. There’s no time to be lazy; we have hard work to do.


Copyright 2006, Amy Butler. Used by permission.