Fighting the "Noon-Day-Devil" Acedia / Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / Season of Lent / Sunday March 4th 2018 - / John 2:13-22
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 4th 2018: Lent / John 2:13–22 "fighting the noon-day-devil"
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make My Father's house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume Me.”
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. What is procrastination? I can tell you what it is not. Procrastination is not doing ‘nothing.’ Procrastination is doing everything except the thing you are supposed to be doing. Procrastinators can be very busy people. Maybe you know one. Maybe you are one. In our Gospel reading for today we hear of Jesus in action … He’s clearing out the money changers in the Temple, clearing them out of His Father’s House. In the Introit this morning from Psalm 69, which Jesus’ disciples remembered in the midst of Jesus’ clearing out of the Temple, we hear these words which pointed forward to Jesus, that said, “zeal for Your house has consumed Me,” Thinking on the Gospel, seeing where this Psalm points, hear these words as Jesus saying to His heavenly Father, “zeal for Your house has consumed Me,” … that’s not Procrastination, His Holy and righteous Zeal is not Procrastination. His Zeal is action, it is the right kind of action, positive action. Yes, yes I hear you thinking ‘O you can have zeal for godless things, for evil things’ … this is true but such devotion is negative and not positive, not God pleasing. Let’s think a little more about it. From the cusp of manhood Jesus is shown to have zeal for His heavenly Father and for His Father’s house, remember when He was but 12 and was left behind in the Jerusalem and His mother the Virgin Mary and His adoptive Father found Jesus in the Temple with the teachers listening and asking questions. When pressed about it Jesus said, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?” at the time they didn’t understand what He’d said to them. Every year Jesus went to the Temple, multiple times, no procrastination about it only holy and God pleasing zeal for His Father house. Maybe you are starting to see where this is going.
Now our Old Testament reading both contains and focuses in on the 10 Commandments and the one that connects nicely to our readings today is the 3rd Commandment.
You shall sanctify the holy day. [Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.] What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Switching gears from Jesus to us let’s ask the question: Where do we gladly hear and learn God’s Word, where can we hear the preaching of it? Well I suppose you can gladly hear and learn it on-line … we make our Sermons at Mount Olive, and the Gospel Readings, available that way: That’s a relatively new way to gladly hear and learn God’s Word and Christian preaching; On the TV? … well that’s been around a bit longer and there have certainly been some quality control issues there; On the Radio? … That’s been around longer yet … the Lutheran Hour is very good for that; Perhaps by reading it at home in devotion? … that’s been around for a very, very long time and is a good way to go about it; however the best and longest standing way to gladly hear and learn God’s Word and Christian preaching is in a congregation. God’s Word can be heard in Bible Studies and classes and likewise along with preaching in the Divine Service which, if you’re listening to this here and now, is where you’re hearing it today. Yes the best way to hold God’s Word and Christian preaching sacred and gladly hear and learn it is to actually gather together with your fellow Christians as a congregation.
In our Gospel Reading after making a whip of cords and driving the money changers and the animals and the ones selling the animals, after pouring out their coins and overturning their tables Jesus says, “Take these things away; do not make My Father's house a house of trade.” These men were not holding the holy things of God as sacred, they were impeding the people’s ability to keep the 3rd Commandment to gladly hear and learn God’s Word in God’s House, they were interfering with peoples attempts to keep the Holy things of God sacred.
But what about those who are 3rd Commandment breakers not because they, however well intentioned, are folks who end up fleecing the sheep but rather because they avoid God’s House all together and show no zeal for God’s Word or for the hearing of Christian preaching? This gets us back to procrastination. When someone is a baptized Christian, a child of God, and they constantly, consistently, regularly, put off attending church, so much so that they would never know whether or not we had a stock yard operating in the Narthex, the entryway to the church, then we have a problem. This is sin. It’s breaking the 3rd Commandment. With a lack of zeal for the things of God a Christian might show all sorts of zeal for everything else remember procrastination is not doing ‘nothing.’ Procrastination is doing everything except the thing you are supposed to be doing. Procrastinators can be very busy people. Sometimes in the church we can be fooled into thinking this is a new problem. We think, and we say to each other, ‘When we were young there were so many more people in church.’ It is horrifying to find the ones we love stuck in a place where they are behaving in this way. Not caring about not caring. There is however a word for this sort of lack of Christian zeal, an old word that you know by a different name, the word is Acedia, the word you know it by is the word sloth. Over time Acedia when called sloth ever so slowly drifted it’s meaning to be laziness in general, slowness, and physical inactivity. In fact there is even a Central and South American mammal named a Sloth for just that reason, not because they have no zeal for the Lord but rather because they move slowly. When I say the word sloth you might think of the medieval 7 deadly sins and there you’d be on the right track, but again dig deeper, and you find acedia below the surface of the word sloth. Another good modern word for acedia is apathy – in this case spiritual apathy, religious apathy.
In his lectures on the book of Genesis Martin Luther makes this insightful comment on the matter, “whatever clouds and darkness may stand in our way we should breakthrough into the light of the Word, in the promises, and say in the name of God, ‘I confess that I have sinned but I still believe that I have been baptized and that Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Father. This is the groaning which God wants to arouse in the hearts of the saints so that they do not become smug and dull and parish from indifference and from sluggishness of spirit [acedia]. For if the spirit is aroused, faith is sharpened, The knowledge of God grows, and the new man is renewed from day to day and is taught what is the good and perfect will of God” When you hear those words and think of the Gospel Reading and Jesus in the Temple can you not hear how Jesus was rousing them from indifference, how He was sharpening their faith, pointing them back to the knowledge of God that their faith might grow, that they might know the good and perfect will of God.
Think about your own life, did you ever have a time when you needed to be snapped out of your state of acedia, your spiritual slothfulness, your apathy towards God’s Word, Church and Christian preaching? When the right words were said to you and the worldly distractions, the active procrastinations were driven out of your heart, out of your mind, out of your soul? What does Scripture say, “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.” “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
In our deep Christian past they called this apathy, this spiritual slothfulness, this lack of zeal, this acedia the noon-day-devil. Because it comes in the midst of your work, in the heat of the day, when you are toiling away and focused on your work, often in the most productive years of your life: that is when it strikes hardest. Think of yourself, think of the ones you love who are sinking down in this sin. They are often too busy to hear God’s word, too busy to keep it sacred, too busy to gladly hear and learn it. They will make ever excuse in the book; some will sound reasonable others will be total bull crap. Before you feel too good about your own attendance and your own zeal for God’s Word, for the Father’s house, have you heard their excuses and done nothing, said nothing, have you given up on saying anything to them in order to keep the peace for fear of not seeing your grand children or great grandchildren? … Am I getting you angry right now? Does me saying that you participate in their sin by accommodating it and condoning it make you want to walk out of here right now? Repent and take heart. What Jesus did in the Temple that day ended with His death on the cross for these and every sin. If you are angry with me, think just how angry they were with Him. By the end of the week He hung dead on the cross.
Remember that Lent is a season of self examination, of reflection, a season of repentance and grief over sin. Jesus when He was at the height of His popularity, on the heels of His Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday when He was greeted at the gates of Jerusalem as their King did not rest on His laurels, He didn’t fall victim to the noon-day-devil of acedia, He didn’t suddenly once He was comfortable in life become spiritually slothful. He didn’t lose His zeal for His Father’s House, He didn’t abandon the plan of your Salvation, no “for the joy that was set before Him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is [now risen from the dead and is] seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Because He bested the temptation to break the Third Commandment, because He never lost His zeal for God’s Word even quoting it at the cross as He died at the hands of wicked men: Because of all of this Jesus has won with His life blood your forgiveness and the forgiveness of all who have become spiritually and religiously apathetic, slothful, lukewarm and cold in heart toward God and His Word.
Be therefore encouraged, see through the procrastinations of life, the busyness and speak God’s Word in love to the ones you love. If they throw a tantrum, if they roll their eyes, if they say you are foolish and weak, if they imply it, if they want miracles before they come back to church remember what St. Paul says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” All Christians including you fight against spiritual apathy, we all need forgiveness for the times we have become spiritually and religiously slothful.
Now if you are listening to this and you feel, right now, like you are hanging on by your fingernails; again take heart: We are to love each other and care for each other, that means encouragement and if you feel like you need encouragement and the person you think your should be getting encouragement from is stepping on your fingers as you are trying to hold on for dear life, come talk to us. Talk to your fellow Christians here, you will find encouragement from another corner if not from them. If you are afraid of putting your foot in your mouth, that you are going to say the wrong thing when you go out to encourage someone that you love and you need to talk with someone before you start that conversation again come talk to me or come talk to pastor Albrecht or to someone else in the congregation, talk amongst yourselves, get some encouragement there. We’d love to sit down and listen to you talk to you and help you with these things. We are all in it together here and we need to encourage each other. If you see someone flagging and they need to be lifted up, go help them up: If you are the one flagging call out for help, don’t just lay there dead. If someone comes to help, don’t fight them, take the help. The Lord loves you and wants the best for you, when we fall into these kinds of sins remember that this forgiveness is found only in Christ Jesus, we here doll it out for each other but it’s in Him that this forgiveness is found and He is the author and perfecter of your faith. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Psalm 69:9
 Luke 2:49–50
 Luther’s Works AE Lectures on Genesis Chapters 31-37 vol 6, Concordia Publishing House, pg 362, Luther paints a picture of acedia and a Christian response to it while talking about the last days of the life of Jacob.
 1 Corinthians 3:16–17
 1 Corinthians 6:19–20
 Hebrews 12:2
 1 Corinthians 1:27–29