February 25th, 2016
When the Korean War reached a stalemate in 1953, the only way to both cease hostilities and carve out some form of peaceful coexistence was to designate a region between North and South that would be a mutually-agreed sector of neutrality. It came to be known as the “Demilitarized Zone” or DMZ. It stretches 160 miles along the 38th parallel and establishes a 2.5 mile wide demarcation between enduring enemies.
Despite its fame, the Korean DMZ is not the only neutral precinct of its kind, nor is it the oldest. There are over a dozen such demilitarized zones in the world, some established as far back as the 1920s. Many were instituted at the end of hostilities, though some zones were established to protect scientific research, or for preservation of cultural and religious shrines. But most had the goal of keeping two parties who could not reconcile from either protracting or deepening their mutual antagonism.
In her chapter on sloth, which was our focus last Sunday, Rebecca DeYoung identifies a very common–too common–context in which sloth takes hold–one that finds an analogy in the demilitarized zones of the world. You may remember how the definition of sloth, as both Scripture alludes and theological reflection develops, is something more complex than mere idleness, though that is one of its symptoms. Sloth is, as she puts it, a “resistance to the demands of love.” And one domain in which such resistance manifests too often is in human relationships–whether in friendships or in marriages. As those demands of love are quite high within any meaningful relationship, too easily does one or both persons let sloth take hold when the demands exceed their wills. Consider her example:
Take a typical situation between a husband and wife. In general, theirs is a relationship of love and friendship. But when they quarrel at dinnertime and head off to opposite corners of the house for the rest of the evening, it is much easier to maintain that miserable distance and alienation from each other than it is to do the work of apology, forgiveness and reconciliation. Learning to live together and love each other well after a rift requires giving up their anger, their desire to have their own way, their insistence on seeing the world only from each of their own perspectives. Saying “I’m sorry” takes effort, but it is not simply the physical work of walking across the house and saying the words that each resists. It might be that this is another wearying version of the same fight they’ve been fighting for years, and it doesn’t feel like they are getting any nearer to resolving it.
A persistent occasion for conflict has reached an ostensible stalemate and “warring” parties both reach an agreement that there will be no more fighting–only an exhausted moratorium on seeking common ground. They erect their own demilitarized zone but one that is, in many cases, a manifestation of sloth.
Are there issues on which two persons can “agree to disagree” that don’t threaten the relationship? Of course. Matters of taste for the most part preclude an effort to “win” a person to their side. But matters of truth, or of what’s timely, are worth more effort–sometimes more than we’re willing to give. And yet to establish a mutual agreement to say nothing further can in many respects be, not an establishment of peace, but a hindrance to a greater trust and intimacy. Those agreements become just like what exists between North and South Korea: a false peace instituted by a boundary that’s a monument to their refusal to reconcile.
It’s therefore always worth asking in our friendships and marriages, “are there issues around which we have consciously or unconsciously established a demilitarized zone–not because we’ve really done all we can to find common ground, but because we just don’t want to submit further to the ‘demands of love'”? Given how common and how easy it is to drift into that interpersonal détente, it’s no embarrassment to recognize where sloth has slunk in. But that’s also all the more reason to ask the question, given its prevalence.
The Good News that changed the world is inextricably tied to reconciliation. It is that refusal on God’s part to settle for a false peace, to concede to a line of separation between Him and humanity, that led the Father to send the Son to not just seek a reconciliation, but to effect one. It is His reconciliation that is adequately furnished both to humble us in our intransigence and compel us to love and forgiveness.
Leaning against sloth is its own laboriousness. Searching for reconciliation is always exhausting. But there is both hope for and promise in taking up those issues again, while praying for what we do not have in order to end a false peace and forge a new future. Then sloth loses its grip as we let our faces rather than our backs turn toward one another.
Sloth infiltrates our human relationships. But it also afflicts our relationship to God.
Toward the end of the sermon we alluded to how we can grow weary of attending to our soul, a mighty part of which involves prayer. And yet employing prayer for the sake of being awakened to new life and love is not as simple as picking up some tool. There are some inherent hesitations or impediments–categorize them generically as “obstacles”–to our praying that it won’t do simply to commend prayer.
We may have shared this resource before, but if our way out of sloth involves a “tool” which we find difficult to use, then it stands to reason that we identify our own obstacles to praying. The video also has a handout you can download here.
Yes, it’s 45 minutes–in our world’s pace, an eternity to give attention to. But you know what takes longer? The aggregate number of minutes we spend being frustrated about prayer rather than these scant 45 we might invest to gain more time and freedom for prayer. Those of you who take this in, what did you learn?
All this talk of sloth notwithstanding, we are invigorated by what awaits us this Sunday.
Kevin Gladding, who has served us as an intern for two years (along with his wife who now serves on our nursery leadership team), has completed the requirements outlined by our denomination, and is now ready to be ordained and installed as an assistant pastor in CtK. As this is an event larger than even our community, we’ll have representatives from other churches in our presbytery take part in the service. Then following his ordination we’ll have a light reception in Kevin’s honor during 2nd hour.
We earnestly hope you will make every effort to attend this signifiant milestone not just in Kevin’s life, but in the ministry of CtK. We are genuinely delighted at his addition to our staff and look with anticipation at his ministry among us.
Meanwhile, we won’t pause our Lenten sermon series on the vices but in fact will take up a vice that has both particular relevance to a pastor and universal relevance to every person. We’ll keep which vice a secret, but as a cryptic hint we offer you this untranslated excerpt from Antoine De Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince:
Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres. Quand vous leur parlez d’un nouvel ami, elles ne vous questionnent jamais sur l’essentiel. Elles ne vous disent jamais : « Quel est le son de sa voix ? Quels sont les jeux qu’il préfère ? Est-ce qu’il collectionne les papillons?» Elles vous demandent: «Quel âge a-t-il? Combien a-t-il de frères ? Combien pèse-t-il ? Combien gagne son père ? » Alors seulement elles croient le connaître.
Finally, if you missed our 2nd hour last Sunday, we had a few topics to share that had some supplementary information you can find here:
- our 2015 year in review
- our budget snapshot for 2016
- another installment of how to use our online tool called The City.