Saturday, November 12, 2016

Not Weary

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
November 13, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

This second letter to the Thessalonians was written sometime around 50 AD. Although this letter is attributed to the Apostle Paul, it is questionable whether or not he was the actual author. In any case, the letter carries with it much of the character of Paul who founded that church, and loved the people.

The letter is to the church at Thessalonica, a thriving seaport in Macedonia. It was, like all of Christianity at the time, a new, young congregation. All the overlays of interpretation, tradition, custom and theology had not yet accrued to these new Christians. There was virtually no history, no structure, no organization. There was, however, the expectation that Jesus was coming back. Soon. He had promised he would, and they thought it would be in their lifetime. Because of that, some of the community there had decided to stop working. These were not people who were disabled – they had just stopped trying. This letter speaks to that issue, lifting up work as a part of our Christian life, an expression of stewardship, a witness to our faith, and a form of service to God and to our neighbors. Let’s listen for God’s word to us in Second Thessalonians 3:6-13

6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to keep away from believers who are living in idleness
and not according to the tradition that they received from us.
7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us;
we were not idle when we were with you,
8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it;
but with toil and labor we worked night and day,
so that we might not burden any of you.
9 This was not because we do not have that right,
but in order to give you an example to imitate.
10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command:
Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.
11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness,
mere busybodies, not doing any work.
12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ
to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

“Jesus is coming soon. Hopefully before the election.”
Did you all see that sign, down the street? I thought it was funny.

It’s natural, when times are tough, to look to be rescued.
It’s normal, when we’re under stress, to hope for a savior to come soon.
It’s nothing new. When people got worried about Y2K, they started talking about the second coming of Christ. I heard of at least one person who maxed out all her credit cards, thinking she would be raptured and wouldn’t have to pay her bills. When January 2, 2000, arrived, I kind of felt sorry for her.

One of the ideas that Presbyterians reject is the idea of the rapture, the idea that Jesus is coming back to take Christians to heaven, and then let the entire globe descend into warfare: Armageddon. The Thessalonians didn’t believe in the idea of the rapture, either, since no Christians at all believed that for the first 1840 years of Christianity. One of the many problems with that belief in “rapture theology” is that the interpretations have to keep changing as times change. When I was a kid, during the cold war, the two “sides” in the prophesied war were understood to be the United States and the USSR. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, I’m not sure what the story is now.

The Thessalonians had no such belief, no expectation of “the rapture.” But in that time and place, less than 20 years after the resurrection, they expected that Jesus would be returning very soon.
So, why bother to work? 

Why raise sheep you would never shear, or a cow you’d never milk? 
Why build a house you would never live in? 
Why plant seeds and cultivate a garden you would never harvest? 
Why plant a tree that you would not be around to enjoy?
Why, indeed?
I have to confess, there is some appeal in this way of thinking. If I knew for sure that Jesus was coming back, say, next Thursday, I would not spend my time mopping the kitchen floor. Not that I was going to do that anyway… Seriously, though, if you knew the end of the world was coming in a few days, would you spend those days pulling weeds? Would you go to meetings, or volunteer, or do the laundry? Would you go to work? Would you have even voted? Would you even care who won the presidential election?

At the men’s prayer breakfast on Thursday, (sorry for the re-run, guys!) I shared some thoughts from Dr. Jim Denison. He is a Southern Baptist conservative from Texas. I get a daily email commentary from him on the news and Christianity. We are pretty far apart politically and theologically, but I think it is important to hear thoughtful voices and opinions that are not necessarily from my own perspective. In other words, I don’t want to live in an echo chamber. I read his posts because he is a Southern Baptist conservative from Texas!

Denison suggests that there are four categories of response to the election:

  • “One: You are elated. You're convinced that God answered your prayers and sent Mr. Trump to lead our nation in this perilous hour. 
  • Two: You are glad but not elated. You were put off by Mr. Trump's personal issues but you agreed with him regarding the Supreme Court, abortion, religious liberty, and other social issues. 
  • Three: You're discouraged. While you were troubled by some of Mrs. Clinton's personal issues, you wish she had won. Now you're worried about racial divisions in our country and Mr. Trump's promises to deport illegal immigrants, ban Muslims, rescind trade deals, and build a wall with Mexico. 
  • Four: You're in despair. You were certain that Mrs. Clinton would not only be president but be a great president. You believed in her credentials and preparation for office and fear that Mr. Trump will be a terrible president.”[1]

I think that’s probably a fair summary of where most people might land. I guess Dr. Denison left out a fifth category – those who just wish Jesus would hurry up and come back.Now!

But wherever you are on the political and theological spectrum, if you are Christian, you have one central, singular responsibility. Like those Thessalonian Christians in the year 53, we do not have the luxury of idleness. Whether we are elated, glad, discouraged or despairing, we cannot let ourselves grow weary of doing what is right. Even if we think Jesus’ return is imminent, this afternoon, or tomorrow, we are not free to abandon our work.

We are still called to the vocations we were given in our baptism. We are still called to the faithful exercise of our gifts for the glory of God. Now, when we had this conversation in Bible study and asked the women there to share together the significance of their work. We asked three questions, questions I’d encourage you to contemplate:

How is my work a form of stewardship?
How does my daily work serve God and my neighbor?
How does the way in which I do my work make a witness to others?

There were lots of answers like “Well, I don’t actually DO any work for God.” Interestingly, all of the people who said that were quickly contradicted by the observations of others, who could easily make a long list of their faithful Christian service.

Every year around this time, we turn our attention to stewardship; specifically, we turn our attention to our financial stewardship of the church. When we talk about stewardship, we include all forms of it – care of the environment, continued care for the congregation, and the giving back to God of our time, our talent, and our money. It comes as no surprise that our work is a form of that stewardship.

The daily tasks we undertake, whether we are employed or volunteers, whether or work is in our home, our church or our community, that work is a form of stewardship, a form of giving to God by serving others, a form of witness to the transforming power of God’s grace.

And we don’t have the option of stopping. We are told “do not be weary in doing what is right.” The same is true of our financial stewardship. There is no point at which we are permitted to say, “I’ve done enough.” We can’t retire from Christianity, from the world, from service, from giving! Someone has said that you can retire from a job, because you chose to work. But you can’t retire from a vocation, because you were chosen for that work.

Fortunately, that work, that giving, can be joyful, life-giving, and fulfilling, because we are a part of the communion of saints. Because we have each other, we do not grow weary in doing what is right. This is why we are called the “communion of saints.” In Christ, we have union and communion with one another and with God.

Our Protestant tradition is rich with affirmation of this communion of saints. The Heidelberg Catechism teaches that “the communion of saints" means: “First, that believers, all and every one, as members of Christ, have part in him and in all his treasures and gifts. Secondly, that each one must feel himself bound to use his gifts, readily and cheerfully, for the advantage and welfare of other members.” For John Calvin, that communion of saints is a community of heart and soul, a diversity of graces and gifts.

There are 3 significant ways in which the communion of saints is formed.
First, we live faithfully in the present moment. That’s the saint part. We know what that means: love God and neighbor. Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. Bring glory to God by word and deed. 

Second, we continue to live faithfully as "brothers and sisters." That’s the communion part. Our Christian life, and our continued energy for stewardship, are a community concern – a family affair. “where family members contribute their efforts to the good of the whole and where no one ‘burdens’ others with his or her own work.”[2] That family of faith, this community, is also where we find support, where we receive encouragement, where we hear the voices of those who reflect our faithfulness back to us when we cannot see the importance or value of our efforts. Here, we are loved. Here we find companions for our life journey. Here we are formed, taught, and strengthened to live out our callings.

Third, being formed into the communion of saints means that we have the privilege and responsibility of passing the faith on to the generations of Christians that are yet to come. Our stewardship is not just about taking care of this year’s deficit, or even fulfilling next year’s expenses. Our financial stewardship of this congregation is an investment in our children, in the future of this congregation, and our unique contributions to this community in which we live.

Ultimately, the foundation and context of all of this is Jesus Christ, who has called each one of us to faithful living, made us into a faithful community, and in whose grace we pass on this faith.

For us, here and now, the church militant,
the communion of saints is this band of believers,
claimed and called in our baptism,
graced by God with varied gifts,
empowered by the Spirit to proclaim that grace,
strengthened by one another to love God and love our neighbors.

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all,
and especially for those of the family of faith.

We are the communion of saints.
We are not weary of doing what is right.
We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.
We work for the glory of God and the good of others.
We hope for the future and those who will come after us.
We are saints alive!

Thanks be to God!

[2] Weaver, Dorothy Jean, “2 Thessalonians 3:6-15” Interpretation, October 2007

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