2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
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 theyreceived from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 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. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
A little historical context this morning: In Paul’s first letter to the Christian’s in Thessalonica, he wrote to help them grow in the faith as well as trying to comfort them and encouraging them by affirming the reality of Christ’s return. But not long after this, word came to Paul that some of the people in the church had misunderstood his teaching about the Second Coming, and to further complicate the situation, a letter had been sent to the church written by someone claiming it to be from Paul, saying that the day of the Lord had already come.
It is for this reason that Paul writes this second letter to the Thessalonians, to address the problems that had arisen within the church, and to encourage the church as it faced a period of persecution. The times were difficult for this budding church.
One commentary noted that “one of the consequences of the belief that the day of the Lord had already arrived, was that there were some in the church who had decided to quit their jobs, and put aside all their responsibilities. But their lack of activity was putting a burden on the church, because there was no [process in the community] to look after them, so the responsibility was falling on the shoulders of others within the church to care for them.
This is why Paul, in very strong uncompromising language writes ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.’ (2 Thess 3:6)
These people who had quit their jobs, and set aside their responsibilities, may have thought they were being more spiritual by not working, but their actions were having a damaging impact on the church. In verse 11 Paul writes that in their idleness, they are being disruptive, and using a play on words says “They are not busy; they are busybodies.” (2 Thess 3:11) As the expression goes, the devil makes work for idle hand. Rather than working, and helping to play their part within the life of the church and wider community, they were putting their nose into other people’s business, (that doesn’t happen anymore, does it?) spreading panic, and harming the body of Christ.
Some of you may remember the story of Harold Camping. Camping, who ran Family Radio in the USA, famously predicted that the world would come to an end on the 21st May 2011. Donations from loyal listeners flooded in, and Harold Camping spent $3 million on a massive billboard and radio advertising campaign around the world. Many of his followers believing the end was near, dropped out of med school, quite their jobs, even left their spouses and children, and spent all their savings to spread the word about the Rapture – the expected end days.” Revbickers blogspot Sermon on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Of course none of us can know when Jesus will return. So as Christians we are called to live in that constant state of tension, of readiness for the return of Jesus. And that’s a challenge!
There are a couple of other things that caught my attention that I focus on this morning. One is that Paul says that ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ My mind jumps to the people on street corners asking for help, but this passage has to be read in context, because in Paul’s other letters he stresses the importance of caring for the poor, and care for the poor and disadvantaged is one of the marks of the Christian faith. Paul is addressing those who can work, but refuse to do so.
I found it interesting that in doing the background work for this sermon I came across the following: “Lenin adopted Paul’s words for his idea of communist Russia – ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat.’ The commentator went on: ‘So Paul sounds right at home in our 21st century political debate. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. But that is not what Paul means. Paul is not speaking to 20th century Russia, or to 21st century America, but rather to a different community, a community that itself was under attack by the government of its day. Paul is speaking directly to those who can work, but refuse to do so.
By his actions when he was with them, Paul believed he was a model and mentor to the people in Thessalonia. In effect he is saying we are each called to take responsibility for ourselves and part of that means, if we are able, to provide the means to live without being a burden to others. But the reality is, that we all may need help from time to time, and this he understands.
So, our work matters and our lifestyle matters too. The line in today’s reading that seems to speak to me the loudest is the last sentence: “Do not be weary of doing what is right.” Sometimes that is quite a challenge.
“Paul encourages us as well as the people of Thesslonica to not grow weary in doing good. “It doesn’t matter who we are, every single one of us, young and old, at school, college, working, unemployed, or retired – we can all serve.” We can all do what’s right. Rick Warren pointed out that: “Faithful servants never retire. You can retire from your career, but you will never retire from serving God.” We can serve God by doing what is right – for ourselves, for others, and God’s world. I think that’s Jesus’ command to us, but jus said in a different way.
There are many things happening in our world that make us stop and shake our head and wonder – what in the world were they thinking? An example of that is the college admission scandals. Here are some parents of means wanting what’s best for their children. That in and of itself is not wrong, but how they go about getting it, however, is not by doing the right thing. This also demeans their child and the child’s ability to gain entrance on their own merit into a school or whatever the want. It also makes it difficult for a more deserving student to receive higher education.
Of course, we are surrounded by the impeachment process these days. Some say they have done nothing wrong. While others cannot believe that the misdeeds and misdirections are not understood or seen as wrong. So yes, we all need to hear Paul’s words: “Do not be weary in doing what is right.” Knowing what is right or what is wrong is important. Sometimes that may feel confusing. Maybe we need a mandatory “Golden Rule” or ethics classes as a society in an on-going fashion. Doing what is right – I think – means “first, do no harm.” Having and awareness of our actions or words is important. Do our actions or words do harm to ourselves or others or this earth?
Accountability and responsibility. Repentence and Forgiveness.
We too need to be encouraged to not be weary in doing what is right. Sometimes it means helping to correct the wrongs that have been done. An example of that was shown to those gathered Friday evening at the 24th annual PFLAG Las Cruces Fundraiser. The First Christian Church table was packed! It was a fun and informative evening. We learned that old wrongs can be righted and when it comes to the LBGTQ community where much of that work is being done by PFLAG to support, care for and nurture everyone in the LBGTQ community including friends and family – and especially the youth population.
We saw a video called “Love Calls Back” sponsored by PFLAG and Verizon. The film shows a few young people who, when they revealed their sexuality to a parent, had been
thrown out of their homes. It was very hard for us to hear their stories, but also so important for us to hear them. Many of those featured had been out of the home for about five years. The parents also told their story of why they removed their child from the home. It was a very tender moment to watch parent and child on one of the most important phone calls of their lives as they began the process to reconnect.
We also learned that PFLAG Denver, Boston, and LAS CRUCES were three chapters on a national level that won the National Chapter Award. Las Cruces won because of its work with the Rainbow Refugee Program of which we were involved with last year. PFLAG National will be using the Las Cruces model to work with LGBTQ youth seeking asylum in the United States in the future. What and honor.
We learned of the scholarship programs for individuals, and awards were also given to three community programs with Mesilla Valley Community of Hope receiving the top award for their work with homelessness in the area, and especially homeless LGBTQ youth. A Safe Space Fund was introduced to help defray costs with the goal of keeping youth off the street. I left the event at this time but learned that there was a pie auction that I understand brought in $1000 in bidding. There was a silent auction and a raffle. All good. Even though we know that harm was done, and that can’t be erased, we also know that it can be turned around when we do the right thing.
I learned of the word and concept of Ubuntu this week. In certain regions of South Africa, when someone does something wrong, he is taken to the center of the village and surrounded by his tribe for two days while they speak of all the good he has done. They believe each person is good, yet sometimes we make mistakes, which is really a cry for help. They unite in this ritual to encourage the person to reconnect with his true nature. The belief is that unity and affirmation have more power to change behavior than shame and punishment. This is known as Ubuntu – humanity towards others. (facebook)
I am sure you are thinking of a person or two you’d like to see in that circle. And I can think of a few time a circle like that would have been a good thing for me, too. How about you? Ubuntu.
May God bless us as we strive to not be weary in doing what is right because as we do so, we also glorify the Creator of life and love. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2019