I’m not convinced that this sermon ever really gets off the ground and makes one coherent point. I was inspired by today’s second lesson, which I suspect got rather short shrift in the church today. The subject of this lection, work, is so terribly problematic; given disparities in income worldwide, structural unemployment and the rise of a seemingly permanent underemployed class, telling people from the pulpit to just carry on what you’re doing might seems imperious and insensitive. However, there is much wisdom in the last line of this reading and, I think, much encouragement for the Christian, whatever work he or she may be called to. MP+
A Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 33 Year C
Isaiah 65:17-23, Isaiah 12, 2 Thessalonians 6-13, Luke 21:5-19
Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston AB, 14 November 2010
“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.” (2 Thessalonians 12-13)
Last month at this chapel we celebrated the baptism of a British soldier who had decided, in midlife, to become a Christian. It was a great day, because it’s exciting to see someone being born again, starting a new life as a Christian. We didn’t get the chance to get to know this new Christian, I for one would have loved to have heard her talk about what happened in her life that made her decide to become a baptized follower of Jesus. But she couldn’t stay long, and now she’s back in Germany with her family and with her army mates. So today, as an experiment to start my sermon, imagine with me if we had been given the chance to spend some time with Zone. What if she had asked us a question. What if she had asked, “OK, now that I’m a new Christian, now that I’m born again, what should I do with my life? What should I do?” What would you tell her if she’d asked that question?
The question “what should I do as a new Christian” is behind the second lesson we heard read this morning. The lesson comes from the second of two letters that Paul had written to a church he had founded in the Greek city of Thessalonica. The Thessalonian church was relatively new and had been formed in part by Paul’s preaching and teaching. In his first letter to this new church, Paul had evidently been trying to address their concerns about death and about the afterlife of those members of the church who had recently died. Would the living members be reunited with them in the afterlife? In answering this question, Paul had taught them that Christ’s Second Coming would be soon and that, “through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died” (1 Thess 4:14). This passage from 1 Thessalonians is often used today as part of the funeral liturgy, as a reassurance that the souls of the faithful dead are safe in God’s keeping until the final judgement. However, for the Thessalonians, this passage was evidently taken to mean that the Second Coming would be quite soon, and in fact a sense of the imminence of Christ’s return was widespread in the early church.
What appears to have happened in Thessalonica is that some who heard or read Paul’s first letter concluded that since Christ was returning soon and they were living in the End Times, there was no need to go on as usual. Some may have heard teaching which seemed to be from Paul, claiming that the day of the Lord is already here. (2 Thess 2.2) Some evidently had quit their jobs or livelihoods, thinking perhaps that ordinary life was pointless, and these people may have been arguing with those who were still working, hence Paul’s reference to “busybodies” (2 Thess 3:11). So part of Paul’s goal in his second letter to the church he founded is to set them straight on what to do as new Christians. He tells them to imitate his example of working and not depending on others for his livelihood. He does not seek to persuade so much as he calls on them to obey him as their teacher, reminding us that all communities, even churches, function best when someone is in authority. He closes with this piece of ethical advice: “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right” (2 Thess 3:13).
Let’s go back to our newly baptized person. What if she had been in the same Christian bookstore I had been in yesterday, and seen the same rack of books about prophecies, about the end of the world as we know it, and about the Second Coming (Christians can be as worried today about these questions as they were in Thessalonica). What if she said to us, “Well, I see all these books, and I see all this news about global warming and the end of oil and the end of America and all that, and I think, what’s the point of going to work? Since I want Jesus to take me with him at the end of things, maybe I should chuck my job and chuck the housework and just spend my time praying, or join these Christian survivalists in the woods, and just wait it out?” What would we say to this question?
Well, we might answer that yes, the world can be a scary place. With gold hitting $1400 an ounce and economists saying that we might be in for round two of that great world depression we thought we avoided in 2008, things look bad. Jesus in today’s gospel never promised his disciples that the future would be rosy. However, he did promise them that if they believed that he was who he said he was, the Son of God, and if they held to that belief no matter what, they would come shining through: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls” (Luke 21:5-9). Perhaps, as Jesus was looking at the great temple that human hands had built, he knew that God his Father was the true creator, and that he was not finished his work. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of the words of the prophet Isaiah, of a time when God’s people could enjoy their work and their lives without fear or doubt: “They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well” (Isa 65:23).
What we could and should say to our new Christian is to have faith in the one who called you and brought your new life. Its interesting as a soldier to note that the word Paul uses for “idleness” is a atakos, a word meaning not in order for battle It is the opposite of taktos, meaning ready for battle. So Paul is saying that as a servant and soldier of Christ, hold yourself ready. Whatever you have been called to do in life, keep doing it, provided, as Paul tells the Thessalonians, that you “do not be weary in doing what is right”. That is good advice for all of us, whatever or wherever we may be.
So, If you are a young person in school, and you see all the cool kids being cliquish and getting popular by being cruel and gossipy, do you do the same thing? No. Do not be weary in doing what is right.
If you are a parent or a homemaker, and you’re tired of the unending grind of trying to raise your kids when all the forces of advertising and money and culture work against you, do you give up? No. Do not be weary in doing what is right.
If you’re a caregiver or a friend, tired of another long visit to the hospital or the senior’s home and wondering if it will really make a difference, do you give up? No. Do not be weary in doing what is right.
If you’re a soldier preparing for another deployment, when you know in your gut it probably won’t make a difference because the government over there is corrupt and the people don’t get it, do you give up? No. Do not be weary in doing what is right.
Whatever you do, do it well and faithfully, in the name of the Our Lord who is faithful and who does all things well (Mark 7:37) for our salvation.