Rev. Kathy Wolf Reed
“Do Not Be Weary”
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
2 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.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Comfort vs. Kick-in-the-Pants
Earlier this week I received a message that said: Only six more Saturdays ‘till Christmas! immediately I felt a twinge of anxiety grab hold. If you are a student maybe the prospect of exams gives you that feeling. If you don’t have a great relationship with your family maybe it’s the thought of spending the holidays together. Or, if you are anyone at all, maybe this time of year isn’t so much about anxiety but instead a heaviness that settles in pre-Thanksgiving and doesn’t leave until the new year.
No matter who you are, if you’re like me when I come to the Bible seeking comfort, what I want to hear is words like Psalm 46, “be still and know that I am God.” or from Matthew’s gospel, “Come to me who are weary and I will give you rest.” But, today instead of “Come to me, who are weary.” we get tough-love Paul imploring us to get to work.
Now we have to remember that like any tough-love leader, there is a reason for Paul’s tone. And it benefits us to try and understand that reason.
You see, his letter wasn’t directed at everyone in this particular community but rather, a specific subset of people who were kind of ruining it for everybody. They were like the two kids who misbehave so much that the whole class ends up being punished and Paul just doesn’t think that’s fair.
So while the letter is to everyone, he’s directing his instructions to the group causing the issue, at that group is those perfectly capable of working who are choosing not to contribute to their community of faith.
They are aware that others are having to do more work to pick up the slack because of their personal choices, but that doesn’t stop them.
“For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” Paul says, but that word, “idleness” doesn’t translate as laziness. It’s actually closer to the word “disorderliness.”
And that “work” isn’t necessarily scrubbing floors. “Work” here means practices of faith.
So listen to it again:
“We hear that some you are causing disorder in the community because you are not taking part in the life of the church.”
That sounds different.
The root of the word “ordered” stretches all the way back to the word “ordained”. So if we believe that the community of Christ’s church has been “ordained” or “ordered” by God then it implies there is a certain set of practices by which we are to live. These practices play out in every aspect of our life together. Our worship is ordered in a very particular way, the way we govern ourselves, the way we educate our leaders and members.
These are the obvious ones but there are also practices that order us in a more subtle way. Practices of hospitality and forgiveness, sabbath and fellowship. Those are also part of the “work” God gives us to order our life together.
In early 20th century Germany, because pastors desired to have the same level of prestige as professionals like doctors and lawyers, they were often trained in a similar manner. Theological education happened in the university setting in an atmosphere of rigor and competition. Among ministerial students there was very much a sense of who could be the “best”. The best theologian, the best minister, the best Christian. And while this kind of order might have made sense in other forms of education, it made for a very disordered outlook on the church of Jesus Christ.
So perhaps there’s an underlying connection here with the fact that in 1933 the German Lutheran Church endorsed the Nazi Party and the beyond disordered way of life being preached by Adolph Hitler. A way of life that similarly, suggested that there were human beings who were better than others. That someone one person’s mere existence might cause a threat to my own wellbeing.
As a result of this movement, a counter movement of Christians decided that in order to resist the influence of the Nazis, they would set up five underground seminaries where the next generation of church leaders could be trained, only the order of these seminaries was to look entirely different.
A young theology professor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was to be the leader of one of the underground seminaries. And he decided it was time to order life together in the seminary more in the way he hoped to see the church live its life in the world. So instead of an environment that bred power hungry leaders, Bonhoeffer’s school would focused on communal practices grounded in Scripture and prayer.
Mornings at the seminary began with long periods of worship and meditation. During the day, Scripture was the center of every lesson and they studied through deep conversation - unless the weather was nice, and then they would all go outside to relax and enjoy God’s creation. The day ended with table fellowship and more worship and meditation. The order of this community was a reflection of who Bonhoeffer believed Christ would want the leaders of his church to become. Disciples devoted to the Word, grounded in Scripture, able to articulate their beliefs in the face of dangerous propaganda.
In a disordered world, Bonhoeffer knew the church had a responsibility to order its members in a way that would orient them to Christ — his concern was no different than Paul’s concern for the Thessalonians.
Because when it came down to it, Paul wasn’t just upset that some people were being lazy. What he saw in their idleness was that by not participating authentically in the life of the community, the church was losing its identity. Any one of us can sit by ourselves and read Scripture, but the practices that order our life together are how we embody the life of faith in a way that is beyond all words.
Practices, our “work” as Christians, enable us to care for the weak and vulnerable. That might look like sitting down with a stranger who is in need of compassion and helping that person find resources to meet their physical needs: the practice of mercy and hospitality.
That might mean taking a step back and looking at who the victims of our society are - those who do not have the privilege or power to advocate for themselves and finding a way to use our voice to empower others who are silenced in our culture: the practice of justice and advocacy.
That might mean honoring those in our midst who are physically no longer able to perform some of the practices they once did but are still for us a rich well of wisdom. Sitting with these saints and reminding them that they are still very much a part of this community of faith: the practice of presence.
The real “work” in these practices is making them a priority in a world increasingly disordered in its priorities. The practices of faith do not drain us, they fill us. They don’t take us away from the things that are important, they are the things that give us life and identity and closeness to God and neighbor.
Each time we gather here we are being strengthen in our identity as disciples. We leave and go out into a world where entities are competing to order our lives in terms of competition and self-interest. Commercial and corporate entities trying to tell us that life is all about me finding the best for myself. But that is not what the Christian life is. When we come together as the body of Christ, it is practices of worship and prayer that order and prepare us to go out into the world as followers of Christ, who practice servanthood, prophetic justice, and humble compassion.
In the church we engage in the practice of communion and are reminded of a God who gave the hungry Israelites manna in the desert and multiplied a handful of loaves and fish to feed thousands. In the church we come together to celebrate the practice of baptism, and are reminded that we worship a God who overcame the power of death and embodied love and peace in the face of hate violence. The world may be trying to tell us one story, but the gospel has something else to say.
Do Not Be Weary
Perhaps your December calendar is already beginning to fill. Staring down the barrel of the holidays sprint you may already be feeling weary. And perhaps Paul’s words were not the ones you wanted to hear today. But his tough love is not a threat, it’s a reframing - a reordering, reminding us of our call to engage in the body of Christ.
The “work” of the church: worship, governance, service, compassion, mercy, hospitality, and love - this “work” isn’t like the “work” we do in other areas of our life. It’s not work we do out of obligation for our jobs or school or volunteer organizations. This “work” is made up of the practices that order us in the way of life we were meant to live: life in Christ, members of his body. This is our life together, with God and one another, and it matters more than anything.
So go ahead and be weary in your holiday shopping. It’s OK to be weary in the taking and grading of final exams or end of year reports and financials. If you get the flu this year, you have every right to be weary. But do not let these things become what defines your life. Do not become weary to the point where you forget to love your neighbor. Do become so weary that you neglect to worship your God. The gentle but firm nudge we receive from God’s Word today is simple: do not be weary in doing what is right.