(Sermon Notes from 11/17/2019)
Last Sunday, we read together 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 in worship. Paul wrote these early Christians about how Christian community ought to work, and he challenged them – and us – in ways that I think resonated with many who heard the sermon. If you’d like to hear the whole sermon, click here (and go to about 32:00 minutes in the video for the start of the sermon).
As a pastor and even as a minister’s kid, I have long heard the request of church attendees that they be spiritually “fed” by their church. Their comfort and their favorite music or way of doing bible study was the main focus of their spiritual growth. They wanted nothing more than whatever their own understanding of what church should be, and it ought to be comfortable and proper and efficient. But if Pastor Paul’s experience among people who were called into faith community has any word for us, I think it’s that that isn’t what church is at all.
While it’s true that being in community means that you have some comfort-level, say, with the church’s doctrine, it definitely does not mean that the church should be “comfortable.” If that were true, then Jesus’s message would not have been so radical for his time. He was always making people uncomfortable, asking them to give of themselves and their resources, asking them to drop their nets and follow him, asking them to rely more on God than their own willpower.
Paul understood this message and sought to cultivate disciples in the churches he had planted and pastored. He told the Thessalonians that the way they were attempting to do church was anything but. There were far too many coming to receive from the community but not to give back to it. There were those who were idle, or a better word: disorderly. They weren’t contributing to church suppers; they were just eating them. They weren’t putting in the effort, and furthermore, they were busybodies, doing a whole lot of nothing while interfering with the actual work of the church.
But Paul says: that’s not how we do church. We are supposed to work quietly, not drawing attention to ourselves or our work, but living out Jesus’s light in a broken world. And he ends with “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”
Doing what is right can be tiring, and Paul seems to know that with this statement. His encouragement is to not grow weary. Famed preacher Fred Craddock once told a story about this kind of work. He said:
I recall some years ago in a church I was visiting on a Sunday afternoon, a van pulled up in the church parking lot, and a bunch of young people got out. They looked like thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, maybe up to eighteen years old. I think there were ten or twelve young people who belonged to that church. They got out with bedrolls. It was the awfullest looking bunch of kids you’ve ever seen, something like the cats would drag in. They were in really bad shape. I said, ‘What is this?’ They had just returned from a work mission. They named the place where they went. In one week, those young people, along with other young people, had built a little church for a community. They were beat. Aw, they looked terrible. They were sitting on their bags out there waiting for their parents to come. I said to one of the boys, ‘You tired?’ and he said ‘Whew—am I tired!’ Then he said, ‘This is the best tired I’ve ever felt.’ (Craddock Stories)
The work of God is often work that makes us tired, but when it’s done for God’s Kingdom and together in community, it’s the best kind of tired there is.
When was the last time you felt tired? I know for some of you, it was this week. You were here making sure this church’s ministries were being planned and funded and dreamed. But I wonder what percentage of us can honestly say that you’ve been “good tired” from ministry in recent days?
Friends, in this coming new church year, we must not only pledge our money – though absolutely we should do that as well – but we must also pledge our time, giving of ourselves and our gifts to the ministry of this church and the partners with whom we work. Not working isn’t what church is.
Now, this passage and my sermon aren’t speaking to those of us who are no longer able to do much physical work. Paul understood, as do I, that there often comes a time in life where our gifts are often a little less intense. Perhaps we can’t stand for long periods, but we can still write cards. Perhaps we can’t pick up small children, but we can read a book to them. Perhaps our main gift now is prayer for all these ministries and words of support for those able to physically do them.
But we all have a part to play. And it is a part of a selfless, giving, and holy commitment to God and neighbor.
And Paul is not talking about how we care for the poor and destitute when he gives a command that anyone who does not work does not eat. In fact, charity was a foundational part of the early church, and there were no requirements that someone be working in order to receive care. Paul’s actually talking to you and me here. He is talking about the times we “let someone else do it” at church, the times we came to partake, but not to give. The times we failed to actively love our neighbors and give of ourselves in ministry.
No, we can’t sign up for every committee, but when the Nominating Committee calls, are we prayerfully considering what work we can do to feed others the nourishing love of Christ, or are we trying to beg off and relax and just come to church to be fed?
Yes, contributing takes time and effort and energy. But, friends, it’s the best kind of tired there is. And with this family of faith and its hopeful future, I believe it’ll be something that pleases God as we learn to partner, to share, and to give of ourselves with our fellow Christians around Martinsville and Henry County so that others might get to experience this same powerful love and service we get to experience.
Whether you answer the call to minister among us as a deacon, on a committee doing specific work for the church, or beginning a new ministry or partnering with others in the community, we are all called to work.
Can you help us imagine the future for our Early Learning Center ministry? Can you help us budget to make ministry happen? Can you dream new missions opportunities? Can you help us tell our story through the study of our history?
This week, I have already been contacted about how we might help with the Martinsville and Henry County overnight Warming Center. We have hosted the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry Banquet. Our church, along with our churches in town and others, will come together in a conference in March to learn new strategies for reaching our neighbors in a changing world.
Where will you be? Will you answer God’s call on your life to minister? Will you heed Paul’s advice to contribute fully, with your whole selves? Will you pray for our church? For the sake of God’s Kingdom, I hope so.