Sermon for 24 Pentecost Yr C, 14/11/2004
Based on 2 Thess 3:6-13
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Work as Gift and Responsibility”
On one employee bulletin board were the following words: “In case of fire, flee the building with the same reckless abandon that occurs each day at quitting time.” Then I came across this statement about job morale: “You know it’s time to move to another job when some mornings you’d rather go to the dentist and have a root canal than go to work.” Then, there is this story:
Young John approached the leader of the community. “I want to be free from work to worship God without interruption.” Saying this, he took off his robe and went into the desert. After staying one week, he returned to the community. When he knocked on the Teacher’s door the monk asked without opening it, “Who is it?”
“It is John, your friend.”
The Teacher said, “My friend John has become an angel. He is not among our people anymore.”
“No,” John insisted, “it really is me.”
But the Teacher did not open the door until the next morning. When the sun was about to rise, the Teacher came out of the house: “If you are a human being, you have to work again in order to live.”
Then John repented, saying: “Forgive me, Teacher, for I was wrong.” 1
In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Thessalonica, addresses the subject of work. There seems to have been a problem in the Church there based on either a misunderstanding of Paul’s teachings or the influence of other, false teachers. The problem seems to be that some Christians in the Thessalonian Church believed that Jesus’ second coming was going to happen any day now. They thought the end was very near. Therefore, it was no longer necessary to hold down a job and work for a living. Jesus will come and rescue us from this world; he will look after our needs; we can drop everything, including our work and wait for him. It is interesting that this false view of both Christ’s second coming and work have unfortunately appealed to a certain number of people in almost every century since then.
Paul responds to the Thessalonians by instructing them not to live in idleness, but to for his example when he lived among them by working in order to pay for life’s basic needs like food. He goes on the remind them of the command that he had given them: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” Now at first, this viewpoint sound a little harsh, doesn’t it? Can we as Christians in good conscience refuse to give food to a hungry person in need? However, it seems that the key word in this command is “unwilling.” Sure there will always be people who are unable to work for legitimate reasons—often due to health or other unfortunate circumstances beyond their own control. However, Paul is speaking here to a different crowd. He is referring to those who are unwilling, who can and are able to work, but choose not to work. They remain idle and are busybodies, Paul says. That word “busybodies” is also translated in the Good News Bible like this: “who do nothing except meddle in other people’s business.” And in the Revised English Bible, these people are: “minding everybody’s business but their own.” In other words, Paul is saying that if those who are presently idle worked for their living, they would have less time and energy to maliciously gossip about others. They would be helpful and contributing members for the common good of the community as a whole if they were working.
Paul, of course, is correct—we cannot drop everything to wait for Jesus to come again. We need to work to provide for our basic needs and to pay the bills. Nor are we to take advantage of others or use others by regarding them only as person for whom we can get as much out of them as we can for nothing.
Most of you, of course, are retired folks, so your working days are over. Or are they? Yes, it is true that most of you may not have to work for a living anymore. However, it may be equally as true that you still love or enjoy working at something or other—be it puttering around in the garden or shop, or volunteering, or whatever it is, you still make a contribution to your family, your church and your community. This truth, that even if you’re retired you don’t live in idleness is an important biblical principle. For example, God called Abraham and Sarah at a very old age to a rather challenging vocation. Yet they were faithful, and God accomplished his purposes through them—namely, to bless all the nations of the earth. So never underestimate what God can accomplish in and through you—even as retired folk!
Right from the beginning—according to Genesis chapter two—God put human beings in the Garden of Eden to work the land. So, then, work is a gift from God. It is given to us humans as a way of surviving in this world to provide for our basic necessities of life. Furthermore, work can be and is a gift in the sense that we discover the meaning and purpose of our lives. Yes, some work seems to be very difficult and people struggle to find meaning or purpose in it—however, if we see our work as a vocation, a calling from God, then we shall be serving God in whatever we do. In God’s sight, every calling, all work is of equal value. That’s why there is a division of labour, to remind us all that we are interdependent—we all need the farmer, the factory worker, the doctor, the teacher, and the list goes on. All callings are of value and supply us with the basic necessities of life.
Therefore, work is also a responsibility. As a responsibility, work is closely related to the commandment to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. It requires a lot of work to look after the basic necessities of all our neighbours! Is that not still a serious problem today in terms of there not being enough basic necessities to go around for everyone? Here’s where Paul comes in again—if there were more willing workers and less people living in idleness, the basic necessities would be provided.
“Do not be weary in doing what is right,” Paul instructs the Thessalonians and us. How do we live up to that responsibility? It’s not always easy, in fact, with age it may be more difficult than ever. Yet, I’m sure you’ve met people who are so enthusiastic in their doing what is right that they never seem to grow weary. Why? Because they view their work as a blessing and gift, they love what they do. And that sort of attitude is contagious, is it not?
The story is told of a traveller who wanted to meet Jesus. He asked, “How will I know when I see him?” The reply was, “Oh, he will be doing something good for someone else.” In this text Paul describes one of the best ways of spotting a follower of Christ: It is someone who does not grow “weary in doing what is right.” 2
That is our vocation, our calling, whether retired or not. May we see the work our Lord has given us as a responsibility to care for the common good of our neighbours and a gift to bless God and others with.
1 Cited from: Wm. R. White, Stories For The Journey (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), p. 61.
2 Cited from: Emphasis November 1, 1983, Vol. 13, No. 6, (Lima, OH: C.S.S. Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 18.