Sermon November 13th, 2022: "Once more we look at a letter to the early Church"
“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God”
Once more we look at a letter to the early Church - once more attributed to Paul. If it was written by Paul it would date from the late 50’s or if by a disciple than in the late 1st century.
This passage addresses a problem in the local church. It seems that some people are living on the work of others. This may be because they are celebrating Christian freedom or because they assume that the end of the world is close, have stopped working.
It seems that some members of the community are living off the toils of other members.
The writer of this letter is very very blunt. If you do not work - you do not eat.
It is important to be clear at this point that the author is NOT talking about people who are unable to work for. The author is talking about people who do not wish to contribute. Some of the Thessalonians are letting others down. They are putting community at risk.
Paul had to address this issue before, but apparently it is worse!
For the early Christians it was important to support oneself so that you could support the community. So to refuse to work was to rebel and take unfair advantage of others. This was the problem - not idleness.
This letter has the overtone of disciple. And sometimes we need discipline in order for the community to function properly. The expectation was that each member of the community should contribute in some way for the common good.
The early Christians, like Christians today, were generous. But some people will always try to take advantage of generosity and play on good intentions.
Any time we give there will be someone who might try to take advantage. So we are realistic and we put in safeguards where we can. But we still give because its the right thing to do.
This letter to the Thessalonians gives us permission to set some boundaries. As a congregation we have done that. I have access to some discretionary money to help in emergencies. But more often we distribute gift cards rather than cash.
We are not called to be taken advantage of but we have to risk giving and we have to acknowledge that sometimes we will be taken.
And we accept this risk - its just the way it is.
In this letter it is not only those in the community that are refusing to work that are being called out - its also the busybodies. Both groups threaten the unity and survival of the community.
In Paul’s authentic letters and those attributed to him there is a continual focus on building a community that is caring, supportive and joyful. The concern is how do we live together? Those that take or those that concern themselves with things they should not disrupt the community and cause resentment and distrust to build.
So how do we live together? Working for the common good is a good start - as it was for the early Christians. Understanding that hospitality is vital and that all humans are vulnerable.
We want to show the world a face that is compassionate and loving, looking outward not inward. Do people look at us and say that is NOT a place I want to be. Or could we create - be a place where people find a way to grow their faith? To say something good is happening here and I want to be a part of it.
So how do we live in community? Life in community requires that everyone be enabled and encouraged to work for the kingdom. It is essential for dignity.
How are you working for the kingdom?
We are called to partnership in ministry.