Today was special in many ways. I was tired and struggled to pull together a message. But since we have been sharing I the message discernment, (Multi-voiced) it is a wonderful revelation to watch and be part of what happens. People shared, we struggled with what our example should be, we struggled with the realities we deal with. And the community resolved in quite ways to live as a blessing to others. This congregation is certainly a blessing to me.
Worship was followed by a meal. We eat so well when everyone brings something. . . .And then the annual business meeting. All was truly well. If we can just maintain our faithfulness, if God keeps blessing us with just enough, than the 'one more step' that we've each agreed to this year will take us ever further on our journey of faith.
Here the basic notes that I started with for today's message, altho as discussion developed we left the page and followed the Spirit. We did end with Rachel Hackenberg's translation which was just perfect!
? “What’s A Slacker?”
It’s hard to hear this text without all the MIS-interpretations that have been tied to it over the years. Can you hear the political rhetoric from those who would throw a quote from this passage back and forth?
(do you want to share WHERE you’ve heard it used?)
We bring our 21st century experiences and interpretations to this text. In order for us to discern a message for us, we have to begin with what the letter meant for the Thessalonians.
Perhaps we are best to begin with what it DOESN’T mean.
Let’s list a few mis-uses:
This passage in no way refers to those who CAN NOT work! We recognize this instruction is not meant to replace Jesus’ own teaching and ALL the emphasis of both Old and New testaments - to care for poor, widow, orphan!
Releasing captive, bring good news to poor IS the core of Jesus’ message and ministry.
So we have to look at what situation existed that prompted the advice we just heard.
Notice the Thessalonians are NOT to pretend the non-workers don’t exist. The very next verse (14) says, “Don’t associate with them” While it is a warning to ‘keep away’, we must clarify this because it does not mean to ignore or completely remove from community. The intent is to separate just enough within community to insure their reform.
The letter intends to restore wholeness and health in the community, NOT to divide it or throw people out. All people are worthy of inclusion in Christ's community. (All are also subjection to discipline)
“It’s not an early version of the “protestant work ethic” (Barbara Blodgett). Community then differed from now. Even tho we hold many things in common. Workers did not work for individual gain, or to increase their prosperity, they worked to support themselves, their family and the community in which they lived.
Refusing to work was to take unfair advantage of others.
This is the heart of the message to the community in Thessalonica.
Brief Bible Study: A reminder..
Thessalonians, 1st letter, earliest and written with Paul’s understanding that altho the risen Christ was expected to return to earth from God SOON, folks weren’t to quit their jobs, stand on top of a hill and wait. (This was happening.)
Evidently, much later at the time this 2nd letter was written, the problem hadn’t been resolved and either Paul or someone writing in his name had to address the issue again - but with a TWIST.
Enough time had passed without the return of Christ that some people were assuming (and teaching) that there would be no Big Event in the future. Christ had either already returned, they said, or wasn't coming at all.
In many ways, their revisions to End Time theology are similar to ours.
How many of us live our days thinking about the End of The World and the 2nd Coming of Christ?
They struggled to understand Jesus’ apocalyptic words just a generation after him. Of course, Christians ever since have debated what and when Christ will come again. Certainly we who live 2000 years later will wonder how to understand 'end-time' (apocalyptic) language.
In Thessalonica, (whether from anticipation or apathy) responses resulted in a spread of “Slackerism”, so a lesson in community was necessary.
What effect on community occurs when those who are ABLE to work, do not?
Let’s get under the surface of our experiences: (step closer/down)
Are we talking about ‘welfare’ assistance?
Is it welfare when we provide meals for someone in need?
Or a ride?
Or financial assistance?
Barry (hotel caller)
Tanya (6 month visitor for simple helps, gas, brakes)
Who did I help?
What is the difference?
Were they working for subsistence or working the system?
"How does that make you feel?"
The word sometimes translated as idle has more a sense of the word “disruptive”. Instead of ‘Working’ - these people being admonished are 'Working Mischief'.
Dykstra quote by Blodgett
“It would have been a ‘reciprocal expectation’ of the Thessalonians that each person (each ABLE worker) should shoulder the burden of labor for the sake of the common good.” (304)
The people who were not working were taking advantage of the community who provided for them, AND were disrupting the community. They COULD help, but instead thru words or deeds they stirred up problems.
IS there a difference between what we do in this community called a congregation and what is expected in the larger community? Answers:
“We are not called upon to have folks take advantage of us. Nevertheless, we still need to risk the giving. if sometimes we get taken, so be it.”
How does the way we act HERE, effect the way we act out THERE? Answers:
The author of this letter commends his own example, pointing out how he was entitled to NOT work, and yet he worked, for self and we presume, others. The way Paul worked to when he first came to this community.
(TIME? we are also hearing early arguments against salaried ministers at a time when the church was beginning to set apart certain people for leadership roles and full time pastoral work.
It is interesting to hear in our day because many churches are finding the need to return to non-salaried ministry. Which requires that ALL members do the work of the set-apart people; the tasks of preaching, teaching, administration, & pastoral care become everyone's job description.
This early model of the church may be its future design in many places, if so, these words of instruction need to become an important part of the design. )
How does the way we act HERE, effect the way we act out THERE?
What does our example communicate to others?
Do you know about the Arlington Villages movement?
do you remember when churches did/could do these things for each other?
What has happened that communities now need ‘villages’?
Do we expect our church community to care for us? Do we plan to employ others, ask family to help? rely on neighbors?
The questions we raise, and the problems of this ancient congregation have again become important to Christ's church.
Regardless of how times change regarding leadership roles, when it comes to our membership in Christianity it is “Not enough to have an individual commitment to X, our commitment must be lived out in the context of community of faith” p. 306
Look around, we are responsible FIRST to each other.
we need to work FOR each other- and we need to determine MUTUAL EXPECTATIONS for our work.
Then, TOGETHER (especially on days like today when the congregation meets to determine budget) We decide how we are called to meet the needs of those around us.
. . . .
Rachel Hackenberg a minister and blogger, rewrites the letter using words that I find meaningful. Let's take these words into our hearts as instruction for Christian living.
When we spent time with you and got to know
the joys & stresses of your lives, we saw that life
is not always easy for you. Therefore we worked
even though we had plenty, because it would not be
fair for you — amidst your struggles — to give up
your daily bread in order for us to feast.
And we did not spend our days pointing out your flaws or scolding your lifestyles, but instead worked in solidarity with you
to ease the pressures that build up against you.
Learn from us: do not ask others to sacrifice
their very lives and health so that you can live comfortably in the status quo (and more!).
Our work — like our faith — is not meant for personal comfort & gain, but for the well-being of all people.
Therefore, do not be unwilling to work in such a way that others are blessed.
Work in such a way that others are blessed, we can all live like that.
1 Barbara Blodgett Feasting ON The Word, theological (Louis:WJK, 2010)302,304
2 Mariam Kamel workingpreacher.org
3 Blodgett Feasting On The Word p. 304