26 Pentecost Proper C28
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
November 13, 2016
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 511 "Jesus Shall Reign Where E'er The Sun"
TLH 533 "Nearer My God To Thee"
WOV 754 "Let Us Talents & Tongues Employ"
TLH 642 "Arise, O God, & Shine"
WE PRIZE THE FRUITS OF OUR LABOR
TEXT (vs. 10-12): “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." We hear that some amongst you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat."
"What a spoiled little brat she is!" "His parents spoil her rotten!" Have you ever found yourself saying words to that effect? I'm almost positive that you've said those words or something similar at least a time or two. I know I have.
What usually gives rise to such comments, is when we witness the actions and attitude of a child that are less than appropriate. It seems like they have parents that give in to, or otherwise cater to every whim and desire of the child. They don't ever want to say "no."
And children are able to pick up on this right away. They know they can get whatever they want by manipulating their parents in a variety of different ways. They can beg and plead and whine and moan, and otherwise get their own way sooner or later.
There was this one guy I knew in High School who was just that way. His parents were extremely wealthy. Everybody knew him to be an absolute jerk. He acted the same way at school that he did at home. And because of that, he found himself in trouble at school quite frequently. But somehow his parents were always able to work things out so he never got expelled, not even once.
On his 16th birthday, his parents bought him a brand spanking new jet black Camaro. The first thing he did, was to take it to Speedway Motors to have it completely tricked out with headers, custom exhaust, custom wheels, custom suspension, high performance cam, turbo, hood scoop, and about everything else you could imagine. That car could go from zero to sixty in about half a second. And I won't even try to explain the sound system he had in that car.
Anyway, you can imagine what a 16 year-old boy would be like behind the wheel of a car like that. He was buying new rear tires at the rate of one set per month. The car had to go to the body shop a number of times because of various accidents he had. And more than once, a wrecker had to come and tow him out of the ditch on a gravel road.
This guy became a very familiar sight in court. But it always seemed like his dad's high-priced lawyers were able to get him off on some technicality or another. Not only were there numerous reckless driving charges, but also minor in possession, DUI, and various drug-related charges.
Believe me, this guy was no friend of mine. It was like we were from two completely different worlds. In my world, I drove an old Studebaker. I had to put it together from bits and pieces from a couple of other cars. It had an AM radio with one speaker in the dash. I can remember the day I went to a wrecking yard and bought an old air conditioner I installed myself. I also remember how delighted I was when received an 8-track tape player, complete with an FM radio for my birthday.
I would sift through the tires on various used tire racks, with the hope of having a set of four mismatched but serviceable tires of the same size. I remember the day I bought a couple of recapped tires, which were probably the best tires that car had ever seen while it was in my possession.
I also remember my first ticket. I was caught on radar, doing 35 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone, on R Street between 48th and 52nd. The ticket cost me $30, and I lost two points on my license. That really hurt.
So how did I pay for everything? I delivered pizzas for a whopping $1.25 per hour, plus a few meager tips. It was a catch-22 situation sometimes, because I averaged about 75 miles per night, which added substantially to my maintenance costs. And the company gave me $2.00 per night for gasoline, which translated to about 6 gallons. It was no picnic, that's for sure. And even though my dad did help me out with insurance and license costs, he didn't just hand it over. I still had to work for it.
As we look at our Epistle lesson for this morning, we can see some difficulties in the congregation at Thessalonica. There were certainly quite a number of God-fearing, hard-working people there. However there were also those who refused to work. Instead they were sponging and mooching off of other people.
When the Apostle Paul began his ministry amongst the Thessalonians, this was a very noticeable problem in their midst. There were loafers, or lazy bums, or couch potatoes amongst them; use whatever term you want. They were dependent upon others for the necessities of life, and had basically no motivation of their own.
If we look at Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, we read the following in Chapter 4 verses 11-12: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
That was Paul putting it nicely. The situation Paul was witnessing was something that happened frequently amongst the Greeks. The women were left to do all the work, while the men hung out in the marketplace where they idly talked with one another, gossiped about other people, and stuck their nose into places where they had no business.
Paul didn't like this at all, not even a little bit. These men needed to get off their lazy behinds, get themselves to work, and quit making slaves out of their wives. Paul was really bucking the system here, but it needed to be done. Idleness and mooching off of others was a sin, and it needed to be stopped immediately.
I would imagine that many of those men did take Paul's words to heart; however as it is so much of the time, his words also fell on deaf ears. And so when we get to the words of our Epistle for today, his words take on a much stronger and urgent tone. Once again, I'll repeat verses 10-12: "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.' We hear that some amongst you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat."
Now if we go to the two verses following our Epistle reading for today, we can get an idea of just how serious all this was. Verses 14 and 15 read: "If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."
Wow! This was no idle warning Paul is giving these people. He really puts some teeth into it. This was a situation that needed to be stopped, and stopped right now! Those who were guilty of this sin needed to know that Paul and the Thessalonian congregation were not going to tolerate this kind of sinful behavior.
"If a man will not work, he shall not eat." Let's take a careful look at that sentence. One thing that stands out are the words, "will not work." This is far different from the words, "cannot work." The "will not" part of it reflects a person's attitude. This comes from somebody who is fully capable of holding down a job and earning a living to pay their expenses, but refuses to do so. If a person cannot work because of health, or age, or a disability, or some other legitimate reason, then we're talking about something entirely different.
One sad thing, is that people will quote the verse "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" as an excuse not to help people who need it. And that is dead wrong too. In Galatians chapter 6 verse 2 Paul writes: "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." We can't dig around for Biblical loopholes to ignore ministering to the needs of other people.
There's an old saying, and I can't find out exactly who said it, but it goes: "A man does not cherish that for which he does not work." I put a slightly different spin on this for my sermon theme today: "We prize the fruit of our labor." And that is so true.
The kid with the Camaro I talked about at the beginning of my sermon today is living proof of that. He wasn't spending his own money. His parents gave him everything, and he didn't have to lift a finger to get it. Consequently, he abused everything because it really didn't mean anything to him. If he would have had to work for all of that, I'm sure his attitude would be far different. That's one of the lessons we learn from our Epistle reading today.
Right now, I want us to look at our situation, not through our own eyes, but through the eyes of Jesus Christ. Think about what he did. Jesus loved us so much, that he came to this earth, rolled up his sleeves so-to-speak, and went to work for us. The work he did on our behalf was far more intense and involved than anything we could ever experience.
Jesus kept God's law perfectly for us, and that is something no mere human being has ever done. This is work from which Jesus never rested, because it was a 24-hour a day, 7 day a week job that lasted well over 30 years.
And then when the job was just about complete, the finale was the worst part of it all. There was the arrest, the trial, the physical and verbal abuse, the painful crucifixion, and the death that Jesus endured for us. This was real work that was born out of a real love for people the likes of you and me.
We are sinners in so many different ways. We've ignored cries for help. We've been guilty of shirking our duties. We've been content to sit back and let others do all the work. We've taken unfair advantage of others. We need to be forgiven. We need this forgiveness from God and from other people. We need to be the recipients of what Christ has done on our behalf.
When it comes to being reconciled with God in heaven, we are tempted to put our work ethic into practice. We sometimes get the notion that we have to do something to earn God's favor. That's where our whole work ethic gets turned upside-down.
Jesus is the one who did all the work. The Holy Spirit even gives us the faith to believe this and make it our own. It seems all too simple, like there should be something more. But there isn't. Jesus did it all. Jesus cherished that for which he worked and for which he gave his life. That's you and me. And for that, we can be eternally thankful.
There's another good lesson to be learned from all this that applies to our current situation as a congregation.
God has certainly blessed us here at Mighty Fortress, and we can't dispute that; but those years haven't been easy ones either. We've had to work hard to get where we are. Certainly it has been with God's divine help every step of the way, but we've put a lot of ourselves into our congregation and ministry.
God could have dumped a building in our lap, but in his divine providence, we're having to work for it and pay for it. God could have placed us on easy street every step of the way, but instead he's put us on roads where the going isn't always the smoothest. God has continually placed us in situations where we need him the most.
God could have also provided us with hundreds of church members, but instead he's brought our small group together. He knows that we would get lazy in our ministry if we never lifted a finger. He wants to work together, as true brothers and sisters, so we will indeed prize the fruit of our labor.
But even though working together and building a congregation is a labor of love on our part, God the Holy Spirit still makes it all possible. He opens doors for us, clears paths for us, and blesses us every step of the way. He wants us to work for him, and treasure the ministry of the Gospel as the most important thing we can do.
God doesn't want us to be like that kid with the Camaro who had no appreciation for what he had. He wants us to look to Jesus with a full sense of appreciation for what he did for us, and to realize that the Gospel and his kingdom are worth every bit of labor we can put into it.