Sermon for the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost
November 13, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Sermon Theme: “Be Busy, Not a Busy-Body”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; original ideas and example; Footnotes, Amplified Study Bible; Online quotes and jokes about being lazy; Emphasis Online Illustrations; footnotes, Concordia Self-Study Bible; The Faith by Charles Colson and Harold Fickett)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s just amazing how many funny things have been said or written about laziness or lazy people. If I quoted all of them, we’d be here all day. Here are just a few of them:
“They say that hard work never killed anyone, but why take the chance?” “Give a lazy person a fish and he will eat it. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and sleep all day.” “I should have suspected my husband was lazy on our wedding day, his mother told me: ‘I’m not losing a son, I’m gaining a couch.’” “I hate housework, because several months later, I have to do it all over again.” “When you have the urge to work, lie down until it’s gone.” “You know you’re lazy if you have to save up energy to take a nap.” “Don’t do anything tomorrow, if it can be done the day after tomorrow.”
And there are zillions of jokes about preachers’ being lazy, since they work only on Sundays. Once when a grandfather had to take his granddaughter to school on Opening Day (her mother was sick and her father was too busy), Grandpa said to his grandchild during an interview with her new teacher, “Tell the lady where your daddy works.”
The little girl looked at her grandfather and said with a frown, “Grandpa, you know daddy doesn’t work, — he’s a preacher!”
Well, nobody could ever have said that about the famous preacher in our sermon text for today, — the Apostle Paul. If you’ve ever read the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters, you know how hard Paul worked, how tireless he was all of the time. Not just with his ministry, but with making tents to earn money and helping others. Paul was a skilled tent-maker, and he used his skills to make and sell tents.
When he became a pastor, he did not abandon his tent-making, but earned his own living while preaching the gospel, because he didn’t want to be a burden to any congregation. As a pastor, he had a Biblical right to be supported by the congregation,– in fact, the Old Testament taught that not only should the pastors be paid, but also the church musicians. Paul believed that by supporting himself, he would set an example of hard work.
So it’s not an exaggeration when Paul says in our text, his second letter to the Thessalonians, “Keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness . . . you know you ought to imitate us [meaning himself and his fellow pastors] . . . we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it . . . with toil and labor, we worked night and day that we not be a burden to any of you.” Paul wasn’t bragging, — he explains that he says all of this to serve as an example for the Thessalonians to imitate.
You see, there were false teachers in Thessalonica who were telling folks that Christ was going to return any day now, and so they should just quit work, make no future plans, and prepare for His coming. That was one of the things which prompted Paul to write this letter.
So Paul had received word that some members of the congregation were living in idleness, refusing to work, thinking, “Well, if Jesus is going to return so soon, why bother?” Paul’s letter is warning them about this behavior, saying that these people were becoming mere “busy-bodies” (gossips). Aside from the fact that their laziness was putting an undue burden on others, their idleness caused them to put their noses into other people’s business, which led to gossip, which, in turn, led to the deterioration of community life. That’s why he says in our text, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
It’s amazing how much people in Paul’s day were like people in our day. There was an old widow lady who lived in a little house behind my parents’ home in Giddings. She was very different from the other country ladies who lived in our neighborhood, and she was known as a gossip and a mooch.
Although she was healthy as a horse, she didn’t raise chickens like everybody else, she didn’t plant a garden, she didn’t can pickles, beets, jelly, etc., she didn’t sew or quilt, she wasn’t involved in church work or community work. My kind-hearted father would mow her lawn for free every week, and my mother would give her fresh vegetables from our garden as well as home-canned stuff.
The woman just went from house to house in the neighborhood and gossiped. And sometimes mooched. While the other ladies, like my mother, would be canning pickles, or whatever, she would come over and pass on the town gossip. She was busy being a busy-body. Paul was criticizing people like this in Thessalonica.
If those in Thessalonica really believed the false teachers that Christ was returning tomorrow or the next day, or the next week, then, instead of indulging themselves in idleness, why weren’t they out and about proclaiming the gospel of salvation to unbelievers.
We are still living between the time of Jesus’ Ascension and His return. How long that time will be, nobody but God knows, and God’s Word even says we are not to know the day or time. Thus any preacher or teacher who preaches or teaches a timetable for the Second Coming is a false preacher or teacher.
While we are waiting for the End of Times, Paul commands that followers of Christ shall go to work. When Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he knew the end of the world would come tomorrow, he said he would plant a tree today. The story is also told that once when St. Augustine was weeding his garden, a visitor asked, “What would you do if you knew the world would end tomorrow?’
St. Augustine replied, “I would finish weeding the garden.” Augustine, like Luther, knew he was doing what God had called him to do at that moment.
In The Faith, Charles Colson affirms that we too should live our lives in the same humble expectations. Everything we do should be done to God’s glory so that we will be prepared at any moment for Christ’s return, which will happen unexpectedly, — Christ tells us like a thief in the night.
To be sure, Paul’s purpose in writing this part of his letter to the Thessalonians was to counter the negative effects of the false teaching in the congregation. False teaching isn’t necessarily brought into a church by outsiders, by the paganism of the community, or by mean-spirited people intent on spreading lies. No, it’s often done by well intended folks, people who misunderstood the teachings of Paul and the other disciples and unknowingly were spreading false theology. Paul had preached a lot about the Second Coming of Christ and being prepared. No doubt they thought that meant they must be blameless, without sin, when Christ comes back. Paul attempts to calm their fear about such thinking in this, the second letter he writes, by assuring them they are beloved by the Lord because God chose them from the beginning, and thus their salvation depends not on their being without sin.
In other letters, he made it so clear that we are saved by grace through faith alone, and we ourselves could never do enough good works to earn our salvation. Thus, even if Christ were coming back tomorrow, it would be foolish to throw up our hands, quit everything, and sit around in idleness, hoping for holiness. We can’t earn salvation, but we must earn our living, and we continue to do good works because our rebirth in Christ makes it impossible for us not to. “What is it about ‘no one but God is to know the day and time when Christ returns’ do you not understand?”
If you say you know when He is coming, then you make the words from the Bible, “He comes like a thief in the night” a lie!
I’m preaching this sermon to a group of people who hate idleness as much as Paul did, and some of whom wish with all their hearts that old age and poor health didn’t prevent them from working! I think some of you might even be border-line workaholics, — so I’m “preaching to the choir” today. But the one thing you can take home with you, in your hearts, is that God loves you totally, forgives you completely, His Son died for those sins you can’t shake off, and He chose you from the beginning or you wouldn’t be here listening to this. Amen.