Idle Courage

“Idle Courage” 
II Thessalonians 3:6-13
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
Sunday, November 13, 2016

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
6 Now we command you, beloved,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are[b] living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they[c] received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters,[d] do not be weary in doing what is right.

What a wonderful religious text we have this morning. For most of us in the United Methodist Church this is an “anti-religious” text. Why? Well simply put, this text tells us not to let anyone eat unless they pay for their food! This pretty much negates our view on all inclusive pot-lucks, any food pantry ministry we may contribute to and the like. For the pious intent we see here in Paul’s letter suggests that no one who is not worthy, or hasn’t labored for their food cannot partake in the meal. He basically tells the responsible Christians to keep their distance from the “slackers” and for the “slackers” to get back to work or don’t expect to eat. Sounds pretty harsh at the uptake. However, once again we need to do a little homework and work to understand what the condition of the church was at that time. 

Paul, in his ministry and writing to the church at Thessalonica was addressing a group of Christians who expected Jesus to return any day now. Their theology and beliefs were not centered on a futuristic “coming again of Jesus,” they were ready for the here and now! They were expectant Christians with no time to waste. Here again, we find something that we should take note of as well. Has our theology and belief system moved in a direction to suggest that we can coast because Jesus is not returning anytime soon? Keeping that in mind, we can look and hear this text with clearer ears. Also we need to understand that Paul was not telling the members to shun the “non-members” but rather implying that with an immediate understanding of Jesus’ return, all who are able should work. 

We hear countless accounts of feeding those who are unable or haven’t or couldn’t work throughout the Bible; we hear in Isaiah 55:1, “come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat.” Then again in Matthew when the disciples wanted to dismiss the hungry masses, Jesus mandates, “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37). These are stark contrasts to what we hear in Paul’s utterance to the Thessalonians. It is in the midst of these stark contrasts that we focus on what the act of ‘hospitality’ might entail. According to scripture and the stories contained within the scriptures it is evident that work needs to be done, work needs to continue as a significant part of the community of faith. Hence idleness and courage must work together in order to maintain that work. 

You say preacher, how can idleness be considered work? I believe that in Paul’s understanding of “being idle” or “living in idleness” he is concerned with what the Christian “knows what to do” yet neglects to do it because of the circumstance. It’s like approaching the flashing red light in the middle of an Indiana cornfield where you can see all four roads intersecting, yet you see no other vehicles approaching, therefore you quote “coast” through the intersection. You know the law, you know you should stop, but you don’t! Similarly, Paul was instructing those Christians who were sitting back on their laurels and not being concerned with the needs of others. Paul’s concern was that ALL people be extended the gracious invitation to eat and be a part of the community. Now, if they were able to do some part of the work, so be it, it was expected of them, but if not it did not relegate them to a place of neglect. 

For you see, hospitality, radical hospitality has been a part of the Jewish and Christian heritage from the inception. Elizabeth Forney in her commentary emphasizes it this way, “Hospitality customs in the biblical world are concerned with two distinct classes of people; the resident alien (that would be the faithful community) and the traveler.” 

Hence bridging the gap between being idle and being an active (worker) in the community is where the courage comes into play. How ready are we to engage ALL PEOPLE in the work of the community? Granted, it is difficult, but it doesn’t mean it is impossible. It is the mission of the church to reach those outside the “walls” but also implore the abilities of all those within the walls. It then becomes OUR mission to work to bring that which is “idle” in our community into action, and that takes courage. We are beginning a “new Christian year” here in a couple of weeks, a new fiscal year also in a couple of weeks, but the work continues! Some new people will be engaged, others will take a rest, but all have a responsibility!

St. Benedict, a portion of whose rule we sight every Sunday in our bulletin, was a paramount theologian and Church father that helps us to understand that the work of the community of faith is a “communal effort”. Listen to these words, “No one is excused from rendering personal service to others. No one is exempted from performing the mundane tasks of daily life. Rendering service to others is necessary to our own fitness. Exempting someone from commonplace chores endangers them to vanity.” (John McQuiston, II, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living)   

To live in and be a part of this and any wonderful community of faith requires that everyone be enabled and encouraged to work!  Therefore, it is our mission to engage those around us, equip those around us, and bless those around us in such a way that the Gospel of Jesus Christ resonates through work, spirit, and what we have come to call, what I think is often an oxymoron, a thing called “radical hospitality”. Shouldn’t all hospitality be radical? Just as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is radical? 

   So, let us engage ourselves in a way of living that brings our idleness to the forefront in such a way that we are hospitable to those whom we know and to the strangers that enter our life!! May we teach, act, and work as if we believe Jesus could be here this afternoon!!