1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth.
10. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 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. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.
For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.
Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"
And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately."
Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Sermon on The Second Sunday before Advent
A little while ago we heard this – “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” I wonder, who could possibly take exception to this exhortation in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians? Doing right is what everyone wants to do, isn’t it? Paul wants us all never to stop in that endeavour. Personally, I don’t think anyone should ever weary of such a high ideal.
After all, who would want to do things that were to another’s detriment? Who would spend any energy on doing anything which would not be good for themselves or their families? And even those who act in ways which compromise or even harm others might say they were doing something for “a greater good” – we need only look at figures like Adolf Hitler or Pohl Pot to find confirmation of that fact. We might argue about what “the good” actually means. We would not agree with the actions that so many have taken which have hurt others. However, I think we would try to persuade them to act differently. In the end, wouldn’t we say that such people are deluded and they, in fact, pursue evil ends when they injure others? That sort of activity is not what good people intend, is it? I don’t believe such actions would pass the Hippocratic standard of “doing no harm”. This is a rather simple moral maxim which should start us on the narrow road to the good life, the road which is not paved with intentions, but it is cobbled with substantial actions. Such an ethical system would be the foundation of a good life. If it is possible for doctors swear to that oath when they begin their medical practice when are let loose as physicians on the public at large, then it should give more people hope that they could do so. It should give us heart to live well ourselves, don’t you think?
I would say Paul is arguing that everyone should live a full life, a life of activity and engagement in the world. Paul relates this engaged activity to what keeps us alive. He says everyone should work to keep themselves fed – that work benefits not just myself, but those around me as well.
Paul boils everything down to the basics of life, doesn’t he? – And life means that we eat, doesn’t it? Paul talks about a good life in our passage, what anyone would call a “productive life”. He connects work with the fact that we eat. He condemns the idle for not contributing to that greater good of a community that needs to be fed, literally or symbolically. And he commends himself and his fellow-workers wherever they find themselves because they have never been a burden, and in fact they may have benefited the community in which they have found themselves because of their hard work, whether as a tent-maker or a preacher.
In Philemon Paul writes that the thief should become a productive member of the community, at work for the good of others, perhaps an artisan creating goods for those around him. The thief must reform himself and do what is right, to produce something so that others benefit and he can keep himself well, for instance in feeding himself and his family. Paul is arguing against idleness of any kind. The benefits provided by the active worker, are not just material, they benefit the whole person: body, mind and spirit
When I just lend a listening ear to someone in distress, I have contributed to that person’s welfare – even if I have done nothing but make a cup of tea so that he could unburden himself, or that she could formulate all the real questions she had about the situation.
This is what I take to be the basis of a pastoral theology, that is to say – reflexion on God has led me to be a part of a community in this very active, harmless way.
I think you can find the foundation of this practical theology on the greatest of virtues which Paul commends. I think all of his writing about love – αγαπη – makes the same point. Love is this same force in life, a positive creative force which impels the person towards others for their benefit, not one’s own. I have to admit, though, love is the greatest benefit in my own existence. Love feeds everyone in no uncertain terms, exactly how, I am not sure, but in love I am sated – I need nothing.
In a strange way this satisfaction leads me to Jesus’ words in the reading from the gospel.
So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
If we really have not tired of righteousness in our lives, or accomplishing mercy and justice, why do we need to worry? Even if the world reviles us, it is not because we have done harm. It is not because we do not love dispassionately as Jesus did. Who can despise anyone who lets “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” as the prophet commands. Does such a life really demand my condemnation in the sight of the world? Who in the world would condemn anyone whose purpose is justice and righteousness, or love and mercy?
“Do not be weary in doing what is right.”
We come back to this statement again on the basis of Jesus telling us not to worry about refuting the world when it reviles us.
What could happen to us if we were silent in the face of people upset because we did something good? Wouldn’t our silence only condemn their hypocrisy? We have nothing to be ashamed of if we live this good life of doing no harm. We certainly would have no embarrassment if we were to do good deeds for the whole of our lives. Everyone would know, wouldn’t they? – even if our Facebook page makes no mention of it.
“Do not be weary in doing what is right.”
Paul has to be right in this command and exhortation, which he sends to the Thessalonians in this epistle. Don’t you agree? I am sure he is also speaking to us. We, like the Thessalonians, have the idle among us, but that doesn’t mean that there are not the good intentions which surround those cobbles of righteous deeds on this road to heaven. We need to commend Paul’s message here as a new way of doing no harm amongst this generation, don’t you think?