Thessalonians 3: 6 – 15_The Blessing of Work 2 _November 3, 2019

If you’ve had a tough week, you may wonder about the title of this morning’s sermon.  You may even be wondering if it’s a misprint.  If you’ve been slaving at a job all week, you may be wondering, how can work be a blessing?  But the apostle Paul was convinced that work could be a blessing to us and to our communities.  He was convinced that hard work is part of the life of faith.


What has working done for you, in your life?  Take a minute now to think back to your first job.  What was the very first paying job you had?  What was the first job where you made something, or provided some kind of service, and got paid for it?


My first paying job, except for occasional babysitting in high school, was at the Dining Hall of Duke University, when I was in college.  Dining Hall makes the place sound more elegant than it was.  It was more like a cafeteria: my job was a food service job.  I stood behind the steam table, wearing a white jacket and a little white cap.  With a spoon in hand, I put food onto the plates of people as they came through the cafeteria line.  Sometimes it was mashed potatoes; sometimes it was macaroni and cheese or green beans or meatloaf.  It wasn’t anything exotic – just basic American comfort food.  I was nineteen years old.  This was my first experience of the working world.  I learned about punching a time clock when I began work and punching out when I was done.  I experienced the joy of receiving a paycheck.   At first it was hard for me to believe, but every week I got a check, made out to me, money to compensate me for my time and effort.


And I discovered something at that first job: it felt good to be paid for working.  I liked the feeling of earning money that I could use to buy things I needed.  I could even buy some things I didn’t need but just wanted: little treats like an ice cream cone or a new pair of earrings.


It may sound like I’m stating the obvious here, but it can be very satisfying to work.  It can be very satisfying to earn an income that allows you to take care of yourself.  It can be very satisfying to work and earn a living and not be dependent on anybody.  Maybe you found that kind of satisfaction in your first job.  Maybe it was busing tables at a restaurant.  Maybe it was trimming hedges at a country club, or something more glamorous.  Whatever the job was, maybe you enjoyed a similar sense of independence, a similar satisfaction at being self-sufficient.


In his second letter to the young church at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul urges members of that church to work, to provide for themselves.   Paul reminds the people of the Thessalonian church that a healthy attitude toward work is part of the life of faith.   Paul had always worked to support himself.  He pastored in a lot of churches, but he didn’t depend on the churches for his income.  He always had what people today might call a day job.


Paul understood the importance of working and being self-sufficient.  Work was important for individuals in the church, but for him work was also important for the community.  In our passage for today, Paul is alarmed because some of the Thessalonians had more or less given up on the whole work thing.  They were slacking off.  They were expecting other members of the community to support them.


Some members of the Thessalonian church had decided that they didn’t have to work any more.  Why?  They believed that Jesus was coming back any day.   They were convinced that Jesus would return very soon.  When Jesus returned, he would bring history to a close and begin a new era, an era when God would reign in justice and righteousness.  They figured, what’s the point of continuing to work?  Work just wasn’t a priority anymore – so they let things go, sat back, and waited for Jesus to return.


But their lackadaisical attitude toward work was having an effect on the church.  They seemed to expect that other people in the church would take care of them.  They saw nothing wrong with just sitting around, anticipating Jesus’ return, while other people carried the load, working to provide food and a roof over their heads.  In his letter, Paul addresses the problem of people who are letting others in the church do all the work.  He says that preparing for Jesus’ return doesn’t mean putting work aside.  He uses himself as an example.  In The Message, a contemporary rendering of the Bible, Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s words this way:


“Our orders – backed up by the Master, Jesus – are to refuse to have anything to do with those among you who are lazy and refuse to work…  Don’t permit them to freeload on the rest.  We showed you how to pull your weight when we were with you, so get on with it.  We didn’t sit on our hands expecting others to take care of us.  In fact, we worked our fingers to the bone, up half the night moonlighting so you wouldn’t be burdened with taking care of us…Don’t you remember the rule we had when we lived with you?  ‘If you don’t work, you don’t eat.’


“And now we’re getting reports that a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings are taking advantage of you.  This must not be tolerated.  Friends, don’t slack off in doing your duty.”


Paul urges all the members of the Thessalonian church to work, to pull their own weight.  He’s convinced that it’s not healthy for the community for some people to be working and others loafing.


Paul isn’t talking here about people who are unable to work.  He isn’t saying that children, or the elderly, or the disabled are freeloaders.  Then and now, the church is a community of people who want to follow Jesus in the way of compassion.  Following in the way of Jesus means caring for those in need.  The church in Paul’s day took in people who needed care and cared for them.


But Paul is fed up with the able bodied, the healthy adults who don’t need special care, who are not pulling their weight.  He’s fed up with the folks who claim to be active disciples, members of the church, who are not doing their part to support themselves.  He’s fed up with people who have stopped making any effort to provide for themselves, who don’t work because they’re convinced that Jesus will return any day.  He might say that waiting for Jesus doesn’t give you a license to be lazy.


For Paul and for us, hard work is part of the life of faith.  Work can be a blessing.  Work can give us a sense of satisfaction when we’re able to work and provide for our families and ourselves.  Work can bless our communities when we all pitch in to the best of our ability to support our life together.  And here’s one more that way work can be a blessing:  work can be a blessing when work brings out the best in a talent God has given us.  God has given all of us talents, but talent alone isn’t anything special.  We have to work at it.


When we roll up our sleeves and work, our talent can be a blessing.  It’s a blessing that wouldn’t happen if we didn’t work at it.  Champion athletes know that better than the rest of us.  Maybe you were watching the World Series the other night when gymnast Simone Biles threw out the ceremonial first pitch.  Last month, Biles won her twenty-fourth gold medal.  She became the most decorated gymnast in the history of the sport.  So it wasn’t surprising at the World Series, when Biles didn’t just throw out the ball.  First, she did a spectacular back flip!


Simone Biles didn’t become a world champion gymnast by taking it easy.  It didn’t just happen.  It took years of practice.  It took years of getting up early and going to the gym when she wanted to stay in bed.  It took years of going to practice instead of going to parties or hanging out with friends.  Yes she has tremendous talent, but to bring out the best in her talent she had to work, work, work.


Many talents are nothing special without the blessing of work.  The Christian writer Madeleine L’Engle had a great talent for music.  God gave Madeleine L’Engle a talent for playing the piano.  When she played a fugue by composer Johann Sebastian Bach, L’Engle would feel a deep joy.  But, she wrote, “I cannot play that Bach fugue at all if I do not play the piano daily, if I do not practice my finger exercises.”  She went on,  “The gift is free; and yet we have to pay for it”  (L’Engle, Glimpses of Grace, p. 293).


Without a lot of work, Madeleine L’Engle’s gift of music wouldn’t be anything special.  But she spent years in practice every day. She practiced when she would rather have been relaxing with friends.  She practiced when she would rather have been playing with her children.  God gives talents to you and me as well, but it’s the blessing of work that helps us bring out the best of those talents.


Work can be a blessing.  Hard work is part of the life of faith.  Work can bless us with a sense of satisfaction when we’re able to work and provide for our families and ourselves.  Work can bless our communities when we all pitch in to the best of our ability to support our life together.  Work can also be a blessing when we roll up our sleeves and work to bring out the best in a talent God has given us.










Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 21