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Get to it

Thomas J Parlette

“Get to it”

2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13

11/13/16

 

We are entering a time of the year when it’s very tempting to procrastinate.

Winter is coming – we’ve got last minute yard work to finish up, grills to cover, patio furniture to move and snow blowers to tune up.

The Holidays are just around the corner.

First – Thanksgiving, so there’s shopping to do and meals to prepare for, maybe get the guest room ready for company.

Then of course – Christmas. Decorations need to come out storage, trees need to be set up and decorated, presents to be bought and wrapped – cookies, parties, holiday cards… the list seems endless.

I know I’m not the only one who gets a little overwhelmed. It’s so tempting to just put it off, to give in to procrastination. Wouldn’t it be nice to find a way to get ourselves motivated?

Well, there’s good news from the world of science. There was a news story published by NPR back in March that reported on the work of Dr. Alison Adcock, a medical researcher at FDuke University. Adcock and her team of researchers put 73 different test subjects into a machine similar to an MRI diagnostic scanner, a machine that allows them to identify particular areas of the brain utilized for different types of activities.

Using this machine, test subjects are able to watch on a screen as certain areas of their brains light up. These visual cues provide a sort of feedback loop. As patients experience feelings of being highly motivated, they can note which areas of their brains are engaged with those feelings.

Moments later, they find themselves able to concentrate – with some success, in many cases – on getting that same region of the brain to light up again, thus sustaining their feelings of motivation.

Kathryn Dickerson, one of the researchers, tried the system on herself. She recalls the experience: “It was like, “Come on Katie. Move the thermometer. Just do it, get it to light up.” And I just pumped myself up. It was very effective,” she says.(1)

So someday soon, we might have access to a tool that will help motivate us through our tendency to procrastinate. Maybe someday we’ll have an app for that – I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

Evidently that’s something the church in Thessalonica could have used as well. As Paul says, “We hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.”

Oh those lazy Thessalonians…

–         so lazy that some of them have stay-at-home jobs and still can’t get to work on time.

–         So lazy that they’ve only got one word on their “to do list” – Nothing.(2)

Enough of that, says Paul. Keep away from those living in idleness. Follow our example. Work, contribute, participate. Don’t just sit around doing nothing but minding everyone else’s business. Get to work. Anyone unwilling to work shouldn’t eat. So get to it!

I have to confess that this can be a problematic passage – especially when you apply these words to the charitable mission of the church. For instance, I used to be a member of an ecumenical clergy group. Together our churches stocked a small food pantry in the basement of the Episcopal church. Every week, we would take turns handing out bags of groceries to those in need. Every year, there was a lot of debate about how we should do this. Most of us felt like if someone showed up looking for help, let’s ask for id, keep a record of what we gave them and that’s sufficient. But one of colleagues would always bring up this passage about anyone unwilling to work shouldn’t eat, and he would argue that we should ask for proof of employment and then have people fill out a form outlining their monthly expenses to prove that they weren’t lazy, they just needed help. This was always an awkward discussion, for on the surface, it would appear that maybe that’s what Paul is talking about here – he does come down pretty hard on idleness and the text does say “those unwilling to work shouldn’t eat.” What do you do with that?

Well, when we read this passage we need to avoid a couple of common misinterpretations. First of all, it is important to note that Paul is not encouraging the Christian community to shun those who aren’t contributing – he says avoid what they are doing, but they still have a place in the community. Just make sure not to follow their example – instead, follow Paul’s example.

Second, Paul is not addressing individuals who are unable to work and contribute. Those who are too old, or are incapacitated in some way, are not included in Paul’s warning here.

And finally, it would be inappropriate to interpret this passage as an early form of the protestant work ethic. There’s certainly nothing wrong with hard work, but that’s not really what Paul is talking about here. To early Christians, work and prosperity were not signs of individual grace, but rather, evidence of supporting oneself and thereby, supporting the whole community. To refuse to work, to refuse to contribute your fair share and pull your own weight was therefore a sign of rebellion, an attempt to take advantage of others in the Christian community. When Paul writes about idleness, this is what he was talking about – not simply sitting around relaxed, but refusing to contribute and taking advantage of others.

In fact, many have suggested that a better reading of the word “idleness” in this passage might be “disorderliness”. (3) So perhaps the real issue is not sitting around doing nothing, but rather not contributing to the orderly life of the Christian community as they live out the faith.

Historically churches have ordered themselves around certain practices, rather than rules and regulations. These practices or habits or rituals are a means of shaping and molding both individuals and communities into the kind of people they want to be. Some commonly recognized theological practices of the church would include hospitality, tithing, confession, communal worship, keeping the Sabbath, and for our purposes as it relates to the community in Thessalonica – supporting one another materially.

So Paul is calling some members of the church to task for not contributing, not participating in the practices of the church. This has been translated as idleness, but actually disorderliness may be a better term.

These disorderly members fell into this trap because they were under the impression that Jesus was coming back soon. So their reasoning was “Why work? Why should we do all the things Paul showed us if the end is coming soon? Why should we participate in the church in an orderly fashion when Jesus is coming any day now? Why should we practice the habits of faith, the rituals and routines of Christian belief and lifestyle if the end is just around the corner? And so they lived in idleness, practicing disorderly conduct, as Paul puts it.

And Paul says “No! – that is not the way. Certainly not the way we showed you when we were with you. We don’t know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return, and we should be prepared. And to be prepared we must not be idle. We must still engage in the practice of our faith. We must live the lifestyle we have been called to, practicing the habits of faith – habits like forgiveness, compassion, hospitality, worship, prayer and generosity. Stop sitting around minding everybody else’s business. Don’t get tired of doing what is right – Get to it!

There’s a scene in Fiddler on the Roof that takes place after the wedding feast has been reduced to a shambles by marauding Cossack soldiers. Homes have been set afire, tables overturned and china broken. In other words – general pillaging and mayhem.

The villagers are in shock. They look to the heavens in bewilderment, as if questioning the goodness of God.

Then they look to Tevye, who can generally be counted on to say something wise and helpful. “What are we to do now? They ask.

After a long pause, Tevye defiantly picks up a chair and says, “Clean up the mess.”(4)

In other words – “Let’s get on with it. Let’s get on with the business of life and the living of our faith. Let’s not get tired of doing what is right. Let’s get to it!”

When I wrote this sermon, it was election day. That Tuesday night, after I voted, I picked up pizza and we watched the election results come in.

This morning, you may be happy with the results, and some of you might be deeply disappointed, deeply disillusioned. But wherever you find yourself this morning, remember, while we are citizens of the United States, we are first and foremost citizens of heaven.

This text has something to say to us as we move forward from here, as the church…

Let us not engage in disorderliness…

Let us not be idle…

And as Paul says, “Let us never grow weary in doing what is right.”

We have an opportunity to live out our faith this morning as we dedicate our pledges to the work of God. Today we have a chance to throw idleness aside and participate in the practice of our faith. Today we have an opportunity to exercise our habit of generosity as we make our financial commitment to the work of the church in Rochester. So let us not get tired of doing good. Let’s get to it.

May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.    Homiletics, Vol. 28, No. 6, p. 24-25.

2.    Ibid… p. 25.

3.    Barbara Blodgett, Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, p. 304.

4.    Homiletics, Vol. 28, No. 6, p. 28.