Waiting Game (begins at 29:53)

November 17, 2019

Series: November 2019

Category: Faith

Speaker: Rob McClellan

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

6Now 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. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8and 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. 9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

“Waiting Game”

          Recently Live from Here the NPR program that replaced A Prairie Home Companion, rebroadcast a Father’s Day Special.  On it, a woman offered a touching reflection on her relationship with her father.  She spoke about all the lessons she learned from him, all the little phrases and practices he had.  For example, even though they never had very much, he would say it’s always a good time to be generous.  Whenever they were stuck waiting—it could be traffic or a long line—he would say, “Time is never wasted when you’re with someone you love.”  He faithfully used these otherwise frustrating moments of waiting to reaffirm his love. 

          Today’s Newer Testament passage is about waiting in a way that was not so faithful.  It’s a passage that’s not well understood and therefore often misapplied.  The author condemns idleness, disavows taking handouts, and conditions eating on being willing to work.  One interpretation of these values has permeated our society.  We have a real disdain for those we deem not doing their share.  While we can all recognize the value of personal responsibility, the biblical author is not, in fact, addressing the general topic of free-riding.  The context is specific.  Among early Christians, there was a widespread belief that Jesus was coming back to usher in the kingdom of heaven.  They may have expected this to be a fulfillment of prophecies such as the one you hear from Isaiah today, the coming of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Is. 65:17).  Apparently, some had taken this as license to sit around and do nothing, letting others carry on with the daily work.  Why bother, God’s going to come back and fix this?

2 Thessalonians seeks to expand the timeframe of Christ’s return, and to shape the way people live in the meantime.  They are to settle in for the long haul, and thus should “do their work quietly and earn their own living” (2 Thess. 3:11-12).  The last line of the passage is the real bottom line: “do not be weary in doing what is right.”  With whatever time we have as a people or as individuals, never tire of doing what is right. 

Which is not to say never tire of doing, and I fear that is where our emphasis all too often lands.  The text does not say never tire of doing.  I wonder if we’d be kinder, better neighbors, more connected, with more solid judgment if we didn’t treat workaholism as a badge of honor, activity as a measure of our worth.  No, here the biblical author is saying, as Martin Luther King put it much later, the “time is always right to do what is right.”[1]  Now is always the moment to do what is right, good, truthful, helpful, faithful, what has integrity. 

In a world where so much can seem wrong, that can feel a futile effort.  Interestingly, 2 Thessalonians doesn’t concern itself much here with future outcomes.  Its emphasis is firmly on the present.  Don’t be concerned about what will happen then; do what is right now and let then take care of itself.  This takes incredible discipline, but it yields an enormous freedom of mind as it liberates us from the endless machinations of how things might go or rehashing how things went.  When we live primarily in the present, anxiety goes down since anxiety is a function of a fixation on that past or the future.  More opportunities to do what is right start to spring up like previously hidden flowers appearing all around.    

What can we do here and now?  I saw the great theologian Matthew Fox this past year and one of his remarks that stuck with me was that in the midst of all the existential crises facing our species right now, it is an incredible privilege to be alive right now.  We have been chosen on some level to be here now.  Consider the choices before us which have the power to shape the very existence of our species not to mention many others.  That’s a rather grand thing, but grand things are rooted in tiny things.  Tiny things can have a big impact. 

Today begins the Alternative Christmas Fair, our tiny attempt to adjust the way we have come to “celebrate” Christmas.  I don’t have to tell you how we have allowed a celebration of the birth of Jesus into a ritualized—and I use that word intentionally—celebration of commercialism.  The Alternative Christmas Fair transforms the “marketplace” into a place where we can make donations to worthy causes in honor of those we care about.  As small as it may seem, it helps reorients us.  It helps us practice doing what is right, what is good, helpful, faithful, and has integrity in this moment.

It also has a tangible impact on others.  These are such worthy causes, perhaps more so than how we would otherwise spend our money this season.  The church commissions select the causes and listen to what they have chosen and what your giving means:

Congregational Life Commission is supporting is the Marin Foster Care Association.  Last week I heard Michael Steele, former head of the Republican National Committee, at the Marin Speaker Series.  I was totally caught off guard when he spoke of his beginnings as an orphan.  He described movingly his mother walking through a room with rows of cribs to find him reaching up through the rails to her.  “That’s the one,” she said.  There are children right now reaching out looking for someone to say that to them and organizations like this help make sure someone is there to reach back.

Outreach is sponsoring Bridge the Gap, providing tutoring and college prep to low income families and others who have an uphill climb just to get to the place from which many of us started.  Bridge the Gap delivers academic support, nutritious meals, and just as importantly it connects people, caring and supportive adults with young people who deserve to have dreams too.

Our own youth programs can be supported through the Alternative Christmas Fair.  Young people of every background need the types of experiences our youth ministry provides.  In its own way, this is a hard place to grow up.  Our youth ministry is generous, giving abundantly to those who have greater material need when on yearly mission trips and our generosity enables theirs.

Congregational Life is also sponsoring the Center for Domestic Peace, an organization that would prefer to name itself after a positive promise, domestic peace, rather than the all too common negative reality of domestic violence.  Just recently someone told me they heard a 911 dispatcher say the number one call they receive is domestic violence.  You can be a part of supporting a hotline, a safe house, transitional housing, counseling, and legal help to those who need it as well as services for abusers so they might be healed of their ways too.

Women of Westminster continue their sponsorship of the Canal Alliance, in which a number of you have been involved I know.  Canal Alliance offers various programs, from education to legal services, and much much more.
          The Deacons, our local caregivers and care organizers, are sponsoring Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.  I often say the PDA, as we like to call it, is on the ground wherever disaster strikes, and often stays long past when other agencies, and certainly the news crews, are gone.  PDA has active responses going on right now addressing the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, Matthew, and Florence on the coast, flooding and tornadoes all over the middle of the country, and fires and mudslides right here in California. 

Spiritual Life is helping to fund research to treat the disease ALS.  I know it’s easy to think with all the money that medical research requires, that my few dollars can’t make a difference.  Well, what if your few dollars (or more) were precisely that, the few dollars that pushed some researcher or doctor over the edge in making the discovery that leads to a cure?  What if your single gift was the one more gift needed to save or prolong someone’s life, someone who would like to celebrate this Christmas or the next 20 Christmases in health with their loved ones? 

Time is never wasted when it’s spent with loved ones.  The woman from the radio program I mentioned who paid tribute to her father described one other ritual they shared.  It surrounded during storms.  Living in the Midwest summer thunderstorms are a regular, and I’ll say glorious, thing.  The woman, girl at the time, and her father had this pact that whenever there was a storm, they’d meet on the porch.  He’d get popsicles out of the garage freezer and they’d sit and count the seconds between lightning and thunder, measuring the distance.  At one point he’d remark he could smell the ozone in the air.  Inevitably, he’d ask, “What do you think the grass is saying right now?” to which they’d both respond simultaneously, “Ahhhhhhh.”

One day when the storm came, the girl was a little older, and she was suffering from a broken heart after a breakup with a boyfriend.  It was all she could do to drag herself out of bed to the porch.  When he turned to her and was about to ask what she thought the grass was saying, he saw tears streaming down her face, so he spared her the question and simply reached out and took her hand in his and held it.  “I just sobbed,” she recalled.  “Finally,” she said, “at one point he looked up to the sky for a long moment and said, ‘The thing about storms is…they pass.’ ”

So, the question is how we will live in the meantime until they do. 


[1] Emphasis mine.  http://www2.oberlin.edu/external/EOG/BlackHistoryMonth/MLK/MLKmainpage.html