Thank You to Our Guest Blogger; Cheating the System; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
2010-11-12 by David von Schlichten
Bill has done a sharp and fine job of sharing his reflections, especially on Isaiah 65. Stephen Schuette has also provided a substantial reflection. Scroll down and dive in.
I'm probably going to preach on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, which declares that those who don't work shouldn't eat. At Wednesday Bible study, one of my parishioners immediately saw this passage as a critique of the welfare system. We then all talked about how, yes, yes, there are people who cheat the system (Isn't it interesting that we always think we need to emphasize this point?). At the same time, there are many people in genuine need.
Actually, I would say that people who cheat the system are also in genuine need; they may just need to be cared for differently. It irritates me how many of us oversimplify complex issues by creating categories such as "Those who cheat the system" and "Those who don't." As if every poor person is either exclusively one or the other, and as if being in one or the other determines whether you "deserve" help. Come on.
In any event, my understanding of the 2 Thessalonians text is that it is referring to people who aren't working because they're expecting the parousia at any minute and so figure that there is no point in working. However, the Bible makes it clear that we are to keep on doing God's work, regardless of when the parousia will be.
This passage got me thinking about other excuses we make for not doing God's work. Here's one: "The world's such a mess, why bother trying to do anything about it?" "You can't fight City Hall." "Whatever will be, will be."
The 2 Thessalonians passage addresses passivity and calls for us Christians not to make excuses but to be active, confident that God will make sure that our work is not in vain.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Welcome, Bill Hennessey!
2010-11-12 by David Howell
Wecome and thank you to our guest blogger, Bill Hennessey!
Bill Hennessy is pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Williamsville, NY, a suburb of Buffalo. He's been in parish ministry his whole career beginning in 1989. North is his fourth congregation, having served as associate pastor in Peoria, Illinois, solo pastor in Kitchener, Ontario, and head of staff in Bay City, MI before moving to Buffalo in 2008. Bill and his wife Beth were married in 1988 after meeting at McCormick Seminary, Chicago. Beth is ordained in the American Baptist Church but is currently not working outside the home. They have two kids -- Matt who is 14 and Sarah who is nearly 9. They also share their home with a black lab mix named Molly. Bill's passions include Beth, spending time with his kids, and playing the Irish tin whistle (just passably). Lately he's been learning to kayak and hopes to pursue it more if the cold ever lets up in Buffalo.
A Few Musings
2010-11-11 by Bill Hennessy
I haven’t really thought much about the passages today. My kids were off school and the church office was closed. It was nice spending the day with my family.
At this point in my process I’m sifting through ideas and trying to decide where to place emphasis. I still think the Isaiah passage is richer than the gospel one. In fact I think there may be more of the gospel in Isaiah 65:17-25 than in Luke 21:5-19. I keep coming back to the real-world dimension of Isaiah. It seems so deeply rooted in our experience, yet somehow elevating and deepening our reality.
The idea that God is concerned with the everyday struggles we endure I find very powerful…and encouraging. We live in such a radically individualist culture, one that seems to be getting more “Ayn Rand-esque” by the minute, that it’s hard not to be drawn into the belief that we’re entirely on our own. I need to be reminded over and over that God is near and isn’t dispassionate, but has a stake in it all. And if that’s the case, then surely I have a stake in it, too. It should matter to me how others are forced to live. It should matter how lethal the choices have become for so many.
As I said early on, this is a congregation that could easily ignore the needs of their impoverished neighbors in the city or in the world. Resisting the temptation to turn inward and do nothing is hard when most of your life is insulated from the effects of poverty. We’re being handed an alternative to despair and fear in this passage…you can’t get more gospel-y than that!
2010-11-10 by Bill Hennessy
Well, I’ve been reading more of Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, and I’m finding it very helpful in shaping my thinking about Isaiah 65:17-25. Meanwhile, I’m also wondering how to connect the Isaiah passage with this week’s gospel passage, Luke 21:5-19.
The two seem to be almost contradictions of each other. Where Isaiah speaks of renewal and a new creation, Luke points to disaster through nature and war and the expected persecution of the church. The Isaiah passage may be trying to encourage the people toward re-building the temple, while, ironically, Luke has Jesus predicting its destruction. And of course the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. One offers a vision that endures beyond the distress of the present circumstances, while the other offers a vision of what must be endured to remain faithful to Christ’s call. About this time of the week, reality comes knocking; I needed a sermon title. So I decided on “Enduring Visions.” I think it’s sufficiently ambiguous to cover both sides of the coin.
Generally speaking I don’t really come up with a good sermon title until Saturday night, but by then it’s usually too late.
The more I’ve been thinking about these two passages, and as I said reading Wright’s book, the more I’m intrigued by how earth-bound they both are. Isaiah is insistent that God’s desires for Israel will be lived in the here and now. It addresses things like economic justice and infant mortality. It’s not a vision that offers a mystical pipe-dream. Although parts of it sound like fantasy, overall it’s grounded in reality, an alternative one to be sure, but still able to be grasped.
Luke is looking at his community’s circumstances and remembering stories about things Jesus said and did and realizing they’re connected. To follow Jesus, to live as Jesus calls us to live, has consequences. Material ones; not just spiritual. Wright states, “I and others have stressed that Jesus’ death was not (and he did not think it was) about something other than the kingdom work to which he had devoted his short public career.” (Wright, 204) That is, the kingdom Jesus points to and the kingdom we are called to reveal is present in the healing, the feeding, the visiting, the clothing, the housing, the work we do in the world. And the world will always hate us for it, just as it hated him because ultimately the kingdom being revealed will usurp the world as we know it.
So we can’t let up in that work even when disasters strike or wars break out or persecution becomes lethal. In spite of it all we keep pointing to God’s enduring vision.
2010-11-09 by Bill Hennessy
November 9, 2010
I’m pastor of a medium sized congregation in a suburban setting. Theologically I would consider this church to be left of center for the most part. They are very mission minded with many connections in the city of Buffalo which has been rated the third most impoverished city of its size in the country. Where we are the effects of that poverty are not keenly felt. And there is a certain insulation against global poverty as well. So thinking globally is always a challenge, but one I think they welcome.
So as I think about the image from Isaiah 65:17-25 shaping the life of this congregation, I find myself wondering how to convey the need that lies beneath that image. Isaiah is speaking into a world where folks are wondering if they have any future at all. While our current economy is having that effect on a lot of people in terms of questioning the future, I don’t know if there’s a direct parallel.
One approach that might be helpful is to begin with vignettes of people who are struggling in a modern way with uncertainty and fear: loss of a job, break-down of a marriage, bad news from a doctor. The threat of disaster is often more difficult to live with than the disaster itself. How does a promise of a new creation speak into that threat? How do we connect with God’s promise of blessedness when our lives seem to say otherwise? And where might we see that promise unfolding even now?
One of the dangers of living with the threat of disaster is shutting our eyes and ears to God’s goodness still at work around us. We turn in on ourselves and shut ourselves off from God. This passage insists that we open our eyes to look beyond what we can see and peer into God’s future that overwhelms our present distress.
Well, that’s a start….
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