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.

I bet you think I’m going to talk about work. After all, that’s the obvious subject of today’s reading: Do your work! Earn your keep! Those who are unwilling to work should not eat.” Paul repeats this message, almost verbatim, in another letter, this one to the Galations. In, the Contemporary English version, this morning’s passage is headed “Warnings against Laziness.” In the NRV, “Warnings against Idleness.” In the New Living Translation, “An Exhortation to Proper Living.” J.B. Phillips New Testament calls it ” Everyone should do his fair share of work.”
It’s good advice, of course, and still timely. We don’t have to look far to find laziness — including lazy Christians. Now Paul’s concern seemed mostly about the communal life of that 1st century church in Thessalonica. They were living communally, sharing resources, sharing bread. And while some were earning it, some were free-loading. Paul calls them “idle busybodies.” We know the type: hanging out with other idle busybodies, enjoying the food that they hadn’t worked for, taking the rest that they didn’t deserve, and “running their mouths,” as the saying goes.
So Paul’s letter seems mostly about the economic health of the community, but he was always concerned about the spiritual health of the church, as well. While these baby Christians are supposed to be following the example of Paul and Timothy and Silas –working hard and doing good –some were not. They were not doing the physical and spiritual labor to which they were called. So, Paul says, “We command you to get up off the couch, work quietly and earn your own living — and do not grow weary in doing good.” In other words, you are expected to work for the community and for the kingdom from here on out. It isn’t a one-time shot. So, do not grow weary of doing good. Get to work, and keep working! Okay, but I told you I was not going to talk about work!
Now, when I looked at this lectionary reading last Monday, I didn’t know what to do with it. Should I preach about working harder? It seems to be that John Calvin instilled in Presbyterians a pretty healthy respect for work, and as far as I can tell, the folks of this congregation work pretty darn hard. The Protestant Work Ethic is more than skin-deep; it’s in our bones. And not only that — how could I preach about working harder when half the congregation had worn themselves working at church the day before! Our problem isn’t laziness; it’s weariness.
That’s the verse — verse 13– that I want to talk about. Brothers and sisters,” Paul writes, “ do not be weary in doing what is right. To the Galations, he adds, “ . . . for we will reap at harvest-time if we do not give up.” Folks in this congregation are far less in danger of growing lazy than of growing weary. It’s that weariness stuff that I want to talk about.
When we first got our dashhound Rudy, it had been a long time since we had had a dog. Ben had forgotten the routine of dog care. The first day and the second, we took Rudy for his walk around the neighborhood together. The next day, I asked Ben to take the dog out for a walk. His answer? “But we already did that. We did that yesterday!” He thought walking the dog was a “once and done” proposition.
I can’t fault him for that. Many adults — and many Christians– have that mindset: I don’t mind doing something once. It’s kind of fun, but I’m done. Now it’s somebody else’s turn. Why? Because doing something the first time is a new experience. Doing it the second time is a chore. And doing it the third time means it’s your job forever. Expectations get higher, people start to take you for granted, and you grow weary.
Those who care for loved ones — young children, the sick, the elderly, the poor, those with dementia — they grow weary. The daily routine becomes monotonous and exhausting.
Missionaries, pastors, elders, and church leaders are particularly vulnerable. Their lives and their work require the stamina to serve and serve and keep serving — day to day, Sunday to Sunday, season to season, and crisis to crisis. They can grow very weary of doing good.
Even those who give time and money to the Lord’s work grow weary. Tithing isn’t easy, we can sometimes resent making sacrifices again and again, and we look around and wonder if everyone is contributing, or is it just us.
So, weariness isn’t something new. You know what it feels like. It’s been around as long as work and frustration, as long as difficulty and daylight. Jesus, more than 2,000 years ago, said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). But weariness is more than simply being tired. It is being bone-tired. Robbed of all motivation to go on. Disenchanted with it all. Thoroughly discouraged. It’s a lethargy that worms its way into our souls. We become worn down in a way that isn’t eradicated by the usual prescription of rest and recreation. It’s more than something physical. It’s spiritual. And all of us suffer weariness from time to time.
What can we do about it? I’m not sure it can be eradicated, but it can be forestalled. Our mindset has a lot to do with it.
First, I think, it’s important to know that you and I are not the master builder of God’s Kingdom. We are merely the help. No matter how long our to-do list is, we accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is ever complete — the final kingdom always lies beyond our power to accomplish it, always lies beyond us. At best, we workers plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, perhaps we lay foundations, but God is the architect and the master builder. But we cannot do everything — and that is a freeing thought.
I personally love that rare day when I can leave my office with everything done — all the phone calls, all the paperwork, all the letters, all the visits. (A pretty rare occurrence, I’ll admit.) But that’s not how life really is. When we die, we will not have crossed off everything offour lists, stacked our papers, watered our plants, and gone home — but, hopefully, we have done something, or a few somethings, and done them well. . We may never see the end results –that is for the master builder. But we’ve contributed our part. “Ours is not to reason why,” says the poet. “Ours is but to do or die.”
And here is another liberating thought: Our power for doing good comes from God. Not from Wheaties, protein powder, spinach, body pump or yoga. Why is that thought liberating? Because unlike our human store of energy that can run dangerously low, God’s power is limitless and unchanging. “MY strength is perfected in weakness,” God says. Yes, we need to care for ourselves, eat wisely, sleep well in order to have physical and mental energy, but for our spiritual power, we can tap into an unlimited well of strength in God Almighty.
But do we? Do we go to God regularly and ask for his strength and power, or do we operate under the exhausting illusion that it’s all up to us. A popular bumper stick comes to mind. It says, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” It is intended to be motivate: If we want something done, we should get busy and do it. But on a spiritual and cosmic level, that bumper stick is so wrong. If “it” — the Kingdom of God– is to be, I pray it is not up to me! That would be incredibly reckless on God’s part. No, accomplishing the Kingdom of God is up to God. [Whew!] God may call on me, may see fit to use me, may lead me into battle, but the battle is up to God. The Divine Spirit has it under control. We are not the master builder, merely the workers.
Now once we grasp those ways of thinking i.e. that we are merely workers not master builders, and that our spiritual power comes from God not us, then we can free ourselves to establish some very good habits.
1. Wanna hear the first one?? DO LESS. Yes, you heard me right: DO LESS. I, for one, clutter my days with a lot of activity. While that sounds admirable, it isn’t wise at all. And sadly, the activities that seem urgent get more attention than those that are far more important. From the moment I open my eyes until I drop into bed 17 hours later, I am doing something. We’ve all heard it said that “Good is the enemy of great.” I say, for spiritual health, “great is often the enemy of good.” We somehow think that everything we do has to be great — from writing a sermon to folding the laundry. A sure prescription for weariness. A life of constant activity prevents meditation and prayer; it prevents opportunities to truly listen to and focus on people we love; it prevents moments to glory in nature; it prevents periods of reflection and gratitude. Those activities that involve loving God and our neighbor should get top priority; everything else is secondary and expendable. So, a portion of every day should be spent doing what may look like nothing — but is really something very important.
From the gospels, we know that Christ did not fill every day with activity. He deliberately stepped away — across the Sea of Galilea, up to the Mount of Olives, into the garden, out of the temple. Would it have been possible for him to cure dozens more people? Most definitely. Teach hundreds more listeners? Absolutely. Feed thousands more hungry? Sure! And perhaps he could have written his own gospel, gotten audience with Roman authorities, became a political force, founded churches outside of Judea. Yes, he might have done all of these things, but Christ had a singular mission and did it well.
2. Which naturally leads to Habit #2: R and R: Rest and Restoration. A Sabbath. We all know that the creation story is told in seven days. On the seventh, the God of the Universe, surveyed his or her creation, pronounced it good, and took a nap. God rested. For centuries, Jews observed the strict mandate to rest from all labor, and to spend the day in communion with God. The reality is that many weary people — parents, caregivers, missionaries can’t take a whole day to rest, but I suggest that even they can take mini-Sabbaths throughout the week — the hour when the baby is sleeping, an hour or two in the evening when your loved one goes to bed.
After the death of John the Baptist, Christ said to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” [Mark 6: 31] The psalmists made frequent use of the word rest: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.”[37:7]
Plain old rest is wonderful, but restoration, recharging, is even better. We have all had the experience of dealing with an aging computer: Slow memory, unresponsive commands, constantly having to reboot. I have a sign above my desk that reads, “If I am ever on life support, unplug me and plug me back in. See if that works.”
The best prescription for not growing weary is to have something with which we engage and our minds are excited. After a day spent caring for a loved one or answering a million phone calls, we could get an extra hour of sleep, or we could attend a stimulating Bible study. We could fall asleep in our chair, or we could play a hand of bridge or take a walk in the woods. For me, a stimulating and rewarding experience is often better than sleep. My mind is distracted from the rut of worry and anxiety, and focuses on something engaging that I enjoy. It is the equivalent of unplugging me and plugging me back in. Rest — whether active or passive– is the essence of Sabbath.
3. Often, those things that we find restful and restorative are associated with sanctuary. I don’t necessarily mean this one — although it is a beautiful, restful, sacred space. But I suggest that Habit #3 — that we should all have a sanctuary or two where our spirits feel alive and are at peace. And we should go there often. For some it is in nature; for others, a beautiful room, a special chair, or a quiet garden. As a child, I spent my summers at a lake in Western Maryland. I memorized the smell of the pines and woodsmoke and the papermill at Luke, the sound of an outboard motor down on the water, the awkward sashay of the old wooden dock. My parents sold the home recently, and I don’t expect to go there much now, but I go there up here — in my head. It is a sanctuary in which I meet God. A space where I meet God and hear God speak.
4. Above all else, Connecting with God and connecting with others combats the weariness of work and life. It is the Lord who “refreshes –who restores– my soul,” says the psalmist. “ He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). Turning to Him works far better than turning on the television. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” {Matthew 11:28].
One of the greatest gifts of God is friends, but –for the weary– connecting with friends is often the last things they want to do or have time for. But it is so, so important. And not just any acquaintances, but the people in your life who bring you joy. Good friends, I believe, are those who see and love the you for who you truly are but, at the same time, make you want to be a better person. Paul writes: Keep away from those who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. Instead, “look to those who are wise and have understanding,” says the author of James. In them there is no bitter envy or selfish ambition. They are not boastful, disorderly, or evil . . . . [Those who have the wisdom from above] are pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full or mercy and good fruits, without partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” [James 3:17]
And, by the way, good friends make you laugh — even that dark, inside humor that comes with life. Laugh until your sides hurt, your nose runs, tears are streaming down your face, and you have the hiccups Laughter truly is a great medicine for weariness!
So, Dr. Kel’s advice for the weary: DO LESS, REST, GET RESTORED, OBSERVE A SABBATH HOWEVER YOU CAN, GO TO YOUR SANCTUARY OFTEN, CONNECT WITH GOD AND GOOD FRIENDS, AND LAUGH. Let us not grow weary in doing right, for we will reap at harvest-time if we do not give up.” AMEN.