Lectionary Reflection for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost
November 17, 2013
Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. 2 Thessalonians 3:13
Doing the right thing can be tough–tough to discern, tough to put into practice, and tough practice consistently. Staying the course and using critical thinking to discern the right paths–these are skills not often taught or prized in much of our culture. Let’s face it; we live in a throwaway age. For example, it’s cheaper to toss your old inkjet printer rather than have it repaired. Clothes may be perfectly serviceable, but if fashions change, so do many people’s wardrobes. And who has time to weigh what it right versus what is expedient versus what fulfills the needs and desires of our hearts?
And many do become weary of doing right. “Compassion fatigue” afflicts many who give much of themselves. Well-meaning, passionate individuals can fall prey to cynicism and become disillusioned when desired outcomes don’t materialize. The wide, well-trodden paths of denial and avoidance look much more navigable than the tortuous climb to the mountaintop in the pursuit of truth and justice.
What’s a disciple to do in a world that glorifies the self in all manner of ways: self-satisfaction, self-actualization, self-reliance, and self-centeredness? Do we simply opt out of anything that is uncomfortable or that pushes us deeper into relationship with the One who demands that we give up our very self for the sake of the gospel?
The answer, of course, is that we must die to self in order to persevere in doing the right thing. And that is not something we should mourn. Instead we can celebrate that we are not alone in the journey. Jesus knows our struggle. He sees the modern day marveling at our holy edifices, at the grand temples dedicated to the gods of conspicuous consumption and fields of competitive glory that dot our landscape. When folks are fractious and seek to divide the church, pitting sister against brother and mother against daughter, questioning mission and focusing on non-essential aspects of practice and polity, we do well to remember Paul’s words to a community divided over practice and probability. In the face of such dissent and agitation, many Thessalonian disciples found it difficult to persevere. Paul reminds them that perseverance and focus will yield good works and a strong community–not grumbling and chaos.
The gospel lesson also sounds a variation on this theme. In fact, it is in the very midst of the world’s chaos and destruction that disciples find an oasis of hope and peace in Christian community and in journeying together as disciples. Jesus assures his disciples that no matter what comes their way their perseverance in the faith will see them through. God will not abandon God’s own. “By your endurance you will gain your souls,” says our Lord in Luke 2:19.
Because we WILL face opposition, perseverance matters. Because culture and the forces of evil WILL place stumbling blocks in our path, perseverance matters. Because our lights will shine in the darkness, reflecting the light of Christ to a hurting, chaotic, and broken world, our perseverance matters.
So do not be dismayed, and don’t give up. When the going gets tough, dig into prayer and study. Do good. Be generous. Immerse yourself in community. Show up for worship and dine at the Lord’s table. Don’t be weary; your perseverance makes all the difference in this world and for the sake of the life to come. Blessings on your faithful and prophetic preaching and teaching!
Tell the stories, share the faith, strengthen one another…
This would be a good Sunday for a time of “testimony.” In many mainline traditions, testimony can be intimidating. Yet how powerful it is when a sister or brother stands up to tell how God is working in his or her life. In telling these stories to one another we weave a web of interconnectedness, relationships may grow and flourish, and we are all strengthened for the journey. Give it a try if you’ve never done this before. “Prime the pump” by finding a volunteer ahead of time who is willing to step forward and share how persevering in the faith has enabled God to do some mighty fine work.
The Things that Captivate and Amaze…
Talk about the role and importance of Herod’s temple in the life and culture of Jesus’ day. Invite youth to consider contemporary analogies–buildings, people, concepts of glory. Consider why it is so tough to follow Jesus in the shadow of these things. If possible, invite a member of the congregation who has persevered despite daunting odds and kept the faith flames fanned. Have that person share his or her story. Help the youth talk about strategies–such as active participation in your faith community–that will keep them on target to persevere in spite of obstacles. Finish by sharing the Lord’s Supper and by offering a blessing on one another.
When the Going gets Tough, God’s People keep Going…
When I was a little child, I had a horrible time learning to tie my shoes. No matter how many times my mother would show me, no matter how many clever analogies or illustrations she tried to employ, it took me a long time to master the fine motor skills needed for the task. I kept working at it, and now tying my shoes is second nature. In high school, I had trouble with math and chemistry. I STILL haven’t mastered those subjects well, but I keep trying to hone my skills and understand. There will always be things that are hard in life. Invite the children to share some things that are difficult for them. Jesus told his disciples that following him was going to be tough, but he promised them they were not alone. We need to persevere, to keep going, trusting that God is with us. End the Children’s Time with prayer for a life of faithfulness and the ability to keep pressing on in the life of faith.