Lectionary Commentaries for November 14, 2010
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 21:5-19

David Tiede

Jesus never promised it would be easy to follow him.

Tracing his journey to Jerusalem through the long season of Pentecost has felt more like a Lenten ordeal, testing Jesus and his followers, including us. Like Isaiah (50:7) and Ezekiel (21:1-2) of old, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), while his disciples, now awed, then aghast, trudged after him, heading for the temple. On entering Jerusalem their “whole multitude … began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power they had seen, saying ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!'” (Luke 19:38).  The “central section,” or “travel narrative to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51-19:39) could be called “The Gospel for the Duration,” as when soldiers were once drafted into the United States army, “for the duration” of a war.

It is even harder in Jerusalem. On his arrival, Jesus wept, invoking historic oracles from Jeremiah against a city that “did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19:41-44). He then faced down three efforts by the authorities to entrap him, each concluding with Jesus silencing his opponents (Luke 20:1-19; 20:20-26; and 20:27-40).

In Luke 21, no longer defusing the attacks of others, Jesus is alerting his followers to hardships ahead, beyond the time of his journey. The scene of Jesus’ prophetic discourse (21:5-36) is Herod’s magnificent temple, and the Jerusalem temple was revered as a sign of God’s presence, even as the dwelling place of God’s sheltering protection for Israel (see Luke 13:34-35).

But as he approached the city, Jesus had declared that God’s “visitation” had come with his reign, and the very stones of the temple would testify against those who rejected him (19:41-44). Now Jesus again predicts all the stones will be thrown down (21:6), as one scene in the divine drama.

Scholars love to unsnarl the web of prophetic oracles woven through these verses, tracking words and phrases from Jeremiah 4, 7, 14, and 21 along with Isaiah 19 and Ezekiel 14 and 38. Like the prophets before him, Jesus was not very original in what he said, but the question was how faithfully did these prophetic words and warnings of destruction speak to Jesus’ time?

Here Luke depicts Jesus as differentiating his teaching from that of the false prophets, who also quoted the ancient words of God. While announcing the coming judgment, Jesus cautions against following prophets who claim to know God’s timetable, even invoking Jesus’ name.

Bible students can compare the Luke 21 account of Jesus’ words with Mark 13, with its intensity of the coming “tribulation.”  Going back to Luke 17:22-37 will also remind the reader of how Jesus’ death was incorporated into the sequence of God’s timetable: “But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation” (17:25). Probably writing after the Romans have already destroyed Jerusalem, Luke’s longer account of Jesus’ whole discourse (21:5-36) assures his readers they were experiencing not “the end,” but the period of ‘tribulations” or “persecutions” through which believers will enter the kingdom (see Acts 14:22).

Luke’s account of Jesus’ prophetic speech, therefore, does not authorize yet one more set of charts or timetables to read God’s clock down to the last second. Yes, Jesus followed the prophets in teaching that the struggles in history and in disturbances in nature are more than accidental. They remind believers that God triumphed over chaos in creating the natural world, and yet both human and supra-historical forces are still contending for the earth. Jesus’ followers are aware, therefore, that his death and resurrection is God’s ultimate act in a struggle of cosmic proportions. Only the final outcome is sure. As the apostle Paul testified, “We know that the whole creation has been growing in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, be we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23)

The hope to which Jesus testifies in this passage, therefore, is no trivial denial of the struggles, the pain and agony of human life, or the catastrophic forces of nature. These are real, and the prophets of old have interpreted such devastations as the context of God’s saving work. Luke’s Jesus joins this chorus, bringing it close to the concrete realities of early Christians. But he says, “This will be an opportunity to testify” and “By your endurance you will gain your souls!”

The “opportunity to testify” doesn’t require Jesus’ followers to know everything about “why bad things happen to good people.”

Jesus is promising that he will give the “words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” Jesus’ earlier promise of the Holy Spirit’s wisdom in times of testimony (Luke 12:11-12) now becomes Jesus’ own promise. When he commissions them as “my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), he assures them of the power and presence of his Holy Spirit, and the stories in Acts will display the fulfillment of this promise of God’s “mouth and wisdom” (see Acts 4:13-14; 16:6-7). Thus even the harsh prophecies of Luke 21 are filled with the confidence of Jesus’ enduring presence.

And the “endurance” that “will gain your souls” is also not mere heroic persistence.

The early Christians knew all about the “endurance” of Stoic grit, toughing it out, and their endurance was often tested. Paul even picked up the theme in Romans 5:3-5, then transformed this endurance from reliance on human strength to trusting in God’s love: “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Saving endurance is itself a gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Christians who have been admired for their persistence regularly discount their own strength with such words as, “It was only by God’s grace that I held on.”

David Livingstone, the legendary missionary to Africa, prayed, “Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.” And he testified, “What has sustained me is the promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”

This is the promise Jesus conveys in the midst of his prophetic warnings of what will yet come.

First Reading

Commentary on Malachi 4:1-2a

Fred Gaiser

Treacherous days, treacherous texts.

Treacherous days because the end is coming, as the texts insist. Treacherous texts because they will always lure some into trying to figure them out, to solve them, to determine the time of the end. This is treacherous because, first, it has never worked; people throughout history have confidently announced the last days, but the evidence suggests we are still here. Treacherous, second, because it cannot work; trying to solve the texts is an inherent genre error, reading them as mathematics or code rather than as symbolic or parabolic theological warnings. And treacherous, third (and most important), because all attempts to figure out the texts is to make us the master of the word rather than vice versa.

But here we are again, coming to the end of the church year and inundated with sundry texts of the end. What are we to do with them? There is, I think, only one way to read these in a way that lets the texts (that is, the word of God) retain the upper hand: to understand that the time is now. It is not something to be calculated; it was not then, it is not out there, it is now. Now is the time of the divine judgment; now is the time of the divine deliverance. John got it right, “The hour is coming, and is now here” (John 5:25, etc.). Thus, to be sure, treacherous times.
Malachi means “my messenger,” and that is just the point. These are not human ruminations, but words from God that seek to turn us to the Lord and prepare us for God’s coming into our hearts and into our world.
Malachi wrote most likely in the fifth century B.C.E. The temple had been rebuilt, but worship had already fallen again into disorder, and the prophet was sent to warn people against the offenses they were committing before God—manipulative worship, corrupt leaders, oppression of hired workers, widows, and orphans, rejection of aliens. Watch out, says the prophet, the day of the Lord is coming, and it will bring with it “the messenger of the covenant.” It sounds good, but “who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” (3:2). To pray for the coming of the Lord, Malachi knows is to pray for a time of refining and purification that will not be pleasant. But it is the only way to prepare us for God’s presence and God’s deliverance.

A danger in reading our text will be to hear it in terms of “us” and “them”—when God appears, the evildoers will be burnt up, but for “us” (“for you who revere my name”) it will be a time of healing. There may be times and places where this reading makes sense—when, for example (as in the text), there are corrupt leaders who despise God’s word and oppress those in greatest need, or, perhaps, in more recent times when cynical and atheistic ideologies deliberately attack people of faith. However, although there remain places in the world where this more or less applies, for most of us, that time is not now. And even in such places, an evangelical reading of the texts will never proclaim the “good guys” righteous in the sense that they, too, are not always in need of divine cleansing.

A more appropriate evangelical reading will understand that the line between “us” and “them” is never a line between me and the other but always a line down through the middle of me. Our simul iustus et peccator reading (at the same time saint and sinner) will recognize that each of us is at once both good and bad. Thus, the coming of God will be a time to burn away the impurities that reside within me, as painful as that always is, in order to prepare me for the healing that comes with the “sun of righteousness.”
The sun disk served as a symbol of the deity in both Egyptian and Mesopotamian religion, understandably, of course. What else is as strong and glorious as the sun? The Bible, too, makes the comparison: the Lord is “a sun and a shield” (Psalm 84:11); only God can outshine the sun (Isaiah 60:19; see Revelations 21:23; 22:5)—this latter statement serving perhaps as a polemic against the religions that identify the sun with god.
For the righteous (in our understanding, those made righteous by the saving work of God in Christ), for them, this powerful Sun God brings healing. Healing, as used here, is a big word in biblical theology. God self-identifies as “healer” in Exodus 15:26 and as “savior” in Exodus 20:2; healing and saving (or forgiving) are used in parallel in texts like Jeremiah 17:14 and Psalm103:3. This is, in one sense, not two things but one: God’s restoration of all things, saving and healing all that is in distress or need. This is who God is and what God does.

Those in particular need can and will rejoice in the announcement that God comes like the sun, with “healing in its wings.” Throughout the Bible, God promises to heal those in distress. Prayers for healing occur throughout Scripture and are always in place. What that healing will look like is up to God, of course, and will be seen by believers through the eyes of faith. But God heals, for this is who God is—a significant part of the good news.

The creative preacher could certainly develop a sermon around the “wings” in this text, playing with that image as does Scripture itself (check your concordance). God’s wings are as strong and magnificent as the wings of the eagle (e.g., Exodus 19; 4; Deuteronomy 32:11) and as comforting and protecting as the wings of the mother hen (Matthew 23:37). Those in need seek or are invited to take refuge in the shelter of God’s wings (Ruth 2:12; Psalm 17:8; 36:7, etc.). In that shelter, the rescued one can sing at last (Psalm 63:7). Because God soars, so can those who “hope in the Lord” (Isaiah 40:31.) As Malachi notes, here, at last, under the divine wings, is where the faithful find healing.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 65:17-25

Carolyn J. Sharp

Isaiah invites us into a theological vision of what life can be for God’s faithful people.

In the Isaiah traditions are interwoven memories of ancient truth and promises of a radiant future for Israel. In this lection come to magnificent expression three Isaianic motifs: the motif of former and latter things, the motif of the glorification of Zion, and the motif of the shalom (peace, well-being, prosperity) of God’s holy mountain.

Deutero-Isaiah proclaims a Creator who has always been in control of history. God has spoken about things before they came to pass, demonstrating both omniscience and the power to effect the divine purpose over eons (Isaiah 44:6-8). Other gods are mere illusion. “Tell us the former things, what they are…declare to us the things to come,” sneers the God of Israel in a sarcastic challenge directed at other deities, who of course cannot answer because they have no substance (41:22-24). God alone foretold the coming of Cyrus of Persia as deliverer for Judeans in Diaspora (41:25-29); God alone has the power to speak new things into being (42:9). Post-exilic Judah—traumatized by exile, fractured by internecine strife—may dare hope for healing only because of the power and compassion of their mighty God.

The LORD reassures this devastated people, “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17). All that recent history had held for Judah—the terror of the Babylonian invasion, the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, the forcible dislocation and abjection of Judean leaders, perhaps even Judah’s own sinfulness (65:1-7)—will no longer be considered, for God is creating “new heavens and a new earth.” This promise reconfigures everything that Judah had known about its life and its identity. Judah had been under threat from the very earliest cultural memories preserved in biblical tradition. Enslavement in Egypt, living under the shadow of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires according to its formative narratives, Judah had often struggled on the brink of extinction.

Preachers will need to take account, of course, of the imperialistic and xenophobic strands within Scripture as well, evident in those texts in which God commands the genocide of indigenous Canaanites (for example, Exodus 23:23-24; Deuteronomy 20:16-18; Joshua 6:21, 8:21-26) and the obliteration of Israel’s and Judah’s enemies. But it is a central part of biblical testimony that Israel itself has been regularly oppressed and hounded. In that context, our hearts may thrill to hear the promise of Deutero-Isaiah that there will be a new exodus, this time from Babylon (Isaiah 35:1-10; 48:20-21; 52:7-12). Endless rejoicing will be the portion of the faithful!

The second Isaianic motif given expression here is the glorification of Zion, the personified Jerusalem. Earlier passages promised that Zion will be vindicated, bejeweled, made dazzling as an enduring sign of God’s faithfulness (see Isaiah 60:8-22, 61:10-62:12). In our passage, the focus highlights the city’s inhabitants. They are gems in Zion’s crown; they will be living proof that God loves God’s chosen city.

Verses 17-19 are absolutely luminous with language of creating and delighting. “I am about to create,” God sings. “I am creating … I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight” (Isaiah 65:18). Peace and righteousness will oversee the life teeming within Zion’s gates (60:17); violence, predation, and fear will be no more. The idyllic picture that unfolds in Isaiah 65:20-25 constitutes one of the most beautiful oracles in all of Scripture.

Preachers may want to dwell on these promises of our God concerning abundant life, for in this oracle we may hear deep resonances with incarnational theology. God’s people will know no more weeping or cries of distress, no more premature loss of life; homes will be built and inhabited; vineyards will be planted and their fruit enjoyed (implicitly contrasted here is the ancient terror of being dispossessed by an enemy; see, for example, Jeremiah 6:12, Zephaniah 1:13). “Like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be” (Isaiah 65:22) we imagine a mature olive tree, gnarled and green and leafy, being a metaphor for spiritual serenity and fruitfulness. (Compare “I am like a green olive tree in the house of God,” Psalm 52:8; “your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table,” Psalm 128:3; “[Israel] shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon. His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive tree,” Hosea 14:5-6).

Labor will never again be in vain. No minor promise, this may reverse the threat in Leviticus 26:16 of toil bearing fruit only for enemies when God’s people do not obey the Torah. Childbirth will yield generation upon generation of blessed offspring. There is a poignant divine word for a traumatized community that felt God’s absence keenly during the exile: “before they call, I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24). Never again will God hide God’s face.

In Isaiah 65:25, a utopian vision articulated in the earlier part of Isaiah is reasserted. Wolf, lamb, lion, and ox appear again, a collocation of creatures evoking the peaceable kingdom in Isaiah 11. A heightened emphasis on erstwhile predators and prey feeding together sets up a contrast at the end of the verse: “but the serpent—its food shall be dust!” That line, three simple but devastating words in Hebrew, brings the Garden of Eden fully into focus. God’s curses on the serpent and Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:14-19) are referenced: in these latter days, the primeval ancestors’ sorrows will be transformed into the joy of blessed offspring and enduring enjoyment of the fruit of human labor, but the curse on the serpent is reaffirmed. The serpent in future will remain subjugated, so this blessedness will never again face threat.

Thus Israel’s glorious restoration will be of Edenic proportions and cosmic significance. The “new heavens and new earth” that God is creating will have Zion at their center. A healed Israel will be cherished within the very heart of God’s delight. Good news indeed: “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.” The believer is left longing for that place of unending reconciliation and joy.


Commentary on Psalm 98

James Howell

“Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!” (Psalm 98:5)

Once in a while I try in my mind to imagine the sound of ancient musical instruments and the mindset of the ancient Israelites who played them.

When they thought of God, their first reflex was Praise. Our first reflex might be far more utilitarian: I ask God for stuff, I measure God by whether God seems to be doing what I need, or else, I question God.

But Israel praised.

Praise is our amazement at God and God’s greatness, our recognition of the power and tenderness of the creator. Praise enjoys and celebrates God’s love, and it is our best attempt to feel, say, or sing something appropriate to God. Praise doesn’t ask “What have you done for me lately?” but instead exclaims “How great Thou art!”

Psalms scholar Walter Brueggemann explains praise for us: “All of life is aimed toward God and finally exists for the sake of God. Praise articulates and embodies our capacity to yield, submit, and abandon ourselves in trust and gratitude to the One whose we are. We have a resilient hunger to move beyond self. God is addressed not because we have need, but simply because God is God.”1

Praise doesn’t “work.” It is not productive, and it isn’t even about me. Praise means being lost in adoration of the beloved, being awestruck by beauty. Praise is downright wasteful in terms of possible ways to spend your time. To think of God like a lover, one on whom you might dote for hours, requires considerable imagination, a radical reshaping of the soul.

Israel praised with makeshift instruments which craftsmen labored over and their sole purpose was to produce sound that would rise to the skies and be heard by God. Psalm 98 speaks of the lyre. Wasn’t the lyre the instrument Orpheus played in that mythological story? Sailors constantly shipwrecked when seduced by the songs of the sirens. Odysseus managed to sail past their perilous rocks by stuffing wax in the ears of the rowers and strapping himself to the mast of the ship; but Orpheus simply pulled out his lyre and played a song more beautiful than that of the sirens, and the rowers listened to his song and sailed to safety.

Praise is our best counter to evil in the world. If we are “lost in wonder, love, and praise,” there is not much chance we will stumble into tawdry sin, or find ourselves jaded and cynical. Praise is the cure for despair and loneliness. If we “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (cf. Psalm 100:1), we experience a quiet in the soul, a community of love.

Psalm 98 praises the Lord “for he has done marvelous things… He has made known his victory” (Psalm 98:1-2). Weaving the universe into existence, fashioning the delicate petals on a rose, crafting massive canyons, musing in wisdom, promising eternal bliss−we could expend every minute of every day noticing some new aspect of the greatness of God.

Of course, the most marvelous “thing” God ever did was to visit us on earth. Jesus, by simply showing up on earth, by teaching, touching, suffering and rising, was and is marvelous. Jesus is the victory of God, and our only sensible response is to praise.

The Lord reigns!
Psalm 98 is part of a little cluster of Psalms (93 through 99) whose primary theme is: “The Lord reigns! The Lord is King!”

Worshipers in ancient Israel must have had considerable hutzpah to travel for miles in caravans over rocky, dangerous terrain in order to press with the crowd into the temple and shout: “The Lord is King!” They must have known their temple was a pipsqueak among ancient temples.

Their God (whose name was Yahweh) must have seemed like the weakling on the playground of bigger, more impressive deities (like Marduk or Ea of the mighty Babylonians, or Osiris or Horus of the wealthy Egyptians).

All other gods could boast of military triumphs, vast hordes of gold, and shinier cultic objects. If success was the measure, the gods of the Assyrians or the Phoenicians had superior reasons to elicit praise from their subjects.

Why this foolishness in Israel? Was it panache or lunacy? Or was it a profound faith that could stand boldly in the face of being the laughingstock of other nations and still affirm that “Our Lord is King! (And yours isn’t.)”? Did they understand the true nature of the true God?

I suspect they did, although it was when Jesus arrived that the world was treated to the ultimate display of what exactly a King looks like. Jesus lay in a manger instead of a palace. Jesus surrounded himself with poor, clueless fishermen instead of a slick bureaucracy. Jesus recruited an army of grateful lepers instead of well-drilled regiments. Jesus rode a wobbly donkey instead of a sprightly stallion. Jesus assumed a cross instead of a throne, a crown of thorns not gold and jewels.

Psalm 98, not once or twice but three times, proclaims the Lord’s victory. The Hebrew word translated “victory” is yeshua the very name Jesus assumed when he won the stunning victory that was becoming flesh and dying.

Christians who strive for power in America or any other place on earth misconstrue the heart of our faith. We are historically wary of power.

When J.R.R. Tolkien told his scintillating stories of the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, and their quest not to possess the ring of power but to destroy it, he articulated in fable form the essence of Christianity. It is not about us wielding power, but is a yielding to the power of God.

Or perhaps it is the wisdom to intuit that with our God, with Jesus, we glimpse a very different and much better type of royalty.

Want to see power? Watch Jesus touch the untouchables. Watch Jesus wash the feet of those who would gladly have washed his. Watch Jesus surrender his very life, so powerful was his love. Watch Jesus forgive the very people who just spat on him and drove nails into his flesh. Watch Jesus breathe his last and then quite fantastically show up three days later.

“The Lord is King!” And our only reply is the way Isaac Watts rephrased this Psalm: “Joy to the world!”
The world still mockingly laughs, or yawns. But we know and praise the Lord who is king. We pray that the world will rejoice and revel in the Lord’s kingship.

Until they do, we rejoice for them, on their behalf, raising a chorus of “Joy to the world; let earth receive her King!”

1Walter Brueggeman, Israel’s Praise: Doxology against Idolatry and Ideology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1988), 1.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Sally A. Brown

The epistle for this last proper of the church year is concerned with the life of local Christian communities, and in a thoroughly down-to-earth way: we live by faith, but we live the life of faith with our feet firmly planted on planet earth.

And here on earth, even Christians need to work so that everyone can eat. A community living in eager expectation of the Lord’s imminent return is not released from this obligation. Possibly this fledgling congregation modeled its common life on the communal economics of the earliest Jerusalem communities. Some had quit their trades, expecting the wealthy few to support everyone until the imminent Day of the Lord.

This text may seem homiletically awkward in some communities these days. Where unemployment is high and many, far from trying to shirk daily labor, are desperate for it, simply repeating the text’s exhortation to work would be insensitive and unhelpful. Driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike recently, I passed a car with the license plate “H8 2WORK” — “Hate to work.” Maybe it was a hot day or maybe it was just that I had heard about too many lost jobs and long-term unemployment recently, but that vanity license made me mad. I wanted to wave the guy (it just happened to be a guy) over to the shoulder and give him a piece of my mind: “Hey, buddy, if you’re too good for work, why don’t you give your job to any one of about three million people who would take it in a heartbeat?”

Careful reflection is in order, as well, for preachers whose church members include the great-great-grandchildren of African-American slaves. For these men and women, labor meant not blessing but degradation and oppression. The prosperity of broad regions of the emerging United States was built on their bent, scarred backs.

A starting point for preaching is to make crystal clear that a grim work ethic is most definitely not the premise on which this text is based. This text cannot become good news if it is reduced to little more than work-ethic-based moralism.

First, the text assumes the freedom and dignity of the children of God. The point is not to abuse this freedom. Some have translated Christian freedom, combined with an avid expectation of the return of Christ, into idleness. It is like busying out the phone line at 4:00 PM on Friday to chat with the guy in the next cubicle until quitting time, or explaining on voicemail that we are “making sales calls” and heading for the trout stream instead. Trusted with freedom, we take liberties.

Second, the freedom of the children of God implies living with others in equality and mutual accountability, and it is this that undergirds the admonition to work. Believers are summoned to a life of mutual effort for mutual service, based on equal regard of each for every other. A few congregations may face the Thessalonians’ problem: idle members who expect others in the congregation to take care of them. But in most settings, relevant preaching on this text will take another direction.

A problem for many congregations today is the over-preoccupation of some in the faith community with their work. Anxieties about paying college bills and building a retirement portfolio are understandable; yet when talented people in a congregation are work-obsessed, it can leave a few hard-working souls carrying most of the freight in congregational volunteer ministries. Could this pattern of inequity in “doing what is right” (verse 13) be a modern expression of the distortion of our Christian freedom with respect to work? Certainly it can damage the mutuality of Christian community. This topic would have to be approached with great tact and with due pastoral concern for the anxieties that drive over-work.

A key phrase occurs in verse 12: “… we command and exhort you in the Lord Jesus.” Everything about our life is qualified by the reality that our lives have been redeemed and redirected “in the Lord Jesus.” We work, or seek to work, not for work’s sake, or for profit’s sake, but for the reign of God–and, again, in the freedom of the children of God.

In other congregations, all too many willing to work cannot find work to do. In such settings, refusing to “grow weary in doing what is right” may look like a prayerful congregational focus on supporting those who seek work and using congregational networking to help them find it.

Another homiletical angle is to focus on the way the author of 2 Thessalonians teaches by example. Although he had a right as a religious teacher to expect the community to support him, he and his companions “worked night and day” so that they “might not burden” any of the Thesssalonian Christians (verse 8).

We teach the faith as much by passing on traditions of practice as by our hymns and creeds. What are those practices for which a particular congregation is known and which it needs to pass on to the young and to new church members? When a congregation widely known for the vitality of its small-group approach to discipleship formation ran into rough waters due to leadership change and other factors, the small group model of “being church” flagged for a time. But now, stabilized under fresh leadership, they have revitalized their practices of small-group formation and their share of their know-how. Whether a congregation’s strength is ministry with the homeless, generous mission giving, or outstanding leadership education, any congregation can get distracted by budgetary or other troubles and “grow weary in doing what is right.” Preaching can encourage recommitment to a neglected vision.

God gifts us all to contribute, in Christian freedom and mutuality, to the good of all. “In the Lord Jesus,” we owe one another our best efforts, doing good work and serving human need out of love for one another and our Lord.