Saturday, December 10, 2016 Saturday after the Second Sunday of Advent
2 Thessalonians 3.6–18
The text of the readings follows after the comments.
Lately I have been doing a lot of walking. Some of it takes the form of a contemplative walk. I pray St. Patrick’s Prayer, saying or singing it:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all who love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Or I sing or say the lyrics of one of my favourite hymns:
A spendthrift lover is the Lord who never counts the cost
or asks if heaven can afford to woo a world that’s lost.
Our lover tosses coins of gold across the mid-night skies
and stokes the sun against the cold to warm us when we rise.
Still more is spent in blood and tears to win the human heart,
to overcome the violent fears that blow the world apart.
Behold the bruised and thorn-crowned face of one who bears our scars
and empties out the wealth of grace that’s hinted by the stars.
How shall we love this heart-strong God who gives us everything,
whose ways to us are strange and odd; what can we give or bring?
Acceptance of the matchless gift is gift enough to give.
the very act will shake and shift the way we love and live.
Or I pray the Jesus Prayer, as a kind of prayer phrase:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
I also use my walking time to memorize scripture. When I was in amateur theatrics I memorized all kinds of stuff, so I thought I might apply myself to chunks of the Bible. I’ve managed to memorize 1 Corinthians 13 (“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clashing cymbal”). I’ve moved on to 1 Corinthians 15. Give me enough time I may memorize the whole letter! This is not an absurd idea. In the ancient and medieval times monks and hermits would memorize the whole of the 15o psalms, not because they necessarily wanted to do a great act of memory, but because they were illiterate and if they were to pray the psalms they really had to get them in their heads. This memorization and recitation is another form of prayer.
I say all of this not because I am a very holy person – it has taken me over five decades to get to the point of wanting to do anything like this – but because I believe that it is the central task of any Christian to pray, and I have struggled with it (despite ordination and presumed discipline), and only recently have I found it easier.
Paul in the reading from 2 Thessalonians today attacks those who are idle. It has been suggested that in anticipation of the return of Jesus some had stopped working, and were relying on other Christians for daily necessities. Presumably they were not absorbed in prayer.
Prayer is not idleness, although in the perspective of the modern world it might be viewed as such. After all, it is not productive, it doesn’t seem to provide any commodifiable service, and it can eat up a chunk of time that might be used in other ways. However, the subversive, counter-cultural claim of Christians is that prayer is a prerequisite to anything worthy being done.
Advent is often portrayed as a time of waiting, an anticipation. I’m really not waiting for Christmas, and I’m too old to feel any great anticipation. It’s going to be here in two weeks, one way or another. What I am doing is journeying towards the celebration of the Incarnation. It is active, like walking. It’s more than waiting. The journey is as important as the celebration. Let us walk on through two more Sundays in Advent, and the weeks that follow.
Then the Lord said to me, Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, ‘Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz’, and have it attested for me by reliable witnesses, the priest Uriah and Zechariah son of Jeberechiah. And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the child knows how to call ‘My father’ or ‘My mother’, the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria.
The Lord spoke to me again: Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and melt in fear before Rezin and the son of Remaliah; therefore, the Lord is bringing up against it the mighty flood waters of the River, the king of Assyria and all his glory; it will rise above all its channels and overflow all its banks; it will sweep on into Judah as a flood, and, pouring over, it will reach up to the neck; and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.
Band together, you peoples, and be dismayed;
listen, all you far countries;
gird yourselves and be dismayed;
gird yourselves and be dismayed!
Take counsel together, but it shall be brought to naught;
speak a word, but it will not stand,
for God is with us.
For the Lord spoke thus to me while his hand was strong upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.
2 Thessalonians 3.6–18
Now 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. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you.
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.
‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’
He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’ He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’