A testament to a truly slow news day, Lisa and I (along with Ollie, our Jack Russell Terrier) recently garnered fifteen minutes of fame by way of our picture appearing in the community pages of our local newspaper, the Concord Monitor. Not that we were particularly interesting or newsworthy; the reason for this media attention had more to do with the rather outsized pile of leaves that had been gathered up in front of the parsonage, awaiting pickup by the city of Concord in their annual fall cleanup! Granted, it was a lot of leaves; and I can personally vouch for the fact that getting them blown, raked and pushed to the front of our house required many hours and a fair amount of work: so I also must confess that there’s been at least a small measure of satisfaction in knowing that there is now a photographic record of the effort!
Actually, I have to think that somewhere up in heaven my father is looking down on all this and chuckling. That’s because when I was a kid it was often my responsibility every autumn to do the raking in our yard; and although I prefer to remember that I spent a lot of hours happily doing that chore, in all honesty, I have to say that I spent considerably more time and effort trying to avoid the job altogether! Procrastination was my “A” game in those days, and I remember just how rationally and passionately I would tell my parents how there was absolutely no sense in even starting to rake the front yard until every last leaf had fallen from the huge oak tree that stood there: knowing full well, of course, that said oak tree was always the last one in our neighborhood to shed its foliage; that tree alone could push the job back to at least November!
You can just imagine how well that went over, and soon I’d reluctantly go outside with rake in hand. However, what was at most an afternoon’s job easily stretched into days and sometime weeks as I fooled around, played in the leaves and generally stood idle for as long as I possibly could until darkness fell and I could justifiably say, “Oh, I’ll just finish this tomorrow after school” – or this weekend, or next weekend, or whenever – until inevitably, as is often the case in northern Maine, the snows of November would come early and cover the leaves up until spring, when, of course, they’d be wet, messy and ten time harder to clean up! Needless to say, my father was never thrilled at that prospect; and more than once I recall him sternly warning me that I didn’t get busy in a hurry I’d be raking those leaves even if there was a snowstorm!
Oh, well; I guess most eleven year-olds have a love-hate relationship with the work ethic! However, over time most of us have also come to appreciate the importance, value and essential nature of work (and for more than just a paycheck!). Work can actually be a blessing, a gift of God. It is a means to use our God-given gifts to serve both God and neighbor, and as a way to provide for those we love. It can also be a great source of joy and personal fulfillment; work is often the way we meet people and establish meaningful friendships; and whether that work be that which we do on the job, or in our vocation as a spouse, parent, homeowner or simply that breed of man or woman who’s aptly named “putterer,” our work – and yes, how we do it – goes a long way in defining who we are; not only from our own point of view, but also in the sight of others, and of God!
Interestingly, in this Sunday’s epistle reading from 2 Thessalonians, Paul has some pretty strong words for those believers “living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” (3:11) Apparently, there were those in Thessalonica who had so come to believe that the Kingdom of God was at hand that they’d taken on the attitude that all normal activity had not only become unnecessary, but also irrelevant; many of them had quit their jobs, stopped participating in the life of the community, and generally just sat around waiting for something to happen. It was to the point where many of these Christians had begun to live off the work of others in order to survive; and Paul knew that such behavior could easily destroy the very fabric of this new church. And so when he writes to them regarding all this, his tone is anything but conciliatory; “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat,” (v. 10) and you dare not stand idle!
On the face of it, the words are blunt, and come off sounding unduly harsh; and yet it’s an important reminder to all of us who are tempted, spiritually speaking, to “lean on our rakes” of both the meaning and importance of our shared vocation as Christians; that if we are followers of Jesus Christ; that is, if our identity is found in our relationship with Jesus Christ, then that identity will certainly be manifest in the work we do, which is the work of love and justice, peace and hope done in Christ’s name.
In short, it’s our job; and the thing to remember about this is that the time for work is NOW, not later or at an easier and more convenient time. There is much to be done – indeed, many “leaves” to be gathered together –and we dare not stand idle, for we are the people called to live out the reality of Christ’s presence, love and salvation in this world until that time when Christ returns; so, as Paul urges the Church at Thessalonica, so he urges you and me: work quietly and diligently for the sake of God’s kingdom, earn your own spiritual living, and above all, “do not be weary of doing what is right.”(v.13) To be sure, it’s a lot of work, and it’s bound to take some time and effort; so we’d best get busy.
And it’ll be worth it: just think of the leaf pile we’ll create in the process!
c, 2013 Rev. Michael W. Lowry