2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
I know that this election has many of you coming to church today feel concerned, worried, and maybe even scared. Some of you may be coming today feeling glad and hopeful. Some of you may not even know what to think. But here we all are, sitting in this room, hearing some words from Jesus, words that cut me to the quick. And those words are simply this: stay faithful while the world burns.
Jesus shares the same thing, but with the promise that those that follow him will suffer. He says to this disciples, indeed, that they will be brought before the authorities, arrested and persecuted, and here is what he says about that: “It will give you an opportunity to testify.” He says that his followers will be betrayed and killed, and that they will be hated because of his name. But, he says, and here’s that word again: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
And, in case you were wondering what the theme of the day is, Paul writes to the Thessalonians to continue to work—and here he just means don’t mooch from the community if you can help it out. But he closes by saying “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”
I am reminded this week of a very good thought by the theologian Stanley Hauerwas that the first political task of the church is to be the church. I remember a couple weeks ago that I said we Christians need to avoid turning our political beliefs into creeds, whether we are Democrats or Republicans. Jesus had very little to say about constitutional, republican government and how large or small it should be or how much it should regulate the market. But it seems sometimes that we like to think that if Jesus were to register to vote today, he’d register in my party and vote the way I do. That’s not the case, I don’t think. I think Hauerwas has it right: here, in this place, the politics we practice are the forming of a single body out of many through Jesus Christ, son of God, Lord of Lords, in whom we are baptized and have hope of the resurrection to eternal life. Our common life together is first and last determined by his rule and his law, and we do our best to live in the world according to that final word from him. The political task of the church is to first be the church: to endure the wars and the change of governments, the horrors of human life, to endure persecution and slander, to endure the dark moments of human history, and yes, to endure the bright moments of human history, to endure by always pointing to Christ and saying, there is something beyond any power on this earth that shapes me and gives me life. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Now, I hasten to add that this does not mean a pie in the sky religion. It does not mean suffer now for bliss in eternity. It does not mean simple and pious seeming quietism in the face of human events—it does not say that what we do on earth does not matter. On the contrary, it makes what we do on earth even more important. Jesus says that his followers will be arrested, persecuted, interrogated, betrayed, put to death. This does not happen to people who sit and dream quietly of an afterlife. It happens to people who are a threat to the established order because they have a deeper motivation and higher calling that they follow despite the established order.
We have elected a president who does not believe in climate change and who has appointed a man to head the EPA who wants to get busy burning more coal and deregulating the energy industry as fast as possible. Under his watch, it is likely that we will see attempts to eliminate marriage equality. It is likely that the Voting Rights Act will be further gutted. Our judicial system will fall into the hands of rabid right-wing judges and justices. I will not stand here and tell you that everything is going to be all right. That would be wrong. Things are going to get very bad for many people. We are about to see an orgy of legislation that will set us back 50 years, if we are lucky. Not to mention all the lost income and jobs from trying to recreate the economy of the 50s and 60s, and not to mention that the world will no longer look to the United States to lead it into the future, but Germany and Asia. I cannot stand here and tell you that things are going to be all right. They won’t be. But I can say: be faithful. Keep being faithful. Work faithfully, because our God is faithful, and God will raise up the faithful. Never grow weary in doing what is right.
And, I have to add, that even if our president-elect’s opponent would have won, there still would have been work for Christians to do. There is no perfect government, nor is there any perfect president. Sin abounds, even in the best of our leaders. This, too, is part of Jesus’ message—nations will change hands, change borders, and die. We will have disasters and crises. But through it all be faithful.
I remember once going to a church sometime after 9/11, where the people, after the Apostles Creed, turned to the flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I found that profoundly disgusting, and unworthy of the church to do. But this week I thought about that, and I thought, what if, instead of reciting the pledge of allegiance, we recited the beatitudes? What if we proclaimed, along with our faith in God, our faith that God calls to us work love in the world? Do good to those that hate you, bless those that persecute you, love your enemies. That is our work. It never stops. And notice that Jesus says when they bring his followers in for interrogation and trial, it will give them an opportunity to testify. Testify to what? To God’s love and mercy to the very people that have bound them, to God’s love and mercy and righteous judgment on the world.
Many of you are scared. Many of you wonder what lies ahead. I wish I had a prophecy to share, like Malachi. I wish I could tell you exactly what to prepare for. But Jesus has already told us. Prepare by continuing to be faithful to the calling of the Gospel, to proclaim God’s good news in Christ Jesus, and to work for justice and peace. It may be, that in our nation, that work will suddenly become a threat. Those that wish to exploit, pillage, profit, and oppress generally find a group of people committed to equality and hope bothersome and intrusive. If that is what happens to our country, then I hope that is what we are. Endure by doing God’s will. By your endurance you will gain your souls. Amen.
The Reverend John Zachary Flack