The 23rd Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 28) | St. Paul’s, Evansville | Joanna Benskin |13 November 2022 | Isaiah 65:17-25 | Canticle 9 | 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 | Luke 21:5-19

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God who calls us amid crisis and creates the world anew.

Today’s readings find the people of God awaiting various crises. In our reading and canticle from Isaiah, the prophet anticipates a new and better world that God will create—the end result is beautiful, but it will take drastic change to get there.

In Luke, we have Jesus being apocalyptic—he’s describing the terrors of a chaotic time to come, which is partly the destruction of Jerusalem and partly the end times. And in Thessalonians, we overhear a conversation with folks who expected the end of this world to come a lot quicker than it did, and need to figure out what how to keep on living when the world is not ending yet after all.

These readings on change and crisis and anticipation hit close to home for me these days. We are also living in a world that’s in flux in so many ways, and we are not sure what happens next. So many things hang in the balance—the state of democracy, the future of our planet, the lives of indigenous children, and the freedoms of many, and the impact of the next COVID wave. Many of us have had more personal crises on top of the shared ones in the news. It seems like the last few years, we’ve just been moving from one crisis to another, always in anticipation of the next one.

And there are moments of relief and moments of joy and connection, but for some of us, it’s just been a long time since we’ve felt safe enough from major threats to fully relax and let our guard down for very long. Some of us tend to feel like we’re always bracing ourselves for the next crisis. It makes sense that we would be, given the state of things—and it’s also a really difficult way to live. Our brains and our bodies aren’t built to be in crisis mode for this long.

And this is where the second letter to the Thessalonians comes in. This letter is also addressed to people living in perpetual anticipation of crisis. It’s addressed to people under threat from persecution. It’s addressed to people who are not sure what happens next.

Whenever we read the New Testament letters, we’re always doing some guesswork because we’re only hearing one half of the conversation. But it’s pretty clear from the rest of this letter that there was confusion about the second coming of Jesus in this community. We think that many early Christians expected Jesus to return in their lifetimes, and when he didn’t show up, they weren’t sure what to believe.

In this community some people thought that Jesus had already come and they’d missed the signs. Some people thought that they were either already living in the end times or else they were just about to be, and so there was no point in continuing to do their regular work and build community and keep on holding things together in this world.

And that’s the context of our reading today. When the writer warns against idleness, it’s for a specific reason. It’s not about people just being lazy, it’s about people misjudging the nature of the crisis they’re in. It’s about people thinking it’s already over when actually there’s a long ways to go yet.

This saying “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” has been taken out of context and used for harm. Some Christians have used this verse to speak against giving help to folks in need, and some have used it to label all people who struggle as lazy, and to justify letting God’s children suffer.

But this letter isn’t about what causes poverty or how we should respond to it; it’s about how to discern our calling in the midst of crisis. It’s about learning how to recognize when we’re in a marathon rather than a sprint, and pace accordingly. Because even in the midst of crisis and chaos and uncertainty, it turns out that there is still life to be lived and labor to be done and hope to be found in this present world. So we need to find our work and find what sustains us.

Our world and our people need us not to be weary in doing what is right. Amid ongoing crises, there is work to do—on the one hand, we can’t ignore that work, and on the other hand, we can’t throw ourselves into that work so frantically that we burn out. Even though some of the crises we’re facing might seem like the end of the world, we can expect there’s a long ways to go yet. And so as we keep doing whatever work we’re called to do, we also need to keep eating and breathing and praying and reflecting and resting together.

At Diocesan Convention last weekend, Bishop Jennifer charged the people of this diocese to rest. She acknowledged the exhaustion of these past few years and the difficulty of the work that’s yet ahead of us. And she called on us in this coming year to claim whatever rest and recovery we can. Because we’re going to need it. The crises will continue—but if we stay in crisis mode every day, we might become too weary to meet them with the compassion and conviction and clarity to which God calls us.

And so we could turn the letter’s phrase around: “Anyone who cannot eat cannot work.” We need to claim nourishment and rest in order to do the work we’re called to do. We need to pay attention to what feeds us, and seek out whatever that is. We need to claim time for rest and rebuilding as we’re able, and we need to come together and help make that rest and rebuilding possible for those among us who are overwhelmed and can’t see the way to restoration.

We need to give our bodies and our brains time to come down from crisis mode sometimes, even if not all of the actual crises have gone away. Time in quietness and prayer can help with this, and so can taking a long walk, and so can spending time with people who help us feel safe and connected. This is how we stay steady in anticipation of crisis.

And through it all, we are not alone. Jesus says it’s not all on us to prepare what to say. When unpredictable things happen, the Holy Spirit is with us to give us the words and the strength and the call to meet that moment as it comes.

And through it all, we hold onto Isaiah’s hope: Another world is possible. Another world is on the way. God is making all things new. We are being re-created for God’s delight and our own. Our prayers will be heard. Our divisions will be healed. Our labor will not be in vain. All creatures can flourish together in peace and plenty.

We will draw water with rejoicing from springs of salvation. The lion shall lie down with the lamb. God’s love will draw all creation together in joy.

And even now, friends, in this broken world, we see glimpses of the new heaven and the new earth that God is creating. We see people standing up for what’s right with their words and their money and their actions, and we find our call to follow Jesus boldly. We discern together amid crisis, and we find our quiet bit of work to do amid the chaos. We become part of God’s love transforming love when we care for each other and our neighbors. We claim the peace and flourishing and rest God offers whenever we find it.

We follow a vision of hope. We labor to make this world even a little bit more like the world God creates anew. We rest to sustain our work and ourselves, knowing that we are created for delight.

So may we trust that the Holy Spirit is moving among us to inspire our vision of hope, to strengthen our hands as we labor for what is right, and to give us rest and delight along the way.


The beginning of 2 Thessalonians in Greek from the 10th-century Egerton Manuscript (accessed through the British Library online).