A sermon by Doug Gay for Trinity Worship, 8 Nov 2022. Texts applicable for Sunday 13th November 2022. RCL Readings: Isaiah 65:17-25; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Isaiah 65:17-25 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, or bear children for calamity; * for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord. Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 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. <<Brothers and Sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. Do not be weary in doing what is right... That’s a good word – for sure – but I’m feeling a bit grumpy about what comes before it, Paul – if this is you – half of the Biblical Studies department think it’s you and the other half hae thur doots – but it’s scripture anyway and my problem in 2022 is it feels a bit too much like the rhetoric of right wing populists – I mean Jesus feeding the 5000 didn’t go and ask whether some of them were lazy tykes – he very didn’t say I was hungry but I had been idling around so it was ok that you gave me no food – So I’m feeling grumpy about this reading – although I do get that this seems to be addressed to folk with an over developed sense of entitlement – it does seem to be those who are either too full of themselves personally or too selfish socially or too obsessed eschatologically – who consider themselves above working – so if its about the Marie Antoinette’s or the Barry Antoinette’s of this world refusing to pull their weight or do their share – then I guess I have some sympathy. But Paul – one of my intellectual heroes – Paul you who wrote if one part of the body suffers we all suffer – this is thin ice here – I think if you knew how much this text would be abused to stigmatise folk on welfare, folk on Universal Credit – you might have rethought it – I know, I know, it’s a letter to the wee emerging church at Thessalonika – how were you to know it would end up in the bible! To tell the truth – despite what you said – it does make me feel a bit weary... it does… because it takes me into the messy grubby politics of congregations I have known, have been part of – there’s a kind of pettiness about this situation, a myopia, a frustration about folk who are taking the piss – excuse my French Paul – and like you, I’ve been in this game long enough to lose it a bit with folk who are so full of themselves they have no room for other people – it’s just you know – the Devil can quote Scripture Paul… and he does and she does… and they do. To tell the truth its not really what we were needing this morning. It’s week 7 – there’s a grim budget coming next week – Northern Ireland is being poisoned by Brexit - Elon Musk has bought Twitter – Scotland aren’t in the World Cup – and what is no joke, the so-called African COP doesn’t seem very Africa centred so far – take that photo of the leaders – men in suits, so many men in suits – no Russia, no China, no India – no global unity – even if Biden signs up to a half-decent thing – America’s voting today and we might end up with a House and Congress that will block what he agrees to – and Loss and Damage – never mind Paul – I’m talking straight to you Lord – that’s the very basics of what you call us to isn’t it – to repent – to take responsibility – to love our neighbours – and we can’t even face up to that. And it's too late to avoid 1.5. And old folk aren’t putting their heating on. And COVID is still taking its toll. And of course, the War. the War. the Wars – Ukraine, Tigray, Yemen and we get weary…we get world weary… [here the sermon was paused and a student from the US read this poem from their place in the (small) congregation] [US English a realtor is an estate agent, someone who sells property – and when builders talk about a property having good bones – they mean it's structurally sound] Good Bones By Maggie Smith Life is short, though I keep this from my children. Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways, a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children. For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird. For every loved child, a child broken, bagged, sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world is at least half terrible, and for every kind stranger, there is one who would break you, though I keep this from my children. I am trying to sell them the world. Any decent realtor, walking you through a real shithole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful. Brothers and Sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. It won’t always be like this – there won’t always be weeping – folk crying out, women, kids crying out in distress it won’t always be like this – babies dying after a few days from disease or malnutrition or no access to medical care it won’t always be the case that men in Bridgeton die 10 years younger than men in Bearsden it won’t always be the case that those who labour on building sites can’t afford to buy the houses they put up It won’t always be the case that those who pick the grapes can’t afford the fine wine It won’t always be the case that folk do boring, repetitive jobs for shit wages and then have to go to foodbanks to survive It won’t always be the case that women bear and birth children only for them to be sent off to be butchered in Mariupol or Kobo or Sanaa It won’t always be the case that the wolf has the lamb in its jaws It won’t always be the case that the lion preys on the gazelle It won’t always be the case that the serpent strikes our heel with its fangs It won’t always be the case that people get abused and destroyed within our churches Isaiah says, let God’s people hear this – you weary brothers and sisters This world is not only getting old – it is not only running down and wearing out and burning up It’s time to remember what God wants – God is good – all the time – God is Good – all the time God’s masterplan – God’s grand design is joy – delight – a City of Joy – a people of delight God’s dream for us… That we all get the telegram from the King – no grannies ever get shoved off a bus – every wean will be able to go to their papa’s house after school That babies live and suck and gurgle and grow and thrive That you have a place to call your own – its safe and warm and dry – and decent! You can all choose anything on the wine list Your kids thrive - they grow up strong and happy Your kids survive – no one recruits them to a gang or conscripts them to an army We’ll all be like trees – a forest growing green and old together We’ll enjoy our work – we’ll love what we do It’ll be so new – there’ll be so much newness we will hardly be able to remember the bad old days and mostly we won’t care to New heavens, a new earth Be glad and rejoice for ever in what I am creating
God is good all the time – but we are not Sometime we are not good, sometimes we are weary of doing good And perhaps today – as we sit in this scriptural, canonical, theological field of tension between 2 Thessalonians and Isaiah 65 – perhaps the Spirit is saying to us that Our witness, our worship, our politics, our caring, our ministries They happen somewhere in between – between the soaring vision of a new world coming and the frustrating compromises of our local congregations So maybe the Spirit is holding up both of these texts as a mirror for us today - But there is a single word - a good word to us, which binds them both together Brothers and Sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. AMEN.