Do Some Good: The full read

Do you know the difference between good and well? I do now, but it was a tough lesson to learn.

Rev. Dr. Keith Herron’s full sermon, Do Some Good, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022 below:

The Twenty-Third Sunday of Pentecost

II Thessalonians 3:6-13

Do you know the difference between good and well? I do now, but it was a tough lesson to learn.

Daughter: “Dad, how are you doing?”

Dad (happily): “I’m doing good!”

Daughter: “No, Dad, you’re doing well.”

Dad (smirking): “What a waste of a good college education.”

Daughter: “Yours or mine?”

Even the grammar checker on my soulless laptop knows the difference between good and well!

All of you look like you’re doing well today, but I want to explore the idea of doing good on this good day we’ve gathered to worship together.

This reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica is an open window into the first-century church in the little Macedonian village of Thessaloniki. Clearly there’s a message of rebuke to those in the church who were idle, not working, not carrying their load, eating up the church’s groceries, and using the hopeful, promised return of Jesus to cover for their laziness.

A new model is emerging in New Testament scholarship as we’re learning while some first-century churches met in homes others may have been organized around the model of a professional guild. If that’s so, these two letters from Paul to the Thessalonian church might be re-imagined as addressed to a group of artisans, skilled craftsmen, or perhaps manual laborers who may have met in a workshop.

We can imagine in our minds’ eye the gathering of such a community of skilled artisans meeting in someone’s workshop to hear Paul’s letter read aloud. In a place marked by dust, scraps of lumber and wood shavings, by hand tools, and the smell of honest labor, these men and their families may have gathered to learn how to live more closely in relationship with God and with one another.

But as is the nature of things, the ones not working became a problem and Paul had to step in. Never shy, he spoke plainly into the heart of the matter: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” Before we go further, let’s unpack what this saying means … and what it doesn’t mean.

This is not a biblical teaching for or against any modern social safety nets such as welfare, unemployment benefits, food stamps, and feeding programs such as SNAP. Put plainly, this is not a text about economic morality nor is it a rejection of welfare. To read it as such is simply to pervert what the Bible says.

In short, this command is not ammunition for a political fodder of any kind, Republican, or Democrat. Read the text, and you’ll see that Paul did not come across a homeless man begging on a corner in Thessaloniki and tell him to go get a job. In the first century, there were plenty of beggars and no where does Jesus or Paul or anyone else tell them to go get a job.

Rather, Paul is addressing a group of Christians in the church who had stopped working because they thought Jesus was coming back, as in “right back.” These persons felt that work and the labor given to support oneself, was “worldly” and no longer relevant.

Instead, Paul told them to stay alert, expectant that the Lord would indeed come back but not to quit their jobs. In other words, he instructed them to “Stay alert … but stay busy!”

Then he clarified himself: “Do not grow weary of doing good.”

The Apostle Paul was clear when certain church members stopped working, they became a nuisance. Some were “busybodies,” others were gossips, and yet others were noisy critics of those who were busy working.

We must model belief from those who are not just living inwardly, but who are busy doing good where working for the common good is needed most.

Archbishop Hélder Câmara of Recife Brazil was just such a one. He spoke with a heavy accent and a broad smile and once said this to make his point: “Right hand, left hand – both belong to ze same body but ze heart is a little to ze left.”[1] God’s kingdom bends toward love and mercy and justice.

Poet Wendell Berry says succinctly, “Find something that needs doing, and do it.” You’ll make yourself useful in the world and you’ll find contentment in the most surprising kinds of ways.

We model ourselves after Jesus, who “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself” (John 13:3-4, NRSV). Then he went around the room of his followers and washed their dirty feet just before they sat down to share the Last Supper. What an example … On the night he was betrayed, Jesus washed their feet since no one else had thought to do so. A simple, but necessary, task before dinner together.

Know this: God is calling you to serve the needs of this community and the world. Trust me, serving the world is messy work. It will stretch your naïveté and give you pause to wonder about the world and the challenge of faith. But remember it was the world Jesus came to serve and it’s along his path we follow.


© Dr. Keith D. Herron 2022

[1] Quoted in William Sloane Coffin, “The Politics of Compassion,” The Heart is a Little to the Left, Essays on Social Morality, Hanover: University Press of New England, 1999, 9