Once again the scriptures call upon us to lean on the Word of God, expect to be given the testimony that will be needed in times of trial, and trust that we will have wisdom at the crucial moment.
Lean. Expect. Trust.
When the future appears especially unknowable, it is difficult to keep a grip on this promise. We have such a time today not only in our nation – given the elections for president, Congress, state houses, and councils of commissioners – but also internationally. Other nations watch what happens in the most powerful country because the United States has not only the most armaments but an economy that is relied-upon.
Here, Malachi’s prophetic voice gives hope to those who feel ignored, and Luke’s Jesus puts into perspective the things of this world.
This Sunday's reading climaxes in the persecutions Christians will endure before the Parousia. Like Paul, Luke wants us to know that, though natural and man-made catastrophes will occur, the end is not immediate. The church in the time before the end. . . has the mission to evangelize all the nations. When the LORD does come again. . . we have the prophet Malachi's assurance that the righteous will not burn like stubble but will bask in the LORD's healing rays. – Joseph McHugh
The longer reading in the BCP [Malachi 3:13–4:2a,5-6] incorporates [today’s text]. Chapter 3, verses 13 to 18, present the just as complaining to God about the wicked. There is a timeless quality to their complaint: “It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the LORD of hosts? Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape” (NRSV).
We could raise the same complaint to God in our own day. Does not the material prosperity of those who benefit through illegal or unethical practices still irritate us? “Where is justice?” we might ask. Why follow God's way?
God promises. . . that those who revere him will find justice, not today or tomorrow perhaps, but “on the day when I act” (4:3). Then the just shall be God's special possession, and the difference between the righteous and the wicked will be made clear. – Joseph McHugh
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
This admittedly difficult-sounding command from Paul is addressed to “believers.” For that reason, it is not possible for the faithful to use it to avoid giving alms or helping those in need. The church in Thessalonia is being warned that the members have to work in order to eat.
It is crucial to say this (and maybe even make it a blatant part of the sermon) because “idlers” here refers to those in the church who are undisciplined and insubordinate. Because this language is found only here and in 1 Thess. 14-15, it is reasonable to assume the church in Thessalonia had some seriously troubled members.
Let us, today, focus on verse 13: “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”
And finally, let us also focus on what is most uplifting in times of trial. We have this story from the commentator in 2007 to give us an image of how to hang onto hope in times of distress.
Two Brits met in later middle life. . . [and] learned that they had both been mercenary soldiers. . . involved in the same civil war in Latin America. They had been on conflicting sides.
One . . . had been lying in ambush as a sniper. Suddenly he realized that an “enemy” solder was making his cautious way along a path in front of his ambush, and would be easy to kill. He took aim. As he was taking first pressure, he heard the target singing quietly under his breath. He could no longer fire. What he heard was a song that he had himself learned years before in his long-disowned Sunday School days.
The second man . . . had a similar memory. One night, when he had been sent on a lone patrol in a notoriously difficult part of the front, and was on a distant trail, where no help could be expected, he had been seized by a sudden terror, which, as a soldier, he told himself he must resist or ignore. And he found himself humming a tune that came swimming up from his unconscious—a tune that he finally recognized as a memory of his own long-abandoned Sunday School upbringing. . . What one man heard, and the other sang, included these words:
Other refuge have I none,/ Hangs my helpless soul on thee: Still support and comfort me!/All my trust on thee is stayed, All my help from thee I bring:/ Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of thy wing…
– David Tripp
Joseph McHugh is a freelance writer from New Jersey, and a former weekly newspaper columnist writing on lectionary readings whose writing includes a revision of Rev. Melvin L Farrell’s Getting to Know the Bible (ACTA Publications, 2003).
David Tripp, a United Methodist minister who served Salem United Methodist Church in Indiana, served in the British Methodist ministry for twenty-eight years and wrote on liturgics and related subjects.
Homily Service 40, no. 12 (2007): 46-57.