It had been a long time.
I have been a fan of the Chicago Cubs my whole life — and it had been almost twice that time since the city of Chicago had cause to celebrate as it did this last week. It was sometime in the last few years — in this time when it almost felt as though the ‘end’ might be near, but out of the internalized habit and tradition of most fans, still seemed far off, that someone gave me the t-shirt pictured here. I laughed to receive it, of course. And yet, it is not true that the Chicago Cubs have done ‘nothing’ in these last 108 years. Season after season they have put a team on the field. Games have been won and lost — unfortunately more lost than won. Innings have been pitched, home runs have left the park, bases have been stolen, outs have been made. And through it all, fans have filled the stands and cheered and wept and yes, we have been tempted to give up for the wait had been far too long. So no, it is not as though they have done ‘nothing.’ They just have not achieved the ultimate hope of every franchise that exists. And now that they have? Even though I certainly know better, in these last days it has felt as though nothing else matters. Along with millions, I find myself watching the highlight videos and choking up a bit with a sense of joy and wonder that this day has finally come.
It is only a game, of course. I know this, and yet I surely understand why it comes to mean so much. Perhaps it is the escapism it provides — and yes, that was a gift to millions this October/November as we come to the end of an especially disturbing election cycle. Maybe it appeals to a primal sense of needing to ‘belong’ to one group over another. Or maybe it is the pure joy of watching remarkably talented young men do amazing things on the field which few have accomplished before. Whatever is so, the more than century wait for the Chicago Cubs and their fans provides an apt metaphor for the themes before us in these weeks before Advent.
For this wait also has been long. Far longer than the wait of any fan for any team to win.
And yet, at the time when the people of Thessaloniki received the letter which is excerpted for us today, the time had not yet been long — at least not by our standards. Then the return of Christ was understood to be imminent. And if we are to understand the urging articulated in this paragraph of the letter, there were those who were content to sit back and do “nothing” while they waited.
It is hard to imagine, of course. Oh, from time to time we have seen reports of those who somehow find a way to calculate the date of Christ’s return and in response sell all they have and sit and watch and wait. I have not known any of them personally, though. Indeed, most of the people of faith with whom I am acquainted are anything but idle in the “wait” as we tend to the needs and hurts and hopes of people in this life now. Sometimes this busy-ness is warranted. And sometimes, perhaps, we are just busy. Sometimes, I expect, we forget we are ‘waiting’ for something more. And without a doubt, the object of our waiting informs our way of living and doing now.
For a sports franchise the goal is always clear and no one is really truly satisfied unless the ultimate win is theirs. But what does ‘winning’ look like for God’s people, the Church? What does it mean to ‘endure’ as Jesus’ words in Luke urge us to do today? What does it look like to not ‘be idle’ as this portion of the letter concludes today?
Certainly there are clues for us in the letter itself for we find written there:
- Don’t eat anyone’s bread without paying for it;
- With toil and labor, work day and night so as not to be a burden.
- Do your work quietly and earn your own living.
In other words, as you are able, don’t expect life to look any different for you than anyone else just because you are a follower of Jesus. And more than that, among the community, there is no hierarchy which allows one to depend on the labor of others. Indeed, the words of 2nd Thessalonians speak directly to how we are to be in community with one another as we wait. To do our share, as we are able and to not take advantage of one another.
And yet, there is more, of course, for at the end we are encouraged to ‘not be weary in doing what is right.’ Right by each other and right by the world. And that means you and I are called to keep busy in what matters — doing all we can to follow Jesus in our life together for the sake of this world as we wait for his return.
Certainly, this is true for any team on any field. In order to reach our goals, we each have to pull our own weight and tend each other well. It was true of the Chicago Cubs this year and it is true of any healthy community of faith I have ever called home. And yes, in this time in-between Jesus leaving and coming again, this surely matters. It surely does.
- Obviously, Jesus never said to ‘do nothing’ until he gets back. And yet, it is important for people of faith to consider what our ‘doing’ looks like as we wait. What does that ‘doing’ look like for you? For your community of faith?
- This part of the 2nd letter to the Thessalonians addresses the faithful themselves — reminding them and us —- that each needs to do his or her part and that our relationships with one another matter during the ‘wait.’ How do these words speak to you? To your community of faith?
- How does the object of our wait inform our time of waiting? How does the fact that we are collectively waiting for the return of Christ shape the ‘wait’ for us? Indeed, what specifically about what we know of Jesus informs our waiting time and what we do with it? In our faith communities? For the sake of the world?