“We’ll Hang the Jerk That IUnvented Work” Nov. 13, 2022

“We’ll Hang the Jerk That IUnvented Work” Nov. 13, 2022

Posted by on Jun 12, 2023 in Sermon archives

“We’ll Hang the Jerk that Invented Work”    Nov. 13, 2022


A few weeks back, you might remember, my son Zach was able to come out and visit for a bit. We had a great time: we visited the food trucks in town, and  he even got me to eat sushi. That is where  I discovered that the little glob of green stuff is called wasabi. I discovered that even though wasabi looks like avocado paste. it most certainly is not. I also discovered that you should never ever, ever Put the whole glob in your mouth unless you want to have an out of body experience. Now, I don’t know what’s in this stuff, but compared to wasabi, jalapeno Peppers taste like ice cream.

But we had a good time. Nothing bonds a  father and son together  better than when the old man makes a fool of himself in public. Anyway we had a chance to catch up, we talked about his kids, About Fords versus chevy, And we talked about working 12 hour days While people in other departments are getting laid off. We talked about how scary it is to Work for one company for years, Only to find that they are looking to sell that company. I guess when you were a young man raising a family, work is very important.  And so it was  when I read Paul’s tirade to the Thessalonians, warning them that those who  won’t work won’t eat – – –

When I read that. I couldn’t help but think to myself’ This working and eating thing has changed a heck of a lot in the last 2000 years.’

So what is Paul driving at here when he writes to the church in Thessalonica saying. “10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  “we gave you this rule”, he says. it is not the law it is not tradition, but it is a rule, it is a behavior, that Paul insisted must be followed if we are to be Christ in this world. Alright,- fair enough, but from the sounds of it there were a good handful of citizens who conveniently seemed to forget about this “rule” when the groceries were being handed out. Besides, they had heard this kind of tough talk before. In fact, our history is full of examples were the no work /no eat principle was applied, and it didn’t always end so well.

This from Michael Fitzpatrick, “ The same principle underwrote state communism in the 20th century. In his book The State and Revolution, Vladimir Lenin contends that “he who does not work shall not eat” is a fundamental principle of socialism. The difference of course is that, unlike the Whigs in the United Kingdom who aimed the principle at the poor by forcing them to work, usually in filthy work houses,  Lenin aimed it at the wealthy! Lenin and Stalin believed that it was the rich who eat without work, letting the poor do their work for them and then reaping all the benefits.

Unfortunately, in practice the communists applied this principle to the poor far more than the rich. During the Soviet famine of the Great Depression, the U. S. S. R forced its outlying territories such as Ukraine to produce food that was then exported to other parts of the Soviet Union as “evidence” that their collective production system was surviving the Great Depression better than the free markets of liberal democracy. Yet Ukrainians were unable to keep up with the unrealistic demands Stalin made for grain production, and were punished by having much of their own food confiscated. The Ukrainians did the work while the Russians claimed it for ulterior purposes. More than 3 million Ukrainians died from starvation as a result.”  And small wonder that  there’s bad blood between Ukraine and Russia.

So is this what Paul had in mind? Did the church there own a farm or a vineyard that needed day labor all the time? We don’t really know. Maybe they were in the tent making business, which was Paul’s stock and trade. once again, we don’t know, but that doesn’t matter so much. what matters, according to Paul, is not to be a burden. O boy, this one brings back memories.


In fact,  anyone raised with any sort of an influence from the Midwest knows all about the sin of being a burden.

But you know, I believe we were taught not to be a burden in order to teach us to have consideration for others. Paul is being a bit more specific by calling out those whose inconsiderations are directed at the faith community; in particular, – those who try to take advantage

So what kind of burden does Paul have in mind here? Is it the burden of a loved one who is sick and needs constant care?

? or is it the burden of the disabled who needs special access to do what they need to do.? It’s safe to say that Paul would not consider these to be a burden at all. No, I believe that being a burden in the context of this passage would mean being a burden on community. That’s the person that will always show up for the potlucks But can’t seem to find the time to bake a casserole. It’s the folks that call every church in town for funds to help pay the power bill, but refuse to join the congregation that helped them on Sunday morning. Paul’s opening salvo says it all,” Our orders—backed up by the Master, Jesus—are to refuse to have anything to do with those among you who are lazy and refuse to work the way we taught you.


Don’t permit them to freeload on the rest. We showed you how to pull your weight when we were with you, so get on with it. We didn’t sit around on our hands expecting others to take care of us.” ///Ah good old Paul: always the master of tact and discretion.

another interesting thing happened while my son was out for a visit; another thing, that is besides me trying to explode my sinus cavities. I found myself humming the old song “Big Rock Candy mountain,” remember that one? it’s a great old song describing what paradise might be like for a hobo riding freight trains and avoiding work at every possibility. .

So yeah, we had a good time. What surprised me was that he knew most of the words to this old song.  We thought it’d be fun to work up a duet and sing it for the grandkids, but we decided against it,

I don’t think a 6 year old would properly understand what is meant by, “the birds and the bees and the cigarette trees” or,” A lake full of Stew and whiskey, too.” much less the idea of paddling around this lake in a big canoe. My point is that this is a delightful little song about a hobo; a free loader, and  precisely the sort of lazy bones that Paul warned about



“but really,” you might think, “what’s the big deal? it’s dog eat dog out there and if you are able to pick up a few scraps along the way, what’s the harm in that?

Once again, Mr Fitzgerald reminds us,” in Paul’s ecclesiology, every person has been called by God for a communal purpose. It is the purpose of all to be a servant of each, according to the gifts the Holy Spirit has given us. Paul’s picture of community is one of maximum dependency, where no one is self-sufficient but all depend on others doing good. When someone receives the goods of the community without giving back, they are not living in accordance with the Christian practice of mutual self-giving and sacrifice

.” where no one is self-sufficient but all depend on others doing good.

I’d like for everyone to mull that over for a bit. No one is self-sufficient, but all depend on others doing good.

Wow that’s almost terrifying, isn’t it? To be wholly dependent on others doing good- it’s a scary thought, but this is the work that Paul is talking about and if that means We dig ditches or paint walls or rake leaves.to be doing good, then we’re just going to have to be brave, I guess

So where’s this leave us? I’d have to say that we.re in pretty good shape.

If there is any one thing we learn living in the presence of Christ, It is that we need community, We need our faith communities To strengthen and hold us up. If we do it right, these same faith communities will always serve to remind us of the true source of our strength. and the real source of our joy and that is the love of our God sent in the person of Jesus Christ.

That is what troublesome about this passage. We who embrace the love of Christ find it hard to understand why the work of doing good would be something to avoid or something to exploit. Evidently, not all the early Christians were clued in to the  joy of our blessed redeemer at the time. To them, this Christianity thing was most likely just a passing fad and this attitude, I’m sure, caused

Paul’s considerable frustration.

Which brings us back to the Big Rock Candy Mountain. I mean, you have to love this little tune written by a guy who hated work so much that he created a fantasy world  for freeloaders. The last verse says it all:


“There ain’t no short-handled shovels
No axes, saws nor picks

I’m a-goin’ to stay where you sleep all day
Where they hung the jerk that invented work

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains”

You know, we can consider ourselves lucky  to be doing God’s work. it is fulfilling work, it is work that benefits our local communities or across the globe – it’s our choice. Hopefully it is work that will open a few eyes or lift up a few hearts.



So yes, we’re in good shape. Thank God that we relish the work God places before us. it’s work we enjoy. It is good work, it is fulfilling work, it is work that we come to love; so much so that  we don’t want or need to create some fantasy world where work is bad and being a burden is not a big deal. No, like I said, we’re in good shape.

And with that being said, I will close with Paul’s words to the congregations  of Thessalonica. Because these words are for all souls in Christian community/ Paul writes,  “And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.” never tire of doing. Good. Oh yeah, we can do that; we can surely do that.

Amen and Shalom



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