“Traditional” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 12-17

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 12-17

I need you to allow me a little bit of a church geek moment this Sunday. It’s about the lectionary. If you already know a lot about the lectionary, go ahead and take a nap for about 5 minutes but if it helps you, like me, to know a bit more or remember a few things, stay tuned for just a bit longer…

For a long time, there has been a practice in the Jewish community for specific scriptural readings to be read on certain days and at certain times. Early Christian communities adopted some of these practices and added Christian scriptures to the mix. For centuries, these readings – called the lectionary – differed from one Christian community to the next. However, generally, these lectionaries followed a one-year cycle. This cycle of readings held the stories and context of Christ and the unfolding of Christianity. 

It was like this until, in the 1960s, something changed. The Roman Catholic Church underwent a significant reform period after a series of meetings that many of us know as Vatican II. During this time, they established a new lectionary cycle that, instead of going through the entire Christian story in one year, expanded to a three-year cycle called years A, B, and C. Each Sunday would was designed to have at least four readings that included some of the central readings in the Old Testament, a Psalm, a reading from one of the letters in the New Testament, and a reading from one of the Gospels. Year A would primarily use Gospel readings from Matthew. Year B would primarily use Gospel readings from Mark. Year C would primarily use Gospel readings from Luke. All three years would use the Gospel of John during Lent, Advent, Christmas, and other places.

The lectionary years line up differently from the calendar year. The lectionary year begins on the first day of Advent (usually the Sunday after Thanksgiving) and ends towards the week before Advent begins. It starts with the stories leading up to Jesus’ birth and ends with the stories predicting the end of time, the 2nd coming of Christ, and the death of Jesus. We’re coming to the end of Year C – using Luke as the central Gospel – and will start Year A – using Matthew – when Becky preaches the first Sunday of Advent at the end of this month.

This same basic pattern of readings was adopted by several other denominations that came together and formed something uncreatively but descriptively called The Consultation on Common Texts. The United Church of Christ is part of this and invites UCC churches to participate. Most do, but as is true with moset denominations, it is voluntary. A couple of other groups have offered alternative lectionaries, and a bunch of churches don’t use a lectionary at all.

But, why? Why is this at all important? Why do people put anytime into this? Considering all the things that are problems in the world, why give any energy tothis?

Behind the adoption of the lectionary wasn’t an intent to control what scriptures churches read but a much bigger hope. The hope was that at the hair salon, across the fence with neighbors, or in casual conversation at work, having a shared lectionary might give people from different Christian traditions the opportunity to have something to talk about in common; to talk about what Father Sam and Reverend Sarah preached about last Sunday and, by doing so, increase the connections we have together.

Last night at the Harvest Dinner over at First, I was in a conversation with a couple in which one of them was Catholic, and one of them was UCC. Less than a hundred years ago, a Congregationalist marrying an Episcopalian could be considered an interfaith marriage, let alone a Catholic marrying a Protestant. These ideas might seem quaint or outdated to some of us now. Still, many of you may remember when these differences contained cultural, political, class, and social identities that could result in scandal or rejection. 

The lectionary, at the time, was a radical thing and part of a radical movement toward each other. It helped us discover what we valued together. It was an essential step in an ecumenical movement that, although never easy, helped us figure out how to focus on what we have in common instead of what kept us apart. The food pantry would likely not exist today with all its interreligious partners if it wasn’t for some of the thinking rooted in efforts like the lectionary. The lectionary created commonalities in one area and helped us find commonalities in other areas.

One of the verses for today emphasizes tradition. 

2:15 “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”

We tend to think about a tradition as something we do. It’s about the way we celebrate our holidays or the way we dress. It’s usually some repeated practice that connects us to our ancestors and descendants. 

However, when this was written, early Christians viewed a tradition as more about a way of thinking. Traditions of action were added, changed, and malleable. Traditions of thought were evolutionary. Like a tree, these traditions grew and expanded while their roots deepened.

So, when the writer of 2nd Thessalonians said:

2:15 “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.” 

they were talking about a way of thinking that needed to be continued. They were not talking about a particular practice of worship, an annual event, or any particular way of doing things. Instead, they talked about a way of being and thought that needed to be continued.

1st Thessalonians was likely written by Paul when the community of Thessalonica needed help and encouragement. If we read between the lines a bit, they were in conflict. They had become a community focused on personalities instead of values and beliefs. They weren’t treating one another very well. Paul believed and preached that Christ would return in the lifetimes of those with whom he spoke and encouraged them to focus on that. 

2nd Thessalonians was likely written in the name, style, and honor of Paul but not by Paul. This was a common practice of the time that reflects being in a tradition of thought and way of being. Some of the same issues were coming up beside what sounded like laziness. Reading between the lines, the current configuration of the community wasn’t getting done what needed to be done. Whereas the initial letter from Paul conveyed an urgency about the immediate return of Christ, this writer changed it a bit. Instead of focusing on the urgent energy related to the return of Christ in a timely way, this writer talks about the conditions that will be at play when Christ comes again.

Next week’s reading from 2 Thessalonians continues this theme of holding on to traditions of thought and being, but since I happen to have inside information that the preacher is not focusing on it, I’m going to bring that here:

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 Now we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother or sister living irresponsibly and not according to the tradition they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not irresponsible when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor 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 irresponsibly, 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.

Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. Do not regard them as enemies, but admonish them as brothers and sisters.

Again, it was not an essential tradition of action here but a tradition of thought and being that the writer emphasized. These verses weren’t about what they did but how they were with one another. These were calls to tend to their roots so that the above-ground expression of their church could be more vital. It was, ultimately, a call to reconcile with their traditions of thought and being so that they could reconcile with each other.

At last night’s Harvest Dinner, the subcommittees working on reunifying First and South shared where they were in their work so far. A few copies of what was shared are available at the front table by the door. This work is still very much a work in process. If you couldn’t attend the dinner, there will be an opportunity for a Zoom conversation this Wednesday at 6 pm that folks from both churches are invited to attend. There will be a gathering after worship next Sunday at each church, too.

One of the things that has become clear again and again is that although there are some things we do differently, our traditions of thought and being are either shared or, at least, supplemental. The shared and supplemental realities are in our conversations and will continue to be. The ideas emerging about how our buildings are configured, our decision-making structures, our finances, and the systems we have to care for each other reflect our churches’ traditions and ways of being. Some of our current configurations are bound to change, but these developed suggestions aren’t changes for the sake of change. Instead, these changes will help our shared traditions of thought and being grow and deepen.

Friends, in this reunification, we’re resolving a conflict of thought, belief, and use of resources that resulted in irreconcilable differences almost 175 years ago. We’ve talked about this consolidation of churches in many different ways. It’s an invitation to start a new church, and we will be new together. It’s an invitation to consolidate our ministries, and this will, without question, be that. But, it’s also been described as an invitation to reunification, and there’s something in that which starts to get to the most profound opportunity of this moment. 

This moment is an opportunity for generational reconciliation and beginning the process of reclaiming our role as reconciled ministries in Pittsfield. At a time when so much of the world seems so divided, this is no small thing. The traditions of thought and being written about in 1st and 2nd Thessalonians thousands of years ago are gifts, not burdens, for us but a helpful guide; reminding us of what we share. Let us set aside anything that is a burden as we make room for the many gifts yet to come that we will receive and share. Amen.

The Rev. Mike Denton is the designated pastor of South Congregational Church (UCC) in Pittsfield, MA. Join us for worship at 10 am on Sundays! Click here if you’d like to donate to the church and its ministries!

One thought on ““Traditional” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 12-17

  1. Another good sermon….both educational and inspiring! The churches must feel so good having you at the helm.

    Sent from my iPad

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