Sadly, our video recorder/editor has moved out of town. We are grateful for the work he has done for us. So in until we can find a new person, we will provide just a manuscript of the sermon for you.
On this Labour Day Weekend, I thought we would spend some time reflecting on work.
Just for kicks and giggles, how many different paid jobs or employers have you had? Think for a moment from your first to your current or last?
1-2? 3-5? 5-10? 10-15? More than 15?
The statistic that is frequently quoted on-line is that the average North American male or female will have 12 jobs in their lifetime.
If you are older, then this number will be smaller. For example my father worked essentially 4 jobs in lifetime: paper boy, stock boy at his father’s story, and for 2 companies in his 40 year career as an Electrical Engineer.
And if you are younger, this number will be greater for we live in a time where jobs comes and go at the drop of hat.
One of the most important things Christians have in common with those without or little faith is that we go to work just like they do. Work and Retirement is common ground for getting to know people.
You know how important work is to our society by realizing that one of the first questions we tend to ask people is “What do you do for living?” Or if they are retired, “What did you do for a living?”
We spend most of our waking hours engaged in some kind of work, whether it is paid or unpaid work such as raising a family or maintaining a household.
It is therefore not surprising that our work and worth have become closely related in our contemporary society. And too many people find retirement difficult, because giving up their job means losing a part of their identity. And those who were not able to work or find work during the pandemic suffered in numerous ways.
The Rev. John Stott, an Anglican minister and church leader, provides us with a helpful definition of work in his book “Issues facing Christians today,”
Work is “the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community, and glory to God” (John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, p.162.).
In this way of thinking,
• the unemployed person cleaning up the streets by picking up pop cans,
• or the person who volunteers in schools or retirement homes,
• or the retiree who volunteer with any community group,
• or parents changing diapers or cooking meals,
are working and in fact contributing to the greater good of society as much as a person who is paid for their work.
During the pandemic, besides those who work in the health care and those who continued to work without interruption during the pandemic were those in the skilled trades like the building and road construction trades. This is a reversal from other periods where university trained individuals were in high demand.
Regardless of what you may have heard or read, about what the oldest profession is, according to the Bible the oldest profession is not prostitution, but farming and taking care of the creation.
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15).
If you explore the wide-ranging biblical imagery of divine work can give us a greater sense of being junior partners in God’s work of creation, preservation, and redemption. Work is not a curse, but rather an opportunity to work with God.
God reveals his character and activity among us as an architect and a builder (Prov 8:27-31), a doctor-healer (Mk 2:12, 17), a teacher (Mt 7:28-29), a weaver (Ps 139:13-16), a gardener/farmer (Gen 2. 8-9; 3:8; Jn 15:1-8), a shepherd (Ps 23; Jn 10), a potter/craftworker (Jer. 18:1-9; Rom 9:19-21) and a homemaker (Lk 15:8).
By seeing our work in the light of God’s work, we can see God’s hand in our everyday tasks. Our work will have meaning when it is connected to God’s ongoing work and mission in our world.
Our work is meant to be an expression of our worship and fellowship with God. It should not be confused with or replace our corporate worship, but it is an everyday offering of our whole selves, bodies, and minds, to God as Paul says in Rom. 12:1-2. Paul also says in Ephesians “Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women” (Ephesians 6:7 NRSV).
God graciously invites us to work. The world is not yet finished. There is still work to be done in God’s creation, and lots of room is left for human creativity.
As Christians we believe that we all we have and are, is a gift of God. We are saved by God’s grace, not by human works. And God is also the giver of all work, the giver of skills, talents, and opportunities. These are given to us to be used to love and honor God, to love neighbor, and used in the service of God. God gives us voices to sing his praises and gives us hands to work to put food on our tables.
When our work becomes the sole purpose and focus of our lives, then we either end up frustrated with it like the Preacher of Ecclesiastes proclaims, or our work ends up becoming an idol. A life totally devoted to work and nothing else can become an act of rebellion against God.
Therefore, we are challenged in the Scriptures to strive for a greater integration of our faith and our work.
We do so by recognizing the fact that we spend more of time as the church scattered, that is in the workplace or in retirement, in our homes, and at play, than we do as the church gathered on Sunday morning.
This simple observation must shape and direct our ministry and mission in the communities where we live.
We don’t cease to be God’s people when we leave the church building. Instead God sends us out and scatters us, like a farmer sowing seed, in our communities Monday to Saturday to love, serve, bless and witness to others as His representatives.
We follow the example of Christ’ work as our Prophet, Priest, and King.
First, the Prophetic: Advocacy in the Workplace. Economic life is more often spoken of as the sphere of sin rather than an area of blessing in the Bible. As a result of this, the Old Testament shows a remarkable concern for economic justice, giving attention to minute details of wages (cf. Jer 22:13), contracts, and fairness. “You shall not keep back a hired man’s wages till next morning” (Lev. 19:13).
The Bible never condemns the poor for their poverty, but rather see it a great tragedy. On the other hand, those who can work should work and not be a burden either on the church or society as Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:12.
In washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus demonstrated that no job or task is never seemingly too small or out of bounds for one of his followers. All are to be appreciated for their work and contributions to church and society.
Therefore, advocating for jobs in one’s area, or for the fair treatment of employees, affordable housing for workers, and fair wages are issues that are within the bounds of our Biblical principles and by our Presbyterian heritage of being actively engaged in local, national, and global justice issues.
Secondly, we fulfill our priestly role in supporting those who are in the work force or who have retired to find meaning in their work.
Like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes who wrestled with the meaning of work, my dad wrestled with his work as at a munitions plant during the Vietnam War years. It was a good paying job, but he struggled ethically as a Christians with the kind of work he was involved in.
Thankfully, he was able to retire early and went to work using his administrative and organizational skills with company called LIFE SERVICES. This company provided important services for struggling Seniors who needed a helping hand. He was much happier working for Life Service than for his previous employer.
His example helped me to understand the importance of these Biblical questions about work.:
• “Are we giving to our job or work that which should only be given to God?” (i.e. our highest devotion)
• “What are the limits that we should expect of ourselves in our work? (i.e. Work and Family Balance)
• What changes ought to be made in our patterns of our work / retirement so that they reflect a more Biblical understand of calling? (i.e. How does it serve God’s purposes)
And finally, The Kingly role: Living to the Glory of God. How we work and find balance between life and work witnesses to our loyalty to Christ our King? This does not matter if our work is paid or volunteered, done at home or at a designated work place.
How we work or volunteer, what we say and do at work, the compassion we show to fellow workers, how we serve them testifies loudly to our faith in Christ. We are Christ’s representatives wherever we work or volunteer.
I love this quote from American Presbyterian Pastor and Author Fred Buechner about calling.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Just as our Lord saw his primary calling as that of glorifying God and drawing people to God in his person and in his work, so too are we challenged to see this as our primary calling as well.
May God help us to more fully integrate our faith into all areas of lives including our working, retirement and our volunteering, so that we may glorify God Monday thru Saturdays just as we do on Sundays. AMEN!