August 30, 2020
Well again, what we just did there was called “The Blessing of the Backpacks” – it’s something that I’ve seen other churches do and I thought this year would be the right year to start what I hope will become an annual tradition.
And in many ways, what we we’re just doing is acknowledging and remembering the importance of their work, or maybe more generally how they spend their Monday-Friday. And so, for this morning, I want to share a message with you all about Faith and Workthat applies to all of us,no matter what we do.That just as our teachers and educators, and our kids for that matter, have work to do and a calling to fulfill, you and I too, have work to do as well and it is so very good. And my hope for us this morning is that you and I would begin to see how God matters to our work and our work matters to God.
And this is such an important topic for you and I to consider for a variety of reasons, and yet it is likely especially so from a sheer numbers standpoint. After all, think about your average week. You’ll likely spend 40 hours or more of it working, which is more time than you’ll spend on just about anything else, and so it’s all the more reason for us to consider what the bible has to say about work, both in terms of its importance as well as how we should approach it and what we should expect from it.
So with all that said, let’s talk about work. Truth is, there’s an endless number of things we could say about what the bible says about work, but for today we’ll focus on just three and so here they are …
Work is Good
Work is Hard
Work for One
Let’s start with the first.
Work is Good
Work is, fundamentally, and at its core, good. And to understand this principle, we’ve got to go all the way back to the beginning, like the beginning beginning, Genesis chapter 1, which is what MaryEllen just read.
In Genesis 1, we’re told that God created the world, and that on the sixth day, God created the pinnacle of his creation, humankind.
And God gives these first two humans, Adam and Eve, a creation mandate, he gives them a job to do, a task to fulfill, saying,
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and (here’s the key word I want you to see for our purposes today) subdue it.
Part of God’s creation mandate, his creation task for you and me is to subduethe earth. Which is a word you and I rarely use, but in short, to subduethe earth means to use and develop the earth’s resources and make something useful or beautiful out of it. To subdueto earth means to take what is, to take what’s there, to take what God has given us through creation itself and to make something good or useful or beautiful out of it.
So for example, consider Adam and Eve. They were put in the garden to work it and keep it. And the job of a gardener is to subdue to earth – they take what’s there, seed, soil, water and sun, and through their work and sweat make something good and useful or beautiful out of it – whether it be fruit or vegetables or beautiful flowers. That’s how a gardener subdues the earth.
And that’s what you and I do and I are called to do as well through our everyday work. We take what is there, and through our work and sweat, through our energy, imagination, intelligence and love, and we make something good out of it, for the good of others.
And so, for some it means taking a scalpel and stethoscope, X rays and CT scans, training and education and bringing healing and wholeness to another for the glory of God and the good of others.
For others it means taking a hammer and nails, a saw and measuring tape, wood and cement and building beautiful buildings and homes for the glory of God and the good of others.
For others it means taking spreadsheets and laptops, pens and papers, meetings and agendas and starting businesses that give people meaningful work for the glory of God and the good of others.
Whether you are white collar or blue collar, whether you work in a cubicle or in a field, whether you get paid a lot or a little or nothing at all, whether you’re in education or agriculture, business or medicine, finance or government, you are helping to fulfill the creation mandate, subduing the earth, through your God given work. And friends, your work is good. It’s so very good!
And I say that not simply to encourage you, but rather because God says it is. Shortly after God gave this creation mandate, he saw everything he had made, and said it was very good. Yes, even our work.
You all, think about how different that is from the ways our world talks about work. For many people, work is a necessary evil, a debt we pay in order to have a functioning society, where we simply count down the hours until it’s time to go home, or count down the years until retirement.
Friends, God’s vision for our work is so very different. Where rather than our work being a consequence for living in a fallen world, rather than it being a punishment or necessary evil, instead it was meant to be seen as something good. It’s one of the ways in which we move the creation story forward and advance God’s kingdom.
So you all, the next time you head off to work, whether you drive or walk or work from home, remember that your work is good, because God says it is so.
And yet, just because it’s good doesn’t mean it will be easy. Which brings us to the second thing the bible tells us about work. And that is,
Work is Hard
You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but work is often hard. Sometimes incredibly so. There are days when the shipment doesn’t arrive on time, or you have a meeting that felt wildly unproductive, your internet is painfully slow, the printer breaks, a customer yells at you, your kids don’t listen to you, your students complain to you. There are days when work is and feels so very hard. Days where you wish you could just go home.
And just as God said our work is good, he also warned us that our work would be hard. Turn just a couple pages from Genesis 1 to Genesis 3 and we read the story about how Adam and Eve sinned against God and were cast out of the garden, and yet before they were, God warns them of the consequences of their sin, and how it would not only have far reaching consequences when it came to their relationships with God and one another, but also in their work.
And so, God said to them,
cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
This was God’s warning. That the ground they gardened was now cursed. That pain would accompany their work. That thorns and thistles would be part of the fruit they produce.
So you see, God was saying to Adam and Eve. You know those wonderful gardens you kept having, with abundant harvests. Well, you still may have those from time to time, but yet in a fallen world deer may eat your crops, freezing temps may come in summer months and hail may decimate your hard work. (Friends, does that sound familiar?)
In short, work is hard. Now that’s not to say that some of the hard parts of our work can’t be fixed or improved. Of course they can. Yet nevertheless, our work will always, in some ways, until Jesus returns, be hard. It just will. And by knowing this going in, it can keep us from getting overly discouraged. If we know what to expect, it can help us to persevere. Because remember, our work is good. And that’s the tension. Work is good and work is hard. It’s a both/and. Work is good and work is hard.
Now, at this point, I want to call a brief timeout, and address two groups of people who might be feeling like this sermon is not for them. And those are the stay at home parent and those who are retired. If you’re in one of these two camps, you might be bored or discouraged or thinking this message isn’t for you. So let me address that briefly.
For the stay at home parents, raising kids, and managing and running a home, your work and I mean that, your work, is incredibly important and it is so very good. And consequently, it’s also really hard.
There are days when I come home and Callie and Noah and I are having dinner and I ask Callie what she did today and she says, “Nothing.”
And by “nothing,” she means do the dishes, fold the laundry, change a diaper, run some errands, chase a toddler, change a diaper, clean the bathroom, pay the bills, change a diaper, water the lawn, feed the animals, call customer service, make dinner, and one more time, change a diaper.
You know, “nothing.” Or as God calls it, work. Fulfilling the creating mandate. Subduing the earth.
Here’s what’s really beautiful about the creation mandate we read earlier. Remember the first part of the creation mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply.” That’s the bible’s way of saying have kids and raise kids. So, stay at home parents, you are doing good, hard work, fulfilling the creation mandate in your own unique way.
Now, as for those who are retired. A message on work may not seem very important to you at this stage of life. But yet, consider this: the bible has no concept or framework for our secular understanding of retirement. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that the bible says we should work a paying job until the day we die. Not at all. After all, a retirement that allows the freedom to rest and travel and spend more time with the grandkids, that is a glorious, wonderful thing. Rather, the bible has no understanding of a retirement where we sail off into the sunset, where we live a life void of any fruitful or meaningful endeavors. And yeah, I know, that’s easy for me to say as someone who’s still in the first quarter of my working career.
Instead, what I’m trying to get at, and I think what God wants all retired people to consider is, “What’s your next chapter? What might be calling you to? How might you be able to steward your talents, your treasure, and maybe more time than you’ve had before for the glory of God and the good of others?”
One of the very first stories I shared with you almost a couple years ago was about a man by the name of Mike Standard, who’s in his 80’s and was and is a member back at BelPres, my previous church. And shortly after he retired and after his wife Roberta passed away, Mike, who has this deep and contagious love for Jesus, was trying to discern what God was calling him to next and one of the many things he did was volunteer with our high school youth ministry where I served as director. And Mike was a huge encouragement to me in that season – putting wind in my sails with his kind words when in many ways I was in over my head. And our kids loved him – in part, because took a genuine interest in them and really listened to them. In fact, some of our kids called him Mike Premium, because there is nothing standard about him. Friends, don’t ever believe the lie that you’re too old to work with youth. It’s simply not true. You see, Mike, in his retirement, said yes to a new chapter, a new adventure that God had for him, and I and so many others are so glad he did.
Alright, timeout over. Friends, work is good. Work is hard. Here’s the third and final point –
You and I are called to Work for One.
You all, have you ever had a day of work where you felt like you were invisible, where you felt unappreciated, not thanked or acknowledged for your hard work?
Of course you have! Everyone, no matter the line of work has felt that feeling before, whether it be once or twice a year, or just about every single day.
You all, whenever you have that feeling, remember the one who we as Christians truly work for.
The Apostle Paul says it like this,
23 Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, 24 since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.
Another translation says it like this “Whatever you do, work at it with your heart, as for the Lord and not for men.”
As Christians, you and I work first and foremost for one person, God himself.
Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t strive to serve our employers or care for our employees well or that working to provide for our family is bad thing. Not at all. Those are all good things.
Rather, I think Paul’s point is this - that when you feel missed, when you feel discouraged, when you feel like no one cares, like no one’s watching, like your work doesn’t really matter, to remember this, we ultimately work for one. We work first and foremost for God, serving Jesus himself. And in the end, he’ll reward us far better than any boss or employer ever could.
Never forget who it is you truly work for.
Work is Good, Work is Hard and we’re called to work for One. Jesus himself.
And I’ll finish with this –
I want you to imagine something with me. Imagine if we went around town and talked to all the various people who are part of the hiring process at their respective places of work - the folks at the hospital and Forest Service, at the college, at our schools, at City Hall, and at our local businesses around town. And imagine we asked them to describe some of the qualities and characteristics that make a great employee in their field. And what if, somewhere in the conversation, they said something like this, “You know, we didn’t know this when we hired them, but I’ll tell you what, what we’ve found time and time again is that some of the very best people who have worked here were Christians.”
Imagine them saying that. Truth is, it shouldn’t surprise us in the least.
After all, you and I know that our work, is good. That all work, is at its core, good. And because of that, we can work joyfully and cheerfully, we work with a sense of pride and accomplishment. We know that there is dignity in all kinds of work, regardless of what the world tells us, and that no task is beneath us.
Even more, you and I know going in that work is hard. That some days will be a struggle. Some days will be a grind. And yet, because of that, we don’t lose hope. We persevere in the midst of hardship. We look for solutions, rather than complain or blame others with problems arise.
And above all, we work for one. We’re not working primarily to gain power and praise and status or money. Rather, we’re working for God himself. And because of that, we choose to be people of integrity, we strive to be faithful and give our best in all things because through our work we give glory to God.
Imagine if people here in town, thought to themselves, “Man, those Christians, they are some of the very best people to work with. If only we could hire more Christians.”
Friends, how incredible would that be, if that was our reputation in this community? How beautiful would that kind of witness be?
My oh my, may it be so, may it be so.