[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, during the Sunday morning worship celebration on August 5, 2007. If you live in or are visiting in the Cincinnati area in the near future, you're welcome to join us for worship.]Genesis 2:4b-9, 15Second Thessalonians 3:6-10
Our son Philip was nine years old when we attended my Dad’s retirement party some sixteen years ago. On the way home, he asked me, “Dad, why do we work?”
There are days when we probably all ask that question. I'm convinced that knowing the answer to it can make a difference in our lives.
Some of you have heard me tell the story of two men cutting stone in the middle of a busy city. A passerby asked one man, “What are you doing?” Disgustedly, the worker said, “Look for yourself; I’m cutting stone.” Well, the passerby could see that much! So, he approached the second worker and asked the same question: “What are you doing?” This worker got a gleam in his eye: “I’m helping to build a cathedral!”
The two men were doing the exact same work. But the first one saw it only as his job. Something to be done with. A task disconnected from the world or any life purpose.
To the second man, cutting stones was a thing of dignity and fulfillment. Part of a greater, common cause.
Polling data consistently indicates that when it comes to their jobs, most people feel more like the first worker than the second. Speaking personally, as a second-career pastor, I can say that I’ve had lots of jobs I didn’t much care for. Most of them made me feel like the first stonecutter. I couldn’t see the point. They were drudgery.
But I’ve also been blessed with other work in my life, mainly that of husband, father, pastor, and community volunteer. In each of these jobs, of course, there are mundane tasks to be done. (As someone once said, "The grass may be greener on the other side, but it still needs to be mowed.")
Yet in these jobs, I feel that God allows me to play my part in building something wonderful in those whose lives I touch.
Not everybody would derive the same kind of fulfillment from my work that I do. “How can you stand dealing with people’s hurts and hospitalizations?” people ask me. To them, the work of a pastor would be draining. For me, it’s energizing.
God has wired each of us differently. And, I’m convinced that one of the most important searches that you and I can undertake in our lives is finding the vocations that make us feel like the second stonecutter
So, I’ve come to believe that one of the reasons why we work is that God planned things that way
. God gives us work to do--as employees, family members, and citizens of our communities.
In our first lesson, part of the Bible’s second account of creation in the book of Genesis, we’re told that God created the first human being and then planted a lush green garden for the man to enjoy. The Bible tells us, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”God never meant for the man to sit around and watch the garden grow!
God’s intention was always for him--and for all of us--to work. God wants us to all be part of something bigger. God gives each of us our own stones to cut so that we can care for, build, and renew the world He gives us
This brings us to a second reason why we work. It's this: When we work, we most reflect the presence of the image of God within us
. The Bible tells us that we human beings were created in the image of God
. There are many implications to that statement, but one of them becomes clear when you scan the opening verses of the Bible as it talks about God. You’ll find phrases like, “God created...God separated...God named...God made.”
You see, God works
. God creates
. God builds
And one look at the beautiful world in which you and I live demonstrates that God cuts no corners. There’s something intrinsic to being children of God that impels us to work.
This is something that a young artisan in Florence knew five centuries ago. One day, the Duke of Florence came upon this man and watched, as, with great care, he fit a box together. “What will the box be used for?” the duke asked. “Flowers will be put in it, sir” the artisan replied. “Then it will be filled with dirt. Why take such pains to make each joint and surface perfect?” The young man said simply, “I love perfect things!” The duke could hardly contain his contempt. “”It’s wasted effort,” he said. “No one will see its perfection.” Without a trace of arrogance, the young man said, “I will, sir. Do you think that when He was a carpenter in Nazareth that our Lord Jesus made anything less well than He could?” That duke thought that the young artisan was arrogant. But Michelangelo Buonarroti
’s relentless commitment to do work worthy of the God Who made him and all of us is something we appreciate to this day!
So, we work because God has made us for it. And when we work, we reflect God’s image in us. But there’s a third reason that we work. Pastor Steve Goodier
tells the true story of an elderly man considered by his townspeople to be both wise and thrifty. “When he died,” Goodier says, “everyone expected the authorities to find money stashed everywhere in his home. [But a]ll they found were a few gallon cans filled with coins. It turned out that he had used most of his money to help put needy young students through college. And the coins filled his pockets as he
walked down the streets of the business districts looking for parking meters that had expired. When he found one, he would drop in a coin. One of his neighbors commented, ‘That explains why he looked so happy and contented!’”
Here was a man who worked in his own special way even after he retired. He knew that another reason we work is to experience the joy that goes with serving others, that goes with being someone others can depend on
The first-century preacher Paul know about this, too. In our second lesson, he chastises the members of the church in the Greek city of Thessalonica. He recalls that while he was with them, teaching them about Christ, he kept at his trade as a tentmaker. Paul felt that by working, he was keeping his end of the bargain as a member of the Christian community. In his work, he let others depend on him, just as each of us is called to do as part of our families, our communities, and our church. I like the homely way in which King Solomon reminds us of how each of us depends on one another in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes
: “If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks.” We work because God has constructed the world in such a way that we all need each other to do our jobs well. Others are depending on us.
Now there’s a fourth reason for working which, I think, may only make sense to those who are followers of Christ
In his fine book, Christians in the Marketplace
, Pastor Bill Hybels tells the story of a young man his father hired to work in his wholesale produce business one summer. He was a student at West Point and rumor had it, a Christian. As Hybels tells it, many of his dad’s other employees were “rough...hard-drinking, hard-fighting, women-chasing men” who “relished the opportunity to make sport of a nice, clean-cut, all-American...” kid. They wanted to make this young man’s summer miserable.
But they didn’t. Instead, “David, the all-American boy, turned the company upside down.” On his very first day, he befriended some vagrants out behind the company warehouse. He gave them his lunch. Soon, he was doing Bible studies for them. Before the end of the summer, in his quiet, loving way, David had become a valued friend and counselor to some of the most hardened employees of the Hybels company.
I like what Hybels says after recounting this incident. “The shame of the marketplace is that so often it centers on nothing but business. There aren’t enough Davids in the workforce.”
Our daily work isn’t just about keeping the house clean, meeting deadlines, making money, or keeping the boss off our backs, although those can all be worthy goals. And no one should ever use their faith in Christ as an excuse for shirking their duties. (We all have known Christians at work about whom it could be said, "They're so heavenly-minded that they're no earthly good!")
But for the Christian, the key questions as we do our work boil down to a few:
Am I giving God glory?
Am I giving 100% every day?
Am I showing consideration--(another way of asking, Am I giving love) to my employer, my coworkers, my customers, or others I serve?
Many are the days when, I’m ashamed to say, I honestly have to say, “No” to questions like those...
“No, I haven’t been a good husband. I’ve been surly and selfish.”
“No, I haven’t been a good father. I’ve been impatient.”
“No, I haven’t been a good pastor. That sermon could have been much better.”
It’s then that I turn to God in repentance and ask for the power to recommit myself to giving Him all the glory in all that I do.
Why do we work?
- Because God wants us to work; it’s part of being human.
- Because when we work, the presence of God’s image in us is visible.
- Because when we work, we experience the joy of serving others.
- And because when we work, we glorify God.
In another one of his New Testament letters, the apostle Paul encouraged a group of first-century slaves who were Christians to work for others with all their hearts
, “as though you were working for the Lord and not for others...For Christ is the real Master you serve.”*
We Christians work because when all is said and done, we really work for the One Who loves and works for us every moment of every day.
We work because Jesus Christ, the One Who went to the cross and rose from the tomb for us, loves us and nothing is so important to the Christian than to give back to the God Who gives us everything.
UNNECESSARY, BUT OH SO INTERESTING FOOTNOTE...[*In his intriguing book, The Victory of Reason, which shows how the Christian tradition in the West fostered the development of rationality, science, and commerce, Baylor University professor Rodney Stark speaks of how central Christianity was to the virtual eradication of slavery in the tenth century. It played a similar role when slavery reappeared in Britain and the United States.
It did so even though slavery existed in Biblical times and was referred to in the Bible, Stark says, because only Christianity, among the world religions, insists on an almighty personal God with a future orientation.
Theology in the Christian tradition became not a matter of interpreting static laws, but of understanding a supremely loving Deity Who has a personality. Conjecture regarding varying pathways is possible in Christian theology in ways it isn't in various religious systems.
With its focus on the future, Christianity allows for a future that can change, that's neither a mere recitation of ancient cycles or a grim march toward inevitable deterioration.
Christians therefore believe that there are new truths to be discovered in God's Word which, because it's inspired by God, its original authors may not even have considered. In the same way that husbands and wives learn new things about one another as their relationships progress, Christ's Bride, the Church, may come to new understandings of God as the Spirit reveals more about God's Word. This is exactly what happened when the Church came to see that the institution of slavery, which the first Christians took for granted, must be abolished.
So, when Paul writes to slaves about their conduct with their masters, he isn't, as some claim, justifying slavery. He's giving instructions for faithful and shrewd living. Paul may not have been enlivened to all the implications of the Gospel which he rightly described as true freedom.
Who knows what new truths about Himself and His Word God may show to His Church in the future?]