Week 4 of “Fruitfulness on the Frontline” involves looking at how we “Make Good Work”, with Rev. Graham Crawford:
This morning, instead of ending my sermon with a video clip, I want to begin the sermon with the clip because – instead of it inspiring us to follow through on the theme of the sermon – this one issues us a challenge, a worthy challenge, a Godly challenge.
[Link to Common Good RVA video on Vimeo.com, which encourages the viewer to explore what it means to see our everyday work as a meaningful part of our Christian calling].
I wonder how many of us pursue our childhood dreams to do the things we dreamt of as youngsters?
When I grow up I want to: be an engine driver; be a fireman; drive a tractor; play football.
One of my favourite bumper stickers of all time was on the back of a wee red mini. It simply said: “When I grow up, I want to be a fire engine!”
I love that!
As the chap in the video said, they were all things that seemed like fun; exciting things to do that were full of purpose.
I do not know many 6 or 7 year olds who say that, when they grow up, they want to be stuck behind a desk all day.
And yet, as the video points out, for many of us our nine to five job ends up being a “toil of frustration”.
How can we redeem our work?
After all, as we have already said, Jesus came into the world to redeem everything. Not just people but the whole of creation – and that means our work as well.
The biblical view of work: a blessing
The Bible views our work as central to our calling and a way that we can directly connect with the mission of God.
As Proverbs 11.10 states:
When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.
How far is that from the cartoon I read this week entitled “Thoughts of Dave,” featuring our Prime Minister, looking pensive and thinking: “My chums in big business have been caught with their fingers in the till again. How can I blame people receiving benefits?”
Let us remind ourselves of our very purpose from the beginning of creation. In Genesis 1 : 26 – 31:-
26 Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
29 Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.
We were created to work, continuing the Creation story.
We were made in the image of God, which, if you remember, invokes the idea that we have the authority and power of God to continue his good work in looking after everything that was created.
Work is actually a blessing from God.
However, that is a long way from most people’s experience of work as, due to the Fall, it became a toil.
Work as toil
Genesis 3: 17 – 19 –
17 To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,”
‘Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.’
This description of work is far more akin to how many people see their daily jobs:
- the dread of Monday;
- the joy of Friday;
- the relief of “hump day” in the middle, on a Wednesday.
Not many people I know are able to approach work with the spirit of joy described by the chap in last week’s video in his car workshop.
Paul’s teaching: work different
But, if we feel we work in unrewarding settings, imagine how people would have felt as they heard Paul outlining his directions in Colossians 3:22-4:1 to those who must have felt that they were living in some of the most difficult situations.
Paul’s challenge was to those then, as it still is to us now, who feel stuck in frustrating, limited work situations.
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favouritism.
4 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
In 3:10, the Christians in Colossae have been reminded that their new identity has been established.
Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
In other words, they have been remade and renewed in the knowledge of the Creator – the one who created us for fruitfulness in the first place.
The Christian folk of Colossae were therefore called to work differently.
How we are called to work differently
We are called to work differently – when we feel we are in the ‘right place’, doing the things we love as well as when we feel we are in the ‘wrong place’, doing the things that are a drudge.
We are called to have a different set of values and a different set of priorities.
For example, how would your work be different if you viewed everyone you worked with and everyone you worked for as created, loved and longed for by God?
Even that horrible client or mean boss?
How does your work become different if, instead of being a means to an end, a way to earn a living, a task to be done, it, instead, becomes a form of worship to God?
What would happen if, before a meeting you were to quietly pray: “God, I offer this meeting to you; through it, may you be glorified.”
If, before you settled down to do a bit of paperwork, you were to pray: “Lord, I offer to you this work; may I be fruitful, as you are made known through me.”
Can we really work in such a way that we reflect the restorative work of Christ?
Can we express something of the Creator we serve, even as we intentionally reflect His image in us?
This is, I believe, the challenge that lies before us as we “make good work”.