There’s An App for That: Work
Rev. Louis Timberlake
This is the second week in our series, There’s an App for That, as we talk about how we can apply scripture to our daily lives. Last week, Pastor Morris talked about transition. This week, we’re talking about work. It’s appropriate, right? I mean, it is Labor Day weekend. Tomorrow is set apart to honor the labor movement and the contributions of workers to our country.
It’s also a little ironic for me because this past week I was forced not to work much. I came down with a pretty persistent illness on Monday, and it took me most of the week to recover. And, it was just a bad week to be sick. That’s how it works, right? You tend to get sick during the busy weeks, not the easy weeks.
So, being stuck at home, I watched more T.V. than I typically have time to watch. I don’t really watch current shows. I’m not patient enough to wait for the next episode. I just tend to rewatch shows on Netflix. One that I’ve been rewatching lately is The Office.
If you’re not familiar with The Office, it’s a great show. It’s set in a completely dysfunctional branch office of the Dunder Mifflin paper company. It’s hilarious because of the incompetence of the leadership and absurd personalities in the office. But, it’s also this window into people trying to find meaning and joy when they’re spending five days a week working for a failing paper company.
You know, some of us spend the week doing something that we love. Others of us, well–it’s a job. Others of us may be struggling with employment right now. Still others may be living in retirement. But, all of us have had days where we just ask that question. What did I do today? Did it matter? Is this how I want to spend my life?
Because, truly, we want our lives to matter. Whether our time during the average week is spent at a job, or being a student, or raising kids, or enjoying retirement, we want to feel like we’re spending the precious time that we have in this world doing something that has meaning. That brings joy. Right?
So, what does scripture have to say about work? About how we ought spend our time, whether it’s in an office, in the classroom, managing a family, or something else entirely? Here are a few thoughts.
1) If we seek God in how we live, it will shape the way we approach our work.
I love the way Paul puts it in the last verse of the passage we read today. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Whatever you do, do it as a follower of Christ. As you spend your day in the office, the classroom, or running errands before getting in the carpool line, or taking a trip to Europe that you’ve anticipated for 50 years, do it as a follower of Christ. And, Paul tells us that means showing compassion, kindness, humility, and patience. He says that it means, when someone wrongs you, forgiving them. Not sending a snarky email. Trust me, even in a church office, people make mistakes and have disagreements. None of us are perfect. But, in my experience, grace trumps snark ten times out of ten.
In Spark, we’re going to watch a great video. I’ve mentioned this video before, but it was on our snow Sunday in January and most of you weren’t here. In it, Mike Frost, who is a pastor of a small church community in Sydney, Australia, talks about something that they do when they gather on Sunday evenings. After they eat a meal together, someone in their community will get up and share what an average week looks like for them.
They’ll talk about their work, their family situation, the things they spend time doing. They’ll share their average week for less than ten minutes. And then, everyone else will reflect back to the person how they think that person’s life mirrors the work of God in the world. And, once they’ve done that, the group lays hands on the person and ordains them to keep doing that work of God in the world. And this is foundational to their community, that in the many ways they spend their time during the week, they are doing the work of God in the world.
How cool is that? What if you looked at everything you did--your work, your relationships, and the ways you spend your time, as doing the work of God in the world? As something you are sent from the church community to do, so that this world might look a bit more like the world God hopes for it to be. You don’t have to work at a church to be in ministry. Each one of us is in ministry to those around us every day.
If we seek God in how we live, it will shape the way we approach our work.
2) We need to seek a holy rhythm.
The scriptures talk about rest and Sabbath continuously. Jesus takes so much time apart during his ministry that people start to question him about it. Now, I’m not saying that you should go lobby for twelve weeks vacation. Unless you think you can get it, that is.
But, many of us are pretty miserable at holding to a healthy rhythm. As numerous studies have shown, the amount of stress in our society continues to climb. We’re working harder and longer. We have a tremendous amount of anxiety. And, it’s not only adults. More and more youth and children are feeling it too. This is not what God intends for our lives. God created us for rhythms of work and rest. We have to take that seriously.
Here’s my moment of vulnerability this morning. I have been awful at this over the past six months. With all of the transitions that we’ve had at Christ Church and the personal transitions I’ve experienced of moving around the corner and my wife starting medical residency, I have not been living consistently in a healthy rhythm. Some of it is caused by things I can’t control. But, there is a good bit that I can. And, I suspect that I’m not the only one. I am committed to working on that over the next couple of months. If you need to, I hope you’ll work on it as well. We need to seek a holy rhythm.
3) We have a responsibility to each other.
You know, it’s interesting to me that the first two verbal encounters between humans and God in scripture have to deal with the responsibility we have for others. In the first, God comes to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit and finds Adam, who immediately tries to blame the whole thing on Eve and absolve himself. It doesn’t work. Then, a chapter later, God comes to Cain, asking about his brother, Abel, and Cain responds with that famous line, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Of course, at this point Cain had just killed Abel.
From the very beginning, sin emerges when we start to see ourselves as disconnected from one another. We see this today, as growing divisions between groups of people have led to a level of tension in our country and our world that is just unsustainable. And unholy.
If you remember Jesus talking about the most important commandments, the first one is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Someone then asks him what qualifies someone as a neighbor and Jesus tells a story (The Good Samaritan) that essentially says, that person that you don’t like who seems to be nothing like you--that’s your neighbor. Go love that person as you love yourself.
We can’t talk about work without talking about the responsibility that we have for others to create opportunities for all to be engaged in gainful employment. It is unjust when someone can work themselves to the bone in a full time job and still not have enough to feed their family. If you read in the Old Testament scriptures, in those books like Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that no one wants to read, you find something amazing. You find that those long lists of laws actually go to great lengths to provide opportunities for the disadvantaged. It is truly a society built around the belief that we have a responsibility for one another. Even the stranger, the different.
Now, the how of it takes us into more political waters than I want wade today, but the reality is that scripture is clear in the responsibility we have for our neighbors. And that our neighbors are not just those like us.
We have a responsibility for each other.
There’s a great line from the song, “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes. I think I’ve shared it before,
I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes,
unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
serving something beyond me
If anything, scripture tells us that true joy comes from embracing our place within Creation. There is something beautiful about considering the majesty and the breadth of this universe and then realizing that each one of us has a part within it. It’s not a large part but, truly, none of them are large parts. The meaning isn’t in the size of the part, but the beauty of the whole they create, together. And, we find joy in that part we occupy when we seek to live in harmony with God and all that God has created.
May you know that harmony. And may it bring you joy.