Text: Genesis 1:26 - 2:2
Theme Verse: "God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it…” (Genesis 1:28)
Is work simply a means to an end? Is work the thing that gets in the way of what we really want to be doing with our time? How often have you said, “I can’t. I have to work.” If we find ourselves with such a mentality about work, we will make no effort to shape our work by our faith. Work, in that understanding, is simply the way of least resistance – a means to an end. Tim Keller wrote that “Your work will make no sense to you unless you put it as a part of a bigger story.” It seems God may have suggested that very thing first. Is work a curse or a gift? Join as we launch this series about faith and work to discern these questions together.
reader: Rick Bohls
preaching: Rev Mark Briley
Dolly Parton’s song, “9 to 5” came out in 1980 and was chosen as the number one song of all time about working for a living. You would recognize some of the other songs that made the cut: Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” Springsteen’s “Working on the Highway”, Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend” and Johnny Paycheck’s “Take this Job and Shove it” to name a few.1 If music expresses the angst of the soul, ‘work’ is a topic that crosses every musical genre. It’s why television hits like “Parks & Rec”, “30 Rock”, “The Office” and “Mad Men” all soared in the ratings as well. Art imitates life imitates art.
Dilbert is an American comic strip written and illustrated by Scott Adams, first published on April 16, 1989.2 The strip is known for its satirical office humor about a white-collar, micromanaged office featuring engineer Dilbert as the title character. The series has been huge and gave rise to an animated television series and a video game. Here’s a little sample. Dilbert sitting in between a colleague and his boss. His colleague clearly finished sharing something to which Dilbert responds, “What? Sorry. I was using this time to think about something useful.” Angrily, she responds, “Maybe your boss can fill you in” to which his boss replies, “I was brain golfing.” The comic strip appears online and in 2,000 newspapers worldwide in 65 countries and 25 languages. It has clearly struck a chord.
According to a 2013 Gallup survey that included some 250,000 participants, seventy percent of Americans said they hated their jobs or felt disengaged. Essentially, this means seventy percent of us have mentally checked out during huge chunks of our days and that can’t be good for any of us. There’s not really a market for a TGI Mondays, right? We love Fridays. Hate Mondays. Some even relate it to the flu. “Got a case of the Mondays.” And this is all associated to work. The idea is that the weekdays are where dreams go to die. It really can be harmful to our health. There has been a dramatic increase in stress-related illnesses for people who have high-speed jobs with tight deadlines, which are kind of the only jobs left anymore it seems. Job satisfaction is now considered to be the number-one predictor of how long you will live. Your work is incredibly important to your life and your life is incredibly important to God so this stuff matters a great deal. Tim Keller, New York City pastor and author got into the importance of the faith and work conversation after he had an encounter with a parishioner who was struggling with some work-related issues. To that point, Keller had seen his job as pastor to be focused on bringing people to faith in Christ. However, if a person spends 40, 50, 60 hours a week at work and one hour a week at church (if it’s not a holiday weekend) then a person is mostly trying to work out their faith in an environment totally separated from the church. Keller followed by saying, “And nobody teaches you how to disciple people for their public life.” So he wrestled with the idea of a preacher being culturally engaged – not just secluded and trying to separate one’s faith from the rest of their worldly engagement. Eventually he wrote a book entitled, “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.”3
I have long been shaped by the notion that the best preachers have a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. It is the intersection of all of life that weaves us toward a union with God. So – I decided to get out of the HACC bubble a bit initiating this “Take Your Pastor to Work Day” experiment. At your invitation, I wanted to get into different worlds for even a little bit to see how you live out the faith in the places you spend so much of your time. I am deeply grateful to the those who took me in. There were many and some that we didn’t get to connect as of yet but I hope to even in the future. It was fascinating. I engaged the education system at three different levels – in the classroom with Key Elementary Teacher of the Year, Rebecca Morris; in the principal’s office with Liz Martin at Traice Academy; and with TPS Superintendent, Deborah Gist. Amazing women doing amazing work in the lives of Tulsa kids. I engaged the important social work of the Community Service Council of Tulsa with Colleen Ayers-Griffin and Wayne Kindrick – they have great resources to improve the lives of Tulsa citizens addressing homelessness, child development, veteran’s affairs and more. I went to the capitol building in Oklahoma City with Darita Huckabee who is the legislative and legal affairs coordinator for INCOG and watched her work her magic in a hostile environment to pass a bill for 9-1-1 support and development that will better serve Oklahoma citizens. I judged goats at the Creek Country Livestock Show with Jan Forthman, amazed at the discipline of these students who pour so much time to raise and care for these animals and Jan’s compassion for the many people she encounters. I learned about what it meant for a goat to have “nice top-side real estate.” Goat lingo is the best. My mind was blown hanging out with the intellectuals of Ivy Energy and SRD (Short Radius Drilling) as they revolutionize the Oil and Energy industry. Truly genius at work. I got my own doctor’s jacket shadowing Dr. Bob and Sue Flint at their dentistry practice. I can’t believe they let me drill on that guy’s teeth. Bob has obtained certification that only the top of the top achieves in the field – class act and practice. Plus Bob is an IronMan – I didn’t ask if he could take his pastor to his work-outs, just his work. It was a deep honor to be invited into the lives of these fine folks and I’m grateful for the ways they humored a crazy preacher’s research experiment and, more importantly, for the ways they live their faith in the world they touch every day. All of this to imagine what kind of stories we should be telling with our lives. Is work simply a means to an end? Is it fifty years of something we put up with so we can retire and then start truly living? What if we could see our work as a gift and not a curse? What if putting our faith to work altered our sense of our faith at work? How is a calling different than a job? Whether you’re out of work, tired of work, retired from paid work or loving your work, there are so many questions connected to the places we spend so much of our lives or so much of our mind-space – at work. Thus the creation of this sermon series, “Faith@Work”.
Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre articulates in his book, After Virtue, this sense that understanding life through narrative is the only way anything becomes intelligible. He shares this example. Say you’re standing at a bus stop and a random stranger suddenly says to you, “The name of the common wild duck is histrionicus histrionicus histroionicus.” The sentence is intelligible but it’s absolutely nonsense to you. So what do you do? You try to make sense of it. You put it into a larger story. Maybe someone the same height, build and appearance approached that guy in the library the day before asking if he knew the Latin name of the common wild duck and he was just following through with the answer. Maybe the guy is extremely shy and his therapist suggested he break down his fear by talking to strangers. Or another story – maybe the guy is a foreign spy waiting at this pre-arranged rendezvous location uttering the ill-chosen code sentence that will identify him to his contact which he has mistaken to be you. Whatever the case, it does not make sense apart from a larger narrative. Your response depends on which story you buy into.4 You can go all Bruce Lee on him, call the police, be sad because of his social awkwardness or simply say “Thank you.” Regardless, your response is based in the bigger story you choose.
As people of faith, this should be true of the way we view our lives – a huge part of which includes our work. Your work will make no sense to you unless you place it as part of a bigger story. We could say, “Well, as a Christian, I’m just out here making a living so I can give money to the church or to missionaries doing God’s work.” There’s value in that. I have a good friend in Missouri who lives in that bigger story, seeing himself as a Robin Hood of sorts. He’s good at making money – brilliant entrepreneur. He doesn’t like his work all that much but he sees his ability to earn money and help those in need as his part of the bigger narrative. That’s commendable for sure. However, if that’s the bigger story we see ourselves in, we’ll likely make little effort to shape our work by our faith. It’s sort of the way of least resistance because it allows you to blend into the way work functions with a cultural mentality. This makes some sense to us but I don’t think it’s God’s intention as I connect with work in scripture.
If the larger narrative of scripture is this ongoing pattern of creation, struggle, redemption and restoration, then it might be insightful for us to consider our lives engaged in this same effort. To this end, let’s consider the first piece of that this morning – the poetic narrative of Creation. The Bible begins talking about work as soon as it begins talking about anything. Genesis starts in by saying, “In the beginning, God created…” which is to say, “In the beginning, God worked.” In our text for today, it concludes by saying, “By the seventh day, God had finished the work, clocked out, turned up Rihanna on his Ford Festiva stereo and peeled out of the office parking lot.” Sort of a paraphrase but you get the idea. And… in all seriousness, this idea of a God who works was actually unique in the ancient world. Other worldviews and religions in the ancient world shared the philosophy that the gods… whoever they were… created humans to work for them so the gods could recline, party, and be served. Zeus didn’t have a job. Baal didn’t have a job. But Yahweh, the God of Israel, was a God who worked. This has some important implications. Israel viewed work as dignifying rather than demeaning. This was unique. In ancient Greece, those who practiced a trade were slaves. Some cities in Greece even passed laws that prohibited citizens from working… and sadly, it needs to be said that citizens meant the elitist men – work was to be done by slaves, women and foreigners. But Israel was different. The Talmud which is this collection of Jewish teachings said, “He who does not teach his son a trade is as if he teaches him robbery.” We see this played out in some of the heavy hitters of scripture too, right? Peter was a fisherman. Lydia was a purple cloth dealer. Paul was a tentmaker. Jesus was a carpenter. In the beginning God worked, created… and as humans made in God’s image, we are also designed to create, to work, to expend energy to create value.
And, just to be clear, we are prone to think about work as the paid job that we have but the idea of work is much broader than that – it is whatever you do to expend energy that creates value – this never stops. The word retire doesn’t show up in scripture. And for those looking for paid work, I know it’s a tough economy right now. We can help connect you to some Overcoming Job Transition groups in the city if you’re interested. I pray for you daily knowing it’s a tough season. For those of you who have paid work, never take for granted the opportunities you have had and those who have helped you in that effort. We can quickly decide we’ve earned our lot without any outside help or support which is never true.
Anyway – the bigger narrative that launches with creation says that work is a part of it and we are to tackle work with zest and passion. It is such an amazing time in human history – such creative opportunities to engage the world with our minds, bodies, and spirits. We should be pumped. But we don’t always have that spirit about work do we. There’s a funny clip from the television show Silicon Valley5 about a couple of entrepreneurs who are looking for some passionate and energetic engineers to join their new startup company which proves harder than they had hoped. Here’s a peek into their interviewing process: https://youtu.be/E3kP2A80KIw (through 1:02).
This plays right into John Ortberg’s second commandment about work which is this: “Thou shalt crush it as unto the Lord.”6 This was stated a bit differently by Paul to the Colossian church, chapter 3 and 23 he writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as if working for the Lord and not for human masters,” but it’s basically crushing it for the Lord. How might this change our perspective? If Jesus was your boss, would it change the way you work? (I can hear some of you saying, “My boss thinks she’s Jesus.”) What if you worked with Jesus, would you get a little more focused? Or what if Jesus worked for you – would you treat him with the utmost respect? This place that pays you to work – or the place where you volunteer – or wherever you spend your time or even as you look for a job, is the place of your greatest spiritual formation. That sounds weird, I know. You think that’s why you spend time at church, right? To prep you to re-enter that dog-eat-dog world with a clean heart and solid head on your shoulders. I hope church helps with that. But in reality, your spirit is always being formed. Spiritual formation is that process of shaping your spirit, your connection with God, your inner thoughts and desires and choices. And everybody has a spirit; not just Christians or religious people. Even when you say, “That guy has no soul,” he’s got one. Therefore, everybody is being spiritually formed. Your spirit is being formed all the time. Spiritual Formation is not just an extracurricular activity or extra credit, it’s happening all the time and it’s the most important thing going on as a part of your being. When you’re “crushing it as unto the Lord” you’re shaping your spirit and because you don’t live in a vacuum, you’re influencing others around you too. Be conscious of this reality. Invoke God’s presence before you launch into your work, praise God throughout, ask for God’s help, wisdom and discernment, think on things worthy of your mind-space and remember it’s not just you against the world.
In his work, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard offers a helpful word about this.7 He says, “Let’s say I’m a plumber going to clean out someone’s sewer. You stay attentive to what you’re doing at the moment. You ask, “How would I approach this as Jesus might?” If you encounter difficulties with people you’re serving or with a pipe, you never fight that battle alone. You invoke the presence of God. You expect to experience something that is not simply the result of your efforts. The crucial thing,” he continues, “is to be attentive to God, not getting locked into thinking, “It’s me and this pipe.” Never do that. This is the living kingdom of God. [His way of saying, you are a part of God’s bigger narrative]. He says, “This is having the kingdom of God invade the kingdom of plumbing or the kingdom of Facebook or the kingdom of your office. It’s never just you and the pipe. It’s never just you and the computer. It’s never just you and the music. It’s never just you and the numbers. It’s never just you performing shoulder surgery or hanging aluminum siding. It’s never just you and the student. It’s never just you and the bad cash flow. It’s never just you and the missed sale. It’s never just you trying to teach the historical mystery of transubstantiation. It’s always you and Christ and the reality that you’re a part of writing a much greater narrative than this very moment and this seemingly menial task that you’re handling by yourself.”
Work is not just another four letter word. Work is a gift, a part of the created order, a part of the ongoing narrative of creation…. AND… we’re invited, in fact created, to be a part of it. When you get up in the morning and when you need to pause before a big task or meeting or encounter remember it’s not just you and the pipe. It’s you, God’s created image in you, your love of Christ, and the writing of a larger narrative that is nothing short of the kingdom of God. That’s your faith at work…
3Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller. Riverhead Books. New York. 2012. This book and other online resources of Keller talking about the importance of a faith-filled approach to our work has been an important influence on this series.
4 Keller refers to this story and connects it to the importance of the way we view our vocation. This site, however, was utilized for some context as well: http://s-usih.org/2014/01/alasdair-macintyre-on-narrative-history-and-the-unity-of-a-life.html
6 Ortberg is the Senior Pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. He shared this commandment as part of his series, “Thank God It’s Monday.” http://menlo.church/sermon_series/thanks-god-its-monday/. This work significantly influenced this particular sermon, including the role of work in ancient Israel.
7 Willard wrote this piece for his book, “The Divine Conspiracy” but the example is found in several different places including this online interview: http://www.janjohnson.org/articles-_spiritual_growth_-_apprentice_to_the_master.html