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The Gift of Good Work

April 30, 2017

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Second Sunday after Easter, April 30, 2017
In Honor of May Day

 Prayer of St. Francis         Romans 12

Our Scripture reading this morning, from the twelfth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, is the job description for the church. It describes the good work to which we are all called, by the waters of our baptism. [I then read the entire chapter from The Scholars Version]

Whenever I read this chapter in worship, I simply want to say Amen and sit down. This is our job description as a church, and Paul describes it so completely. It is not for each of us individually, but for us-as-community, the community itself helping each of us along so that together we may become the body of Christ.

The themes for today’s worship service are spread throughout our liturgy. Together, we have both said and sung that there are rhythms of work and rest built into the very fabric of creation. And that by participating in these rhythms of work and rest, we imitate our Creator, in whose image we are made.[1]

We have confessed that God gave us work as a way of expressing joy in life, our gratitude for God’s love, for making use of our own creativity, for daring and doing, and that this work is a reflection of our creative God-still creating. Work well done enables community and a sustainable, thriving life for people, all creatures, and the earth itself. [2]

Thomas Aquinas said that there could be no joy in life without joy at work. Of course much work is also utterly unsatisfying, boring, and meaningless. Some work is dehumanizing and exploitative. And some work actively contributes to violence and injustice in our world. So we have also confessed that the way we work can be corrupted and corrupting, distorting and blurring God’s good intentions for us. Indeed our work may become a source of self-glorification, a site for envy, or the basis of contempt toward others. The kind of work we do is used by our society, and truly ourselves, as a measure of esteem and worth, but the scale of judgment is skewed by our market economy with some types of work being ridiculously over compensated while other types of work don’t even allow a person to put food on the table for themselves and their family.[3]

At the same time, scripture teaches us that that good work has its own dignity, conferring meaning and purpose on life. Good work is a basic human need. This is why Adam and Eve were given the job of serving and preserving the natural world in Paradise, tilling and keeping it so that it would thrive. Long before the difficulties of labor, which are associated with the Fall, the work of Adam and Eve gave life meaning and purpose. Good work allows for self-expression, fosters communal life and heals our relationship with the earth.[4]

In a few moments, we will give thanks to God for all our opportunities to work and serve, to use the gifts we have for a greater good and to develop new skills for a future yet to be. We will give thanks for the satisfaction of work well done, and remember those who are diminished and devalued by our economy. We will pray for one another. And then after worship will have the chance to do some work together.

2017-04-30 11.29.50

During the winter, branches and sticks fell from the trees and are lying all over our lawn and in our cemetery. Immediately following worship, I would like to invite those who are able to come out to the front lawn to engage in the concrete work of picking up sticks and carrying them to the curb. Vicente started mowing the lawn this week, which requires first picking up all the sticks. When done by one person it takes a long time. So let’s give him a hand. If a number of us work on this together, it will take no time at all. You may remember we did this a couple of years ago. And it’s kind of fun. I particularly remember that Vanessa – Pam’s Vanessa – was the youngest participant, and I believe Beryl Dilworth was our oldest.

2017-04-30 11.41.55

Which brings us back to our job description as a church. “Don’t accept the life of this age as your model, but let yourself be remodeled by the recovery of your true mind, so that you may discern what is consistent with God’s purposes.” Liberationist and feminist theologian, Dorothee Soelle, has written in her book To Work and To Love, “If we understand life as a school, the training ground in which we strive to become something more that we are at present, our work becomes creative practice.” For as William Sloan Coffin so famously put it, “God loves is just the way we are, but God loves us too much to leave us this way.”

Friends, you’ve heard our job description. We are summoned to nothing less that participating in a divine way of life in the world, to be the images of God we were created to be by reflecting God’s image with our lives. We are summoned to follow the way of Christ in loving God and loving our neighbor, to being nothing less than a provisional demonstration of God’s Kingdom on Earth. Such a way of life in not entered into lightly, nor should it be. There is a reason we compare each baptism to a death by drowning – it is a dying and rising to life, a new kind of life, which is only lived with the aid God’s spirit at work within us.

It is hard work. But it is good work.

Come, labor on.[5]

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Liturgy for this service was drawn from “Work of Our Lives (Presbyterian)” in Healing Liturgies for the Seasons of Life by Abigail Rian Evans. Our opening hymn was “God, Who Spins the Whirling Planets.”

[2] “God’s Work in Our Hands: Employment, Community and Christian Vocation.” Approved by the 207th General Assembly (1995) of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

[3] On gender, inequality and double standards, see yesterday NYTimes opinion section, “Are Women Allowed to Love Their Jobs?”. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/28/opinion/sunday/are-women-allowed-to-love-their-jobs.html?ref=opinion&_r=0. These issues were also brought up in the prayers of the day.

[4] An accessible theology of work is developed by Dorothee Soelle and Shirley A. Cloyes in To Work and To Love: A Theology of Creation (Orbis, 1984).

[5] Come, Labor On was our sermon hymn. The service concluded with Lord, You Give the Great Commission.

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