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“All in a Day’s Work” Text: 1 Timothy 4:7-10
Elpis Christian Church
September 1, 1013
A farmer once observed, "The hardest thing about milking cows is that they never stay milked.”
That’s one of the best, most succinct, descriptions of work I’ve ever heard. The trouble with work is that it’s never done. I’ve heard any number of you who are now supposedly basking in the “glory days” of retirement – lament the fact that some days it seems like you are working the hardest that you ever have. And based on my observations – I think you probably are.
And then there are the rest of us poor slobs who, day in and day out, get up – look at our “to-do” list – and realize that too often it looks like a “I’ll never get it done” list instead of a “to-do” list. So isn’t it nice that once a year we have this thing called “Labor Day.” One day out of three-hundred sixty-five, where we take a little breather? We deserved it – because someone or something is going to be cracking the whip soon enough.
But Labor Day – especially Labor Day Sunday – gives us a chance to do something else too. It invites us to think about what a BLESSING work can be. Now what do I mean exactly?
Well, first off, I think it’s good for us now and then to remind ourselves how much easier work has become for most of us, at least from a historical perspective. Consider for example this notice that was found in the ruins of a London office building. It was dated 1852:
1. This firm has reduced the hours of work, and the clerical staff will now only have to be present between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays.
2. Clothing must be of a sober nature. The clerical staff will not disport themselves in raiment of bright colors, nor will they wear hose unless in good repair.
3. Overshoes and topcoats may not be worn in the office, but neck scarves and headwear may be worn in inclement weather.
4. A stove is provided for the benefit of the clerical staff. Coal and wood must be kept in the locker. It is recommended that each member of the clerical staff bring four pounds of coal each day during the cold weather.
5. No member of the clerical staff may leave the room without permission from the supervisor.
6. No talking is allowed during business hours.
7. The craving for tobacco, wine, or spirits is a human weakness, and as such is forbidden to all members of the clerical staff.
8. Now that the hours of business have been drastically reduced, the partaking of food is allowed between 11:30 and noon, but work will not on any account cease.
9. Members of the clerical staff will provide their own pens. A new sharpener is available on application to the supervisor.
10. The supervisor will nominate a senior clerk to be responsible for the cleanliness of the main office and the private office. All boys and juniors will report to him 40 minutes before prayers and will remain after closing hours for similar work. Brushes, brooms, scrubber, and soap are provided by the owners.
11. The owners recognize the generosity of the new labor laws, but will expect a great rise in output of work to compensate for these near Utopian conditions.
Talk about something out of a Charles Dickens’ tale.
My own version of this realization – about how labor isn’t what it used to be – came in the form of information I found about what circuit riding preachers had to do in the “good old days.” Once I finished reading about how they would typically ride for hours on horseback through the snow or burning sun, arrive in some God-forsaken place to preach for a couple hours, only to get on horseback again to ride to some other place for their evening preaching rounds….well, you get the idea. Suddenly, riding around in a heated or air-conditioned van didn’t seem all that bad.
It’s good for us to remember that many times, no matter how frustrated we might be at our “work” – whatever it is – at least we aren’t slaving away in truly inhuman conditions, at least, not usually.
And then there is another thing – another blessing – for which we should give thanks, when it comes to simple labor. It’s that, if we have the right attitude about it, it can become a reflection of true vocation – not just drudgery. The great reformer Martin Luther was one of the first to talk about this.
Listen to what he had to say about it. He wrote:
"The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays -- not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship."
Now, I know, that may just sound like someone using religion to justify why we should all work just a little harder. But I think there is a whole lot more to it than that. I think Luther was inviting his listeners to embrace the idea of “vocation” – that we can be co-creators with a God who is always at work – bettering our world, for ourselves and others. We can be partners in the great enterprise of serving God and serving others, as a form of praise, even while engaged in the simplest and most menial of tasks. To Luther, our world wasn’t divided in the beginning between the holy and the learned and the unholy and stupid. We were – we are – all God’s children. And we all have God given tasks to perform. Does it mean we will one day create a perfect world through our efforts? No. Only God in His grace can transform our fallen world that way. But in the meantime – we can joyfully and compassionately and with great dedication go about our daily vocations – grateful for them, whatever they are - as we go.
So let me leave you with this thought, on this Labor Day weekend:
According to one survey, the average number of jobs an American worker has held by age 40: 8. I wonder how many it is by the time you meet that “magic” retirement age of 65? One thing is pretty certain: some of those jobs you will like; some you won’t. And, no matter how you might wish it otherwise, every day, metaphorically speaking, those cows are going to have to be milked again; and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that – and so it goes.
Given that fact – what makes more sense? Complaining and crying out “ain’t it awful” or finding a way to live out a holy vocation, thankful for the ability to do good work, and in the process, give some glory to God?
Enjoy your vacation when it rolls around – I plan to take one very soon. Enjoy Labor Day. But enjoy your work – your labor – your vocation – as well. It may turn out to be one of God’s greatest blessings.
“Blind Faith” Text: Acts 9:1-20
Elpis Christian Church
April 14, 2013
I recently came across this on the internet and found it helpful:
"In a famous study by Victor and Mildred Goertzel,
entitled Cradles of Eminence, the home backgrounds of 300 highly successful
people were investigated. These 300 subjects had made it to the top. They were
men and women whose names everyone would recognize as brilliant in their
fields, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Albert
Schweitzer, Clara Barton, Gandhi, Einstein, and Freud. The intensive investigation
into their early home lives yielded some surprising findings:
* Three fourths of the children were troubled either by poverty, by a broken home, or by rejecting, over-possessive, or dominating parents.
* Seventy-four of 85 writers of fiction or drama and 16 of the 20 poets came from homes where, as children, they saw tense psychological drama played out by their parents.
* Physical handicaps such as blindness, deafness, or crippled limbs characterized over one-fourth of the sample.
And yet from such poor circumstances, God was able to bring success."
Today I want to talk a little about faith. Not just ordinary faith. Not just plain, old “I have been a member of this little church for years and I guess I will always be a member” faith, but faith that is born of hardship, and pain, and blindness. Today I want to talk about the apostle Paul and how his story can bring, in this Eastertide season, a reminder of how there is nothing that can keep us from seeing God and doing great things for Him, nothing except our giving in a “victim” mentality and our own spiritual blindness.
The challenge – not just for men like Paul, but for all of us – is to keep our eyes on Jesus and see not with our eyes – but our hearts – so that we can clearly follow the path he has laid out for us. That is, if we will take it on faith.
The details of the story our familiar to all of us – we don’t need to spend a lot of time re-hashing them today:
We’ve heard the story a thousand times. But it speaks to us with powerful conviction. Why?
Because so many of us have been there, one way or another, perhaps in less dramatic circumstances – but we’ve been there. We know what it is to be traveling with confidence down one road, only to be stopped dead in our tracks by some unexpected, seemingly devastating event. A relationship gone sour, an unexpected pink-slip from our employer, a draft notice, an illness or death. And we sit in the dust, licking our wounds, and crying out to God, “What now? What am I supposed to do NOW?”
That’s why we are drawn back to the apostle Paul’s story time and again. Because in one way or another, at one time or another, it is our story.
But today, as I look at this very familiar tale once again, I am struck by something.
It’s the question Paul asks as he hears that odd, unfamiliar, voice beckoning to him in the darkness.
He asks simply, “Who are you, Lord?”
When you think of it – isn’t that the most important question of all? Whether we are momentarily living, as Carl Howard puts it, “living on the top limb,” or we are face down in the dirt, unable to see the next step we are to take – isn’t that the most important question we could ask of life? “Who are you, Lord?”
And know this: if we ask that question in sincerity; with open ears and open eyes for the answer – it will come. God will tell us exactly who He is to us in that moment. More than that, He will show us who He is in relationship to us; and what He offers us – if we will accept the gift of His grace – there and then, in the midst of that circumstance, whatever it is.
“Who are you, Lord?”
Those are all different aspects of that same question. And the answers we receive in faith will allow us to get up, out of the dust, out of the darkness, and move on. Even if the immediate, physical reality of our circumstance seems grim.
It’s been proven time and again. When we are at our lowest and our weakest and our most confused – God comes and says, “Have faith – follow me – here – take my hand.” And if and when we do that – everything changes for the good.
Does life become suddenly easy again? Probably not. Do we suffer? Yes. Faith doesn’t make us impervious to pain or loss. But it allows us to overcome the immediate and see the possibility that God has provided somehow, even in that pain or loss.
What’s the key to being able to do that?
Well, again, let me share with you something I found online this week:
A HEART FOCUSED ON GOD
"Warren Wiersbe wrote a book called Victorious Christian about a woman named Fanny Crosby. Crosby was the author of over 8000 songs including several that we sang today. In fact she wrote so many that she had to write under pseudonyms just so she could get more of her songs into the hymnbooks.
At 6 weeks of age Fanny Crosby developed a minor eye inflammation and was taken to a local doctor for treatment. However, the doctor who treated her used the wrong medicine on her eyes and she became totally and permanently blind because of his carelessness.
Interviewed years later, Fanny Crosby said she harbored no bitterness against the physician. In fact, she once said, "If I could meet him now, I would say thank you, over and over again for making me blind." She felt that her blindness was a gift from God to help her write the hymns that flowed from her pen."
Can you imagine? Being able to actually thank that Doctor for using the wrong medicine. Not because she was a masochist who loved suffering. But because, in blind faith, literally, she found that God could use her for greatness in the kingdom.
Paul found it. Ms. Crosby found it. Countless others have. And we can too. Our circumstances, good, bad, indifferent are not the key. Our reaction to them is. And our faith is the way to react not as a defeated victim, but as a conquering victor.
The apostle Paul said it well with these words:
2 Corinthians 4:8-12
New International Version (NIV)
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
The next time you feel defeated; the next time you feel confused; the next time you just can’t seem to find your way – open your eyes. Open your heart. Have a little faith – a little blind faith. And just ask, as sincerely and opening as you can,
“Lord, who are you?”
“What do you have in mind for me? What can I do, even now, to be a part of your glorious, unfolding plan?”
“How can you bring good out of this?”
“What do you want me to do? Give me the strength. Give me the vision. Give me your grace – and I will do it.”
And then just wait – because His answer – is on the way.
And, when you have it in hand, and in your heart, nothing, absolutely nothing, will defeat you. AMEN.