Thursday, May 21, 2009

Working in the World

Most of the adults in churches on Sunday have 9 to 5 jobs during the week. It is difficult for pastors to bridge the gap from Sunday morning to everyday life in a way that gets to the heart of issues that employees face on a daily basis. How does an employee perceive his/her faith in the crisis of being berated for some mistake they made? A deadline missed? An oversight? Or worse, blamed for a problem someone else caused? How do you handle the promotion of another less-qualified person ahead of you because of his/her abilities to schmooze the bosses, while shirking their own responsibilities or shifting them onto others? Or because of race, gender, weight, age or natural affinity?

It may be the easiest path in the world to profess our faith with our mouths on Sunday in worship songs, creeds recited, and "amen!" to the sermon – that God created all things, that God loves all creatures, that God is light, grace, and truth, and that we, as members of the Body of Christ, are called to be bearers of the Holy Spirit to these very people. It certainly is the most difficult path to give grace and speak truth in darkness to the schmoozers, the shirkers, the liars, the back-stabbers, idea-stealers, and the duped, agenda-ridden or vindictive bosses, or to face the facts that we, ourselves, may be perceived as these things by others because of our own faithless choices. We try to navigate our way through the quagmire of office politics, pettiness, offensive and defensive reactions, office/cubicle placements, and work assignments. Most of us try to rely on our own perceptions and our own abilities to dodge this bullet, to avoid that trouble-maker, to keep our mouths shut or open them at the "right" time.

While not negating some folks' natural instincts that carry them well through these dark warrens of politics, God's ways are not ours. The facts speak loudly: many of these very activities go on in church offices, denominational authorities, church judicatories, pastors' groups, and mission organizations every day, too. Church leaders frequently are wiser in the world's ways than they are mature in Christ, too!

We need to read Scripture about handling people and situations "in Christ", and learn how to trust God in the human darkness we face daily.

God is the one who we call on. The Psalms contain the laments of people getting shafted for doing or seeking to do righteousness in their relationships to other people. This morning, I was re-reading a favorite of mine, memorized long ago in another translation. It is so easy not to believe who will give us ongoing employment and take care of our needs. The obvious "who" are the ones we see in front of us: the bosses, the people who make up the company, those people whose hoops we have to jump through to get the contract or close the deal. Our natural tendencies are to please these people so that we may be rewarded with paying work. Our natural methodologies are to skirt the truth – if "necessary", lie – if "necessary", over-promise the impossible – if "necessary", and under-estimate the costs – if "necessary."

None of that behavior reveals any faith in God. We need to face this about ourselves and those around us.

Our worship is clearly seen in our choices at these moments. Our faith is in the Almighty God who alone ensures the value and enduring quality of our work here and now, as we are faithful and righteous to others and to Godself, bearing grace and truth to others God has placed around us:

Psalm 90

11    Who considers the power of your anger?

    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

12    So teach us to count our days

    that we may gain a wise heart.

13    Turn, O LORD! How long?

    Have compassion on your servants!

14    Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,

    so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

15    Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,

    and as many years as we have seen evil.

16    Let your work be manifest to your servants,

    and your glorious power to their children.

17    Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,

    and prosper for us the work of our hands—

    O prosper the work of our hands!


Trusting in the unseen God reveals the God we trust to those around us through our faithful and righteous actions. We may look like and feel like fools, but we're revealing Someone to those who long for God when we have integrity.

1 Corinthians 4

10We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, 12and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things.

We are all "sent out" by God into the world, wherever that may be, whatever office or factory floor or street may be our place of work. May we show those around us what it means to be a fool for Christ to their blessing and hope, to be gracious and forgiving empowered by the Holy Spirit, to reveal the strength in eternal love for others who deserve God's wrath as much as do we ourselves.

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