Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality
Sermon on Matthew 13:1-9: 18-23
In his years with Lincoln Telephone and Telegraph Company my father had worked his way from janitor to lineman to the person that installed all the intricate wires on a telephone switchboard. As someone with only a high school diploma my father was an opportunist when it came to work. In his day our society still valued trade schools and unions ran many of those schools. My father took every class that the Communication Workers of America offered. Sometimes he had to travel to Texas for training, but each class that he completed gave him an opportunity for advancement in the telephone industry. It gave him a job stability that is unheard of in today’s economy.
Yet, there were also drawbacks to my father’s work. I remember the late night phone calls. We would all groan when we heard the phone ring and my father answer. Someone on the other end of the line was relaying a problem with a telephone switchboard. He would grab his tools and head out into the dark night to troubleshoot hoping to solve the problem before morning. Then he would work an entire shift through the rest of the day.
In the 35 years that he worked for the Telephone Company it seemed that he worked himself to the bone. There were many weeks that extended into 60 and 70 hours. In all that time I noticed something that disturbed me. It was that much of his identity became intricately wrapped into his job. So, I determined that I would be different. I would not allow a job to define who I was. Individuals not institutions are the only things that can show me love and I determined that is what I will pour my energy into. I would enjoy my family, friends and hobbies just as much as any job that I had.
After working such jobs as canvassing the neighborhood with flyers for the local grocery store, pushing carts, breaking up cardboard boxes, stocking shelves, cashiering, washing dishes, cooking on a line, telemarketing, researching in a bank, cleaning the slop in a fish market, cleaning the toilet as a janitor, selling computers, counting money, student teaching, providing security to a sorority, painting a house and functioning as the senior minister at two churches I thought I knew what work was.
Yet, after all that work I have come to that startling reality that we all make at some point in our lives. I am becoming my father. My work is intricately woven into my identity. I also realized that my father was not unique, our entire culture treats their work as important to their identity. Personally, I find it hard to say no, to make boundaries, to gracefully stop a conversation and to stop for rest. The other day someone asked me about my personal life and all I could talk about was work. They said, “aside from work how are you doing?” It was with a blank stare that I gazed at them. When that occurs I know that it is time to step back, relax and quit thinking that what I do as so important.
As a matter of fact my culture buttresses my opinion. We talk about productivity as one of the most important aspects of our economy. With the connectivity of the World Wide Web’s email, cell phones and blackberries we are accessible like never before. In our striving to succeed, to have progress, to grow we seem to have forgotten some of the most important aspects of the spiritual life like waiting, silence, doing for others, contemplation and meditation. We are interested in instant gratification, the raw data and results, but forget that most often it is about process, the journey and living life in fullness.
So, what could Jesus possibly have to say to us about work? Jesus packed a tremendous amount of teaching, miracles and traveling into his three years of ministry. He must have been a type A kinda guy, right? Many people miss the verses in the Bible that precede a good story. Here is one of Jesus’ most interesting lessons about someone working in a field and scattering seed. It is a great and complex parable, but it is not what I would like to focus on. I would like to focus on what Jesus is doing before he tells this story. Matthew relates that Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. It goes by so quick that it is too easy to miss. Jesus leaves the house that he is staying in to just sit on the shore of a big lake.
I imagine all the pressure that he was facing and how this simple act might have helped him make it through the day. What is even more amazing is that a crowd finds him and surrounds him. So, Jesus gets into a boat and sits. It is only after he has rested that Jesus begins to teach this lesson.
I think that it is because of the break neck speed of our culture that we easily miss all the times in the scripture that Jesus hurls into the wilderness, walks, listens, sleeps in the hull of a boat during a storm and retreats to gardens and mountains to be alone in his prayers. If you are looking for Jesus to condone a lifestyle of 24/7 work you will be sadly disappointed.
It is a good time to bring this up in the life of this church. We are in the midst of summer when many take their vacation time and head for their own retreats. I must say that in a couple weeks my family and I will be taking 4 weeks of vacation. I have felt quite run down over the last couple of weeks. Needing to get away from work. Reading this passage this week convicts me that I am not that important. Christ desires that I get the rest that I need to be an effective pastor, father and husband. So, give yourself a break. Slow down your pace. Take time to stare off into space. Keep track of how many hours you work and if it is too much cut them by 10%. Just as Christ rested so do you deserve rest. It is my hope that we will all get the rest and refreshment that we need to be the people that Christ wants us to be.
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