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Ben Fleming: Work That Worships, Colossians 3:23

November 13, 2023

Audio Recording

In the Kingdom of God, “work” is much more significant than bringing home a paycheck. Far beyond just personal fulfillment, we enrich the world and benefit those around us. Our work before God becomes worship, leaving an impact that echoes throughout future generations.

Rhythms
Ben Fleming: Work That Worships, Colossians 3:23
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Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

Rhythms of prayer, as well as things like silence and solitude. And today we're going to talk about something that we all interact with, as opposed to something that we're trying to introduce to our lives. I would imagine this has been introduced to you for a long time, and that is this idea of work and how we address and approach our work with the perspective of the kingdom of God. I'm going to let you kind of put the definition for yourself on your own work, because it comes in such a wide spectrum. There are jobs that you apply for and that you get, and there's a certain amount of hours, and you have a task. Andrew Neighbor, who is a data scientist, estimates that we spend, on average, 90,000 hours of work. We spend 90,000 hours at work over our lifetime, which is roughly 10.2 years and equal to one third of a person's life. It doesn't necessarily take into account for all the time that we're sleeping and we're not at work. And this study doesn't even account for all the stay at home dads and moms, which it's really difficult to quantify exactly when that job starts during the day and when it ends. Right.

I love all the stay at home dads that just do the time card at the end of the day and say, no, not my problem. All your problem. We're talking about work all the time. We're interacting and thinking about work. My wife and I were talking about the distribution of labor at our home the other day, also known as a fight or a disagreement.

Her biggest beef with me was my batting average on being able to get dishes from the table to the sink and into the dishwasher. My average is at an undesirable level for the last 13 years of our lives. And she said, look, I just don't understand why you can't just not just take it to the sink, but you can't get it into the dishwasher. And my response is, the problem is the pre wash. I don't want to pre wash. Everyone's talking about how computers and robots might take over the world with artificial intelligence and all these things. They don't understand that the dishwasher is way ahead of them. This is a machine that has taught us to wash the dishes, and it calls itself a dishwasher.

It's been taking over the world for a whole long time. And so I'm going, I think the sticking point is this pre wash thing that I have to wash the dish before I put it in the dishwasher. I don't know how excited I am about that. And she says, well, here's the thing. You can't just do 80% of a job and just expect me to go ahead and take care of it. And then almost immediately after, she grabs a large stack of boxes that are not broken down and takes them into the garage and just throws them in there and closes the door.

What are you doing? It's too cold out there not doing this. It's your job.

Oh, I see. Now, talking about work, we're talking about Labor. We're talking about what our job is, what it isn't. And even in the middle of this whole series, we're talking about rest, and we're talking about solitude. Again, rhythms matter. It's not about going all the way in this one case or all the way in this other case, because the effort for us, if we develop these rhythms in a healthy fashion, is that we become a people that are imitators of God. And the apostle Paul said, be imitators of God. He also said in Colossians chapter one, don't be blown about by every kind of wind of doctrine or idea that comes down the pike. Instead, we have to stick to the way of Jesus. And the writer of Hebrews says, this hope that we have in Jesus, in this Way, it's an anchor for our souls, which creates this picture that if our souls are anchored to the way of Jesus, all the wind and the waves and everything can happen, and it will bluster and it will blow and there will be storms, but the anchor is set in place to keep safe the things that are above the surface. We are called to be a people. In whatever election cycle comes, whatever strife comes, whatever cultural differences come, we are called to continue to go down the way of Jesus and be a people of Jesus. And if we're going to work this much in our lives figuring out how to imitate God, not just have the DNA or the makeup or be made in the image of God, right. As far as how we look, I think about this with my family again. My wife the other day was watching me hang a TV, and I hung it up on the wall, and she comes over and I go, look, honey, I think I'm done. How's it look? And she goes, good job. It's a little low on the wall.

And I said, no, it's where God intended it to be.

And then my son, who often to me, because I look at my son. And I go, yeah, he has the DNA of Rebecca and I. But then sometimes he walks into a room and I go, that's my wife, because my wife said it's a little low. And then my son walks through the room as my wife is leaving, and I go, hey, check it out. TV's done. He goes, oh, should it be higher?

And the goal for us through these rhythms is not to just sometimes remember that we're made in the image of God, but understand that that image needs to come about in how we behave and how we talk and how we act, and it needs to be a part of how we work.

If we're going to spend this much time working, we have to be imitators of God in how we work.

So what's an expression of how we work in Scripture? Well, Evan talked this last week from Genesis chapter One and two, and I'm actually going to do that again because so much of the nature of God is exhibited in these scriptures that are 3500 years old. Now, sometimes we take especially Genesis one, and we're kind of like trying to do geology work and we're understanding fossil records. And the writer of Genesis isn't that interested in that as much as they are interested in trying to communicate something about the nature of God. And God gives us an incredible example of work right off the bat. In Genesis chapter one, verse one, it says, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and empty, and the darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. And God said, let there be light. And there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day and the darkness. Night and evening passed, and morning came, marking the first day. God begins to create some order out of all these different elements of creation. He actually goes on, it says that God determined the space between the waters. He let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place. And then there was land and there was sea, and there was seed bearing plants, and there was seed bearing fruit and produced all the kinds of plants and trees from which they came. And then it goes all the way down into verse 25, Genesis 125. It says, god made all sorts of animals, livestock, small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.

And then it goes on in Genesis, chapter one. Now, Verse 26. It's not just God now that is in this story that is working and is a creator. But God invites human beings into the equation. Says God said, let us make human beings in our image to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth and the small animals that scurry along the ground. So God created human beings in his own image, and in the image of God, he created them, male and female, he created them. And God blessed them and said, be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it or subdue it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky and all the animals that scurry along the ground. And God said, look, I've given you every seed bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food, and I've given every green plant as food for all the animals, the birds in the sky, the small animals that scurry along the ground. There's a lot of Scurrying in Genesis chapter one, everything has life. And that is what happened. And then God took over all that he had made, and he saw that it was very good. An evening passed and morning came, marking the 6th day. And then in Genesis chapter two, it reaffirms this role of humankind. Genesis chapter two, verse 15, says, the Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and to watch over it. And so what you see, especially if you just read Genesis one and two all the way through for yourself, you'll see the same story being told twice, but with a couple different characters in the story. The first one, of course, is God. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and there was this formless void and there were waters that the Spirit hovered over. And so what God does while he creates, he doesn't just create and add new elements and new things into the equation. God takes something that is formless and begins to form it. He creates order out of chaos and beauty out of the void.

And then creation hits a certain point where there's all this potential and there's all this resource in it, and human beings come into the picture. But God is inspired to have human beings cultivate all of what has been created. And then human beings are called to enter into the picture in this formless, a lot of ways and void and wild wilderness. And God says, reign over it and subdue it. Now, subdue. In this case, it sounds kind of bad. I don't love the word subdue, and I don't even necessarily love the word reign over all of. But what those words really mean is that God is calling for you to maximize the potential to cultivate, to love these things and these resources that I've given you. And so an apple tree will grow plenty of apples all on its own. But when you're intentional about what else is growing near the apple trees, that's why people make orchards and vineyards are structured a certain way, because grapes can thrive when they're in specific environments. This is what God is calling humankind to do. Not to dominate and hurt and crush the creation that it's around it, but instead participate with it, to build something bigger than itself and more beautiful than itself. And so God shows us and we know that it's work because Scripture says that it's work. It's so much work for God that God gets around to the 7th day and needs to take a rest in Jesus name.

God is the first worker and his main order of productivity is to create order from chaos and beauty from the void.

This is what our work is calling us into. It's tempting, especially culturally, for us to assign more value to some jobs, maybe even based on how much money they make or how much clout they give you or how much prestige God does not. The writers of Scripture do not indicate that there's a specific job that is more important than the other, but instead it outlines for us our calling in the middle of those things. Now, I've grown up in the church, I'm a pastor's kid. I have been to more summer camps and summer camp teachings and services and had more altar calls than you have had coffees from back porch, you know what I'm saying?

And some of these situations would, for some reason, youth ministry in the 90s, everybody, we would have these altar calls to call kids forward. And a lot of times there'd be these prophetic words. Now I believe in the prophetic word of God. I believe that God in some cases speaks to us and might even tell us what a piece of our future is in very specific cases. But what happened all the time at these camps, we gather these kids at the front and some leader somehow would lay hands on all these kids and say, all of them are going to become pastors. God's doing a miracle work here, everybody. But you're going to be a pastor and you're going to be a pastor. And you and all these camps, I never heard a youth pastor go, you know, software engineer, just journalist. Oh, God is speaking.

Pastors got some of that narcissism in us, you know what I'm saying? You're going to be just like me. It's going to be great.

There's no specific assignment of value to a certain job. Instead, God is calling all of us, no matter what it is, if we're software engineers or we're pastors and ministers, whether we're teachers, professors, podcasters, whatever it is, God is calling us to find these places where order can bring peace and where beauty can come from the void. I come from a small town that is about 400 people now and sinking. I think it's hard to go any lower than 400 people, but that's where I grew up, a little town called Glendale, near Grants Pass here in Oregon. I SAY GLENDALE, AND PEOPLE SAY, oH, CaLIFORNIA. NO, GLENDALE. OH, ARIZONA. GLENDALE. Oh, New York. NO, IT'S RIGHT THERE. IT'S JUST SMALL.

And we had this football and baseball coach, Steve Proc, who was there for 35 years, and Steve was a gifted and talented leader, a great admin, a good coach. I THINK HE'S IN LIKE THE OREgON SPORTS HaLL OF FAME OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. And he got all these chances and all these offers to go all these different places, and yet Coach Prox stayed in our crummy little Milltown with 400 people, and he coached these boys through these weird seasons of their life. And not only did he do that, he mowed the football fields, he pulled irrigation pipe, he weeded the baseball infield. He attended and was the athletic director for all the other sports. He rode on buses with all of us idiots for sometimes 8 hours at a time in order to go to playoff games. And I am thinking the whole time, not at the time, but now I'm thinking, what were you doing?

WHO WANTS TO SPEND THEIR LIFE DOING THIS?

WE YOUNG BOYS ARE TERRIBLE PEOPLE. AND THIS TOWN IS CRUMMY AND ECONOMICALLY DEPRESSED AND RIDDEN WITH DRUGS.

THESE FIELDS ARE UNRULY. THERE'S NO TURF, THERE'S NO STAFF. YOU'RE PULLING PIPE ALL OVER THE PLACE. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? But this was one person who, in the middle of chaos and what many people would consider to be a void. It's not prestigious, it's not going to get him into any incredible place of honor outside of the several hundred boys that came through that he was coached by. And yet, there was something about the work and the ability to find value and to create beauty in the middle of something that everyone else would have said was ugly. Now, sometimes we can be convinced by our own voice in our own head that would say, if I could just get to this place, if I could just be in this job, if I could just accomplish this goal, and then I would find this purpose and this beauty that God has for me in my life. But I have to tell you that it's not about reaching a specific station, that God is calling your work to the highest calling right here and now. And it doesn't matter if it's dog walking or barista or professor, whatever you could list. God is calling you to bring order into chaos, to work well and to work hard, and to bring beauty into what others would consider a void.

Amen.

Now, the difficulty in following the way of Jesus in all this is that, again, to other people, this will look like insanity. In cases you don't make enough.

You're not living in the most desirable place.

I have literally talked to my therapist about this, and I'll be like, sometimes I have these conversations in bend. And I go, yeah, well, you know, I moved here and we were in Clamma Falls, and people go, oh, Clam, thank God you got out of there, right? You almost died, right?

I want to be like, it's the small town, kidding me? Where I'm like, hey, you want to fight or what?

Those are my people, and I get to make fun of them and not you.

Sometimes this is distorted again, the voice that happens in our own minds and our own hearts is distorted by the generation that we come from as well. We have this weird relationship with work based on when we were born. Sometimes I think about conversations that I have with my grandpa, right? And if I were to go to my grandfather and say, you know, I don't know. I just don't like my job. I don't know if I'm going to go tomorrow. My grandpa be like, shut up.

How dare you? It's a privilege to work. What is your problem? You know what the people before you had to do to build this country? For you to get to a point where you can have this job and it's like this. I worked five jobs that I hated my whole life, And I just sucked it up and I dealt with it. I was like, okay, Grandpa, I'm going to go play video games. I'm scared now.

And then you have the reputation that my generation has gotten, the millennial generation, right? Where we're like, you know, the job was great for 13 days.

I'm not really feeling fulfilled.

Yeah, you're there for 13 days. Are you through with orientation yet? And just not vibing with it kind of be the vagabonds of the workplace, and we just kind of go from place to place to place to place. And I don't know that any generation has really pegged the right way of approaching work. But hopefully, again, this expectation that God has for us, that it's not always about this specific time or this dream job, right? This is all kind of part of the American dream that eventually I can get into exactly what I want, and everything is good. God is calling us to create order out of chaos in our work and beauty in the middle of the void.

And then it goes on into Genesis in chapter three, right? So we spend Genesis one and two, and the writer of Scripture is talking about this beautiful thing that God has made, and it's cultivated, and when it's just cultivated even a bit, the growth happens. And then sin enters into the picture, right? The enemy comes and begins to speak with Eve and says, look, did God really say? And he presents this opportunity for her to continue to go along with what God has said and the law that God has made the way of God, or to reach out for a bit of your own knowledge?

And we're faced again with this discussion every single day. But when sin enters into the picture, the idea of work changes, and all of a sudden, there's resistance to the growth that we create in the world.

Genesis chapter Three says to Adam and Eve that you will continue to eat from the fruits of these labors. That's not going to stop. But now you'll find weeds, you'll find animals that come in and consume the thing that you have cultivated and grown, leaving you wanting.

And it's the same with our workplace todaY. There is this beautiful thing that God does with us where we get an opportunity to create order from chaos. But just like in Genesis chapter three, a lot of times we will find resistance. I want you to understand that resistance in your workplace, whatever you would consider to be your workplace, does not mean you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, it may mean that God is doing a deeper work in your soul and in your workplace to accomplish something that glorifies him and looks like the way of Jesus difficulty is not a sign that we should quit or to give up.

So exactly how is that value translated into, how do we understand this value of work?

I think about the story that Jesus tells us, this parable, and it's about people in a vineyard. Some of you guys are familiar with this story. I'll just sum it up for you.

There's this vineyard. All these workers go out at the beginning of the day, at the beginning of the workday, like usual, and they begin to work, and they agree to be paid a certain amount of money for that. But then people, other workers show up during the course of the day, and they, too, head out into the vineyard. But some show up at noon, some show up at two, some show up at four, and some show up pretty close to the closing bell of the workday. And then as they're all coming out, everyone that has entered into the field and has returned is receiving the exact same amount of pay, no matter how many hours that they had worked. This is one of the worst stories Jesus tells.

And as a reader of Scripture, I'm always like, oh, this is about the grace of God. And then as a human being, I'm like, this is ridiculous, unfair, unjust. You have responsible people and irresponsible people.

But part of the story communicates to us a bit about work.

When you go to work for this vineyard owner, which in our case is God himself, it's Jesus. A lot of times we want to only find purpose and happiness and value in an exactly wonderful day's work. When we build the right thing, when we are efficient, the right way, when we participate from the beginning of the day. And I believe that God wants to give you some rest today. If you've been wondering about the value of your work, that when we go out and we try to create order and chaos and beauty and avoid, sometimes the world will interpret our output differently than God does. And I want you to understand, if you've been under that stress today, that God wants to embrace you, tell you that you are loved just as much as anyone else.

I want to wrap this whole thing up by talking about something that we're going to participate in here in just a moment. And that is the act of communion as the act of communion. And the reason that we do it every single week. Is not just to add another piece to our liturgy or to the order of our services.

It's because the death and the resurrection of Jesus. And what that does for us should just permeate every teaching and every lesson. It's not just this thing that we do at the end of a gathering, but instead it's how we reengage our minds again and again and again. It's a good, healthy rhythm for us to remember the sacrifice in the way of Jesus.

So how does work relate to the Lord's table? I love this quote from Ben Patterson, who says, communion is the perfect embodiment of the mystery of human work.

Communion shows dramatically the indissoluble link between the bread for which we all must toil. And the bread from which God gives is a gift. Christ nourishes our souls with the very things we bring him, things he first gave to us.

What I'd like you to do in just a few moments as we gather for Communion at the table, is remember that a divine work provides meaning and direction for your work in the world.

And this is important, because without this story, without this truth, we end up like one philosopher says, I can't remember his name, like mindless monsters. If you want to be reductive about our work, you can look at anything that we do and anything we accomplish. You could look at it like the book of Ecclesiastes author that just says, look, everyone's going to die. Everything's going to fade away. Time comes for all of us. Your success is random and meaningless, and it doesn't actually do anything for the world. So good luck to you.

And have you ever found yourself in that spot? At work, maybe? At work? Why am I even doing this?

What is the point?

And for me, in my experience, as I get older, some of the easy answers get less satisfactory. Well, it's a good paycheck.

Who cares?

Well, it's a prestigious firm that we're a part of. This is a cool opportunity.

Okay, I can be thankful for that. But have you ever just gotten to that point where you're like, just, what is the meaning of all of this?

And again, going back to Genesis, chapter one, all these things that God makes, right?

God divides the light from the dark, which is the creation of the daytime. Now, who does that benefit? Does that benefit God? Not really benefits humanity.

Specifically, the author of Genesis talks about how seed bearing plants and seed bearing fruits and trees are created. Well, who does that benefit? Does that benefit God? By the way, what about all the other trees?

Love some sequoias and love some pines.

Well, the author of Genesis is specifically highlighting these things that benefit who? They benefit us.

They feed us. They enrich us.

The day makes sense to us. We know when to rise and when to rest.

And so why do we work? What is this story that we can engage with outside of even just God calling us and showing us that we create order out of chaos and beauty, out of the void?

Well, just like solitude and often prayer are rhythms that enrich our own personal souls. Our work is intended to enrich and benefit the people around us.

You notice that in Genesis, the only being that God tells to be fruitful and to multiply is human beings, right? These other animals just multiply. Nobody got to tell them anything.

Rabbits are fine, but there's particular emphasis placed on human beings. Right? Because when rabbits multiply, this is going to get weird, okay? Not really. When rabbits multiply, what happens? More rabbits are made and there are more rabbits. And the more rabbits, the more rabbits, they just kind of get in larger groups. When human beings are made, cities are built, cultures are created.

Right? Wars can start and end.

Peace is had. Neighborhoods are built, jobs are created. The stakes when it comes to human beings, part of our work is to acknowledge this creation that God has done in this world and to continue to cultivate as we continue to grow and our cultures shift and change and move. How do we cultivate? How do we bring order where there's chaos? How do we bring beauty into places that people would say are void and unworkable and not worth it? Because I got to tell you today, I want to think about some of you who are in thankless jobs. I want to think about some of the teachers. I want to think about some of the, maybe the construction workers, some of the people where you're saying, I wonder if nobody would know if I was gone. I wonder if anybody understands the kind of impact and the work that this takes into this. I got to tell you, maybe nobody is ever going to tell you and understand the value that you bring. But I believe that God sees you bring an order where there's chaos. I believe that there's beauty where there's ashes, that there's people who you have influence over, and your love and encouragement and your spirit among them is going to change their life, and it's going to go on and echo throughout the generations with our work. We get so caught up in this next paycheck and this next move and this next thing. But when we work, how God has called us to, it doesn't matter if our name names are remembered or if we had enough in the retirement fund. Instead, it reverberates and it makes a difference throughout all of eternity. Why? Because the spirit of God is in it.