Justin Morgan: It's Sunday, but Monday's coming
Work is inherently meaningful, part of what it means to be made in the image of God, says a UMC pastor. So go forth to do the work that God has given you.
December 4, 2012 | Editor’s note: Faith & Leadership offers sermons that shed light on issues of Christian leadership. This sermon was preached at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, N.C., on April 15, 2012.
I’ve consistently held a job since I was about 12 years old. In fact, I’ve lost count of just how many different jobs I’ve had, but there have been plenty -- everything from baby-sitting to setting skeet at the local hunting club.
I’ve delivered newspapers, done landscaping and worked retail. I’ve served ice cream, fast food and fine dining and have been employed at college libraries and an admissions office. In more recent days, I’ve worked for a food assistance program and a philanthropic foundation and served as a hospice chaplain.
I suppose the reason I’ve given so much of my time to work is that I’ve always believed in it. Even if I couldn’t articulate why, I knew that somehow life was more meaningful because of work, not less. It feels good to work. I understand the folks who win the lottery and keep their day jobs anyhow. I probably would, too.
And yet over time, I’ve also discovered that work can become meaningless. Regardless of what it is that you do, work can quickly begin to feel like the plight of Sisyphus, from Greek mythology, whose punishment from the gods was to roll a giant stone up a hill only to watch it roll back down, repeatedly, throughout all eternity. Does that sound familiar to anyone?
It reminds me of the worst job I ever had, working on the assembly line of a frozen-pizza company, in which my assigned task was to pick up a box of bread from a stack behind me, turn back around with the box, flip the contents out onto the conveyor belt now in front of me, discard the empty box and then repeat. That was the whole gig. And since the machinery was incredibly loud, everyone had to wear ear protection, so there was no communication all day.
But the truth is that whether you’re on an assembly line or preaching behind a pulpit, there are plenty of days when you wonder why you do what you do and whether it deserves so much of your life.
Unfortunately, the church has not always done a great job of addressing this issue, and sadly, the research shows that one of the primary reasons my generation is leaving the church is because we have largely ignored the arena in which people spend most of their waking hours.
So this Easter, I’ve found myself asking the following question: “If resurrection changes everything, how does it change our work?” I’ve heard plenty of Easter messages about how resurrection proves that there is life after death, that sin is defeated and that Jesus is Lord, and all of that is foundational to our faith.
I take comfort in knowing that “it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming,” but if you’re anything like me, perhaps today what you’re really thinking is, “It’s Sunday, but Monday’s coming.”
In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul provides us with the most extensive explanation of resurrection in the Scriptures, discussing all kinds of things, from what resurrected bodies will look like to what’ll happen to the folks who are still alive when Christ returns.
But it’s his final conclusion regarding resurrection that I would like to turn our attention to, in which he writes: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (NRSV).
Did you catch that? According to Paul, because Jesus is resurrected, it then follows that we should fully give ourselves to our work.
For most of us, the logic isn’t exactly obvious. What does Jesus’ resurrection have to do with our work? As I’ve wrestled with this, I’ve come to see that perhaps one reason why the connection isn’t more apparent is because many of us learned a version of the Christian story that’s missing some very important pieces. (Stay with me for just a couple of minutes.)
The Christian story as many of us learned it goes something like, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, but God took on flesh in the person of Jesus, paid our penalty through death on a cross and was resurrected, and now, if you believe in him, you can go to heaven when you die.”
Now, if you live according to that story, one subtle conclusion is that the earth and everything we do on it will eventually be done away with, and thus our work is basically meaningless. The one exception, of course, is the eternal work of saving souls.
According to this premise, many of us have come to talk as if the “soul-saving” business of the church were the really important work in the world, and all other vocations significant only insofar as they help fund the work of the church. If that view of work frustrates you, good! It should. It frustrates me, too.
The problem with that account of the Christian story is that it completely skips the first and last two chapters of the Bible. Imagine if you did that to your favorite movie or book!
You see, our story doesn’t begin with sin but with God creating a very good world, and it doesn’t end with creation being discarded but with all of creation being renewed. It turns out that those chapters are actually really important, and when we put them back in the story, the picture we get regarding this life is very different. In this story, it’s not just souls that God is saving but all of creation.
This then means that what happens here actually does matter. And here’s where Easter Sunday comes in: Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the sure proof and foretaste of that reality. Jesus doesn’t rise from the grave in some purely spiritual form but in the very body he left with, scars and all.