Sunday, September 1, 2013

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Celebrating God’s work, celebrating our work

Labor Day and Back to School Sunday
Psalm 8; Genesis 1:31-2:3; I Thess. 5:12-15

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Today we have brought forward, what we might call, “the tools of our trades”.  If we had done this 20 years ago, we probably would have had a very different display of objects relevant for that time. These tools and objects symbolize the time, energy, and resources we commit to serving God in our work, in the marketplace, in our institutions, in our homes.  They represent many talents, many skills, and many opportunities.  We hope we use them wisely.  
In addition we prayed a prayer of blessing over our hands that do the work day in and day out.  Strong hands, capable hands, practical hands, determined hands, artistic hands, loving hands, empty, Christ-like hands.  These hands do the work of our Creator God.
Our work......our vocational calling... is a very significant aspect of our lives.  When we are in conversation with someone we don’t know very well, we often begin with a few questions, like, “Where are you from?  Do you have family around here?  What kind of work are you in?”  We really want to know, “who are you?” and, “ What do you do?”  It seems like in most any culture, we ask these questions that give us information about your roots, your family/clan, your work/vocation.  That is important to us.
God calls us to a vocation and uses us, our talents and skills.  God works in and through us, as we join God’s work in the world wherever it takes a job with pay, to a task as a volunteer, to work at home or out in the world.  God calls us to make work part of the worship of our lives.
Today we celebrate our vocations, our work, but we also recognize and celebrate God’s work.  Our opening call to worship, from Psalm 8, reminds us in beautiful, descriptive language of God’s work as creator.  It even describes the ‘work of God’s fingers’, as God created the heavens, the moon, the stars.  What an amazing image!  God’s fingers at work creating this magnificent universe in which we live.
Then we come to the Genesis passage.  God looked around at all God made and declared it good.  No, not just ‘good’, but ‘very good.’  
By the 7th day God’s work was completed.  The heavens and the earth were created, and it was time to enjoy all that was made.  On the 7th day God rested from all of the work that was done.  God blessed the 7th day and made it holy, special, a time set apart.  Work and Rest, an important rhythm for our life.  (That is another whole sermon!)

             To what has God called you?  In 1995 Mennonite Church USA adopted a Vision: Healing and Hope statement that says, “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”  God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ...   The question for us today is, “How are we being a follower of Jesus Christ, serving God in our vocation, our place of work, out in the marketplace, the places where we volunteer our time, in our educational institutions, our factories, our businesses, our neighborhoods, our homes?”  
A few days ago, those of you with computers, received an e mail from church (Constant Contact) with a reminder about today’s focus and a homework assignment.  3 things were listed: 1.) Come to worship dressed in your work clothes (if you choose), 2.)  Bring to worship a symbol or object that represents something about your work or your volunteer job, 3.)  Reflect on 2 part question: How do you see God in your place of work, study or volunteering? and How do you serve God in your place of work, study or volunteering?

Now with all of the educators in this congregation who expect their students to complete their homework, I certainly hope that I can count on at least some of you to have done that!  This is going to be a somewhat interactive sermon for the last part and to give you a few minutes time to think on those questions:
How do you see God in your place of work?
How do you serve God in your place of work?
I am going to do a quick survey to help us with some demographics of our congregation in terms of vocations.

Ask to stand in these categories:
1.)  Educators or anyone involved in schools at any level: teachers, aids, administrators, support staff, bus drivers, food service, clerical, school nurse, social worker, custodial
2.)  Business owners, started own business, entrepreneurs, work in business
3.)  Trades people: masons, electricians, plumbing, carpenters, excavating, mechanics, painters
4.)  Students
5.)  Medical people: doctors, nurses, aids, lab techs, medical sec., EMT, dentists,specialists
6.)  Legal
7.)  Social Services: case workers, counselors, therapists
8.)  Farmers, factory workers, housekeepers
9.)  Church workers, mission workers, chaplains, pastors, church agencies
10.)  At home mom/dad, caregiving role for parent
11.)  Volunteers  - give your time, receive no pay check for it

With all of these vocations and volunteer jobs represented here, how are we serving God?  How are we seeing God in these places?

Story: Troy Watson, writes a column periodically in the Canadian Mennonite magazine.  In a recent issue he wrote that several years ago he decided to start out his day with this prayer: “God, open my eyes to see the opportunities  you have prepared for me love, bless and serve you and others.  Grant me the patience, courage and energy to seize these opportunities.”
The more he prayed this prayer, the more he noticed opportunities to serve.  About a week after he started this, he was on his way to work and noticed a man at a bus stop in a short sleeve shirt, huddled and shivering.  It was a cold and rain morning.  He remembered the scripture verse: “If you have two coats, give one to him who has none.”
He wrote: “I shared a laugh with God because we both knew I had an extra jacket in my trunk.  I pulled the car over, hopped out and handed the man my extra coat.  The look of happy confusion on his face was priceless.  I drove away feeling amazing.  It was the sensation of my spirit being nourished with the highest quality soul food.”

So let’s talk for a few minutes...share with me how you see God at work OR how you serve God in your vocation?  (Make it short and to the point!)  ask persons to respond, interact with the congregation!

In the I Thess 5:12-15 text, the apostle Paul is writing instructions about what the conduct should be within the community of believers.  He urges, exhorts the brothers and sisters to acknowledge and respect those who labor among them, those who are in leadership and care for them, those who are servants of the church.  He reminds them to hold these folks in high regard.  “Live in peace with each other.” or “Live at peace”.
Paul also gives instructions to the community of believers as to how they should treat those who live on the margins.  Some may be idlers or disruptive, disorderly, and may need to be admonished.  Others may need to be encouraged, those who are disheartened.  Other who are weak may need help.  But above all and most importantly, “Be patient with everyone!”.  Paul encourages them to be actively involved in seeking the good of those who are on the margins and always to strive to do good for each other and for everyone else.

As we celebrate and give thanks for our work, our vocations, our volunteer jobs, the things we do to which we have been called, may we also remember and be mindful that not everyone can work or has work for which they receive a pay check, yet whatever our position and situation, whether full time worker, retiree, at home parent, between jobs, laid off from a job, disabled, we ALL our beloved children of God, sons and daughters, created in God’s image, part of God’ work that we also celebrate.

May we all pray in some way, like Troy Watson, for open hearts and open eyes and a willingness to serve God.  May we then pay attention so that we can seize the opportunities that God may present to us, to respond appropriately and compassionately and to receive the blessings, knowing that we also have blessed another.  
God is working in and through us.  May our work everywhere, every one clear way we see and serve God!

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