God’s Work

November 7, 2021/Psalm 27

You can do anything if you work hard enough.

The harder you work, the more you will accomplish.

God helps those who help themselves.

“We live in a culture that values achievement, hard work, and success; where a person’s value is judged by his or her commitment to the process and production of work.”[1]  “We wake up too early, go to bed too late, labor too hard, and worry even harder.  We do these things because we believe they’ll make us safer, smarter, stronger, and more successful.  We mistake our culture’s workaholism for Christian virtue.  We assume that everything depends on us.”[2]

So the words of Psalm 127 strike our ears as revolutionary, as contradictory to the work ethic with which our parents raised us.  “The [psalm’s] prophetic word comes in the reminder that our work is first God’s work.  We are merely instruments of God’s work, which started long before we were born, and which will continue long after we are gone.”[3]  Whether you are a teacher or doctor, cleaner or builder, business executive or stay-at-home mom, “the work is always God’s.”[4]

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  The words bring us up short, and they confuse us.  We’re okay with acknowledging that God is in charge, but what does that mean for our day-to-day lives?  First of all, it means that God is engaged with our everyday lives, not just our Sunday worship lives.  “The parts of our lives that are the most ordinary, and the parts of our lives that are the most extraordinary, are indeed a matter of God’s concern.”[5]

Historically, the children of Israel reminded themselves of God’s providence “as they journeyed to Jerusalem for their annual festivals of sacrifice, worship, and thanksgiving.

They sang of God’s sovereignty over every detail of life.  In other words, through their acts of worship, these ancient pilgrims reminded themselves of who they really are: the children of God, sustained, nourished, protected, blessed, loved, guided, and held in God’s world, God’s story, God’s work, God’s salvation.  Through their worship, they reoriented themselves.  They remembered that their homes, their cities, their families, and their vocations belong to God.  Their role is simply to participate in the work God graciously chooses to share with them.[6]

The good news for us, both as people working to provide for our families and as the community of faith here at Providence, is that “all our worship, work, and witness, all our service, ministry, and mission efforts are in vain unless God is always and already at work.”[7]  The sleepless hours when our minds begin sorting through problems at work or troubles in our families or uncertainty about the future are hours we can turn over to God – because God already is sorting and sifting through the quicksand to guide us to a way forward.

If you don’t believe that, think about this.  In the fall of 2014, Providence learned that its pastor would be leaving in two weeks.  Two weeks.  Hardly time to digest the news, let alone plan for the future.  January came, with supply preachers filling the pulpit on Sundays and folks filled with worry about what the next week would bring.  Meanwhile, at the same time, having finished a yearlong clinical residency in the hospital, I finally agreed to lead vespers for Julie Schaaf, who was then chaplain at Foothills Retirement Community.

Keep in mind, while y’all were sitting here on Sunday wondering who you would see in the pulpit the next week, I was taking my last class in seminary and wondering where in the world God would lead me.  Because I had figured out that I was not embarking on a job search like those in my past life.  Instead, I was embarking on a call search – or rather, I was embarking on a time of listening for a call.

By Monday morning after Sunday vespers, Julie’s office was seeing a parade of Providence folk who wondered what they could do to get me to the church.  By Wednesday, Leah Bagwell, who chaired Worship at the time, was calling to schedule a date for me to come preach.  And by March, we were talking about the life God might be calling us to live together.

Or think about East End Elementary School.  Located in the middle of Easley, East End has about 750 children enrolled in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.  As an urban school, half of its students qualify for free or reduced lunches.  Many of these children received no nourishment between lunch on Friday and Monday morning’s school breakfast.  In 2017, a lunch-time conversation and a chance encounter at the grocery store led the Nurture Committee to launch the East End lunch program.  Every week during the school year, Providence packs meals for some 15 to 20 children, providing weekend sustenance they otherwise would not have.

When the program began, no one asked how much it would cost.  Think about it – supper-breakfast-lunch-supper-breakfast-lunch-supper for some 20 kids every week.  It didn’t take long for the team to figure out it had tackled an expensive project.  But never once did they decide they couldn’t afford to keep going.  Providence Preschool families joined with church members to donate food each week.  A generous donor established an endowment to provide funds for those times when donated supplies ran low.  Four years later, Providence has packed more than 2,000 weekend meal bags.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  “For Israel, it was God who built the temple, God who established the city of Jerusalem, and God who blessed the lineage of David.  While considerable human work was required for all of this, Israel was always dependent on God’s prior working.  So we too might say, ‘Unless the Lord builds the church, they labor in vain who build it.’”[8]

Thanks be to God, who is in our beginning and in our end and in all the time in between.

[1] Kate Foster Connors, Feasting on the Word B/4, 272

[2] Debie Thomas, “What Are We Building?,” Journey With Jesus, 31 October 2021

[3] Connors, 272-274

[4] Thomas

[5] Connors, 276

[6] Thomas

[7] Michael Pasquarello III, Feasting on the Word B/4, 277

[8] Ibid.

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