Weaving Together Work and Faith

June 14th, 2012

A Meditation on Mark 10:35-44

Work. Job. Career. At some point in our lives, most of us will have a job. We may even have a profession that we work in for decades. We may become experts in engineering, farming, teaching, or nursing. We may run a small business for years. We may become the “go-to” person for a service or product.

We often identify people by what they do. We might introduce someone by saying, “Meet John. He runs the car repair shop in town.”  When we got enough people in town to start adding last names, Sam-the-tailor became Sam Taylor.

And if we don’t have a job, we may be preparing for one. What’s the question we ask little children – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If we have children in high school we are asking them, “What do you want to study? What are you going to become?”

In our American culture, we strongly identify our self-worth with our job. We may spend a lifetime doing one job. When we look back over our lives, we may say, “I farmed for 35 years,” “I taught school for 25 years,” or “I retired from working for local government.”

Perhaps James and John could relate to this. If someone asked them what they did for a living they might say “I worked with Jesus for three years,” “I taught the Bible,” or “I was a disciple.”

Not to Be Served, But to Serve

Like many of us, James and John base their self-worth on their career. When this passage opens up, what are they doing?  They are arguing about who will have the top job; who will have the top position in the God Corporation. They say to Jesus, “Arrange it so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor – one at your left, and one at your right.” That’s the translation from The Message.

The NRSV translation is even more pointed. “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’” (Mark 10:35).

Hey, Jesus, we want you to do whatever we ask! Excuse me?

In other words, Jesus, if you are going to be the president of the organization, we want to be the vice-presidents. We want the seat of power – the seats near the top. We want to be your right-hand men! Arrange it, Jesus. Just fix it up for us. We’ll support you. One hand washes another, you know.

This is starting to sound like a political campaign, isn’t it? Jesus will have none of this. He listens to James and John, and then he has an answer for them. Jesus says, “You have no idea what you are talking about! You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I will drink?” (Mark 10:38).

James and John, full of self-confidence, say, “Sure, Jesus. No problem.”

And then the other ten disciples catch wind of this conversation. And they get angry. Who are you, James and John, to be asking for positions of power? We deserve them, too!

Jesus takes the time to settle the disciples down. And he teaches them a little about power and servanthood and work. These words may be familiar to us. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43). 

Whoever wants to be first must be last. Jesus’ advice does not sound like the way to get ahead.

Jesus has more to say. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45).

So, the first will be last, the last will be first.

Why Do We Work?

With the benefit of the whole gospel, we know that “giving his life” means that Jesus is going to be crucified for many. We know that Jesus will be killed and resurrected to save all of us. That’s one familiar take on this text.

N. Neelley Hicks relates this passage to work in her sermon series for Rethink Church, “Journey Toward Hope.” Hicks writes, “God created human beings to have a purpose, and that purpose is to care for one another and the earth.”

When we look at our lives, most of us don’t live the life of a martyr or savior. Our lives are ransomed slowly, one day at a time, over many, many years.

And what do we do most days? We go to work. What does our work—our day-to-day lives—have to do with being a Christian? Does our work give our life meaning? Is work related to discipleship? Some people think so.

Remember in Genesis 1:26-27, God says, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

God creates Adam and Eve and says to them, “Here’s your job. Run things on earth for me, and take care of my creation.”

God gives humans work, vocation. The first humans had work to do. And today, we work too.

And we work for many reasons. We want to provide for ourselves and for our families. We want to have a place to live, food to eat and some health insurance. We want to save to retire someday. These are the very practical reasons that we work.

Giving Our Work over to God

But there are other reasons that we work. We want to feel that our lives have a purpose. We want to teach others. We want to find new and better ways of living. We want to help others. We want to share our gifts with the world to make it a better place. In short, one way we find our self-worth is through our work.

What if, as Hicks writes, we made the word “church” into a verb? What if we carried our experience of worshipping God into the workplace? What if we gave our work over to God? What if we worked for God’s glory?

Now, I have worked with some folks that think this means that have to give everyone a Bible tract and preach Jesus at lunch. This rarely works! It does make you friends over the water cooler.

I have known folks that say, “Thank you, Jesus” every time they closed a sale. I don’t think that’s what we are talking about.

We can carry our faith to work in more meaningful ways. We can be kind to the person who just seems to be having a bad day. We can reach out to others and become friends. We can share their struggles. If someone seems overwhelmed with too much work, we can ask, “Can I help you with that? I have some time and I’d be glad to help you.” We can say “good job” or “congratulations” to encourage one another.

We all have struggles with other things related to work: facing unrealistic expectations by a boss or corporation; goals that have been set by others; unreasonable demands by supervisors or co-workers; debt that we have taken on that requires longer and longer work hours; trying to do everything we can just to keep our job in a down economy.

Weaving Faith into Everyday Life

When I thought about work and faith intersecting this week, I thought about those people who live in religious communities, like a convent or a monastery. We don’t have many of these places left in our 21st century world, but they are places where work and faith intersect.

The idea is that our work and our faith become one seamless piece; that work, life, and faith become so interwoven that we cannot separate one from another.

Let’s face it. Work is a part of most of our lives. Work takes up our time. Work takes our days. It takes our energy. It takes time away from those we love. It takes time away from enjoying our hobbies.

Shouldn’t something that takes up so much of our time be sacred?

We can live into the reality of making our lives sacred. Making our work sacred by praying during the day, helping others, serving God in each person we meet at the bank, at school, at the office. We can dedicate our work and our day to God. We can ask God to make us a holy and living sacrifice.

We have the opportunity to bring together our everyday lives and our faith. We have an opportunity to weave them together like cloth. The threads weave in and out and cross over one another. The threads must come together so that the cloth will be whole.

We have the opportunity to become whole.

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