Worship and Work Must Be OneLet us pray: O God, may these words be a reflection of the life you would have us lead and may they tell of you authentically and helpfully. Amen.
Thirteenth after Pentecost - Year B
Sunday, September 3, 2006
Thirteenth after Pentecost - Year B
Sunday, September 3, 2006
Happy labour day weekend! Presumably you've made the connection already between the title of this meditation, the hymn we sang near the beginning of worship, and the time of year.What does it mean when we sing: Worship and work must be one?
Maybe the whole topic is a sore point with you, as you head back to your office after some time of summer vacation and re-creation. Maybe it brings on a certain sense of angst as you reflect on the difficulty of integrating your secular job with the sacred searching that brought you to this time of worship here this morning. Maybe it conjures up theological reflection on the faith and works dichotomy that has occuped theologians over the centuries. I'm sure these are but a few of the many things that may have passed through your minds as you sang the phrase during the opening hymn or reflected on it again when I mentioned it a moment ago.
One of the most important themes that came from Martin Luther, the founder of the tradition followed by our sisters and brother across the hall and with whom many of us worshiped this summer is the theme of "grace". It is not what we do that puts us right with God, it is what God does. That seems to run counter to the message which comes from the letter of James. James is the most clear of all biblical writers in describing the importance of works to our life of faith. There was a hint of this theme in today’s reading - "be doers of the word and not just hearers" is the way I read it in one translation. For James, faith without works was dead. How then, do we reconcile Martin Luther's ideas with those of James?
I've always seen it as an action-response kind of relationship. We don't need to do anything to be put right with God, but once we realise that God's grace is offered freely, we can't just sit back and take it in. God's grace invites action. God's grace draws us into acting on the word. We don't do things to draw favour from God, we do things because God has favoured us. I think both Luther and James would be happy with that connection.
A few times during summer worship, the "Sending Forth" at the end of worship began this way: Worship is ended, now let the service begin. I remember very clearly the first time I heard that phrase. I loved it when first I heard it and I've used it often when writing my own worship services. I liked it first because it was a nice play on words, taking the phrase "worship service" and playing with it to make a point. It came from Carol Gunn, a ministry colleague down the road who was settled in Smoky Lake, Alberta, at the same time as I was settled in Bonnyville. She used it as she said the benediction at the covenanting service for her with the Smoky Lake pastoral charge and St. Paul Presbytery. I liked the phrase also because it invited those people at worship to take the experience out of the church building and into their weekly lives. Just another way of saying, "Worship and work must be one".
The word “liturgy”, which is just another way of saying “worship service” literally means “the work of the people”. Strange how a word with such a “lay” definition should become so much a task left for clergy to do. Strange also how a word with such democratic origins should be so closely guarded by some of those same clergy people. Thirdly strange that liturgy would be described as “work” at all. I’m sure many would see what happens in worship as very different from work - rightly so, thankfully so.
Maybe so, but there it is right in the very definition of the word. Perhaps the message here is to re-think our understanding of work. It seems to suggest that work is something that is done as an act of worship.
What does that mean for our actual work? What if we could really understand our jobs as an act of worship? Does it change the way we see them? Does it change the way we approach them? The same principle applies to all kinds of work, not just the ones for which we receive remuneration. In fact, I think that many people would ascribe that kind of understanding more to their volunteer work than their regular jobs. Volunteer work is often a labour of love, a labour dedicated to community building and good causes.
Many people are blessed with work that matches their interest and their God-given abilities. Others see their work as a means to an end - something which brings home a paycheque but not necessarily fulfilment. Still others are stuck in jobs that they don’t want to do, or in places where they don’t want to be.
So, for some people, their work describes a clear connection with worship. The work they do is a blessing to them and they in turn can use their work as a blessing for others. The work gives them a chance to use the gifts given to them by God. We all know, however, that relationship has changed over the past few decades. Job loyalty on the part of employers and employees is not what it used to be. We’ve all heard stories of uncaring layoffs where workers were treated as expendable commodities. We’ve also heard of callous employees who did not treat employers with respect. Clearly there is still work to be done connecting worship and work.
What does it take to match work with fulfilment, and is fulfilment another way of saying that “worship and work” are one?
Maybe it is wrong to even try to think about fulfilment in relation to our work for pay. Yes, for some people a happy marriage exists between what they do and what they want to accomplish with their lives. For others, as I’ve mentioned, their accomplishment is lived out more in the things they do outside of the workday. Others work for pay simply to generate resources so that they can do what they really want to do. I’m sure we’ve heard stories of farmers in today’s economy that hold down paid jobs to that they can re-invest their salary into their farms - the work they really want to do, and many times you don’t even have to listen too closely to hear them bring God into the conversation. As a northerner now for a whole eleven months, I’ve heard many stories already of the importance that the “land” has for people up here, as a place of spiritual connection, as a place where the non-wage economy gets lived out. In fact, a much clearer connection between work and worship would be hard to find. Such stories also serve as helpful examples to remind us that work and wage are not something which have to go together. Even a casual participant in the debates and discussions that are happening across the north right now should be aware of the great import attached to a Mackenzie Valley pipeline, and the ramifications it has for “work” for northern people.
Which, among the many views and scenarios that come up in the hearings and community meetings has the most to say about worship and work together?
Like most things in life, there are more questions than answers. The occasion of a labour day weekend, juxtaposed with a reading from the “works” guy James, helps us at least to pose them. May God give us insight and perspective in that exercise. Amen.