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Sermon for Sunday 13 November 2016

FIRST READING Malachi 4:1-6

1“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. 4Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 5Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”


PSALM Psalm 98

1Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. 2With his right hand and his holy arm has he won for himself the victory. 3The Lord has made known his victory; his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations. 4He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. 5Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing. 6Sing to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the voice of song. 7With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout with joy before the king, the Lord. 8Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, the lands and those who dwell therein. 9Let the rivers clap their hands, and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord, when he comes to judge the earth. 10In righteousness shall he judge the world and the peoples with equity.


SECOND READING 2 Thessalonians 3:1-13

1Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, 2and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 4And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. 5May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. 6Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.


GOSPEL Luke 21:5-28

5While some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, {Jesus} said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 7And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your lives. 20“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. 25And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”



A company president was addressing their employees one Friday afternoon: “I know you’ve all heard that we’re automating the factory, and you’re worried that these robots will take over your jobs. Well, I’m happy to tell you that not only will no one be laid off, but you’ll only be required to come to work one day a week and you’ll still receive a full week’s pay. That’s right, you’ll only have to work on Wednesdays, but you’ll still receive your full salary!” The shop area remained quiet as the news settled in and then a single voice piped up from the back of the room. Someone asked, “Do you mean every Wednesday?”
It’s sad but true, not everyone loves their work. The cruel reality is, not everyone has the privilege of being your pastor here at Bethel. I am blessed! The Robert Half agency asked personnel directors around the country: “What is the most unusual thing to happen during a job interview?” Here are some responses: One applicant offered, if hired, to have the company’s logo tattooed on their arm. Another applicant interrupted the interview to telephone his analyst to talk over the answer to a question. In another interview, not only did the applicant ignore the No Smoking sign, but twice lit the wrong end of a filter tip cigarette. One balding candidate excused himself abruptly and returned a few minutes later wearing a hairpiece. Yet another job applicant challenged the interviewer to arm wrestle. It makes you wonder if any of these applicants really wanted to work. I guess a lot has changed of the years.
While growing up, it seemed that the goal was to find a good company to work for and then work long enough to get the “gold watch.” Work was work and unless the company closed or downsized you worked for the same company until retirement. Now days it seems people will go from job to job, company to company. It’s all about the paycheck. Loyalty doesn’t count for much. And with the ever-changing rules surrounding public assistance, far too many people, it seems, are just as content sitting at home collecting a check as even try to find employment. Sadly, the attitudes towards work are changing. But for the Christian, we need to realize that work is part of God’s plan for our lives.
St. Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle . . .” Then a few verses later he adds, “We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.” As I said previously, too many people in our country today, fail to see work as a virtue.
Thankfully, this attitude isn’t universal; a good many realize the necessity of work. This is good, since for the greater number, we aren’t overly wealthy and we need to work to make ends meet. Somebody once said, “Laziness travels so slowly that soon poverty over takes it.” One man asked his best friend why he didn’t go to work. “Are you afraid of work?” “No,” his friend answered, “I’m not afraid of work at all. In fact, I can lay right down beside it and take a nap.” One cynic said, “I don’t want to die doing something I love. I want to die doing something I hate. That way I don’t have to finish it.” The truth is, that most of us do have to work. And hopefully everyone has found a vocation that you’re happy with.
When you consider that we’ll spend nearly half our waking hours working, it’s a real blessing to be doing something that’s fulfilling and at least brings some satisfaction. Somebody once put it like this: Find a job that you really love and you’ll never work another day in your life. There is some truth in that. Some people are accused of being workaholics. The truth of the matter may be that they truly love what they do–and they would rather be doing their so-called work than about anything else in the world. Somebody once asked baseball great Willie Stargell how he maintained his enthusiasm for the game of baseball.
Stargell answered that he really enjoyed his job. He said, “have you ever heard an umpire start a game by saying, ‘Work ball.’” “Of course not, they always say, `Play ball,’ and that’s exactly what they mean.” You and I, of course, aren’t major league ball players. Most of us have to be workers, not players. And yet, some of us have jobs that we genuinely enjoy while others aren’t as fortunate.
I was reading about a young mother who was a full-time homemaker. She loved being a mom, but she grew tired of some of the responsibilities. She was having difficulty coping with a 3-year-old, a 1½ year old and a new born baby. Her husband came home one day to find five dozen diapers hanging on a line in the back yard. “I saw all the white flags in the backyard,” he said sympathetically. “I take it that you’ve surrendered.”
Another truth is that there are times when many of us, no matter how fulfilling our role in life, may be tempted to surrender. Some of us have occupations that are filled with drudgery with few tangible rewards. Yet most of us understand that work is important in our lives even beyond the financial necessity. We also need to acknowledge that for many, work is essential to our self-esteem. Some experts contend that this isn’t a healthy way of looking at life, but for some, work gives us our identity.
During World War II, industrialist Henry J. Kaiser was brought to Washington, D.C. to testify concerning his ship building activities. He had claimed to be able to build a ship a day. He was being cross-examined by a somewhat hostile young lawyer who said, “So you think you can build a ship a day,” goaded the questioner. “You know Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Henry J. Kaiser looked the young lawyer squarely in the eye and answered, “I wasn’t there.” I guess you could say that Henry J. Kaiser found fulfillment in his work. It was an extension of his personality. Additionally, I think we also need to recognize that work is related to our sense of satisfaction about life.
Several decades ago, there was an article in Look magazine written about two American prisoners of the Chinese Army. The biggest complaint one of these prisoners had was that he wasn’t permitted to do any work. His captors knew that boredom is deadly to morale. Many of us can relate. There aren’t many of us who can handle days when we cannot find something constructive to occupy our time.
It’s said that Nero instigated the burning of Rome because of boredom. Alexander the Great wept because he had no more worlds to conquer. Our fathers had a saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” And there’s more truth there than we might imagine.
There’s another story about a wealthy man in Mexico who was in the habit of buying two tangerines each day from a woman who operated a small stand near his house. One morning he told her that he wanted to buy her entire stock of tangerines for a party he was giving that evening. Much to his surprise the lady refused to sell him more than his customary two tangerines. “But why?” he asked with some consternation. “If I sold you all my tangerines,” she answered with dignity, “What would I do the rest of my day?” Our work can be directly related to our general satisfaction with life. It’s also said that work is good therapy for the soul in distress.
Author Mary Ellen Chase once told how during World War II she received a telegram telling her that her son had been killed in combat. Stunned and grieved almost beyond endurance, she went into her kitchen, filled a pail with water and began to scrub the floor. She said she went on with this humble task until some of her pain subsided. Psychologists tell us that part of the secret of dealing with grief is to carry on with the daily routines of life. The person least likely to deal successfully with the grieving process is the person who shuts themselves off from the world of responsibility and relationships.
Most of us understand that work is vital to our lives beyond the financial compensation that it affords. What we may not see, however, is that there’s a spiritual purpose for work as well. Perhaps our enthusiasm for our work would increase if we understood the place of work in the Christian life. So, this morning I’d like to talk briefly about three spiritual truths concerning work.
First, work allows us to be partners with God in the provision of the world’s needs. Some see work as a curse that God put upon human beings after the unfortunate experience in the Garden of Eden. However, an accurate reading of the Genesis story will quickly show us that, from the beginning, it was God’s intention that Adam should tend the garden. (Gen. 2:15) Some scholars believe, that it was Adam’s attitude toward work that changed after the fall.
Physicist Robert Slocum was fortunate enough to see an instrument he had designed be used on a Mariner space rocket. His comment on that occasion was this, “I’ve been able to contribute to building God’s world.” It was a satisfying event in his life. He felt he had contributed something to the world. However, we don’t have to have a creation of our own in the heavens to feel that we’re a participant in God’s plan for the world. Maybe all we need is to see the bigger picture.
A visitor in a coal mine stopped to talk to one of the miners. He told the miner how sorry he was for him, spending his time monotonously mining coal down there in those dark tunnels. The miner picked up a piece of coal and said, “I don’t think you understand. This isn’t just a lump of coal. This is light and heat and power. Perhaps it will light a city, or it may warm a home or run a train. I’m not just a miner for the company. I’m helping people I don’t even know, have a better way of life.”
Sadly, because of the drive for clean energy today, many miners are losing their jobs. However, the principle hasn’t changed. If you understand that your work is making a difference in the world, then it can bring you real satisfaction. If you can see a purpose higher than a pay check, it can improve your attitude toward your vocation. It’s so much more satisfying to see your service or product as something that will improve the quality of other people’s lives. You may be integral to keep a company running. You may be designing and manufacturing new parts or equipment. It may be your calling to protect and serve. Or, you may be educating young people for the future. My dad used to say, “there’s no such thing as menial work. All work is meaningful work, so you always do your best and be proud of what you do.”
I know that sometimes it can seem that we’re just a cog in some gigantic machine, but what if your job wasn’t done? What would the effect be to society? Sometimes it might not seem like it matters, but it does. Most of us can find a purpose for what we do if we try. If we can’t, then maybe we’re in the wrong job. Work allows, first of all, for us to be partners with God in the provision of the world’s needs.
In one of his books, Robert Schuller tells about a conversation he had with actor George Kennedy before his death last February. Kennedy told Schuller that every time he and his wife Joan sat down to a meal they prayed, “Oh, Lord, help us give something back.” Our work is one way that we can give something back as well as a way for us to participate in God’s plan for the world.
Second: If we accept that work is part of God’s plan for the provision of the world’s needs and that we’re part of that plan, then doesn’t it follow that in all our work, as well as in everything else we do, shouldn’t we strive for excellence? If our work isn’t only for ourselves but also for God, shouldn’t we endeavor to give our best? In Colossians Paul reminded us, “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men, because you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. (3:23-24) There’s an old Hebrew saying that God is more delighted in adverbs than nouns. That is, it matters not so much about what’s done, as how it’s done. Not how much, as much as, how well.
Someone once noted, that aspiring to excellence in service to God is deeply rooted in our faith heritage. God didn’t create the heavens and the earth and say, “It’s good enough.” Rather, we read, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Throughout Scripture, people offered their best and highest because God has given us the best and highest.
The Greek term for excellence “arete” is derived from the same root of the word meaning “to please.” Doing our best or striving for excellence then is pleasing to God! Many years ago, the Times of London had problems with their typesetters. Too many mistakes were being made in setting type for their daily editions. The editors thought long and hard about how to correct this troubling situation. Finally, they gathered the workers together and announced that from now on, the first copy of every edition would be sent free to Buckingham Palace for the king and queen to read.
You and I need to have that feeling about our lives–not as an added burden, not out of fear or dread–but as a joyful response to the truth: that the King of kings notices our work and responds, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Work is part of the plan of God. Work is essential not only to our financial well-being but also to our sense of self-esteem, our feeling of satisfaction with life in general, and as therapy in times of great distress. Our work allows us to be partners with God in the provision of the world’s needs. Therefore, it’s important then that we enthusiastically give our best, whatever our task may be. And if I might add, this passage doesn’t apply to our work for the temporal world, it also includes our work for God’s kingdom.
I realize that, in our rapidly-changing world, more and more people, particularly young people, are having difficulty finding work that’s satisfying and also pays a living wage. My advice is to hang in there. Be conscious of God’s presence in your life as you seek work. God wants us to be in a place where we can share His love with others as well as provide for our material needs. As part of the plan of God, all work is a ministry, a mission, a sacred endeavor.
It’s the Lord Christ you are serving. Each of us seeks that Divine “well-done thou good and faithful servant” not because we have to earn God’s favor, but because He has honored us so highly by giving us a part in His kingdom. If we do our very best as if we were doing it for God, both at our occupations and in our work for God’s kingdom then we’ll be able to hear Paul’s words with joy, “Never tire of doing what is good.” (2 Thess. 3:13)

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