Thursday, July 11, 2019

Not your work, but Christ's

Sermon preached for Pentecost 4, Proper 9C, on Sunday, July 7, 2019, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
   Credit, recognition, payment, reward, glory...these are the things that we think about as we go to work.  We put time and effort into work, into the things we do when we know we’ll be recognized for it.  This goes for school, our jobs, even the things we do at church.  We like to be recognized for the work we do, and we like to see that our work is successful.  And while it’s good to want to be successful, we don’t boast in our success.  Instead our joy and boasting is in Christ and His salvation alone.
    But that’s not how it is in our world, is it?  In our world work must be recognized.  A job well done deserves to be well paid.  And we have to boast in our success.  That’s what’s expected and celebrated.  We work for ourselves.  Our sinful nature is only concerned with ourselves. 
     For most of us, the paycheck is why we work.  We got our first jobs as teenagers because we wanted money to spend on things: clothing, entertainment; our first car.  And still, we work for the money, not just to pay for our wants, but to pay for our needs: the mortgage; insurance; utilities; children; the list goes on and on.  Our work is focused on compensation and we’re always looking for ways to make more.  We’re concerned with our level of pay and we’re unhappy when it doesn’t match up with what we think we deserve.
     Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned with a paycheck.  We do need money to pay for our necessities.  But quickly this concern for compensation goes from being about needs to being about glory, our own success.  It quickly becomes about our ego and satisfying ourselves.  Because of our sinful nature we want to be recognized.  We want to show we’re capable.  We want others to see us and say how great we are...and we use our work to do this.
     Work is something we can’t avoid.  We all have to work, whether we’re compensated for it or not.  Work is built into creation.  Even before the Fall into sin, there was work to do.  God gave Adam and Eve the tasks of tending the Garden, caring for the animals there, and being helpmates to one another.  This work was good and it was about serving others.  But that all changed with sin.  Now work is all about us, it’s all about “me.”  It’s become hard, and a lot of the time, there’s no joy in it. 
But that’s not how it’s supposed to be.  There can be joy in work.  There is joy in work, in doing the work we’ve been given to do. 
All of us have been given work to do.  All of us have been given a vocation by our Lord.  This vocation isn’t what we do for a paycheck.  It’s not just our jobs.  Our vocation is our place in life in relationship to others.  For example, I have the vocation of father because I have a daughter.  In these vocations: husband & wife; parent & child; student & teacher; citizen; Christian; there’s work to be done, and simply doing that work brings joy because we’re doing what the Lord has given us to do.
    In the Gospel reading, Jesus gave 72 men work to do.  He gave them the task of going before Him to the villages He would visit.  They were to travel with no money bag or extra sandals.  They were to enter homes and speak peace, staying with the first house that welcomed them.  They were to heal the sick and proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom.  The 72 were sent to announce Christ and share the Good News of His coming and His salvation.  And these faithful men were successful.
    After a period of time they returned to Jesus and reported their success with joy: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name! (Lk 10:17).  Notice how they framed their joy.  It was focused on them.  They rejoiced that the demons were subject to them.  Yes, they recognized it was by Christ’s name, but they had self-pride in it as well.  They saw themselves as accomplishing something great.
    Likewise, we can glory and have self-pride in the good the Lord accomplishes through us.  In our vocations, the Lord uses us to share His Good News and His love with others.  We see this at work when our children grow in the faith that we’ve taught them, or when a friend becomes a member of the church after we’ve invited them.  This is all wonderful, and we rejoice in these things.  But are rejoicing isn’t in the work we’ve done, but the work Christ had done.   
   Jesus’ responded to the 72 saying, “I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:19-20).  Our rejoicing isn’t in what we do for the kingdom, but what Christ has done for us. 
    We glory in Christ’s salvation accomplished with His death on the cross.  We glory in the Spirit who brings us to faith.  It’s all about God and what He has done.  He gets all the credit.  He gets all the glory.  This is what Paul means when he says, “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14). 
    Everything is about our Lord and our salvation that He won for us.  With faith, we don’t worry about credit.  With faith, we don’t worry about compensation for our work.  Instead, we take joy in doing what the Lord has given us to do and we work for others.  We take joy in the salvation Christ won for us with His death and resurrection.  To Him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.

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