Any Connection Between Sunday Worship And Monday Work?
As Adam and Eve were being driven out of the Garden of Eden, God said to them: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you have returned to the ground.” Right there began the view that work is somehow a curse, a punishment, a hateful necessity. There are so many people in our time who cling to that ancient view. The negative attitude they hold toward what they are doing with their lives in the world shows up quite clearly in the work that they do… or don’t do.
We do not have to look far these days to find waiters who will not serve, sales clerks who will not sell, painters who will come around some day (maybe), executives whose minds are out on the golf course, politicians looking for an easy dollar or a painless issue, housewives willing to find any possible way to shirk the unpleasantness of housework, parents searching for ways to abdicate responsibility for their children, students trying to cheat their way through school, businessmen who see their customers as nothing more than sources of revenue, lawyers who care little for justice, teachers who won’t study to improve their competence, and preachers who are content with idleness.
The fact of the matter is that Jesus’ parable of the talents hits that kind of attitude head-on. It attacks it with a vengeance. Jesus wants us to understand that the talents, the gifts, the abilities which we possess have been given to us by God and we are charged to use them for God. Jesus says that wasted human resources are an affront to the Almighty. In other words, we are born to use the gifts God has given us and we are to use them in His service and for His glory. Henry Van Dyke once wrote: “Honest toil is holy service, faithful work is praise and prayer.” How true. I think we need to be reminded of that these days, and so I want to build upon this parable which Jesus told and set before us a couple of questions for our joint consideration.
The first question is: Is there any connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work?
The parable of the talents says “absolutely, yes, there is.” I don’t know if you noticed it or not, but this particular parable is set in the midst of a series of parables which deal with the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus, in essence, is saying that heaven has to do not only with what happens in our Sunday worship, but also with what happens in our Monday work. That point is made crystal clear in this story which Jesus told.
It’s worth remembering, I think, that back in the days of the trade guilds, carpenters adopted as their motto Christ’s words: “I am the door.” Once they adopted that motto, carpenters began to make doors in a very special way. They began to make doors so that in the upper portion of the door there were two small recessed rectangular panels. In the lower portion of the door there would be two longer recessed rectangular panels. The result of those panels being placed in the door was to create on the door a raised cross. You can still see doors made exactly like that to this day. The smaller panels at the top, the longer panels at the bottom, and in the center of the door clearly seen, the raised cross. The carpenters understood their work to be a service to the Lord; their skills to be a sacred trust. They understood that there is a connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work.
That is an understanding which we as Christians today ought to hold onto at all costs. It’s a beautiful thing when you find a Christian who does that. Not long ago I had that experience. One of our members had moved into a new office and called me up and asked me to come by for a visit. I did, and after we chatted for a few moments, he said to me, “The reason I asked you to come here is that I want to do my work in this office in such a way as to be pleasing to Christ and so I want you to pray that the Lord will bless this office and guide the work that is done here.” That’s what he said. It was a simple request, and yet it represented something of the greatest importance- the dedication of all of life to Jesus Christ. There is a connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work and that man understands that to be true.
Some years back I was riding the train from the city of Edinburgh up to the city of Dundee in Scotland. We were on our way to play in a basketball tournament there. The train came up from the south and just before arriving at Dundee, made a westward turn in order to cross the River Tay, the river on which the city of Dundee is built. It was near sunset and as I looked out of the window of the train, I saw the skyline of the city of Dundee silhouetted against the setting sun. Understand, please, that Dundee has no tall buildings. It is a town of many textile mills. It is also a town which is known for its strong church life. So as I looked out of the train and saw the skyline of the city of Dundee, all I could see were a myriad of smokestacks and steeples- more of them than I had ever seen before in one place-smokestacks and steeples everywhere. Well, it dawned on me then, and the impression remains with me now, that somehow the two of them go together, for both of them- both the smokestacks and the steeples point to God. Think about that for a moment. Smokestacks point as surely to God as do the steeples. The things that we do with our lives Monday through Saturday point to Jesus Christ and what Jesus Christ means to us just as surely as the things we do on Sunday.
You know what many people count to be the best known verse in the Bible- John 3:16. But have you ever stopped to think what that verse really says? It says “God so loved the world”…It doesn’t say God so loved the church. It says “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Jesus Christ did not come to be the Lord of the church. He came to be the Lord of the world…the Lord of the marketplace, the Lord of the legislative hall, the Lord of the prisonhouse, the Lord of the executive suite, the Lord of the school, the Lord of the home, the Lord of all of life. That’s what we sing, isn’t it? “Crown Him the Lord of all.” We sing it, but do we mean it? There is a connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work. Jesus Christ is the Lord of both. He is the Lord of all.
The second question, then begs: How do we as Christians make that connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work?
Let me be specific. We call this city the city beautiful, and that it is. It’s as beautiful a city as anyone could ever see. And yet, this city, for all of its beauty, this city and her people are still hurting for love, hurting for justice, hurting for righteousness, hurting for a sense of meaning and purpose in life. The glorious thing is that we as Christians have exactly that to offer. But that means that we have got to let our faith get loose. We’ve got to let it get loose out there in the world.
That means that you and I have to mention Christ’s love in the letters that we write and the conversations that we hold and the contacts we make. We’ve got to struggle for justice wherever we have the opportunity -in court or at school or even at the supermarket. We’ve got to let righteousness prevail in our lives so that our word is good and our promises are kept and our honesty is unquestioned. We’ve got to let our language reflect our reverence for God. We’ve got to let the joy of Jesus Christ spill over in our lives and into the lives of the people with whom we have contact- our customers and our clients; the people who wait on us in the stores, the teachers at our school, our boss or our employees. We’ve got to turn the faith loose. We’ve been hoarding it for ourselves but we’ve got to let it get out- out of the church and into the weekday, work-a-day world where God wants it to be.
Let me express that in terms of just one individual. One morning several months ago, I was visiting a retirement home. As I was standing in the hall, waiting for the elevator, a tall man walked up to me- frail and very old. I suspect that he had collected more than eighty years at least. He walked up to me and held out his hand and said: “Isn’t this a great day? I feel wonderful. How are you?” I said: “Well, after that, I surely feel better.” “Good”, he said. “That’s what I wanted to hear you say. You see, there was a time in my life when I could do a lot of things. God gave me some gifts and I enjoyed using them. I can’t do that anymore. All I can do now is to help people feel better- not much of a talent, I suppose, but it’s the only one I’ve got and I intend to use it. So you have a great day today and make the Lord proud of you.” And with that he turned and hobbled off. I stood there for a while watching him go and thinking to myself: he was alone. I remember thinking that he probably made that difficult trip to the cemetery and left his wife there. I wondered if he had children and if they ever made contact with him. He was on a cane, his right leg would no longer hold his weight. When he started to use the cane at the office, did anybody rib him because of his old age? His teeth were too straight and too full to be his own. Must have been painful to have that done, and of course, there were those embarrassing days when his cheeks sort of caved in until the new teeth were ready. In his left ear there was a hearing aid. Maybe he had noticed one day that he was always saying to his friends: “Could you speak up a bit?” He had to make sure that he was on the right side to be able to hear anything at all. Was it hard to adjust that hearing aid? After he got it, did his friends walk up to him, notice it and then quickly look away so they wouldn’t appear to have noticed? But he noticed how they noticed. Was it hard for him? Things were so different when he was younger. His life has changed, but you know, as he walked away, I thought to myself: “Sir, you are a hero because you can walk up to a fellow you don’t know and say ‘Time was when I could do many things for the Lord, now I can only do one thing- make people feel good, but at least I’m doing that the best that I can.’”
That’s what this parable is all about. We do not need to take God out into the world on Monday. He’s already there before we ever leave the breakfast table. We need only to recognize His presence when we get there. We need only to use the gifts He has given us whatever we’re doing, wherever we happen to be. We need only to pause at the beginning of each day and to say: “Lord, be with me today.” And we shall discover that that is exactly where He is.