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Smokestacks And Steeples

Matthew 25:14-30

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 the curse, a punishment, a hateful necessity.

There are many people in our time who cling to that ancient view. Like the old country preacher said, these are the people who wake up each morning saying not, “Good morning, God” but rather, “Good God, it’s morning.” The distaste that they feel for their work is obvious in the way they simply go through the motions of their daily responsibilities, hanging on for dear life until the coffee break which they then stretch to the point of the ridiculous. The negative attitude that they feel 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 on the golf course, politicians looking for an easy dollar, housewives willing to find any way possible to shirk the unpleasantness of house work, 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 talent hits that kind of attitude head-on, attacks it with a vengeance. For in this simple story containing timeless truths 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 Him. 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. Henry Van Dyke once wrote, “Honest toil is holy service, faithful work is praise and prayer.” We need to be reminded of that. And so I want to build upon this parable which Jesus told and set before you today three questions for our joint consideration.

The first question is this: Is there any connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work?

The parable of the talents says, 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 is in essence saying here that heaven has to do not only with what happens in our Sunday worship but also with what happens in our Monday work. It’s quite clear from the reading of that story. 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 a special way. They began to make doors so that in the upper portion of the door there were two small recessed panels. In the lower portion of the door there would be two longer recessed panels. The result of those panels being placed in the door was to set in the door a raised cross. You can still see doors made exactly like that to this day—the small 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, you see, their work to be service to the Lord, their skills to be a sacred trust. They understand that there is connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work.

But let me come at this a different way: One of our great Christian beliefs is that all things in life are sacred because all things come from God. That’s one of our great beliefs.That belief is seen throughout the whole system of beliefs that we hold as Christians. For example, our belief in the church—let me ask this question: Where is the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando? Many of you would probably quickly respond to that question with “106 East Church Street in downtown Orlando.” In part that’s true. I mean, this is where our house of worship is, this is where our base of operation is located. But there is a more accurate answer to the question. The First Presbyterian Church is located where its people are. When you are in your home, the First Presbyterian Church is in your home. When you are out shopping, the First Presbyterian Church is in the stores. When you are teaching in your classroom, performing surgery in the operating room, pleading your case in the courtroom, driving your truck through busy streets, approving loans at your desk, attending classes at your school, the church is there. But you are the First Presbyterian Church, the church is wherever you are. The Lord whom you worship here on Sunday is still your Lord wherever you are on Monday. Yes, the parable says quite clearly there is a connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work. And it’s a beautiful thing to find a Christian who understands that.

Not long ago I had that experience. One of our members had moved into a new office and he called me up and asked me to come by for a visit. I did. 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 the 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. It was a simple act, 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. That man understood it.

That leads me to the second question: Why is there a connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work?

The Scriptures teach us that only God can make life worthwhile. Only God can save the world. Only God can make society moral. Only God can guarantee that government will be free. And when we have failed, when our lives seem worthless, when our society seems oppressive, when our government seems corrupt, then the reason for our failure is that we have failed to let God be God in the workaday world where He belongs.

Some years back I had the experience of 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. The train came up from the south, and just before arriving at Dundee made a westward turn in order to cross the River, 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. As a matter of fact, it is a town of many textile mills. It is also a town which is known for its strong church life. 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. That’s all, but more of them than I had ever seen before in one place—smokestacks and steeples everywhere. It dawned on me then and the impression remains with me now that somehow the two of them go together, for both of them 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 what Jesus Christ means to us just as surely as the things that we do on Sunday.

You see, it all comes down to the heart of the matter, the heart of the Gospel. Many people call it John 3:16. God came into this world in Jesus Christ, He took our flesh upon Himself, He assumed our nature, He worked as we work, He faced our temptations, He experienced our love. He lived our life, eventually He was crucified not on a Sunday, mind you, but on a weekday. On that cross He made our sin and our death His own. “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 marketplace, the Lord of the legislative hall, the Lord of the prison house, 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? That’s why there is that connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work. Jesus Christ is the Lord of both. He is indeed the Lord of all.

But the third question comes to the fore: How do we as Christians make that connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work?

I think it is simply a case of blending our worship and work together in glad allegiance to God. Now, that’s a rather general statement. So let me make it specific. We call this city ‘the City Beautiful.’ That it is, as beautiful a city as anyone could ever see. And yet this city, for all of its beauty, this city and all of her people are still hurting for love, hurting for justice, hurting for righteousness hurting for a sense of meaning and purpose. The glorious thing is that we as Christians have that to offer. But it means that we have got to let our faith get loose. We have to let it get loose out there in the world.

Let me be very pointed at this point. It means that we’ve got to mention Christ’s love—not too much to say about it, just a word here and there. But we’ve got to mention Christ’s love—in the letters that we write, in the conversations that we hold, in the contacts that we make. We’ve got to struggle for justice wherever we find 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 from our lives 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 in our school, our boss or our employees. We’ve got to turn the faith loose. We’ve been hoarding it here for this glorious hour on Sunday. We’ve got to turn it loose. We’ve got to let the faith get out—out of the church and out into the weekday, workaday world where God wants it to be.

Let me express that in terms of one individual. One morning, not long ago, I was visiting in a retirement home. As I was standing in the hall waiting for the elevator, a man walked up to me—a tall man, very frail and very old. I suspect that he had collected more than 80 years. He walked up to me, held out his hand, and said, “Isn’t this a great day? I feel wonderful. How are you?” I said, “Well, after that I sure feel better.” “Good!” he said, “that’s what I wanted to hear you say. You see, there was a time 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 try to help people to 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. Make the Lord proud of you.” He turned and walked on. I stood there for a while watching him go and thinking to myself. He was alone. I remember thinking that he had 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 then there were those embarrassing days when his cheeks sort of caved in until the new ones were ready. Behind 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 he was on the right side. Was it hard to adjust to the hearing aid? After he got it, did his friends walk up to him, notice it, then quickly look away so they wouldn’t appear to have noticed, but he noticed how they noticed—was it hard for him? Things are so different than when he was younger. His life has changed. But you know, as he walked away from me, I thought to myself, “Sir, you are a hero because you can walk up to a fellow you don’t know and say, “Well, 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 am doing that the best I can!”

Well…

That’s what the parable is all about. We do not need to take God out into the world on Monday. He is already there before we 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 are doing and wherever we happen to be. We need only to pause at the beginning of each day to say, “Lord, be with me…” and we shall discover that is exactly where He is.

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