“Work, Work, Work” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! Since its Labor Day weekend, I want to talk about work. I hope today and this long weekend is a rest from your work, or perhaps a chance to work hard at your rest. But what I really want to talk about is God’s work. The passage from Isaiah 45 which Cathy shared with us is one of my favorites because it plays on the fact that we are not only to do God’s work, we are God’s work. Plus, it’s funny, and anytime I can chuckle when reading the book of Isaiah is a good thing.
A quick review — Isaiah is one of the major prophets of the Old Testament, and major means we have a lot of material attributed to him. The book we know as Isaiah is almost certainly a collection written by more than one person: scholars talk about 2nd and 3rd Isaiah. The early parts of the book were not only the promises of God, but warnings about what would happen if the people of Israel failed to repent of their worship of other gods and their injustice to the poor. That calamity came to pass in 586 BCE when Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and Jewish leaders were taken into captivity in Babylon. Isaiah chapters 40-66 are words of comfort and hope written to those people in Babylon who are longing for the restoration of their homeland. Isaiah was often quoted by our best-loved prophet, Jesus Christ, and the words of these later chapter resonate in the music of Handel’s Messiah.
Isaiah 45 is part of a long section where the author is expounding on the futility of idolatry, and how ridiculous it is to think human beings could create an image of a god. For instance, how could anyone carve a block of wood, put half of it in the fire to fuel and oven to bake bread, and worship the figure which is left as a god? Ridiculous! Here’s a direct quote from Isaiah 44:19-20, talking about an idolater. I hope you hear the liveliness of this writing style: “Shall I fall down before a block of wood? He feeds on ashes; a deluded mind has led him astray, and he cannot save himself or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a fraud?’” (44:19-20)
So Chapter 45 is making the point that we don’t make God, God makes us. Furthermore, we are made according to God’s plan, not our own request. Can you imagine a lump of clay saying to the potter, “Hey, not like that — I don’t want to be a vase, I want to be a sugar bowl. Where are my handles?” That image of the lump of clay mouthing off to the Potter gets me every time. And just in case there’s any doubt about who’s in charge here, God says, Are you questioning me about the work of my hands? Remember, I made the whole earth, created humankind, and stretched out the heavens and set the sun, moon and stars in their places. Don’t mouth off to me about how you think you ought to be made.
So before we jump into doing the work of God, we need to remember that we are the work of God. Not just a lump of clay, but God’s children, created in God’s image. We can’t create God — we can’t even create ourselves. There is only one Creator, and it isn’t me. That means that my work should always be dictated by the work of God. So once we’ve gotten that hierarchy straight, what is our work to do? Not creating the heavens — God already took care of that — but working here on earth so God’s kingdom can come on earth as it is in heaven. For me, getting the priority straight of being God’s work before doing God’s work has been an important part of my faith journey. I know everyone’s faith journey is different, but here’s why it’s important for me.
I grew up in a family for whom productivity was very important. We were expected to get a lot done, stay busy, and have something to show for it at the end of the day. A lot of that activity revolved around the work of the church, which, as a kid was mostly just showing up whenever there was something going on. The result of this, at least for me, was to create anxiety about the things I couldn’t do, or wasn’t very good at. Shouldn’t I be busy all the time, and be excellent at everything? It turns out that is the equivalent of telling God, “Hey, where are my handles?” God made me to be a vase, not a sugar bowl. Just like clay on a potter’s wheel, I have been shaped to be something. But no clay vessel — or any container or furniture or tool — is made to do everything. Part of the work of the Christian life is to discern what we have been created to do. And part of that discernment of what we are to do is to let go of the things which are not ours to do. It was liberating for me to be released from the expectation of doing everything, and to realize that doing everything was my expectation, not my Creator’s.
We have many volunteers here at Creekside. I have tried to represent just a few of the ministries in which you participate here on the chancel table today: school kits, Seed to Feed garden, bee ministry — I know there are many which are not here. Your presence here in worship whether in-person or on the live stream is a way of seeking, celebrating, and sharing God’s love. I am not saying that we don’t need people to do things for the church, or that if you’re tired at the end of the day you should just quit. What I do think , is that we need to pay attention to is what kind of calling we feel for the work we do. “Calling” may sound like you have to hear God’s voice telling you what to do, but a simpler way to think about it is to follow your joy. If the work you are doing is something which gives you joy, that is very different than doing work from a sense of obligation. If your work at the church gives you joy, you may have already developed some of those gifts in other arenas: as work you were paid for as a professional, or as a hobby. It’s work which fits the shape that the Potter formed you for. It may be work which will open up other interests and opportunities — we have ministries here at Creekside which were started because of someone’s interest or passion which they communicated and got others excited about.
Having work which gives us joy still doesn’t mean that we ought to be working all of the time. Even work which God created us to do will become a burden which leaves us sullen and resentful if we never have a break: ask any parent of young children. I am so grateful to the Lilly Foundation for its Clergy Renewal Program and the opportunity for Creekside to participate in 2022. It isn’t because I can’t wait to get away from you all — but the chance to travel with my husband and work on a project I love is a wonderful opportunity. I hope it will shape me, and shape you as a congregation in ways which will be renewing for us both. Paying attention to the rhythm of work and rest was built into the work of Creation by our Creator. Rest is an integral part of our work, and may be the best antidote to resentment and burn out.
So here are some thoughts to leave you with as you go forth into this Labor Day weekend. First, I encourage you to take some time to appreciate the handiwork of our Creator. Whether it’s on a lake, at a ballfield, camping, or in your backyard, pause long enough to give thanks for this earth and the heavens which God has set in place. Remember that God made not only the earth, but all the people on it as well. So second, take some time for self-inventory: What skills and talents did God give you? What shape did the Potter make you to be? How have you used those skills and talents? Have you been able to use those skills at Creekside or for the kingdom? Do you feel like there are things which God is calling you to do which you haven’t done yet? How could this church provide those opportunities for you to do those things?
And finally, look at the people around you, who are also the work of God’s hands. Do you know some of their skills and talents? You may know that we have a Gifts & Placement Team here at Creekside; they are tasked with matching positions at the church with people who are willing to serve — you’ll hear more about that at the end of the service today. What talents do you see in someone who might need a nudge to be a song leader or a teacher or a district conference delegate? These are all ways which we can serve God and the church with the gifts we have been created to share. May all our work give glory to God, so that our work and our worship are one. Amen.