Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sermon: Celebrating Our Work

What would the perfect future look like for you? Where would you be personally and professionally? Go ahead, dream big! Would you be rich? Famous? What about happy? Now extend this dream to your friends and family. What would the perfect future look like for all of you together? What about the world? What would the perfect future for humankind and for Earth look like? (From Seasons of the Spirit, 2016)

Read Isaiah 65:17-25

I’m curious: What did you think about when you imagined a perfect future for our world? On the screen is one view from France in the 1890’s. But what did you imagine? Anyone want to share briefly something they thought about? [open time of sharing]

If only all those things were true! When we look around our world it isn’t hard to find things that are wrong, that are devastating to lives, that are unfair or unjust. And in many ways when we envision our perfect world, what we envision is those things vanishing. That’s what Isaiah does: No longer do children die at a few days old, no longer do people build houses and not get to live in them. We won’t labor in vain, or bear children into a world of horrors, because we will be people blessed by the Lord.

When Isaiah says that, he clearly speaks to us to remind us that God is doing new things. He does not deny that the world is a place of failed dreams. He doesn’t ignore that our lives are sometimes chaotic. “There is no denial of the struggle, the weeping, cries of distress, lives lost too early, homelessness, economic injustice, and turmoil in which they live.”[1] But in spite of all that, Isaiah has chutzpah. That is such a fun word chutzpah. You get to clear your throat as you say it. It actually is a Hebrew word that means having a lot of courage. In fact, the Miriam-Webster dictionary says that Chutzpah means “courage that allows someone to do or say things that may seem shocking to others.”[2] Isaiah has the chutzpah to say, “Rejoice. God is doing amazing things.” He doesn’t care if it is shocking to us, as we look around the world and see all of the ugliness – he is going to remind us that God is doing amazing things even if we don’t see it. He has the Chutzpah to look toward the future that God has planned and show us that it is in construction even now!

Now most of you know, that while things are under construction They are a bit messy. When you remodel, dust gets everywhere, even the places you cover get dust in them. And when you build new, the first thing you have to do is tear up the ground, dig a hole, and make a mess. We have a house going up just down the road from us, and when the excavators came and dug the hole, these two immense piles of dirt appeared. Monty, our dog, does not like the piles of dirt. He barks at them. He wants them to leave. His territory has been made messy and he doesn’t like it. So he barks at the piles of dirt to try to get them to leave.

All Monty sees is the mess. Even when we try to explain the end result --  He doesn’t see that one day those piles of dirt will be a house, a house where another dog may live who will be his best friend (Monty is the type of dog who thinks every dog is his best friend).

Isaiah is trying to tell us, that the mess we see isn’t permanent, he is trying to show us the end result, to explain to us the beauty that will come from the dirt-piles around us.

For just a moment, I want to focus on one part of that vision that Isaiah has for us. One of the things Isaiah mentions is that God is working so that those who build houses will live in them, those that plant vineyards, those that do work, will benefit from it. Our work, our labors will not be in vain. We will get to see the fruit, the results, of our hard work.

Too often we never get to see that. Think about all the people who built new homes only to see them destroyed by the winds or floods caused by Hurricane Matthew. The people in Haiti worked so hard to rebuild after the earthquake, now homeless again.

Or I heard a radio interview with a man who had fled Mosul because of ISIS. He had spent his life there, making a home, being part of the community, and now he says, even if it is liberated he won’t go back. Everything he worked for there is gone. He has lost it all already, it is time to start over somewhere else.

Or it could be that we work hard for our company, we put in extra hours, we give our all. But we never really benefit. When we found a great way to cut costs, our boss took the credit. When the company made record profits, we didn’t get a raise.

What Isaiah envisions is that we will enjoy the results of our work, our toil, our labor. The homes we build, the communities we create, will be things that we get to enjoy. That is quite a dream, when you think about it. We will get to see the results of what we have done, we will understand the purpose, the final product will be revealed, and we will know how it is part of God’s holy work.

For example, Some of you, for the last month have taken on the challenge of making $20 grow. The church gave you $20 and challenged you to do something with it. You put thought into how you could do it. Perhaps you put hours of work into it. Perhaps, you simply decided to add something too it, as a gift from your own income and the hard work you do there. Perhaps you bought lemons and had a lemonade stand. Or perhaps you took the time to research a stock and invested it. Each of these took work from you, time from your day.

Whatever you did, God says here that your labors had a purpose, they have a result – they do good in the world. They are part of God’s holy work. Maybe you didn’t think of it that way as you were doing it, but your efforts were part of the new thing that God is doing. Bringing gladness and rejoicing, bringing an end to weeping and crying, helping babies to live through childhood diseases. That’s what your giving to the church enables, the hours you work to earn the money you give to church, are hours worked to help realize Isaiah’s dream. You probably didn’t think that as you were teaching rowdy children, or cleaning a bathroom, or staring at a computer screen trying to get numbers to balance. But your work, your labor, in those hours, was for a child to get fresh water from a well for the first time.

In fact, Isaiah says that what God is doing will go to miraculous lengths, beyond the things we could ever really imagine – the wolf and lamb will graze together, the lion will eat straw like the ox, the snake will eat dust (which sounds a little bad for the snake, but I suppose is better than it biting my leg), and most of all: people will no longer hurt or destroy at any place. Your work, your giving is part of this. And Isaiah says one day we will get to see it – we will witness the results of the work of our hands. Can you imagine, what it will be like to see God’s world, the new earth, and realize that your hands helped create that? Sit at work tomorrow, and think about that one! That is something to celebrate even as a customer complains. Our labor has value.

And because of that, our giving is no small thing. This isn’t just about paying the heating bills for a hundred year old building, or paying a pastor’s salary, it is about creating God’s kingdom on earth, board by board, nail by nail, dirtpile by dirtpile, until all is complete. Isaiah has the  chutzpah to tell us that, we need to have the chutzpah to see it! It is a dream of a new heaven and a new earth, God’s dream.

[1] Seasons of the Spirit, 2016
[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chutzpah

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