Fruitfulness on the Frontline 2 - Making Good Work
Genesis 1:26-31, John 1:43-51
After the fantastically successful Church Away Day and Mark Greene’s inspirational talks on the theme of Fruitfulness on the Frontline, we’re following a preaching theme over the next few weeks, picking up and weaving together the strands of his ideas. The central aspect ofFruitfulness on the Frontline is both disarmingly simple and deeply profound. It is disarmingly simple in that we all have a frontline – a place where we spend most of our time – whether that’s in paid employment, in volunteering work, at home, wherever. Jesus says, in St John’s Gospel, "My Father is glorified by this: that you bear much fruit (15.8). So, we are called to bear fruit on those frontlines. It is deeply profound in that, if we take it seriously, it is nothing less than about each and every one of us – you and me – building the Kingdom of God, brick by brick wherever we are. As I’ve been reflecting on Mark’s writings this past week, I was reminded of the words of the Italian mystic, Angela of Foligno who said:
"In a vision I beheld the fullness of God in which I beheld and comprehended the whole creation…And in everything that I saw, I could perceive nothing except the presence of the power of God, and in a manner totally indescribable. And my soul in an excess of wonder cried out: "This world is pregnant with God!”
Pregnant with God. If we come to understand that each of our frontlines is pregnant with God then we will also see that there are infinite possibilities for God’s Kingdom to be brought to birth there. Make no mistake my friends: this is big and important stuff we’re getting involved with here so let’s continue to explore how we can be fruitful on our frontlines. Last week, Hugh helped us to think about how we can Model Godly Character and this week, I want to spend a few minutes with you talking about Making Good Work. I tried various careers in my life before entering the priesthood. I started out as a psychic, but I lost the job. I just didn’t see it coming. Then I got a job with Nike, but I didn’t like it so I quit. Seriously, you can just do it. I studied a long time to become a doctor, but I didn’t have any patients. I thought I’d try to become a professional fisherman, but discovered that I couldn’t live on my net income. My next application is to become a joke writer...
I want to get serious about this by telling you the story of Nancy and the copper ewer. It’s this very ewer I hold in my hand. I found this just lying around in the store room next to the Chapel at School. It was in a pretty crummy state; after years in storage, it had become all tarnished and was a kind of dull brown, but I needed a ewer for pouring water into the font at baptisms, so I immediately put it to good use. One morning, I arrived at School and walked past the Chapel towards the Hall, but like a magpie, I was stopped in my tracks by something gleaming bright orange under the spotlights. It was this ewer and it had been transformed from its former mucky and discoloured state into a luminous and quite beautiful vessel. At that moment, Nancy (one of our wonderful cleaners) rounded the corner and noticed that I was admiring the shiny copper. "Do you like it?” she enquired. "I love it!” I told her. She then went on to explain that, each morning when she arrived at work at 6.00am, she had been taking some polish to small patches of metal and gradually bringing it back to life. Now, this splendid vessel sits in front of the font, waiting to fill it so that a new Christian can be welcomed into the family of God. Now that’s what I call making good work: a seemingly mindless and pointless task undertaken when most of us are still sleeping, helped to bring dignity to one of the most important sacraments in the Christian life. Thank God for Nancy.
So, how do we make good work? To help us explore this question, I want to spend a few minutes thinking about our readings for today, from Genesis (which I chose) and from John’s Gospel (set for us by the Church), to see how they might assist. I want to share two simple thoughts with you: God works and God sees. Let’s begin with God works.
The very first thing we read about in the Bible is of how God is at work. In the creation poem, we hear of how God creates earth, sea and sky and populates them with plants, animals and the crown of his creation, humans. From the very first moments of creation, God is active; work is an essential part of the divine life and that work is to create a world in which all life can flourish. At the end of the creation poem, God makes human beings in his own image and places them in the centre of the Garden of Eden. And so, his work is done. At this point, he hands over to us:
God blessed humankind, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’
In other words, if work is part of the divine life and we bear the divine image, then we too are called to work and that work is to continue to help the world grow and flourish. We are to be stewards of God’s creation. This is not pointless or unimportant work, far from it; in fact, it is the most important work we will ever do because it is God’s work and in doing God’s work, we too participate in the divine life. A recent survey of 26,000 members of LinkedIn, a website designed for networking, found that 74% of respondents wanted a job in which their work mattered.It seems that we are hardwired to want meaningful work and the reason for that ought to come as no surprise: God wants us to make good work.
This brings me on to my second thought: God sees. In order to make good work, we need to have good vision. Remember how, at the end of each day of creation, God steps back, takes a good look and sees that what he has made is good? We need to have that kind of 20:20. In our Gospel reading today, we can see what difference good spiritual eyesight can make and the consequences of bad spiritual eyesight. In this episode, Jesus calls Philip to be one of his disciples. Philip having eyes that are 20:20, immediately leaves everything and follows Jesus: he has spotted an opportunity for God’s life to break in and flourish and so he gets to work. He goes to tell his friend Nathanael that God has fulfilled his promise and sent his Messiah – Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike Philip, Nathanael has very bad spiritual eyesight; I would go as far as saying that he has spiritual cataracts! "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip’s response is simple: "Come and see.” He invites Nathanael to witness God’s Spirit breaking in and bringing new life, right from the place he thought of as lost – Nazareth. Now, this call to work in order that we can participate in the divine life is all very nice but I’m sure we’ve all felt like Nathanael at times: that our work is pointless and fruitless; just not making a difference to the world. We’ve all been there and that’s why we need to have the vision of Philip to make sure that it is possible for God’s fruit to grow where we least expect it.
So, in order for us to be fruitful on our frontlines, we need to make good work. If we are to make good work, then we need to understand why we work: it is because God works and that work is for the very flourishing of God’s creation. As bearers of the divine image, we too are called to that work. But if we are to make that work good, then we need to step back and see all of creation as good and ripe with the fruit of God’s life-giving Spirit, most especially those places that seem beyond any cultivation. Wherever your frontline is, see that it is pregnant with God and work there for the building of his Kingdom. It can begin with something as simple as polishing a copper ewer.
1. Remembering that 'work' means any purposeful activity, whether paid or unpaid, what tasks on your frontline do you normally pray about?
2. What areas of your work serve others, both directly and indirectly?
3.Where have you seen God at work on your frontline?
4.Where have you found it hard to see God at work on your frontline?
5 How might it change things for you to see your frontline as 'pregnant with God'?
6. What might you do differently on your frontline this week as you try to 'make good work?' on behalf of God and His Kingdom?