Wednesday, September 7, 2016

For Vocation in Daily Work

For Vocation in Daily Work
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

I remember the first time that I told my boss that he wasn't paying me enough. I had had my annual review, and everything seemed to be positive. I felt like I was growing in my contribution to the organization, but, when he told me what my raise would be, it did not seem to match what he had told me about my performance. Yes, I was grateful for a raise, but, according to the pattern that had been established in our workplace, the modest increase I was to receive suggested to me that I either hadn't done as good of a job as I had been led to believe or the company wasn't expressing the value of my contribution through my salary. So I said to him, "Thanks. I appreciate the raise, but I hope you'll tell me that it is what it is because you can't afford to pay me any more and not because you think that's what I'm worth."

Although money is important, it isn't everything. More important to me than the amount I was being paid was the message that salary was communicating to me. Was I valued? Was I important? Did the organization depend on me? Did it appreciate my talents and my hard work? In management, salary is known as a "hygiene factor." Accordingly, what one gets paid isn't what motivates that person. Motivating factors include challenging and meaningful work, recognition for a job well done, involvement in key decisions, and feeling important to the organization as a whole. Those are the things that inspire a person to do good, hard, substantial work. Salary, on the other hand, is called a "hygiene factor" because, along with work conditions, job security, and other benefits, if the salary doesn't reflect what a person things he or she is worth, dissatisfaction creeps in. The right motivating factors can inspire workers to do a good, satisfying job, but inadequate hygiene factors can cause true dissatisfaction. That's true about human nature, but I wonder what it says about the kingdom of God.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth," Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-24, "but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven." That's easy for him to say. He didn't have any children to send to college. But, of course, Jesus isn't giving investment advice; he's giving kingdom advice. He's inviting us to see what it means to value our lives and our work in heavenly terms. What does it mean for us to consider the value of our labor not in terms of what we get paid but in terms of the value of our contribution to the kingdom of God? Whether we are preachers or evangelists or apostles, teachers or doctors or lawyers, farmers or plumbers or truck drivers, what is the value of our work in terms that are bigger even than this life? What is the gospel value of our labor?

"It is God's gift," the author of Ecclesiastes writes, "that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil." God's gift to us is that we should derive deep and abiding pleasure from our work. I think it's worth noting that this is the same author who writes, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?" (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2). This poet has no illusion that the value of our labor can be quantified in a worker's paycheck or a builder's building or a farmer's harvest. All of that, he writes, is vanity. The true measure of good work is the godly satisfaction we get from laboring toward something that we cannot see--something that we cannot measure--our participation in the life we all share.

What will motivate you in your work for God's kingdom? And by that I don't mean "church work" like teaching Sunday school or serving as an usher or arranging altar flowers. I mean your labor, your calling, your vocation. How is God calling you to devote your labor to the good of his kingdom? God's kingdom needs factory workers as much as it needs preachers. It needs pipe fitters as much as it needs choir members. Devoting your own work to God's kingdom begins by measuring the value of that work in heavenly terms. "No one can serve two masters...You cannot serve God and wealth." Perhaps God is calling you to take a vow of poverty, but, more likely, God is calling you to stop measuring the value of your labor in terms of a paycheck and start thinking of how your work is deeply satisfying as a citizen of the kingdom of God. If the only measure of your life's work is wealth, that will fade away as quickly as your corpse will rot in the ground. That is vanity. There's real value in laboring for the kingdom--a treasure that lasts.

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