St. Paul Lutheran Church Sunday Service

Sermon: “Working Too Much; Too Much Work? James 1:22-25

12th Sunday After Pentecost

August 31, 2003

   Work!  Work!  Work!

   Busy!  Busy!  Busy!

   Gotta’ go!  Gotta’ go!  Gotta’ Go!

       Some days our lives are like that; not just days but weeks; maybe even months.  So much to do; so many places to be.  Up with the sun, vehicles loaded, off & running, school buses stopping, daycares fill-ing, offices opening, teachers teaching, farmers farming.  Work, work, and more work! Not just busy work, but hard, demanding, important work; digging, building; buying, selling; grinding, feeding; irrigate-ing, harvesting; banking, nursing; scrubbing, washing; cooking, canning; baking, house-cleaning.   

       Sometimes, sometimes it seems there’s so much work to do that it’s too much work.  Yet it’s not the amount of work that’s often a problem for us, but how we approach our work; how we go about it.  What’s your attitude toward work? What’s your perspective? What are your priorities.  Do you work to live? Or do we live to work?  Do you work too much, too hard, too long, when you don’t have too - or do you live faithful, live joyful, live a fulfilling life even when there’s too much work?    

   It’s not a sin to work too hard or too long, but it is a sin to overwork. A group of pastors was discussing the plight of the American family. They were addressing the question, what were the causes of current family life problems?  A few pastors mentioned the problem of affluence – that some people have more money than they know what to do with. Other pastors mentioned the sexual revolution, too much violence and sex in the media.  But one pastor said, “I think the major problem in my congregation is that too many of the people I serve are working too hard and too much.”  He went on, “Mom & Dad virtually abandon the family in order to work for all the stuff that people think they need.  Teenagers neglect their studies with after-school & weekend jobs.  Overwork has become our biggest sin.” 

   If it is morally wrong & damaging to one’s sense of wholeness & well-being to drink too much and become an alcoholic, is it also morally wrong to work too much and damage one’s sense of wholeness & well-being by becoming a workaholic?

   Whether you & I agree with such an assessment or not, there is an ever-increasing amount of research that indicates many American workers, average working folks, two-income families, single-parent families are more & more being stretched to the breaking point.  And sometimes the church is not much help; or the church actually adds to the pressure by saying you’ve got to work at your religion too! You’ve got all this to do, and that, and don’t forget about church; don’t forget about worship, daily devotions, Sunday School, Bible Study, youth group, women’s group, men’s group, quilt group, and prayer support group. 

   Is it possible that working too much; working to gain much; work-ing that burns the candle at both ends can lead to looking away from things holy & wholesome and losing much? 

    What exactly does this mean, when the Epistle reading for this Sunday from James 1 says, Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 

   Does being a doer of the Word and not merely a hearer mean here’s one more religious thing to do; here’s one more thing to add to a list of religious things you already know you ought to be doing but aren’t? 

   Or does being a doer of the gracious, life-redeeming word of the Lord mean let the holy, wholesome word of the Lord take a hold of you; let God’s Word be deeply planted & take root in you; let it become a part of you, even direct & guide you; yet without exasperating or frustrating you as you go about all the work you have to do.

   It’s a joy to get up and get to work, even when there’s too much work, when you are in the will of God.

  “Hard work is a thrill and a joy when you are in the will of God, doing the will of God,” writes Robert A. Cook  

   “When you are in the will of God, doing the will of God,” said Martin Luther, A dairymaid can milk cows to the glory of God.  If Luther were around today, he’d say, When you’re in the will of God, work is never just work.  When you are a doer of the word of God,  work is a gift; work is a blessing!  Work is a farmer, a farmer’s wife, a hired hand, a helpful neighbor, disking, cultivating,

irrigating, sweating, persevering for the glory of God. 

  “God gave man work, not to burden him, but to bless him,” writes another author. “Useful work, willingly, cheerfully, effectively done, has always been the finest expression of the human spirit for the glory of God.”

   But this kind of positive attitude & God-centered view all the work we have to do doesn’t come about naturally.

   I recently ran across an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Christian Education at Duke Divinity School in N.C named Dr. Frederick Edie who has his picture posted on the Duke Divinity School home page where other professors have their pictures posted, a different one each time you click on that home page. Next to Dr. Edie’s picture I couldn’t help but notice this comment made by him.

   “Someone needs to tell kids that working hard in school so they can go to a better school, so they can get a good job, so they can buy a nice car, so they can attract a good partner, so they can combine in-comes and buy a nice house with a garage to park two cars in, is not an adequate vision of the Good Life.  They need to learn the practices of the church that have sustained its people for 2000 years; such as meaningful worship, daily prayer, journaling, doing art or music as theology, and studying Scripture.”

   Closer to home; Rich Melheim who helps author our Junior Youth Ministry materials has said, Some people work to give their kids a car so they can get away.  I’d rather work to give my kids a home that they’d like to stick around so their friends have a place to hang out with their new cars.    

   Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. writes James.  Those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty; those who catch a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing. 

   Blessed are those who hear the word of God & keep it, said Jesus to those who would be his disciples. 

   What’s needed is a twofold focus on work.  Our work, even too much work is a good gift of God, God’s gracious gift to us that enables us to contribute to the world, and to have a share in making the world more like God intends it to be. God hasn’t done everything in the world, but graciously leaves something for us to do too.

   As Christians with much work to do, we are called by God – not to be farmers, school teachers, factory workers, bank tellers, managers, mechanics, ministers, janitors, carpenters, but rather to be disciples.  Whether retired or close to retiring or in the middle of one’s upward climb to a better job, our jobs are what we do to make a living, but our call to be disciples of Jesus Christ is what we do to make a life.

   As we head into September, into another busy fall, may we all take some time   to prayerfully examine how we spend our days and what our schedules say about our priorities. Some of us may need to make some major decisions, some of us may simply need to do a better job of getting our lives in better order in regard to our work.

   All of us need to be reminded that our lives, our families, our work, are all gifts of God. We don’t have to ceaselessly, relentlessly work to be saved; to be forgiven; to be sure of eternal life.  There is nothing we can do to earn a right relationship with God.  Our lives as brothers & sisters in Christ are not the result of what we do or do not do, but rather the gracious result of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.       

   We don’t have to earn God’s love because that love has already been graciously given to us.

   We do not have to work hard to make our lives count for something because, in Jesus Christ, God has already given us eternal life in Christ.  Amen