Trinity
United
Methodist
Church

 

Putting Faith to Work

The last several months we have heard a lot about the separation of Church and State. For some reason this issue continues to be a hot button. Now I have spoken on this issue in the past so I don't want to necessarily spend time today addressing it again other than to say, " at what point do we move beyond a separation of Church and State issue, which is basically referring to the notion that no one specific religion will be sponsored or mandated by the government, to creating a separation of Work and Faith issue?

The other day I caught a quick answer from Alex Mooney, a local politician, to a question regarding how he separates his faith from his political work. He responded, "I can't separate the two because my faith is who I am."

I thought about that for a while and he's absolutely right. Yes we can make decisions, which have no bearing on our faith such as laws regarding road issues and so on. But if as Christians we are doers of the word and not just hearers, as James suggests in our scripture reading, then our faith in a very real way defines who we are. So how then can we put our faith to work where we are employed?

And for the purpose of today's message when I say employed I'm not just talking about jobs where we are paid a wage, I'm talking about all manners of work whether it's raising kids, volunteer work or the like, although most of my references will be to the wage earning type of job.

Today's scripture reading from James challenges us to go beyond simply hearing and acknowledging God's word to truly living God's word. In affect we are called to embody our faith with our lives, to not only believe in Christ, but also to work on his behalf. And as I thought about this more and more this past week I began to realize what a challenge it can be for Christians to remain faithful in our pluralistic society. It's really tough isn't it?

According to research done the past 20 years, Americans are working more hours now than they ever have in our history, and with the need, or desire, for two wage incomes both parents are logging more time at the work place then ever before.

Also, with the increase of single parent families, working long hours just to make ends meet, has become a necessity.

Unfortunately for many it's gotten to the point where the job define who they are, not their faith. But James challenges us to rethink this attitude. James challenges us to put our faith to work, to allow our faith to define who we are. As a matter of fact later in his letter, James says, "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."

Now James isn't saying that you earn your way to eternal life by doing good deeds, but he is saying if you are truly faithful you can't help but do good deeds, out of love for God. And I suggest this means we can't divorce ourselves from our faith when we walk through the doors of our employers. We can't simply drop off our faith in a faith holder at the entrance, like we place an umbrella in an umbrella stand, and pick it up when we leave. If we are able to do this then I have to question how faithful we really are.

If we are truly faithful people, are faith resides within us, it's who we are, it's what we do. And it's through living out our faith that we encounter God on a daily basis.

One of the problems we have today is our ability to stay focused on God during the week. We come to church on Sunday and get recharged, but lose our charge as the week moves on. This is because we don't encounter God during the week. We don't embody our faith in what we do, we're to quick to drop off our faith in the faith holder.

The truth is the place you encounter Jesus is on the way to serving and working with others. You see it in the face of others, particularly those who don't live like us.

To help us better deal with this issue I want to suggest there are four basic Christian virtues we can employ to remain faithful at work, without compromising our Christian values or teaching. They're not always easy to stay on top of, but they are essential to putting our faith to work. The first virtue is we are to have a pure heart.

Now to have a pure heart means our mind and spirit are to be in tune with the Holy Spirit. A pure heart implies having a deep humility, remembering we are not required to carry out God's plan.

Now last week, you'll remember, I mentioned humility as well, when speaking of spiritual formation, so it makes sense that humility would be an important issue for us if we are to have a pure heart. And the fact I mentioned it two weeks in a row further emphasizes just how important humility is. The humility I speak of today means having an honest opinion of ourselves. It means removing any conceited ideas of our goodness, abilities and personal goals from the forefront of our minds.

In the workplace Christ-like humility manifests itself in different ways. One is humble when they aren't concerned about who gets the credit. One is humble when they strive to help a co-worker when they are struggling with a task. One is humble when "self" takes a backseat to the "group." Humility is being focused on the heavenly reward not the earthly reward.

This can be tough because often times we are in competition with our co-workers for promotion and raises. So we have a constant tension between wanting to be Christ-like and wanting the raise and/or promotion.

In my previous profession this tension was very present, and constant. I know folks who received a lesser raise or bonus then a peer because they were more focused on someone's well-being rather than profit. But you know what, I also found these same people happier and more content. They may not have driven the fanciest cars, and lived in the biggest homes, but they were happier people, making a good living, and spending more time at home than in the office.

Also, many of these folks who moved on to other employment opportunities have done much better professionally then some who were seizing the moment, sounding their own horn, and focused on making a name for themselves. There's more to life than work and getting ahead personally, and a humble person recognizes this truth. The second virtue is having a love that is blind. In other words a love that is non-judgmental.

Love is considered to be the essence of all virtue. Love is not only the first and second greatest commandment; it's really all the commandments rolled into one. Paul tells us in Philippians (4:8), "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and whatever is admirable," they are all summed up in one word, love.

The most important law in the whole universe, regardless of what a lawyer or court might say is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:29). And if we love God, it implies we love our co-workers as well, and want to see them do well and prosper.

Focus on God in all you say and do, and allow God to reign supreme in your hearts. Don't tear down you co-workers, lift them up and actively help them. This is putting our faith to work

Several years ago there was a popular phrase used, especially by the youth, "what would Jesus do?" WWJD. Folks were challenged to consider what Jesus would do if confronted with a similar situation that you were experiencing.

But I wonder if the real question we ought to ask is, "What will I do?" We ought to quit pointing fingers everywhere else and just follow the Word of God. What would Jesus do is an important question, but "what will I do" is what leads us to action. Once again, putting our faith to work.

The third virtue is that our faith has to be firmly grounded in Christ. Our faith is only as strong as our willingness to rely on God. Our faith must be strong enough to overcome all the prejudices of human reasoning, all evil and immoral acts, and all humanly wisdom.

You know we exercise our bodies to make them fit, trim, and strong. Well we need to exercise our faith so it to remains fit, trim and strong. Much like our bodies, just reading about exercise doesn't do a thing. Believe me I've tried it and it doesn't work. Perhaps some of you have also.

The same is true about our faith. Reading about it isn't enough, hearing what we ought to do isn't enough. We must exercise our faith to keep it strong. All things are possible, to those who have a well-exercised faith.

A faith that is firmly grounded in Christ illuminates our minds and makes us see that our chief purpose in life is to glorify God who created and redeemed us. In this light we feel the power of God. We remember God's power was strong enough to raise Jesus from the dead, so we too are confident that God's power is strong enough to raise us from the shackles of sin. "John says, "We win the victory over the world by means of our faith." (1 John 4: 4). By working together in the name of Christ, ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.

A faith firmly grounded in Christ believes in the truths proclaimed in the Bible, in a general sense, and a belief in the following truths in particular: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, to save you and me Jesus bore our sins in his own body on the Cross, the atoning blood of Christ is real Jesus is the means by which everyone's sins are forgiven

Faith also is:

  • The revelation of Jesus in our hearts, knowing Jesus is with us always through the Holy Spirit
  • God's evidence of his unconditional love to all people
  • A sure conviction of God's pardoning mercy through the Holy Spirit
  • An unwavering conviction that Jesus is our redeemer, our advocate, our Lord

A faith like this is firm and unshakable even if we don't get the promotion or the raise. And quit frankly, in the end the promotion and raise won't make an eternal difference, but our faith will.

Also, realize that work, in whatever form, helps our faith to grow because, faith cannot grow in isolation. Faith only grows in community. Faith is experience not thought. The fourth virtue is that we have a hope that endures for all time. Our relationship with God begins with faith, which helps us realize that we are delivered from our past by Christ's death.

Hope grows as we learn all the things God has in mind for us. And as hope grows we begin to realize, in a more profound way, God's promise of the future.

Today in our culture the word "hope" has become a weak word meaning, "hoping against hope," or "hoping for the best," which actually implies we're not hopeful at all. But this is not what "hope" means in the Bible. In the Bible hope means certainty, and the only reason it's called hope rather than certainty is that we don't fully possess what is hoped for yet, although we will.

So even though we are not yet in full possession of what is hoped for, we are nevertheless certain of it, since it has been won for us by Christ and has been promised to us by God "who does not lie."

Too many people focus on the negatives of the work environment, but that's not scriptural. God has a plan for this world and the Bible says Christ will return and reign forever, and we will experience eternal life.

To help bring hope to our workplace, and in deed to the world, we need to become incarnate in the situation. This means being present in the areas where there is need, not just ignoring a co-worker or problem, out of selfishness. The Word became flesh, the apostle John reminds us, as should we.

All too often we wake up in the morning, we put on our Christian clothes. We get in our Christian car, put up our Christian windows, turn on our Christian Air Conditioning, and then drive right through the kingdom of God, simply focused on the task at hand, or on the job we're off to do. When we reach our destination or place of employment we leave our Christian identity in the car or at best at the front door, until it's time to go home.

I want to challenge us all to put our faith to work in all we do. Faith must spill out into the world if it's to grow.

You can see in many gardens today an excellent illustration of faith spilling out into the world. Many of you have probably seen the flowerpots or barrels tipped over on their side with flowers planted such that it looks like the pot or barrel tipped over and the flowers just spilled out all over the yard.

The same is true of our faith. God didn't intend for us to keep our faith within us. True faith, is faith that is spilled out into the world so it can grow. We are called to be ministers of the faith not consumers of the faith, which implies being doers not just hearers of the word. Mercy may brighten one's day, and empowerment may prepare a person for a lifetime, but when a person comes to faith their life is changed for eternity. Thanks be to God for the gift of faith and for standing by us even when our faith may waiver.

Amen.

Read other messages by Pastor Wade