When Work and Life Challenge Us: God, grant us grace

given on Sunday, September 19, 2010

Have you been paying attention to the national news?  Have you heard the statistics from the Census Bureau concerning the latest figures on poverty?  The nightly news reported it; it was picked up by the local stations; and it was the page one feature on the Kansas City Star on Friday.  The hard cold facts are that one in seven are living in poverty right here in the United States.

Such a figure does not make much impact until it is compared to previous statistics:  (1) this just-released report is for 2009—not yet from this year, (2) three years ago, the figure was one in eight, and (3) in the early 1970s the rate was one in nine.

Think about that, in thirty years the poverty rate only moved from one in nine to one in eight.  Then, in just three years it rose to one in seven.  In terms of percentages, the poverty rate of 11% in the 1970s slowly rose to 12.5% just three years ago—the article did not specify whether that was 2006 or 2007—but now the most recent data from 2009, places the poverty rate at 14%.  Can you imagine what the rate will be when the figures come in for 2010!

When I began planning for today, I looked over the calendar I had done this summer.  Keeping the focus on grace, I had labeled today’s sermon topic as “everyday grace at work.”   I realized that talking about the work world really was not a good fit.  Then I read through the lectionary and I still could not find a connection.  For a few days all I could do was get up, go to work, and come home seeking a direction for the message.

Re-reading the lectionary and considering the context the issue that needed to be addressed began to appear.  Hearing the news this week about the job force and poverty added to the ideas.  Finally, I began to re-thinking the term ‘work.’  The pieces started fitting together.

The Spark Notes website, defines work in this manner:  “If a force F acts on a particle over a distance x, then the work done is simply: W = Fx .” Work is not necessarily a job.  Work is an effort that produces a result.  Work is cleaning the house, creating a work of art, gardening, caring for the family, checking on friends and neighbors who may be shut in or not feeling well.

Work is part of our lives from which we may or may not receive a pay check, which we may or may not have specialized training to do, which we may or may not enjoy, which may or may not be required for our own basic subsistence.  Work may actually be a joy, a pleasure, a physical release or a hobby that relaxes us in the evening.

In our current society though, work is a term that typically refers to our job.  In today’s economy, work aka as our job is becoming a very uncertain factor for many families.  Work is becoming a challenge and is forcing so many families into crisis.  We all know the challenges of work world.  We know that we expect a paycheck for the work we do or did if that paycheck is now a retirement check.  Unfortunately, we also know that our check is not stretching nearly as much as it had been a year ago or three years ago.         Today, work is a challenge, but life’s challenges beyond the job also continue to create chaos in so many lives.  These lives need God.  These lives need to learn that trusting in God and following God’s law will result in our needs being met.  We must not turn away from God.

In Psalms 4, King David appealed to God:

Answer me when I call to you,

O my righteous God.

Give me relief from my distress:

Be merciful to me and hear my prayer.

That first stanza calls out to God, but in the remaining lines, David addresses the people asking them to not do wrong, to have faith in God.  He asked them to “trust in the Lord.”

All too many times, when life hands us challenges and we become discouraged, we fail to trust in God.  We look for solutions to ease our pain, to solve problems, and to have the money and things we want.  All too often, the job may become discouraging or you are asked to do something that is unethical.  The challenges seem too overwhelming and we find an easy way out which may not be what God would want us to do.         We may be tempted to break God’s laws.

Jump ahead and look at the prophet Jeremiah’s plea to God.  He knew that his people were not following God.  He knew his people were losing their faith and they were doing wrong.  In the study notes of the Life Application Bible, Jeremiah’s situation is outlined:

These words vividly portray Jeremiah’s emotion as he watched his people reject God.  He responded with anguish to a world dying in sin.  We watch that same world still dying in sin, still rejecting God.  But how often is our heart broken for our lost friends and neighbors, our lost world?  Only when we have Jeremiah’s kind of passionate concern will we be moved to help.  We must begin by asking God to break out hearts for the world he loves.

We must break our hearts.  That is a terrible thought, but I know that is what happens.  We have a job, and that job begins by seeing all the pain of our families, friends, and neighbors.  We must develop that awareness so we can go to work for God.  Jeremiah’s words in the verses 18-19 are filled with pain:

O my Comforter in sorrow,

my heart is faint within me.

Listen to the cry of my people

from a land far away:

“Is the Lord not in Zion?

is her King no longer there?”

“Why have they provoked me to anger with their

images,

with their worthless foreign idols?”

“The harvest is past,

the summer has ended,

and we are not saved.”

What is different today?  I fear there is very little difference, even the season of summer is ending and the harvest is underway.  The people in our communities are crying out for help.  The people are provoked.  The people are not trusting in God.  We, as God’s arms and hands have work to do.

As a young girl, I remember a Sunday school lesson that God would not destroy the earth as long as there is one soul who still believes and who still trusts in God.  That memory has provided me hope year after year.  Even during the farm crisis in the mid-1970s, I watched my dad struggle with the challenges of surviving as a farmer.  I saw the terror in his eyes when a visit from the loan officer was nearing.  I struggled when I heard him cry when they insisted he sell his cattle, his Polled Herefords.

Yet, Dad never gave up his trust in God.  Mom never let any of us get angry with God; she never let us feel sorry for ourselves.  Instead, Mom got busy.  She went to work off the farm.  My brother and I worked the farm with Dad, and we always had our needs met.  Our faith in God helped us weather the storm.

When Jeremiah pleaded with God, he, too, was refusing to give up.  He would do anything he could to keep his people faithful, but he needed God’s help, God’s grace.  Whether life’s challenges are on the job or whether outside sources such as a recession or a natural disaster challenge us, God does not want us to give up and turn away from him.

The work we do now as faithful Christians may not be a paid role, but it is a job that we cannot ignore.  Today, when life hands so many challenges to our families, friends, and neighbors—both next door and around the globe, we have a responsibility to move into action.  We must serve as God’s love in action.  We must demonstrate God’s grace, because–remember–as long as just one continues to believe and follow God, God will protect us—all of us.

In Jeremiah 8:22, he asks where is the balm for all the ills of his people.  A balm, a healing medicine famous in Gilead, was the answer Jeremiah was seeking.  Times may be tough right now, but finding a balm is not easy.  Our job, though, is to do the research, look for a solution, and then apply the balm.

The Census Bureau’s report on poverty shows how poverty continues to grow.  Poverty is a real challenge all too evident right here in our county.  Poverty is a result as well as a condition.  We can see the growth in poverty just driving along the roads.  We can see the deterioration poverty causes in our own communities.  The balm has not been applied because there seems to be none available.

The Star’s article Friday was punctuated with the photo of a young boy standing in line at the newest food kitchen that opened in Kansas City.  The picture put a face on poverty, it puts a face on the nation’s crisis, and it brings it right into our homes.  We may be fighting economic issues even in our own lives, but we must not lose our faith in God.  As long as we continue to trust in God, we will be guided to the balm not only for ourselves, but for the many who have given up, who are angry with God, who are turning to all other types of idols, vices, and behaviors seeking healing.  They have no trust in God.

When work and life hands us challenges that test our faith, hold on to God.  The balm from Gilead will be available through God’s grace.  And while you are managing your personal challenges, look around you.  There are so many who have not found God’s healing grace.  Identify them and their challenges, pray for a solution, and then work to share God’s grace with them.  You will receive healing and those you help will receive healing.  God’s grace is a win-win solution for all the challenges life throws at us.

Dear Heavenly Father,

We see so much trouble in our communities.  We know that jobs are tough, paychecks seem smaller, and managing our budgets just seems impossible.  The tough times can make life seem too difficult and your children turn away from you.  Even we, who continue to attend church, to pray, and to worship can falter.  Today, though, we ask you to open our eyes so we might see the pain and the needs of others.  We ask you to show us ways to provide the healing balm our families, our friends, or our neighbors need.  We ask you to use us to share your grace with others so they may find relief from life’s challenges and joy in the prospect of life eternal.         –Amen

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