Sermon: "Your Work Matters to God"
|Sermon Text: Psalm 127:1-5|
Surveys show that most people are not satisfied with their work. But Psalm 127, which is our text tonight, show us the right and wrong way to work. It is right there. You don't even have to turn in your Bibles. Isn't this fantastic?
"Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stands guard in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he grants sleep to those he loves. Sons are a heritage from the Lord. Children are a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127:1-5).
Work is a major component of our lives. It is unavoidable. Work can bring satisfaction or frustration. Let me share with you some of the jobs that just didn't quite do it for me. My first job was working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned because I couldn't concentrate (laughter). You don't really believe that I worked in an orange juice factory? Then I worked in the woods as a lumber jack. I couldn't hack it so they gave me the axe (laughter). At one point, I tried to be a tailor, but I wasn't suited for it because it was just a "so-so" job. And then there was the muffler factory. I couldn't stand it because it was extremely exhausting. I tried to be a professional fisherman, but I discovered that I couldn't live on my net income. And then I worked for a pool maintenance company. It was very draining so I didn't want to do that anymore. My last job was at Starbuck's, but I quit that because it was always the same old grind. I know that you don't believe that I had any of these jobs, but all punning and kidding aside, work is God-given. Think of the first words of the Bible. In the beginning-What's the first verb in the Bible? "In the beginning, God CREATED." God "CREATED" the heavens and the earth. The Bible doesn't say that "In the beginning, God sat majestically in the heavens" or "In the beginning, God was filled with love and beauty." The Bible says, "In the beginning, God created." So work is a great thing because if God is doing something, then it has to be good. And even before the fall of humanity, God told our first parents to tend the garden. To work in the garden. Make it fruitful. So, you see, work is a God-given thing.
But work that crowds God to the edge, to the periphery of life is not God-given work. In Psalm 127, the psalmist says that if you work in a way that leaves God out, then your work "is in vain." That kind of "work" is empty, useless, and amounts to nothingness. When work, or our mastery of it, becomes our security then we have entered into vanity. What is fascinating though, when you look at this Psalm, is that it is not just about work. It is about how we will gain security in life. The first verse of the Psalm says that if you work really hard, you think that your hard work will bring you security. Then, in the second verse, or the end of the first, the Psalm says more about security. If God is not guarding the city, then even the watchman keeps awake in vain. And it even goes to the end of the Psalm when the psalmist says that "sons are a heritage from the Lord" (verse 3). The greatest security in ancient times was having many sons because you could contend with your enemies when you had a band of your boys ready to fight for you. So work, whether guarding the city, or even having an army around you, nothing will bring you security unless the Lord is in the middle of your work.
When we exclude God from our lives, we begin to look to false securities. Psalm 127 is a New Year festival song. It celebrates the Lord's presence in the center of life as people went to the temple. The people praised God because they believed that God was the dispenser of the New Year. God was going to make fruitfulness happen in agriculture. God was going to make fruitfulness happen in the family. The Hebrews believed that God was the giver of time and blessings and they put Him in the center of life; they said that unless the Lord does all of these things, we labor in vain.
I think that's the point about the 2000 Presidential election that I wanted to make tonight. The greatest nation in the world is seeking to use its processes to bring about the things that we want done, and we are thrown into a state of confusion. We don't know. Last Tuesday did you think that by Sunday night you wouldn't know who the President would be? None of us thought that. In fact, we had a meeting here and I was thinking, "Boy, I made a bad move having a meeting on Election night because people want to go home and see what happens." And I tried to tell folks, "Don't worry, by the time you get home at 9:30, the West Coast stuff will still be coming in." Little did I know! You know, its interesting that in the Scriptures one way the Lord had of routing the enemies of Israel was to throw people into confusion. Do you remember those passages of the Bible when Israel was out-manned 10-1? The Lord said, "Now don't you worry about this battle even though there are 100 of them to 1 of you. Don't worry, I am going to take care of it." And the night before the battle, the army heard all kinds of things being thrown into confusion. They started fighting themselves and killing each other and the Israelites woke up and they said, "What happened? Where is everybody?" Unless the Lord is in the center of building a nation, that nation with all of its sophistication and electoral process, labors in vain. How blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord!
And I think that God has thrown us into a bit of confusion to humble us. Its like somebody I heard on the radio who said, "How can people who can handle ten bingo cards simultaneously not know what hole to punch?" (Laughter and clapping). The Scripture says: "It is vain to trust in princes." Also, there is Psalm 44. Just listen to Psalm 44. I think this is basically what Psalm 127 is trying to say:
"With your hand, Oh Lord, you drove out the nations and planted our fathers. You crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land nor did their arm bring them victory. It was your right hand. It was your arm. The light of your face, for you love them. You are my king and my God who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies. Through you, through your name we trample our foes. I do not trust in my bow. My sword does not bring me victory, but you give us victory over our enemies. You put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long. We will praise your name forever" (Psalm 44:1-8).
I think that's what I've gotten out of the confusion that we have been a part. But I want to move and shift to just why we are here tonight. We think that perhaps our own technology-I mean this is pretty nifty stuff I've got to admit. I mean, we are a little behind the curve because you go a lot of places and you see the Power Point and that sort of thing. But I've got to tell you, I am very impressed with this and I'm going to a conference in February where one of the workshops is "How to Preach Using Power Point." And I am going to take that workshop because I'll know then whether I should look back here or not and I will find out all kinds of good things. But you know what? The success of this third service is not Power Point, it is not this technology, it's not even a certain style of music. The success of the third service is the Lord. Amen? I mean, unless the Lord builds the third service, the third service task force labors in vain. And that's why we are here. You know, a few years ago, Central Church was wondering about the second service. The second service used to be back over there in the chapel. And they said, "Wait a minute, let's take a step of faith. Let's bring it into the sanctuary." If it wasn't for the risk that you all took in going to a second service, we wouldn't be here tonight. And so the third service, and what we are trying to do, is not our hope and our security. Our hope and our security is the Lord God, and if we are centered on him, it will work. Now here is the great part. The Scripture says , "Unless the Lord builds the house"-compare that to what Jesus said about building His house. Jesus said, "I will build my church. I am going to build my church. The only thing you have to do is get into rhythm with me and it will succeed." There is no question about whether Jesus wants to build the church, and so going to this third service is just the best leverage point that we have for helping more people know of His great love and mercy.
Look at the end of the Psalm. In contrast to the anxious labor that builds cities and guards possessions, the Psalmist praises the effortless work of making children. Opposite to the strenuous efforts of persons who seek their own gain by godless struggle, the Psalmist instead talks about the gift of children, born not of human effort, but through the miraculous process of reproduction which God created. This example couldn't have been better chosen. What do we do to get children in terms of work? Very little. And God shows us that's the same exact way we ought to live our life in the sense that we work with God and His process to make happen only what He can make happen. You know, we can either be a slave to our technology, a slave to our work, a slave to our own security systems, or we can be a slave to God. When we line up with Jesus, we will be free.
I am going to close with this. I love this story. Abraham Lincoln went to visit a slave auction one day. He was appalled at the sights and sounds of people buying and selling other human beings that he observed and heard. His heart was especially drawn to one young woman on the block whose story was told in her eyes. She looked with hatred and contempt on everyone around her. She had been used and abused all of her life and this time on the trading block was just one more humiliation. The bidding began and Lincoln began to bid. As the bidding went up, he just bid a little higher. And a man even tried to top his bid, but Lincoln wouldn't be topped. Finally, he won and paid the auctioneer for the slave woman. "What are you going to do with me?" the slave woman asked Lincoln.
"I am going to set you free," said Lincoln.
"Free?" she asked, "Free for what?"
"Just free. Completely free."
"Free to do whatever I want?"
"Yes," Lincoln said, "free to do whatever you want."
"Free to go wherever I want?" asked the woman.
"Yes, free to go wherever you want."
"Well," said the woman with a smile, "I'm going with you."
That's the way our Lord Jesus is. When he comes into our lives, He frees us from all those things that we chase after to find security. But when we put Him in the center of our life, we are free and we grow and we become and we achieve and we succeed because we follow Him. This is the greatest thing that any of us can ever do tonight or any night. You know, its funny. Some might think, "Well this is just kind of a trial worship service. I mean, we are just kind of working some stuff out and seeing what we are doing." You know, God may want to speak to you tonight more than in any "official" worship service. He may want to say something to you very deeply about your need to follow him. Maybe you are feeling that you need to be free from something. And so, in a few minutes, we are going to give you that opportunity. We have offering plates here. Offering plates are going to be passed, but at the right moment when the offering comes, you are invited to say, "Lord, I want to go with you. I want to follow you." And you can also bring your offering down front and put it here and if you want to stay here and have a prayer and just wait on the Lord-we'll do that. When the offering is taken up, I am going to pray for those who have gathered and those who stay in their seats and collect the offering the regular way. but as our music leaders come up, I just want to remind you that Jesus Christ is our ultimate security. He is the One building this house and He is the One who will make this next service successful and give the increase. So let us pray that we might know him deeper and deeper each day.
"Lord, we thank You for those who have gathered here. We pray that You would speak to each of us again and of our need to seek You as the center of our lives. We confess those pursuits of our own security. We ask that you would again draw us to an understanding that when we are in Your hands, we are in the most secure place we can be. We ask this in Your holy name, Amen."
© 2000, Rev. George Antonakos
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145