Field to Fork: Our Work as Worship
Field to Fork: Our Work as Worship
In my office I have a photo of my grandfather, Revd Cannon Hobbs who for many years was a vicar in the Cotswolds amidst farming communities, communities he felt deeply connected to through a mutual love for the land and agriculture.
This photo pictures him in cassock and surplus in a small rural church blessing a plough that is positioned front and centred within the nave. You see, like many others and like this service today, my grandfather recognised something that is all too often overlooked, that is that God is a God not just of Sunday but of the everyday, he is the God of ploughshares, of balance sheets and supply chains. A God of stacked shelves, taxi ranks and city hall. God is a God of rest and of work and of finding flourishing from Field to fork and everywhere in between.
We live in a world where trillions of dollars in assets, goods and services are traded daily impacting everyone of us around the globe from the wealthiest to the poorest communities and individuals. All our lives are shaped by business and trade whether it is the price of fish in the market; the accessibility of fuel to fill our cars or the trust within financial markets.
Our work is and has always been a key part of the fabric of society. It is no surprise therefore that 45 of Jesus’ 52 parables are set in the market place. Jesus calls his disciples to be active ambassadors of his gospel in everything we do.
The question is, when our work not only impacts our lives but the lives of everyone throughout the whole value chain from production to consumption, when our work impacts whole communities and livelihoods and when our work impacts the planet; how does God call us to live out our Christian faith as we till the land either literally or metaphorically.
In 1970 the economist, Milton Friedman wrote “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits”. He convinced the world that the business of our work was about maximising financial return, and importantly, doing it for the shareholders. A total commodification’s of creation has transformed the human and non human world into mere assets for exploitation. The earth becomes units and humanity becomes capital and over time our worship and our work become detached from the ways of God and become the ways of our incessant economic growth.
A few years ago I was speaking with an Christian oil executive who fervently explained how the cost / benefit analysis justified an oil slick in the Niger delta, recently I was with a CEO who justified his employment practices as they enabled him to maximise profits and then donate some, just this week I was interviewed about the slave trader Edward Colston who trafficked 10s of thousands of Africans so that he could generate a financial return.
But the truth is that whilst Friedman might have given us a language we have been wrestling with the relationship between the work of our hands and the worship of our God since almost the dawn of time.
‘With what shall I come before the Lord’, we read in our passage in Micah don’t we?
‘With what shall I come before the Lord
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
With thousands of rams,
or with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn?
We’re hearing him say, shall I worship the Lord through the things our world values the very most?
But instead we see a call for a change of perspective. We experience a paradigm shift, our daily worship is neither defined through financial value nor commodity. God does not value the same things we have come to value in the world, but rather:
The Lord requires of you
to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
And I love that, I love that image, and I don’t think it’s accidental either, of us walking with God, the same way that God walked through the Garden and blessed us with our first work to name the animals, before we lost our way. As we worship, we align ourselves with the creator and as we walk with him, we partner with him in his creative work. Our work and our worship are inextricably connected to the mission of God in his kingdom.
Now, whilst of course money is needed, yes, the fundamental value of our work, contrary to Freidman, is not found in maximising financial return, but rather it’s found in the worshipful call to participate with God in creating a kingdom in which there is no more pain or tears; in which equality reigns, in which the planet thrives, in which food is sustainable.
We are called to be paint brushes in the artist hand of God.
It’s so clearly put in Luke, what you value, you worship. So, may your work, our work, be as worship, may it be an investment in the unfailing things, the unfailing treasure, the unfailing glory of God, in heaven.
Samuel P. S. Williams, is Salt Network Manager for Christian Aid. His talk was part of the Church of England’s online service on 4 October 2020. The Salt Business Network provides a unique opportunity to learn about, support and engage in building sustainable solutions for the world's poorest communities. See https://www.christianaid.org.uk/get-involved/salt-business-network