Whatever You Do
“Whatever you Do - Connecting faith and Action” - Colossians 3: 22 – 4: 6 & Matthew 25: 14 – 30
I often find myself in Lichfield Cathedral. With a few moments to spare once, I walked round looking at the memorials. There were plenty of soldiers and a whole lot of clergy, together with their wives and children. But with one possible exception, Ersamus Darwin “Physician, Philosopher and Poet”, no one was commemorated for their profession. There were no merchants, manufacturers or millers, no surveyors, scientists or sportspeople, no barristers, builders or bakers.
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting next to a retired gentleman in church. I enquired about what work he had been in. “Do you mean what I did with the church?” he asked me. “No, your everyday work,” I replied. “Oh, I spent thirty years building fork lift trucks,” he responded, and then went on to describe the sorts of trucks he made, how they were powered and how they were counterbalanced. He had a passion for something which had been his life’s work, but he didn’t seem to think it counted for very much in a conversation in church.
As Lichfield Cathedral shows us, this isn’t new. For centuries, the church hasn’t been very good at helping people see that their passions and interests, the things which energise them and their everyday work, can come together with their skills, gifts and attributes, to be offered in God’s service. That’s very unfortunate, because when they do come together, it helps people to be truly fulfilled, to become the people God is asking them to be, doing the things that God asks them to do.
Like the man I sat next to, the feeling is that what really counts is the work we do for the church. When it comes to gifts and abilities, we have focused on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit which Paul describes in his letters – healing, gifts of tongues, prophecy and the others. And more than that, we have limited them to their use in the church and for the life of the church.
We need to get hold of the idea that our talents and spiritual gifts operate not only within the church on Sunday, but also with the workplace, or wherever you happen to be, on a Monday.
That’s what Paul is driving at, I think, in our reading from Colossians. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people. Notice it is, “whatever”. This isn’t the throw away word of the disgruntled adolescent, it is a wonderfully inclusive word. Whatever – anything, everything – you do can be, should be, done for as though you were working for the Lord. Do you remember the line of the old hymn, “Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, makes that and the action fine”?
Once we get hold of this wonderful idea, it opens up immense possibilities of fulfilment. Both the parable and the passage from Colossians speak of rewards for work well done.
You may remember how parables are described as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Stick with the earthly story of our Gospel reading for a moment. Two of the servants who had been given money work hard with it and make profits. It often happens that when you put your efforts and your abilities together, you end up with a reward. It might be material, or it might be the satisfaction of a job well done.
And in Colossians, Paul writes, “Remember that the Lord will give you as a reward what he has kept for his people.” It has an eternal dimension to it, but I don’t believe God only wants to reward us in the hereafter. If you limit the rewards that God gives to being “pie in the sky when we die”, then you are on the road to placing a low value on everyday activity and work. It is saying that material things don’t matter very much, and that is sad, because it means that immense opportunities for human fulfilment and flourishing are missed.
Long ago, after I had failed to gain a job I had applied for, someone wrote me a very encouraging letter, which highlighted a verse from the prophet Jeremiah. You don’t often look for encouragement in Jeremiah, do you? “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It is clear there that Jeremiah isn’t promising something in heaven; something after the people had died. Looking back over nearly forty five years, I can say that verse has been fulfilled in my life.
Don’t ever go away with the idea that God wants things to be tough for us, and that eventually, after a lifetime of hard work and hardship, our reward only comes in eternal life. God wants everyone to have a hope and future, and it is an affront to his love and his care for humanity when people deny this to other people.
You may be wondering what this has to do with you. Some of us here put our paid working days behind us long ago. There was a time when we were excited by our passions and interests and things which energised us - building fork lift trucks, perhaps. It was a joy to bring them together with our skills, gifts and attributes, and to feel that we were becoming the people God was asking us to be, doing the things that God asked us to do. But that was then.
Hopefully, our friends, family and possibly our church encouraged us, and we knew something of the fullness of life which God promises us. But that was then.
I don’t think it is like that at all. As I get older, this is one of my favourite verses: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Paul is saying that, as Christians, we get older on the outside, but younger on the inside. Isn’t that exciting?
And I very much believe that there are opportunities for everyone, old and young. Our church has a knitting group. People with a passion and interest in knitting met, before the coronavirus pandemic, to knit, chat and pray. They produced some lovely items, including prayer shawls which have been gratefully received by many people. If you have a particular passion, whatever your stage in life, ask God how you can use it. It might be a hobby, something which you can share in a group, like the art class which met in our church hall. What a great opportunity for Christians to meet with other people with a shared interest. It might be something you could turn to prayer, with an insight which other people do not have. It might be something that you can share with a younger person, who will be encouraged by your example.
And those who are younger, those still in employment, have a lot to learn from you.
People in employment have a particular opportunity to bring their passions and interests, their skills, gifts and attributes, to create things and to offer people services which they need in everyday life. Christian communities need to celebrate the importance of good work. There is a sense in which we are carrying on God’s work of creation with him.
We can be part of a church which encourages and affirms its members as we bring together our passions and interests, the things which energise us, with our skills, gifts and attributes, and with our everyday opportunities. Together we will see the importance of the things that we do in the world, the people we are able to serve, and together, all of us, young and old, will continue that exciting journey of becoming the people God is asking us to be, doing the things that God asks us to do.
There’s a lot of ground to make up.