"Strength in our Ďweekí-ness"

Message preached February 11, 2001
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Luke 13:10-17

Order of Worship

Indiana State Road 19 runs through the town of Nappanee. It crosses a small stream at the north edge of town. I remember the time the bridge over that little creek was out. Since it was a state road, the law required that any detour must travel over other state roads. So, southbound traffic was re-routed 5 miles north of town. Travelers were taken 10 miles northeast through the city of Goshen, then 12 miles south, and 7 miles west to Nappanee. A simple 5 mile trip became a 29 mile detour, just to cross a creek that usually runs dry in summer.

Do you find it difficult to cross the creek that separates Sunday from the rest of the week? Does it sometimes feel to you like there's a "bridge out" between what you do in church today and what you do on the job tomorrow? Sometimes it seems like there's two worlds in which we live, those of us who seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. There's the world of our faith; and there's the world of our work. And it seems like a 29 mile trip just to carry over what we sing and talk about today to what we do tomorrow. Do you know what I'm saying?

Author Studs Terkel interviewed hundreds of men and women from a wide variety of workplaces and came up with a book about what he discovered, entitled WORKING.

"This book," he wrote, "being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as about accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us."
             (Working, by Studs Terkel, ©1974, p. xi, quoted in
                         Serving God: the Grand Essentials of Work and Worship, Ben Patterson, p.28)

Do you find it difficult to cross the creek that separates Sunday from the rest of the week? Does it sometimes feel to you like there's a "bridge out" between what you do in church today and what you do on the job tomorrow? Back to Indiana, and the bridge out in Nappanee. Local folks knew that if you turned left one block north of the bridge, went two blocks east, then one block south over another bridge, and finally two blocks west, the detour would only be four blocks. You just had to know how to make that crossover.

The same is true for us as we struggle to cross over from Sunday to Monday. The major point is this: there are bridges we can cross. We can't allow Sunday to become so separated from the rest of our week, for it's from this day of rest and recreation that we are given the strength for our "week"-ness, (if you'll pardon the pun). Letís spend a few moments trying to cross that bridge between faith and work. I pray that we won't be making a 29 mile detour out of it.

As Christians, we all struggle to crossover from Sunday to Monday. "Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work..." (Exodus 20:8-10) Thus says the fourth of ten commandments. The seventh day is to be a day of rest from work. Just as God rested from the awesome work of creating the heavens and the earth, so we, as God's children, need to rest from our work.

However, it is to be rest with a purpose. It is to be a restfulness that gives strength to start another week. How easily this purpose can be forgotten. We can focus upon setting aside the day of rest and making it holy so much that we can create a gap between it and the rest of the week. That is not what God intended. No, there is a connectedness between the day of rest and the rest of the week. In that one day we receive the strength needed for our "week"-ness. That was, and continues to be, the purpose.

The sabbath was made for men and women, Jesus said, they/we weren't made for the sabbath. But how easily that can be forgotten. Take this morningís Gospel story, which took place on the sabbath day in a synagogue, a place of worship. A woman had been struggling for 18 years with an illness that was weighing her down, literally. She was bent over, as if some unseen force had been seeking for many years to break her spirit.

I think we all can associate with that sense of being weighed down, can't we? It sometimes seems as if everything were conspiring to wear us down, to break our spirit. Perhaps that's how you feel about your work. In our Gospel story, Jesus sees this woman. He heals her. Or more precisely, he frees her from that weight. For the first time in a long, long time, she is able to stand up straight. Jesus restored her dignity. And from her mouth came a heartfelt song of praise. She received the strength needed amid her weakness, a strength she had needed for eighteen years, to stand tall and enter a new week free to live out a life of praise.

The purpose of the sabbath had been lived out in that simple act, which probably took all of about two minutes or less. But then what happened? Somebody else forgot the purpose. The other six days are for work, this legalist said. Healing is work, therefore, it is forbidden. Today is a day of rest. Today is separate from the rest of the week. There is a boundary between the seventh day and the other six days, a boundary which must not be crossed, he said.

The purpose of God's Sabbath had been forgotten. The day of rest is a day intimately connected with the rest of the week. It is a day for rest, and for healing, for strength to face another week with dignity and hope. Jesus made no bones about this as he responded to the hypocrisy of those who would rob the day of rest of its power to restore. "Rest" leads to "restoration."

We rob the sabbath of its power to restore when we don't seek to make a crossover to the rest of the week. We see Sunday, our new sabbath, as a day totally separated from our daily work. We look at the detour signs and believe that the distance between Sunday and Monday is too great, "so why bother at all?" As a result, we tend to come to church every Sunday without a sense of expectation. If there is an unbridgeable gap between Sunday and Monday, then what use is it to expect anything out of Sunday? I mean, after all, most of life is spent living the other six days of the week.

I believe this is one key reason people drop out of church. It doesn't seem to be connected with the rest of their life. But where does the fault for that lie? Well, in part it is due to preachers and teachers, priests and pharisees, who forget the connection. We who immerse ourselves in the things of faith, need to be challenged to remember not just the sabbath day but also the other six days. If I say something from the pulpit that doesn't seem to hold water in connection to our daily work, I need brothers and sisters in Christ who will talk with me about this. I need friends in Christ who will talk with me about life as it is in the workplace, instead of assuming that only "spiritual" things are what you talk with the pastor about. In reality, all of life has spiritual dimensions. Yes, in part this robbing of the Sabbath its power to restore is due to preachers like myself, who forget the connection between Sunday and Monday. But the fault also lies with those who come to the Sabbath without expectation of receiving strength for their "week"-ness.

Jesus had alot to say about expectation. "Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened, ask and it shall be given..." Those are words of expectation. We don't seek, knock, or ask, unless we have some expectation of finding, opening, or receiving. Of course, as Jesus repeatedly pointed out in his parables, we donít always find what we expect to find, or have opened the door we expect to have opened, or receive exactly what we expect to receive. But we do receive, ways are opened, we do find.

Sunday is a day of expectancy, even for those of us who think we have all the answers. If we donít come to church with a sense of expectancy, we will leave without having received anything. To receive the strength needed for our "week"-ness, we need to expect God to speak, even through the most unexpected channel. That's not just true for Sunday, itís true for every day.

Yes, we rob the sabbath of its power to restore when we don't expect there to be a crossover to the rest of our work-week. Itís a long way from Sunday to Monday. Sunday we dress up, study scripture, talk and sing about Jesus, and enjoy Christian fellowship. But Monday itís back to the grind.

For better or worse, let me share ten concrete suggestions for bridging the gap between Sunday and Monday. Youíll find the list in your bulletin. As I said earlier, there are bridges we can cross. We don't have to make a 29 mile detour to make the connection.

            1. Write out a brief description of a work related problem you are facing and
                    give it to me so I can be aware of it as I prepare my messages.

            2. Start praying regularly for someone you encounter during your daily work.

            3. Tell someone in your daily work environment one good thing about your
                    church (or your pastor :).

            4. Bring something meaningful from Sunday morning church to Monday morning
                    work (a verse of a hymn, a scripture verse, a sermon thought).

            5. Ask someone in your church questions about their daily work and visit their
                    workplace if possible.

            6. Invite me or someone else from church to visit your workplace.

            7. Ask someone at church to pray for you regarding some work-related concern.

            8. Apply a sermon idea to your work-setting and let me know you did.

            9. Share your faith. Tell someone you see regularly how Christ has changed your
                    life. Or pass along a book, record, or tape that has enhanced your spiritual walk.

            10. Write a brief description of how Christ is transforming your work, and share it
                    with the church- on the bulletin board, in the newsletter, etc.

* * * * * * *

There is an epitaph on a gravestone somewhere in Scotland that reads, "Here lies the body of Thomas Jones, born a man, died a grocer." When we don't seek to cross over from Sunday to Monday, when we don't expect Christ to be able to transform our daily work, all too easily our daily work can swallow us up, such that we cease to be a human being, created in the image of God. We become, instead, a cog in a wheel conformed to the image of our work. God does richly provide strength for our "week"-ness. Don't get detoured, my friends. Bridge the gap, and truly live your life in Christ right where you are.

(adapted from sermon preached September 9, 1989 at the Greencastle Church of the Brethren)

©2001 Peter L. Haynes

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