Redeeming Work

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

October 21, 2018


Isaiah 65:17-25 (NRSV)


17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days,
    or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
    and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity;[a]
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
    but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.



Our son, Sam, received his first job a couple of weeks ago. He is working for Kumon Math and Reading Center, where he works with two of his good friends. It reminded me of my first job working at the Fort Wayne Theological Seminary kitchen with a couple of my good friends. 


I knew going into the job I would be scrubbing dishes, cleaning dirty grease out of fryers, and serving cafeteria food, yet these were simply accessories to the more important aspect of working with my friends.  We had loads of fun, talked for hours while we worked (because we did not have smart phones), and often continued our lives together after work.  We received needed paychecks to help with expenses and to buy those occasional luxuries.


But I have to be honest, I don’t remember back then pondering how work would affect the rest of my life and how it would be about 90 percent of what makes up my being and life.   


Do you remember your first job?  What about it did you love? 


I ask you to ponder those queries, because work has become such a complex issue in our day and age.


When I lived in Indiana before moving to Oregon, I had the opportunity to go hear Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson speak at Indiana University.  They were talking about farming and the importance of being connected to the earth.  During the Q&A section, a student, who I believe was trying to get some answers for a paper asked a not-so-well thought out question about “work.” It came almost immediately after Wes Jackson said the following about growing up. He said,


“People who impressed me were those who worked.”


To answer the student’s question, Wendell and Wes both rose to their feet and began addressing the way our culture looks at work.  Things like: People today think work is boring. Work is trivial. Work is what we have to do so we can have fun, or what Wendell summed up with the American phrase: Less work = more life, which is exactly what the student had assumed.  


Wes then said, “Work doesn’t have to be fun – but rather satisfying.”  Wendell added satisfaction means you have done something, it is part of your being or life.


I found myself writing as fast as I could while thinking how different this was than what our world says, and I thought about how different this was to what the church told me growing up. 


I realized that many people I knew hated work. Many were simply lazy or living for the weekend. Some people took on two or three jobs to pay outstanding credit card bills, while others simply to purchase bigger toys, go on grander trips, live in more lucrative neighborhoods. And then others worked simply to survive. 


I think we must remember - each person has a completely different story when it comes to work.   


For the past 20+ years as a pastor, I can’t count the number of people who have come to me struggling with their work, who have considered their work-lives miserable, or a dreaded task to complete.  The big theme I see is that they are simply not  satisfied by what they do. 


In the book Slow Church, John Pattison states,


“Soulless work is one of the alienating effects of industrialization, along with unemployment, underemployment, low wages, child labor, the imposition of degraded work on degraded people and a ream of other consequences.  But we can have a very different view of work, one that seeks a balance between taking work too seriously and not taking it seriously enough.  Doing good work is one important way we respond as followers of Jesus to the work God is already doing around us.”     


Most of us were not taught to value all types of work. I remember people telling me when I was young, “Well, you don’t want to grow up to be a garbage man or work at a gas station, do you?” I have since met a garbage man and a gas station attendant who I value their work and who are both satisfied by their work.


We would never say, “You don’t want to grow up to be a doctor or lawyer?”  But I know doctors and lawyers who are miserable in their professions and are not satisfied.  And the same is true about people who are retired – because their work was so much a part of them that stopping work was an attack on their being.


Let’s be honest, we still categorize work by what we would be willing or unwilling to do. And that is creating negative perceptions of work. For some people their work is not an option. They work for survival.  They work at whatever job they can get.  They are often grateful to simply have a job.  But too often those type of jobs are ones that sadly exploit workers.  Jobs that are not satisfying because they dehumanize people and they become estranged from their own being and the tasks that could engage their human potential and creativity.  Instead they are forced to take jobs that are repetitive, uninteresting, and unsatisfying because the world has alienated them by saying things like I heard about garbage men and gas station attendants.  Or too often we make professional athletics, celebrity status, and stardom the goal.  For goodness sakes, just think about it, we have a long-standing show in our country called, “American Idol.”    


What if we valued a blue collar job as much as we valued a white collar job? If we taught our children that ALL work is valuable and needed.  That migrant farmers were just as important as the farmers, the garbage collectors were just as important as the doctors, the members just as important as the pastors – I think you might be getting this…what I am talking about is the Quaker distinctive of equality – that all people are equal in the eyes of God.  No title or position should get in the way of how we treat others.



As well, since we often identify so deeply with our vocations.  We introduce ourselves by our work, we identify by our work, we even associate by our work.  


For several years at Huntintgon University, I taught a upper-level class with a college counselor called, “Calling, Being, Doing: Rethinking the Rest of Your Life.” The class proceeded through looking at one’s calling, to seeing one’s being, and then to what one would do with what they learned. Many students found themselves in their junior or senior year fretting over what they were going to do with their lives. 


Too often we found, especially at a Christian University, how much the church and it’s views negatively influenced the students and did not allow them to see their “being” and who they were – leaving them fearful and fretting the world outside the College bubble.  Quaker Parker Palmer addressed this very thing in Yes! Magazine in an article titled, “Now, I become myself.”  Just listen to what he had to say,


“I first learned about vocation growing up in the church. I value much about the religious tradition in which I was raised: its humility about its own convictions, its respect for the world's diversity, its concern for justice. But the idea of vocation I picked up in those circles created distortion until I grew strong enough to discard it. I mean the idea that vocation, or calling, comes from a voice external to ourselves, a voice of moral demand that asks us to become someone we are not yet—someone different, someone better, someone just beyond our reach.


That concept of vocation is rooted in a deep distrust of selfhood, in the belief that the sinful self will always be “selfish” unless corrected by external forces of virtue. It is a notion that made me feel inadequate to the task of living my own life, creating guilt about the distance between who I was and who I was supposed to be, leaving me exhausted as I labored to close the gap.


Today I understand vocation quite differently—not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”


I guess what I am trying to say in all of this, is that clearly we need to have a paradigm shift in the way we look at work.


Author and story-teller, Dorothy Sayers asked this about work using a carpenter as an example,


“How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be a drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.  What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. 


This is another way we can embrace the “Slow Movement” by nurturing good work in and among our Meeting and community.  John and Chris give some ideas of how we can help promote a better work ethic that is beneficial to our neighborhood and life together. They give four suggestions:   


1.     Help others recognize and prefer good work over bad work.


·        Bad work is meaningless, stultifying and exploitative – it puts the system before the person and lays waste to the earth. 

·        Good work is good for the community and good for the one doing it.  It is modestly scaled, situated and can be done well.

·        Also, good work comes from within one’s own gifting and soul – what they were born to be.


2.     Explore the possibilities (and limitations) of work as worship.


·        Good work done well can be a form of worship, if we mean it to be.

·        When we see ALL work as being able to give glory to God , it breaks down the false distinctions between “secular” work and “sacred” work which we too often have made.  


3.     Champion work-related justice.


·        How are we addressing the work-related injustices that are taking place in our own community? 

o   How are we speaking out…

§  for raising the minimum wage in Indiana?

§  against human trafficking and child labor laws?

§  against the abuse of migrant workers, runaway and homeless teenagers, undocumented workers…etc…?


These are just a few of the specific issues in Indiana and Indianapolis which I believe the church should be speaking into.


Along with our own American Friend’s Service Committee and Friends Committee on National Legislation, there are many other local groups like Faith in Indiana or the local expression of The Poor People’s Campaign – which is a national call for moral revival spearheaded by Rev. William Barber. It is working to continue the legacy of Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign by uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.


I encourage you to check out at least one of these great organizations and see how we together can champion work-related justice.


4.     Recognize the human resources within our meeting and leverage them in the reconciling work of the kingdom.  


·        At my meeting in Silverton, we spent about 3 hours on a Saturday morning working through an Assets Based Community Development assessment.  We inventoried the assets we had as individuals, as a meeting, and how we were an asset to our community.  Out of this assessment we built so much awareness for what we had to offer our local community that we were able think and see with different perspectives.  Around this time, we made a significant impact on our community, by opening our doors to a growing Montessori public school, utilizing our back lawn intentionally for animal lovers to walk their pets, we proposed a community garden and changes in regards to our playground.  These are just a few of the changes that we made in Silverton… I wonder what we may find if we did an Assets Based Community Development assessment at First Friends.  Maybe I will need to connect with Witness and Service to see something like this happen for us to help us recognize the resources within our meeting!



These are just a few ways we can begin to make the paradigm shift in regards to how we can redeem work in our world.   As we enter into Waiting Worship, take some time to ponder the queries in the bulletin…


Am I satisfied by my work?

Where do my views of work need to change?

How can our meeting effect change in the area of work in our community?






By Henry Van Dyke


Let me but do my work from day to day,
In field or forest, at the desk or loom,
In roaring market-place or tranquil room;
Let me but find it in my heart to say,
When vagrant wishes beckon me astray,
"This is my work; my blessing, not my doom;
"Of all who live, I am the one by whom
"This work can best be done in the right way."

Then shall I see it not too great, nor small,
To suit my spirit and to prove my powers;
Then shall I cheerful greet the labouring hours,
And cheerful turn, when the long shadows fall
At eventide, to play and love and rest,
Because I know for me my work is best.