Tag Archives: work

God’s Work; Our Growth

Biblical Text: Mark 4:26-34
Full Sermon Draft

The year preaching on the Gospel according to Mark is one of the most interesting. Mark’s gospel has the most cryptic and odd parts. It is no wonder that the current reigning academic model puts Mark as the earliest. It makes sense that some thing like today’s parable or last Sunday’s visit by Mary would be smoothed out later. It makes sense, but I’m not personally convinced. Of the four gospels Mark simply seems to have a sense of the absurd. How crazy and paradoxical and wonderful at the same time life and the God of life actually is. This sermon attempts to ponder the odder of the seed parables. “The earth produces by itself.” It invites you to think of it as a parable of the work of the Spirit. God doesn’t seem to know what he is doing – “he sleeps and rise night and day”, “he scatters everywhere” – but the plants grow and produce a harvest. The Kingdom of God can be absurd that way, but it is God’s work. And he grants us the growth.

Loaded Camels

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Biblical Text: Mark 10:23-31
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon is the continuation of last week’s gospel lesson (Mark 10:17-22). The focus in the text is on the difference, the astonishing reversal of the values of the Kingdom of God. That reversal gets everyone’s attention, but that reversal is put to sharp use. The full weight of the law is brought to bear in the saying “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom.” What wealth really does, as the lesson for the day from Ecclesiastes knows, is increase our responsibilities. The weight of the law becomes greater. The camel gets its full load. At the same time we become convinced that we are good at this, after all look at all we have. Jesus call out the huge mistake in that thinking. But he then tells us what the eye of the needle is. It is his promise. All things are possible for God. You will have treasure in heaven. You will be paid back 100-fold. Not in a prosperity gospel way. In this appointed time that comes with persecutions, but in the age to come eternal life. We enter life because God is good, and he has made salvation available by faith. Trusting in the work of Jesus and not our work. He is so good that he has extended to us the change to participate in that gospel. And that participation is part of our proof, part of the return.

Program Note: This is a re-recording. I messed up the original. So you don’t get any of the great hymns we sang. My guess is that you wouldn’t hear these at most American congregations. They are gems of the faith, but supposedly not what is “relevant”. Although given the text the are spot on. We opened with Lutheran Service Book 730 – What is the World to Me. The hymn of the day, was Lutheran Service Book 753 – All for Christ I have Forsaken. That link is not a informative because it is a newer hymn. But here is another congregation singing this haunting hymn from you tube.

Paragraph to Ponder…

“In an uncertain universe, some things are still for certain: Dirty plates, if you put them on a plastic rack and push them into the machine and press the button, will come out clean–every time. If you work hard at your job and do it well, even if it’s a [bleep] job, there is some kind of satisfaction in that, whether you’re stacking plates, chopping vegetables, or just setting out a plate of food. There’s this magnificent moment before a plate goes out to the dining room, for instance, when you know, and it’s just for you. You think, Hmm, that’s a pretty good [bleeping] plate. And then it’s gone.”
– Anthony Bourdain, here

Text of Funeral Sermon for Charlie Gruschow

I almost didn’t get through this one…

Biblical Texts: Isaiah 49:13-16, Romans 5:1-5 and Matthew 11:28-30
Introduction
Charlie Gruschow was a fixture here at St. Mark’s. And I say that in more ways than one. He was a fixture as a greeter handing out bulletins on Sunday morning. Being the youngest of a large family, he was a great talker with a twinkle in his eye. A bit of rogue-ish charm. The family name is on the stained glass windows right there. He was never a junior, but Charles is also on there. And there is a great story about that organ. Charlie saw the bank account going down and took it upon himself to, and I’m quoting, “get something before the buffoons spent it all”. Charlie’s in the fixtures, and I’ve often reflected that when I stumbled across something fine or of good quality, Charlie was behind it. He didn’t go for junk.

He didn’t do that around church. Charlie didn’t do that in jobs he did. He was always willing to help and do the work.

Now I suppose that same unabashedness and charm combined with those high standards might have led to some confrontations over his years. Charlie was his own man and had his own opinions. That conflict continued in some ways in his later years as instead of battling things external Charlie started battling his own body. When work – like mowers and blades and tractors – that you’ve lined up just can’t be done, it grated. It sucks, when your own gait can’t measure up to your standards.

Gospel in the Life

But let me suggest that Charlie understood something very important.

Peace didn’t come easily to Charlie, he worked. He expected to work. I expect that was why he was here, even hobbling, almost every Sunday. In the midst of a life of work, He knew he needed the grace. In an era full of cheap grace – lowered standards, denial of culpability – Charlie would have none of it. He was plainspoken, even if the plain speech pointed at himself. He might not have shared that with everyone, he was a man of his time, but he didn’t spare himself. And he needed the real grace – the grace that is only available through Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Charlie needed that. When the work was beyond him, he was strong enough to take God’s peace declared on that cross. And due to his standards he knew the full measure of what that cross offered…of what that cross offers you.

Conclusion
I have to admit something, my prayers for older folks who have major surgery are often two-fold. Typically I ask for healing and restoration, but I also usually ask that God’s peace might be with them. My prayers were selfish with Charlie, I wanted him back. One more story, a couple of months ago at men’s club, Charlie started telling of one of those confrontations that happened roughly 20 years ago. An elder of the congregation had stopped by and somehow had expressed the thought or feeling that he was fine if God took him. That offended Charlie and that day that elder was practically thrown out of Charlie’s house. But at this retelling I got the feeling Charlie was telling it not as a saga of old, but as a current reflection.

Charlie’s passing was a shock – to the doctors and to us. I was too engrossed in my selfish prayers. But Charlie heard Jesus – “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He was willing to put down the yoke he had pulled so long.

Charlie put that down, not in weakness, but in hope. Suffering produces endurance, and endurance character, and character hope. And Charlie was full of hope. Charlie knew that we who are buried with Christ in baptism will also be raised with him. We are engraved in the palm of His hand, and our walls our bodies will stand before Him. Resurrected bodies no longer bent by the work, but eternal dwellings full of grace.

So, the work remains our task, and we do not have Charlie to pull it anymore. But his witness remains with us as well. In the grace of Jesus, we stand. In the Hope of the Glory of God, we rejoice. (Rom 5:2) Amen.

Getting Added to the Dow

If they hear about the stock market at all, most people hear the quote of the Dow – the Dow Jones Industrial Average – which is a straight-up average of 30 representative stocks. Nobody would make such a composite today. The S&P 500 is a weighted average which means the bigger companies get more weight. Also 500 stocks are more representative than 30. But those two averages correspond something like 99% of the time, so the Dow isn’t as bad as all that. Every now and then the components of the Dow get changed. A dowdy company, like this year’s Bank of America, or just plain daft ones, like Bethlehem Steel or Kodak, that lost their way and are no longer icons – they get unceremoniously dropped. And new behemoths of American greatness get added.

Here is the WSJ on the most recent round with a great little interactive chart of the subtractions and additions over the last three decades. This year, being let go are Alcoa, HP and Bank of America. The tech-phase is over. The Dow still contains: Cisco, Intel, IBM and Microsoft. HP? Sorry, just a second tier maker of declining gadgets. Of course looking at those 4 remaining techs, how long until Microsoft gets the boot? Alcoa is somewhat surprising, but I guess the Dow said Exxon Mobil is enough of raw materials for 30 companies. When Charles Dow put together his first list of 12 companies, 11 of 12 were in or close to the extraction and delivery business. GE was the only one that might have been a step away, but back then, it was about lighting and wires, so still rather close. The changes a century brings. And poor BoA; always a bridesmaid and never a bride. Well, they used to be groom I guess when they were gobbling up smaller banks, but you can’t help but smirk at the Wall Street sneer as they kick the country bumpkin bank out to add Goldman Sachs. I’m pretty sure that GS is the modern day incarnation of the whore of Babylon (Rev 17:5), but they do it with such NY style. Even the Devil gets his due. When St. John saw the great whore – even he marveled (Rev 17:6). Not last, at least by the name of the winged goddess victory, Nike. The old fairy tale of the cobbler and elves has the elves making such great shoes that the cobbler becomes rich. And he repays the elves with some new clothes. Does Nike at least give some nice clothes to their sweat shops? Probably not, because Nike is not sold on the quality of the shoes which wear out in about 1 year. The secret Nike elves are at work on Madison avenue turning a $2 item into something gang-bangers will kill over. And everyone knows that the MadMen are snappy dressers.

So what does a Pastor have doing commenting on the Dow? Well, I wasn’t always a pastor and the MBA in me still likes this stuff. But I guess I would say something similar to why did St. Paul use so many sports analogies (run the race, the winners crown, train the body, and more)? How we work and how we play are jumping off points to talk the spiritual life. Paul pointed at the best, the winners of the race, and said they all do the training but only one gets the crown. (1 Cor 9:24-25) They do that for something that perishes. Shouldn’t we likewise run for the imperishable? Those Dow companies work quarter by quarter, “to make the quarter” a common phrase, just to go back and do it again. And the crown is some cash and a moments notice. The gold-watches went away a long time ago. They build statues in front of buildings, that 20 years from now, if they are not Woolworth (dumped from the Dow in 1997), the people entering will pause a second and ask “Who was Thomas Watson?” In the Spiritual life our names are added to the Book of Life. We are waiting for the revealing of the eternal weight of glory and not a bronze statue. And in the case of Goldman Sachs – Jesus did say something about learning that when in the midst of wolves be as wise as serpents. (Matt 10:16).

Father’s Day, Baseball, Status and Religion

worker-vineyard_bas_reliefThis is Fay Vincent, former Commissioner of Baseball, reflecting on some of his Father’s advice. Most of it is fine stuff. Advice to live a quiet honorable life. That and one line of his advice is what crosses into another column.

Here my father reflected the Great Depression and his experience of graduating from Yale with every athletic honor—only to discover the sole job available was digging post holes for the local electric utility

Reflect for a second on a generation and culture where digging post holes is where you started, even with a Yale degree. Also reflect for a second on that Yale sheepskin holder gladly doing that work. What does it suggest both about work and the cultural view of it?

This is David Brooks reflecting on a very similar move by another father.

About a century ago, Walter Judd was a 17-year-old boy hoping to go to college at the University of Nebraska. His father pulled him aside and told him that, though the family had happily paid for Judd’s two sisters to go to college, Judd himself would get no money for tuition or room and board.

His father explained that he thought his son might one day go on to become a fine doctor, but he had also seen loose tendencies. Some hard manual labor during college would straighten him out.

As Brooks goes on “Judd went on to become a doctor, a daring medical missionary and a prominent member of Congress between 1943 and 1963.”

That advice and actions of both of those Fathers would leave many aghast today is my bet. Brooks captures something true I think.

More important, that people then were more likely to assume that jobs at the bottom of the status ladder were ennobling and that jobs at the top were morally perilous. That is to say, the moral status system was likely to be the inverse of the worldly status system. The working classes were self-controlled, while the rich and the professionals could get away with things.

These mores, among other things, had biblical roots. In the Torah, God didn’t pick out the most powerful or notable or populous nation to be his chosen people. He chose a small, lowly band…In the New Testament, Jesus blesses the poor, “for yours is the kingdom of God.” But “woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”

Work in and of itself was ennobling and worthwhile. Even the rich and powerful had a moral check on them, and like the unjust judge (Luke 18:2-8), even if they thought it was bunk, they’d have to give justice to stop the outcry. With the rolling outright rejection of Christianity and more important Christendom (simply the understanding that the state is taught its ethics by the church), that check is gone. Like Paul says in Romans, if you won’t be instructed by the Word, God says fine and hands you over to your desires. And so we have naked lawless state that feels no shame in lying to us or listening in on whatever they want to. In fact they feel justified and get angry when countered because after all they are at the top of the only status hierarchy left. Who are you to complain? On what legitimate basis?

[Insert “repent, return to the Word, and God may yet be merciful” sermon.]

Follow your passion?

NPR had a short segment on a question that was sent to Tyler Cowen (Marginal Revolution). The hook was for those upcoming graduates who are lucky enough not to get sucked into the maw of this economy, what should they pursue if they didn’t really have “a passion”? And Dr. Cowen expressed some inability to answer it describing it:

The fact that Max and other young college graduates can even entertain this question — “What is my passion?” — is a new conundrum, and still a luxury not everybody enjoys. Yet, Tyler recently told me, it is “a central question of our time.”

So what’s the best, most rational answer for Max? It seems like economics could help; after all, it’s about costs and benefits and modeling complicated decisions.

But, Tyler says, “it was a truly difficult, tough question to make any progress on.”

For Christians St. Paul has a simple answer. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, which is deeply rooted in the summary of the 10 commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. What are you called to do, even when you don’t feel a call? Love God and love your neighbor. What does loving your neighbor look like?

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Now given the difference between the 1st century and the 21st century, the working with your hands might not be a directly possible. I don’t think that St. Paul was saying everyone should be making tents or plumbing. What that meant was do something that was not just being idle. Work is important in itself. One of the large idols of the day is that there are only specific roles that are “meaningful”. That is a false and destructive idol as people idle away waiting for meaningful work. No, serving your neighbor, a proper thing to follow, consists in living quietly, minding your own affairs and doing something that allows you to walk properly before outsiders. How boring! How suburban! But there it is, the bedrock of Christian calling, rooted in the 10 commandments.

A Remembrance

Oct 9th was my brother’s birthday. It’s actually been two years since he passed away. The actual date of his death is never the one that hits me. It’s the birthday. I think I remember more picking up the phone that first Oct 9th and dialing his number to wish him happy birthday and hearing ‘this number has been disconnected’ and going ‘oh, that’s right’ and putting the phone back in the cradle thinking ‘of course, you only drove his car into work this morning.’

One of the great stories I was told by one of his co-workers was about moving a data-center. Having worked in the business that phrase is something of an oxymoron. You don’t move data-centers. You build data centers. You move the traffic from the old to the new. You decommission the old. There are just too many things that would never make the transition. Aaron worked for a government security agency. I can only imagine why they were moving a data center. It must have needed to be done. Of all the crap jobs, moving all those boxes and wires would place somewhere high up the crap pile. And that was what the boss said. “I have no idea how this is going to happen.” So he asked Aaron to do it. That was the only name that popped into his head. And he did it. In the process he found a couple of crossed wires. He wrote them up in his report. The boss stared dumb-founded at that fact. A moved data-center should have been full of them. This one had two wires better.

So the next time you are tempted to say, ‘good enough for government work’. It isn’t. Find the two wires.

Even if the system is ok, if you know it could be better, find the two wires. Hell most of us live our lives embedded in systems that are metaphorically missing doors. If someone tries to sell you on the glories of the system – such a great hood ornament – while excusing the missing doors, don’t accept it. Find the wires. Ask for the doors. And if you have the responsibility, it’s being done on your watch, especially you, find the wires.

If you are asked to do a crap job, do it with excellence. If you are just asked to do your job, do it in a way that you find the wires. Don’t settle for having the title – the great hood ornament – and driving a car without doors and hiding crossed wires. Life is too short to live with crossed wires.

So, to the best of the Brown brothers, that is all I have to say about that.