It’s Off to Work We Go – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, September 3

When our son was about three or four years old, we took him to see the Disney movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”  Disney had re-released the movie in the theater and we went to see it as a family.

And every time Dopey did something silly, our son would just crack up laughing.  He couldn’t control himself.  People in the theater would turn their heads and look at us because he just couldn’t stop laughing.

And I must admit that Dopey is pretty funny.

But my question is how were these dwarfs able to be so happy going to work?  “Hi Ho.  Hi Ho.  It’s off to work we go!”  And they would even whistle this annoying happy song as they walked to the mines of all places.

Studies show that most Americans are not satisfied in their current job.  We don’t often hear people singing, “Hi Ho.  Hi Ho.  It’s off to work we go.”

Instead, we here people singing, “I owe.  I owe.  It’s off to work I go.”

Many of us only see our job as a way to pay bills and we find little fulfillment or purpose in what we do.

According to a recent survey conducted by Conference Board, a New York non profit research group, only half of Americans are happy with their jobs. What’s even more troubling by this statistic is that thirty years ago, 61% of us were satisfied with our jobs.

When they asked the people what makes them happy at work, it came down to these two things. We are happy going to work when what we do interests us. The second thing that makes work enjoyable for us is was when we enjoy working with the other employees. When these two things are not present where we work, we tend not to enjoy our jobs.

This kind of reminds me of the university professor who once said, “I would really love my job if it wasn’t for the students.” Or the pastor who said, “I would really love my job if I didn’t have to prepare a sermon every week.”

Now, it’s certainly normal when we have a bad day or a bad week at work from time to time, but if our job is draining us every single week that could be a real problem.

It concerns me that most people are not really satisfied with what they do.  And so many of us don’t sing “Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho!” We’re singing, “I owe.  I owe.  It’s off to work I go” almost in a sarcastic tone of voice.

According to our reading from the Book of Romans, it sounds like the Apostle Paul is encouraging us to sing these very same words, but from a very different motive

Paul states in verse 8 – “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

This isn’t a bad scripture for us to think about during this Labor Day weekend.  “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Paul is referring to all of our activities, not just to our jobs, like when we go off to school, or when we volunteer our time somewhere.

“We owe people our love,” Paul says.  That sounds easy enough.  I mean, how hard is it to love people?  Nothing to it, right?  People are easy to love.  Well, maybe some more than others.

I was at a clergy and clergy spouse gathering several years ago and this person came up to me and in a not so tactful way she said, “You know, I have never really liked you.” 

     I kind of stammered a bit and then she said, “I don’t know why that is because I don’t even know you that well but I have just never really liked you.”

And not knowing really how to bring closure to that conversation I said, “Well I don’t know why, because I’m a heck of a nice guy!”

That was one of the most bizarre conversations I have ever had.  I don’t know if she didn’t like the way I dressed or if I reminded her of someone she didn’t like or what.

But truth be told, the same thing has probably happened to all of us at one time or another.  For no good reason, we just make up our minds that we don’t like somebody.  We don’t even give someone a chance because of some unknown reason.

And sometimes we find it difficult to love people because they have given us a good reason for us to not love them.  Maybe they hurt us in some way or they disappointed us.  Or they let us down.

No wonder the disciples often said to Jesus, “Following you is really hard.  Can’t you make this thing any easier?”

Jesus would tell them – love your enemies.  Love those who persecute you.  This is how it is in my kingdom. My kingdom is about love.

You know, it was around this time last year that the presidential election was starting to heat up. Facebook which is supposed to be a place where you show the most recent picture of your adorable puppy, instead became a war zone where people tossed verbal grenades at each other behind their computer screen on a daily basis.

Facebook has reminded me that we don’t handle disagreements very well. But it’s not just Facebook. Just read the comments people post at the end of local news articles. I often think to myself, “You know…you probably could have stated your point in a more helpful and less condescending way.”

     Following Jesus and loving others are not as easy as it may sound. Just when we pray for God to help us be more loving to others, that’s when we usually encounter that hard to get along with neighbor down the street. Just when we say a prayer for God to help us be more patient with others, that’s usually when the boss will have you work on an important project with that difficult co-worker who everyone tries to avoid. Yeah, being a follower of Jesus in the work place or at school is not that easy.

Maybe this is why the Apostle Paul tells us that love is the fulfilling of the law.  He says that all of the commandments can be summed up with this one word, “Love.”

Just look at Paul’s life.  No one could have been more zealous for the strict adherence of the law then Paul.  He was a Pharisee and a law abiding Jew.  But it wasn’t until the risen Christ appeared to Paul as he was on his way to persecute Christians that he realized that something was missing in his life.  And what was missing was love.  The love of Jesus.

Paul had the law memorized.  What he needed was Jesus’ love.

What transforms hearts?  Jesus’ love.  What makes a difference in someone’s life?  Jesus’ love.  What changes lives?  Jesus’ love.

We can be really awesome at all of the outward signs of our faith like going to church and doing all of these religious things, but what will bring the most satisfaction and contentment is when we truly learn to love others, especially those who aren’t always that easy to love.

The commandments will take care of themselves as long as our focus is on loving others. Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

When we view our work or our time at school as opportunities to owe no one anything except to love one another, we will be more likely to share God’s love in more specific and helpful ways.

Around this time a couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a friend of mine who attends another church. After we left the restaurant we were walking along Court Street when he said, “If you don’t mind, I’m going to stop in this store and buy some cookies.”

He then told me that the cookies were going to be a surprise gift for his wife and her colleagues at work that afternoon. Because of his loving action, I felt that nudge from God to do the same so I bought some cookies for Penny and her office staff at work and took them over to them and it really brightened their day.

Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

The president of a seminary was telling me about all the new renovations that were being made at the seminary over the past few years. As he gave me a tour of the building, he pointed out all the electrical and plumbing work that being done.

And then he said how during those renovations, he made a point to stop by to say hi to the workers when he had the opportunity, just to thank them for their work. He said how he would even say a brief prayer out loud near a construction worker asking God to bless that person in the work they were doing.

He said that one day, he went up to one of these workers who was on the floor working on some project.  Standing nearby, this seminary president said a brief prayer of blessing on that person that went something like this:

“Bless this man, O God as he works on our building. Keep him safe. Bless him and his family. In the name of Christ, I pray. Amen.”

     He said, this construction worker upon hearing this prayer, stopped what he was doing, stood up and with saw dust all over him and with sweat dripping from his brow, he turned toward the president. He looked him straight in his eyes and said, “Well, I’ll be blankety blank. That’s the first time anybody has ever said a prayer of blessing over me. Thank you, sir.”

     Even though he used colorful language in describing his feelings about being blessed while on the job, that’s probably a moment he will never forget, nor will this seminary president. What if we look for those opportunities where we can offer God’s blessing upon those at work or at school? The world might be a better place.

Paul writes,“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Who would do such a thing?  People with a debt to pay.

People like you who go off to work not just to get a paycheck, but to offer the love of Christ to the people we encounter.

Yes, we have bills to pay and some of us are in school and have classes to attend and papers to write. But life is so much more than working and studying just so that we can make a living.

Our jobs, our careers, our studies, are all opportunities for us to share God’s love with the people we meet. So let’s not owe anybody anything except to love one another. That’s all we should owe the people at our work or at school. God’s love.

“We owe…We owe…That’s why it’s off to work we go.”

It’s Off to Work We Go!

Small Group Questions

Romans 13:8-14

September 3, 2017

According to a recent survey by Conference Board, a non-profit research group, only half of Americans are happy with their job. Maybe this is why instead of singing, “Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It’s off to work we go,” we are singing, “I owe. I owe. It’s off to work I go!” In other words, we see our job only in terms of paying the bills rather than as a positive way to spend our time. 

Does your job or time in school offer you a sense of satisfaction? If you are unemployed, what kind of job would bring you fulfillment?

Our scripture reading form Romans 13:8 says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” The Apostle Paul is saying that love is the only thing we should owe to the people we encounter.

What difference would it make in our jobs, at school, and with the people we encounter if we would live out Romans 13:8 and simply “love one another” in our everyday lives? Is this the kind of happiness that people are missing in their work?

Pastor Robert shared examples of people who have sought to bless others through their work like the person who bought cookies for his wife’s co-workers and the seminary president who said a prayer of blessing over the construction worker who was working in his building.

Share a time when someone blessed you through their work. What was it about their love and kindness that left an impression with you?

Think of a way that your small group can bless others by showing an act of kindness. What about giving teachers at a local school a little treat to show your appreciation or helping with one of our college student outreach ministries or maybe serving in one of our outreach ministries like Athens First Saturday. After you offer a kind deed, come back and share how it made you feel as a group.

As a group, pray this Labor Day prayer together: Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and around our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.