A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, September 6, 2015
Psalm 128:1-4 ESV
Reading on work from Kahlil Gibran
“You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” Psalm 128:2
There is work; and then, there is work. In other words, there are some types of work that we love doing. And there are other types of work that we loathe doing. And there is a vast difference between the two. Some people love the work they do so much that they don’t want to quit and go home at the end of the day, so they end up working 50, 60, or 70 hours or more each week. And then there are other people who dread every minute they spend in their work, and watch the time clock from the moment they arrive until the second they leave. In my earlier, teenage years, I had a couple of jobs like that. Perhaps you did too. But sadly, for most workers of the world, I imagine, it is this way. They work day in and day out, not because they love the work they do, but because they have to do that work in order to survive and/or support their families.
And so, if we are of the fortunate ones (the psalmist would say “blessed ones”) who happen to love the work we do or the lives we live, we should rejoice and consider ourselves to be blest indeed.
Early 20th century mystic writer and poet, Kahlil Gibran, had a lot to say about the love of work. I chose just a portion of his section on work from his beloved classic, The Prophet, for today’s reading. (By the way, Gibran was a Lebanese-born American writer who happened to be one of the best-selling authors of all time. The Prophet was just one of many books he published, but it is considered his literary masterpiece and sold around 3 million copies.)
But Gibran points out that labor is an vital component of earthly existence. It has been that way from the very beginning. So to be able to look favorably upon one’s work—to love one’s work—is in essence to love life itself. And when a person has learned to love life through the labor he or she is engaged in, he or she has learned one of the greatest secrets of life itself. And to be able to work in love is a tie that binds one to the earth, to others, and to God.
Gibran encourages those who work to do whatever they do in love, as though they were performing that act for their beloved. In other words, one whose work is weaving cloth should weave every thread as though it were being done for the one she loves. One who is a bricklayer in home construction should lay every brick in love as though he were doing it for his beloved. One who is a farmer should sow seeds in love, as though his beloved would eat all the fruit that is produced. You get the idea. To put such love and passion into the work we do results in a number of ramifications. One ramification is we approach our work with a great deal of respect and pride. Another is the work we do becomes much greater in quality. A third ramification is we approach our work with much greater appreciation and honor.
I am reminded of that classic tale from the Middle Ages. A traveler came upon a construction site in France, but he could not tell what was actually being built. The traveler approached one of the stone cutters who was hard at work and asked him, “What are you doing?”
The man, very disgruntled, and obviously very unhappy with the job he was having to do, replied, “I’m cutting these huge boulders with the most primitive of tools and putting them together in the way I’ve been told to do. I’m sweating in this heat, and my back is hurting, and I’m totally bored. I wish I didn’t have to do this hard and meaningless job!”
The traveler moved on quickly to a second worker and asked him the same question: “What are you doing?”
This worker replied, “Well, I have a wife and children at home, so I come here every morning, and I work these boulders into regular shapes, just as I’m told to do. The work gets repetitive, but it does help feed my family, and that’s all that really matters.”
Somewhat discouraged, the traveler moved on to a third worker and asked him the very same question: “What are you doing?”
The third worker looked up at the traveler with a gleam in his eyes, and he pointed up toward the heavens and exclaimed, “Why, I’m building a cathedral!” You see, all three workers were doing the exact same job. But it is all a matter of perspective. The third worker obviously had learned to work with love.
But when it comes to working with love, I think writer and theologian Frederick Buechner said it best and hit the nail on the head in a way no one else has done. Buechner said, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” I think Buechner may have been addressing those who are searching for their life’s calling. His message may have been aimed at those who were trying to find their place in the world, what they were supposed to do with their lives. Buechner may have been speaking to those who were trying to “find themselves,” to use an expression from the 1960’s. And the answer he arrived at was this: Your calling in life—that which you should give your life to—is that which brings you the most joy, but also meets a need in the world. It sounds so simple, but how profound it is; so simple that most people miss it. How blessed we are when our passion in life, that passion or interest in life that brings us so much joy, can also become our life’s work, which also intersects with the world’s need!
But regarding this United Church, the reality is a number of our members are retired; no longer in the workforce. Is there anything of relevance in all of this for those of you who are retired? Well, of course there is! Because those who are retired and no longer in the workforce can have a hobby, can volunteer for some non-profit organization, and can financially support a worthy charitable organization that meets a need in the world. So we ask ourselves, How can I use the hobby that brings me so much joy to brighten or make better the lives of others? Maybe those living in retirement, assisted living, or nursing homes? Or maybe at-risk kids who would benefit from learning a new skill?
We can ask, Where can I volunteer in an area that is of great interest to me so as to improve our community and better the lives of others? A number of our United Church members have already been doing this.
We can ask ourselves, What charitable organization represents an area that is of great interest to me, that I can support with my charitable donations?
So whatever that interest or passion or hobby is that brings us so much joy, how blest we are when we can find a way to experience that joy and passion either in the work we do, in the hobby we pursue, in the volunteer position we commit to, or in the check we write to that charity that makes a difference in people’s lives and helps make the world a better place.
So in the final analysis, it is possible to work in love. And learning to work in love, and using that thing we love in our everyday lives, and in such a way to meet a need in the world—this is one of the secrets of a fulfilled, happy life. May it be so with each of us. Amen.