This is Labour Day weekend, and today we will be reflecting on Genesis 1:26-31 & James 2:14-19, The Goodness of Work. We are created to work, to take care of this amazing creation of God’s. We are created in the image of God. We are given the gift of imagination, insight into who God is and his presence in the world. We were given this gift to recognize the potential God has placed in creation. We are to develop it in ways that honour God’s work. This call to take care of creation extends in James in caring for each other. If we see a need or injustice and do nothing; our faith is dead. A community shaped on God’s shalom and imagining the kingdom of God is one where we look for the potential in others and create ways for that potential to be developed and realized. Thus, creating fruit filled communities and people.
The Goodness of Work
Genesis 1:26-31; James 2:14-19
September 4, 2022
This weekend we are celebrating Labour Day, a day originally designed to celebrate the advances made in workers’ rights. Labour Day can be traced back to April 15, 1872, when the Toronto Trades Assembly organized a demonstration for worker's rights. They were advocating for the release of 24 leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union who were put in jail for striking to campaign for a nine-hour working day. At this time, trade unions were illegal and striking was seen as a criminal conspiracy to disrupt trade. Late that year, the government backed down and made trade unions legal. My father was a union negotiator and fought hard for his work mates.
My father believed that work is a good thing. He knew that we’re created to work, to take care of God’s creation, his good and very good creation. Genesis 1 tells us who we are, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Our World Belongs to God confesses in Articles10 who we’re called to be as image bearers of God; we are “made in God’s image to live in loving communion with our Maker, we are appointed earth keepers and caretakers to tend the earth, enjoy it, and love our neighbors. God uses our skills for the unfolding and well-being of his world so that creation and all who live in it may flourish.”
The Bible shows us that creation is rooted in God’s creative power, but also that God has only begun the process of creation and we’re to care for it and to develop the potential that lies within creation. Creation is not a one-time event; we are called to continue the creative process that God has begun; this is part of what it is to be created in the image of God. Robert Kruschwitz reminds us that the Bible is a middle-eastern Jewish book and the reference to us being created in God’s image and being in his likeness refers to the role of kings and the “statues that monarchs erect to remind their subjects of who is in power. So, our role is to be living reminders of the Creator who is the King of the universe. To understand “dominion” (from radah, “to tread down”), remember that Israel’s king had covenantal responsibilities to care for those over whom he ruled. “Dominion, therefore, does not mean to exploit or destroy,” Butkus suggests, “but to exercise care and responsibility for God’s domain particularly in the interest of those who are poor and marginalized.”
Being in a province like Alberta, being in an agricultural area like Central Alberta, creation care is part of living here. I’ve appreciated seeing the concern our farmers have over animal care and land use; there is a recognition that wise use and careful care of both animals and land leads to better yields and better quality. It’s no different from business owners who recognize that respecting and treating their employees well leads to better workers and better-quality work being done. Work is good and even very good when it’s happening in an environment that respects and honours creation and people.
Our passage from Genesis sets our work in the context of Sabbath. Humanity doesn’t go straight to work right after being created, the first day after creation is a sabbath day, a day where God rests and enjoys what he’s made with his image bearers. According to D. J. Reed, “Sabbath forces us to put aside our own ambition and trust that our work is sufficient and that what needs to be completed will be finished in due time. In essence, Sabbaths force us to trust in God, the maker of the world, who owns the world. And when we can admit that this world is God’s, we begin to let go and take our work less seriously. We begin trusting less in our own efforts and instead trust in God’s.”
Work flows out of our relationship and time spent with God, a weekly reminder that ultimately everything we do is for God. The sabbath rest helps to remind us that our identity is not in our work or careers, it’s found in God and Jesus. Sabbath reminds us as Our World Belongs to God tells us in Article 12, that “even now, as history unfolds in ways we know only in part, we are assured that God is with us in our world, holding all things in tender embrace and bending them to his purpose. The confidence that the Lord is faithful gives meaning to our days and hope to our years. The future is secure, for our world belongs to God.” Our work is important as it contributes to our community and to God’s purposes no matter what our work is or how others see the value in our work. Our work is all part of the whole of the work of others in shaping our community, meaning all our work has meaning, from being a care-giver to a janitor, farmer, business owner, police officer, nurse, or whatever else we may do to support ourselves and our families. Most of the work that happens, happens out of sight, yet it all comes together to build up our communities.
Our work isn’t just about what we do for a paycheque, work is so much more, Our World Belongs to God, Article 11 reminds us, “Together, male and female, single and married, young and old—every hue and variety of humanity—we are called to represent God, for the Lord God made us all. Life is God’s gift to us, and we are called to foster the well-being of all the living, protecting from harm the unborn and the weak, the poor and the vulnerable.” This leads us to James, where James is concerned that faith has become about saying the right words but not following through on what they say they believe, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?”
Part of being created in the image of God is caring, not only for creation, but for all others who are also created in the image of God. When God tells Adam and Eve to be fruitful, he means more than just having a pile of kids and all their kids have a pile of kids. When Jesu talks about being fruitful, he’s talking about life and growing in our faith, in our character, and in our relationships with each other and God our Father. I think about how often political leaders will offer prayers and thoughts after disasters, but then do nothing afterwards to ensure that similar tragedies don’t happen again. What weight do your prayers carry and what kind of a faith do they reveal if you are not part of the solution and your only role is to sound as if you care? James is hard on us here, reminding us that our work and deeds matter a lot to God.
Robert B. Kruschwitz writes, “Order is central to the creation. God brings order, moral as well as physical, out of primordial chaos. Moral behavior is required to maintain the harmonious working of creation.” He echoes Our World Belongs to God, “God uses our skills for the unfolding and well-being of his world so that creation and all who live in it may flourish.” Jesus taught the importance of our responses to the injustices and hard times in life, of walking and working together to show our world a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus takes the journey to the cross for us to take our sin on himself, but to also bring in the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom shaped by justice and mercy, by love for God and neighbour lived out in word and deeds. James heard Jesus’ challenge that our faith is more than simply right beliefs, it also has to include right actions and work.
James throws in this provocative statement, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James is emphasizing in a more provocative way that belief in Jesus is not enough; Satan is very aware of who Jesus is and what Jesus is all about and Satan is distinguished by his work against Jesus; our work is for Jesus, “everything you do, do it for the Lord,” as Paul tells the church in Colossae.
On Labour Day, it’s good to honour work, to embrace that work is good and necessary and that we’re created for work, but let’s not minimize work to being only what’s done for a paycheque. Work embraces so much more than money, it’s the volunteers who work in places like church, school, non-profits; it’s those who help out their neighbours during snowstorms, with repairs around their homes; it’s the visiting of those who are in prison, in the hospital and care homes; it’s the persons who do all the little quiet things that make life and our community better in a thousand different ways, it’s about investing in others and helping them reach the potential God has placed in them, it’s about exploring the creation and developing it in God honouring ways that reveal its wonder and potential, and in living in this way, it all points us to Jesus.