DISCOVERING THE DIVINE IN DIFFICULT, DIRTY JOBS
September 2, 2018
The Sunday of Labor Day weekend is not a high, holy day for us preachers. The crowd is always sparse. And the faithful folk who are here are more than a bit melancholy at the thought of summer coming to an end and another season of lousy Washington Redskins football awaiting us.
Years ago, when I was a young bucksnort of a pastor serving the rural western Rockingham County congregation of Clover Hill UMC, I conjured up a cheesy idea to increase attendance on that Labor Day Sunday morning. I invited everyone in the church to bring some tool or instrument to worship that they used in their line of work.
And so, as people began rolling in for worship that morning, they were carrying everything from skill saws to stethoscopes. But then, we all heard the uniquely familiar sound of a John Deere tractor puttering up the hill to the church. It was George Newman, a part-time gentleman farmer, and he was pulling a strange contraption behind him. And he deposited it right next to my parking space.
When it came time for show-and-tell, George was first to arise. With a devilish grin he informed the congregation, “The tool I brought this morning is right outside the front door. It’s a manure spreader, and I thought it was appropriate to park it next to the preacher since he and I are in the same line of work!”
Well, that’s one Labor Day Sunday idea I immediately deposited in file 13 never to be resurrected again!
This morning I thought it would be good inspiration to offer an epilogue to our recent series Discovering the Divine in Difficult, Dirty Jobs” - to wrap up some of what God spoke to us through our panels of interviewees each Sunday during August. As you recall, on various Sundays we heard from service industry employees, caregivers, contractors and educators. And what they shared was centered around the following passage of scripture from Colossians 3:23-24:
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
In summary, I believe those 20 brave souls who took the stage in August said to us we discover the divine in our difficult, dirty jobs when we
- Take pride in what we achieve
- Do not hide what we believe, and
- Are relied upon by others needing a reprieve
Let’s spend a few moments breaking these down…
TAKE PRIDE IN WHAT WE ACHIEVE
All our participants shared a common theme that there is a sense of godly satisfaction that comes from doing a job and doing it well. You feel like you’ve pleased God, as well as others and even yourself. You hold your head high when you look at yourself in the mirror, because you have given your best.
And yet, many of our interviewees said that this was not a universal value held by most of the folks they work alongside. So many today do not take pride in what they do. They don’t give a rip about what they make with their hands nor the people they interact with. Our contractors – Pat, Scott, Richard and Jim – bemoaned about hard it is just to find people today who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Craftmanship is a lost art. For way too many folks, an occupation is just a paycheck and nothing more.
One of my favorite movie scenes is in the 2003 comedy flick Bruce Almighty. Bruce (Jim Carrey) is a self-absorbed TV reporter in a stalled career who believes God is out to get him. He ends up meeting God, who is played by Morgan Freeman, in a warehouse. And God is taking great pride in doing a good job mopping the spacious floor. Bruce cannot wrap his head around God doing such a menial task, and yet, God informs him that the happiest people in the world often are often the ones who go home stinking to high heaven each evening. They take pride in what they do.
Yes, the Apostle Paul preaches Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters
What if we awakened each day with the prayer, “Lord, help me to do my best for you today in whatever I do.”
Yes, we discover the divine in difficult, dirty jobs when we take pride in what we achieve, and also when we…
DO NOT HIDE WHAT WE BELIEVE
Now I’m not talking about being some obnoxious Bible thumper here who goes around boasting in the workplace “God is my co-pilot and Jesus is my bombardier.”
I’m speaking of dear Christian folk who provide a godly presence in how they listen and lift others with encouraging words and caring actions. They embody the living Word of God in how they conduct their lives, and the Lord uses them to make an impact in often unseen ways.
I recall Jimmie claiming what a false and ludicrous statement it was to say that God had been taken out of schools when she and other teachers did their best each day to embody Christian values to students, many of who come from god-forsaken home lives.
And there was Betsy describing a conversation she had in the aisle at Walmart with a customer searching for an item…Betsy noticed the angst in the woman’s voice…and made herself available to listen to the woman’s pain over so many struggles in her life.
We live in a self-centered, self-absorbed culture. When we live out our faith in kind, selfless, sacrificial gestures to others, what we believe and hold dear as Christian folk shines through brightly and makes a profound difference. And it is in such moments in giving to others that God gives back to us his inner assurance, peace and joy. We see his face in the face of those whom we serve.
Yes, we discover the divine in difficult, dirty jobs when we take pride in what we achieve and do not hide what we believe, and thirdly, when we…
ARE RELIED UPON BY OTHERS NEEDING A REPRIEVE
Yes, when we are needed by others and we respond, the words of Paul become quite true: we receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. And that inheritance is that internal joy of knowing we have done something that serves not only our neighbor but Christ himself. And that joy is priceless.
For example, we heard of the profound impression Linda made upon an elderly gentleman who passed each week thru her checkout line at Kroger. He said to her, “You always see me” – meaning, her taking the time to speak kindly to him gave him tremendous cheer in his very lonely and often sad day.
And there was Tammy being willing as a nurse, to go the second and third miles as a caregiver, sitting with a dying individual who had no family or friends to offer him comfort in his last hours.
Now, the participants in our panel discussions did not sugar coat things. They told us about the bad and ugly as well as the good.
I still can’t get that picture out of my mind of a young Amanda being threatened by a customer at Jess’ Quick Lunch slinging hamburgers and fries at the restaurant windows. And certainly Nessah found it hard to fathom that customers purchasing ice cream cones would actually be offended when the ice cream melted! She said she had to grit her teeth with the realization that the customer is always right even when he is wrong!
But by and large our service industry employees, caregivers, contractors and educators each spoke of how they had encountered the Lord in their particular lines of work even though their jobs were often difficult and dirty.
In closing, let me share a personal account of how I was ministered to and blessed by someone who took pride in what he achieved and did not hide what he believed and, in turn, could be relied upon by yours truly who most certainly needed a reprieve:
This all begins with my addiction for visiting and sometimes breaking into baseball parks and football stadiums. My wife is certain that I need a 12-step program. I can’t help myself.
Earlier this summer, when we were on our vacation out west, I managed to visit Kauffman Stadium, home of the KC Royals, TD Ameritrade Park, the home of the College World Series in Omaha, the Corn Palace basketball arena in Mitchell, SD, the University of Wyoming Cowboys football stadium in Laramie, WY, Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies in Denver. There was also the Colorado State, University of Colorado and Northern Colorado University football stadiums. I snuck in through the players entrance and stood in great awe and rapture on the 50 yard line at University of Nebraska Cornhuskers’ field in Lincoln.
And finally, some 2 weeks into our trip, late on a Saturday morning, as we were traveling to see Valerie’s beloved Kevin Costner’s field of dreams in Iowa, I saw the exit sign along I-35 for Jack Trice Stadium, the home of the Iowa State Cyclones. I said, “pretty please???” And with a snarky, exasperated sigh, she replied, “well, we wouldn’t want to miss that, would we?”
Now, did I tell you we had traveled all this way with a faulty starter on our Honda Accord? It had been given us some trouble before we left home, occasionally having to turn the key 3-4-5 times in order to get the motor cranked.
I had gotten an estimate to replace it but didn’t get it fixed before we left home.
And so, during our trip, it gradually got worse. There were times when it took a few minutes to get the engine to turn over. I had checked with a Honda service department in Colorado but they said the part would take a week to arrive, so I said prayer that the car would hold out for us until we got home.
Well, here we were in the parking lot of Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa late on a humid, 90 degree Saturday morning after I had snuck in to visit that hallowed arena of football. We got in the car. I turned the key. Nothing happened. For 20 minutes I cranked furiously. Nothing happened. It simply would not start.
Valerie began to cry. I suppose there’s nothing more disheartening to a woman than being stuck in the parking lot of a football stadium in Ames, Iowa at noontime on a hot Saturday in June.
I thought to myself – I could call a local Honda dealership. It would take a couple of days to get the part in. And getting to spend that time getting to see all the sights in Ames, Iowa would be kinda neat. Valerie was ready to file divorce papers. By this point hysterics were setting in.
So, I called the service department of the local Honda dealer in Ames, Iowa. A very pleasant service manager named Kevin answered. I told him my plight…and to his credit he didn’t laugh. I told him I was sure he wouldn’t be able to help me on that Saturday because I realized all Honda service departments close at noon on Saturday plus I was sure the part would have to be ordered. He said, “Let me put you on hold and check on some things.”
Well, as things turned out, Kevin had the starter part in stock. And the service department was open until 2 pm. He made arrangements for a tow truck to come get us.
By the way, while we were waiting in the sweltering heat the half hour for the tow truck to arrive, we heard the thunder of a half-dozen Harleys pulling into that stadium parking lot. It looked like a group of Hell’s Angels had escaped from the old folks home.
The leader of the pack, who resembled Willie Nelson, inquired, “Hey, Son, we’re from out of town. We’re looking for the funeral home. One of our old riding buddies bit the dust and they’re having his funeral in 20 minutes and we can’t find the [expletive] place!” I googled the funeral home and gave them precise directions and they were on their way after offering me hearty gratitude.
I told my wife, “See, dear, maybe our breaking down was the Lord’s doing – look how we were able to help those nice bikers!” I managed to duck in time as her water bottle whizzed by my head.
Well, the tow truck eventually arrived. The car, Valerie and I were all transported safely the few miles to the dealership. When we arrived, we discovered Kevin had arranged for other cars to be moved out of the service bay. The tow truck pulled our Accord right in. He had his chief mechanic get started on the repair work right away. He brought Valerie and me some Cokes and snacks. And by 1:30 pm the car was fixed.
I paid the bill at the cashier’s window, and I was surprised it was actually some $300 cheaper than the repair would have been here locally. I walked back to Kevin’s office in the rear of the service department to thank him profusely for his kind hospitality. He smiled and said that was what he enjoyed most about his work…helping someone out who was in a bind. As I exited his office, I noticed a small wooden plaque over the door. The inscription read, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me! Philippians 4:13.
As I reflect back upon that day, I realize I had encountered God’s grace in a service manager who indeed took pride in all he achieved, who did not hide what he believed and, in turn, could be relied upon by others, like me, who needed a reprieve! Thank God for the Kevins of this world!
By 2 pm we were back on the road. We arrived before closing time at the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, Iowa. My wife got to sit right where Kevin Costner sat on those bleachers and reminisce about how good-looking he was in that movie! And, in all honesty, I thought it was a pretty cool place, too, as I recalled James Earl Jones immortal speech!