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Summary thoughts from Pastor Ray’s message on September 2, 2012

We often think of work as a necessary evil.  Yes, it pays the bills, but if we had our druthers…  We feel like the mythical Sisyphus, who is punished by the gods to the task of pushing a rock up a hill only to have the rock roll down the other side.  Every day, Sisyphus if forced to repeat the task–a meaningless, repetitive, pointless job.  Sound familiar?  Honestly, some jobs are that bad.  But that doesn’t mean that work is bad.  Work is good.  In fact, God is introduced in Genesis 1 as the worker.  God is the landscaper, the earth-mover, the sculptor, the gardener.  And God blesses the humans God has formed from the earth with a co-creating responsibility when God places humans in the garden to work it and care for it.  So, work is a gift.

Unfortunately, “the fall” changes the dynamics of work and work relationships.  So by the book of Exodus, we are introduced to the misery of forced labor (i.e. slavery) and production quotas and ruthless bosses and injustice in the workplace. And where is God?  God stands with the oppressed, acts to end the slavery, and leads the people to a new way of life through “The Law”.  A frequent refrain in the Law is “remember that you were slaves in Egypt.”  The memory of forced labor is to move God’s people toward fairness, compassion and a new work ethic.

Two laws in particular directly address work conditions–and both protect and honor workers.  The Sabbath Day law (Deuteronomy 5:12-15) ensures that workers have a day off.  It becomes a “right”.  Everyone has the right to a day of rest, refreshment, enjoyment, time with family, time for spiritual renewal.  This right extends to everyone–including those who have immigrant status.  Just because they are not “citizens” doesn’t mean they should be abused in the work place.  The right even extends to the animals who labor for us.  This law is addressed to those who control the work place and set the hours.  To paraphrase the law: “Everyone has a right to rest and refreshment–everyone who works for you including animals.  Make sure they they get one day off in seven.  That day is holy, so don’t profane it by making them work.  You remember how it was as slaves in Egypt–no time off, always on the job.  You suffered.  So make sure your personnel policies don’t cause fatigue, burn-out and suffering.”

The second law is a bit more obscure.  It is a single verse, but is quoted twice in the New Testament.  “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain.”  (Deuteronomy 25:4)  What does this have to do with work conditions?  This is what I call God’s Fair Compensation Act.  God is ensuring that the ox is compensated (provided with food) for its threshing work.   Again, the law is addressed to those who have power over the ox, setting the workplace rules.   To paraphrase the Law: “Make sure the ox can enjoy the fruits of its labor.  Those who labor have the right to be compensated fairly for their work.”  It is interesting that Paul applies the law to the compensation of humans as well (1 Corinthians 9:7-10).  Workers deserve fair wages and have the right to share in the profits.

Who says the Bible isn’t relevant?  In this economy where wages have been frozen; when workers are expected to give more time without more pay–especially salaried employees; when bosses demand that their employees be available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week by phone, email, text, and tweet; when we cannot raise the minimum wage, but executives get million dollar bonuses; we need to hear the Word of God.  Workers are not simply cogs in the economic machine.  Workers have God-given rights.  The right to time off.  The right to fair compensation.  The right to timely payment of wages (see James 5:4).

In God’s economy, need always trumps greed. Compassion (not the bottom line) drives personnel policies. So, in the words of the hymn, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love”, we will work with each other.  We will work side by side.  And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.  Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

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