Last week, I asked the question, is work a curse? While there are moments, and sometimes it’s longer than “moments,” when work can seem like a curse, the fact is that it is not. Like everything else, work was affected by the fall, and as a result our experiences in the workplace fall far short of the ideal. But work itself was created by God; the first example of work recorded in the Bible was creation itself. Work is a good thing; what a fallen humanity does to it can warp and distort it.
In the past two decades, another discussion about faith and work has arisen – and that is our tendency to divide work into “greater and lesser” or “higher and lower” forms. The ministry and the work of missionaries is viewed as “higher” or “greater” kinds of work, while the work the rest of us do is “lower and lesser.” While it’s not as common a view as it was 20 years ago, it’s still fairly common.
It’s also not Biblical. And such a view leads to distortions of its own, such as compartmentalize what you do in the workplace from what you do in church on Sunday. In fact, what we do in our jobs every day – all jobs – is worship.
In Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, Christopher Smith, John Pattison, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove expand on this idea of work as worship. They call work sacramental.
When I think of sacraments, I think of two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are the two sacraments recognized by the Protestant church (including my specific denomination), because they are the two specifically established (or singled out) by Jesus.
It’s important to note that the Slow Church authors don’t specifically call work a sacrament. They do, however, refer to it as sacramental (and I would add just as worship is sacramental). They specifically quote Dorothy Sayers in The Mind of the Maker, saying that “seeing work as a consequence of the fall saps it of its sacramental value.”
Work is sacramental in that it is owned by God; everything in the world is God’s and belongs to God, including the work we do. And one of the things we are to be about is redeeming work from the fall, just as we are to be about redeeming culture from the fall, and redeeming humanity from the fall.
It is all part of the whole. Our Christian faith is a whole faith, because our God is a whole God. And he owns all of the whole.
What can the church do to help us be about this sacramental activity called work? The Slow Church authors cite several things.
Help people recognize and prefer good work over bad work.
Explore the possibilities (and limitations) of work as worship.
Champion work-related justice.
Recognize the human resources within our congregations and leverage them in the reconciling work of the kingdom.
I’ve been discussing Slow Church here for the past several Mondays. This post is the second of two parts on work; next Monday we’ll take a look at the discussion on the Sabbath.
Painting: A Cotton Office in New Orleans, oil on canvas by Edgar Degas (1873); Musee de Beaux Arts, Pau, France.