The Gift of Future for Blue Collar Workers (Sermon Notes)

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So…let’s review:

The Gift of Work - As creatures formed in the image of the God who works, work for us is (1) not a curse, but was part of God’s gift of a perfect world to us…and work is (2) one way we’re privileged to participate with Him in dominion over all the earth. We’re invited to cultivate, create, and shape this earth according to God’s purposes—just as Adam did in the Garden of Eden. Because of sin, our work is certainly not trouble-free, but it remains fundamentally good and fundamentally purposeful, as it has been since the beginning.

The Gift of Rest - Sabbath rest is equally good and purposeful … and practicing Sabbath serves at least four critical functions. First, it serves as testimony … that we’re under God’s authority, working in partnership with Him, and dependent upon Him for who we are and all we enjoy. Likewise, Sabbath gives opportunity for celebration—the celebration of all sorts of things, but primarily the celebration of the finished work of Christ by which our redemption is secure. We don’t take a Sabbath because our work is complete—we take a Sabbath because Christ’s work is complete! Furthermore, Sabbath serves to shape our identity—both (1) with others (how we treat Sabbath rest tells *other* people something about our relationship with God)…and (2) within ourselves—we become different people when we choose to practice Sabbath than we would be had we not chosen to practice Sabbath. Finally, Sabbath speaks of promise, as by the practice of Sabbath rest, we anticipate that ultimate place of completeness in Christ He has secured for us for all eternity.

The Gift of Ability - Our work (and our rest), then, is rooted in the past activity of creation. Everything we said about work and rest the first two Sundays grows from Genesis 1 and 2—creation! But our work is equally rooted in the present—in the reality of redemption … whereby *every one* of us is privileged to know the fullness of the Spirit’s work as did Bezalel and Oholiab, who we talked about last week. *We* have experienced what Bezalel and his co-workers experienced—how (through the Holy Spirit) God calls us purposefully, equips us bountifully, and connects us cosmically. Surely that’s all we’d really need to know, right? Surely that’s enough! That the goodness and inherent rightness in our work is rooted in creation (past) and renewed in our redemption (present)!

And that’s where you say, “Oh, no, Pastor Kent—tell us more!” Alright—I will. There’s at least one more Scriptural revelation about our work that’s worth our chasing together this morning … and I’m not sure we didn’t save the best for last. I want us to talk together, this morning, about: The Gift of Future.

I’m praying, this morning, that our attitudes about our work be captured by a fresh sense of the future promised us “in Christ.” It is a powerful, beautiful, redeemed and righteous future—and worth every investment we might make in it in the here and now.But what I want to say about our future in Christ is rooted in something we’ve been saying over the last few years. So let me start by saying it again. In short: When Jesus shows up on the earth, time is transformed.

Jesus spends his first 30 years or so on this earth in obscurity—and BTW, everything we know about those years says Jesus spent them doing carpentry - that the redeemer of all Creation knew the joy of working with His hands, of building stuff, knew the discipline of swinging a hammer and guiding a chisel…that Jesus knew what it was to smash His thumb … to have calloused skin and a sweaty brow! But after 30 years or so of working as a craftsman—an artisan—in the village of Nazareth, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River as something of the signaling of a transition point into a more public ministry. The Holy Spirit descends upon Him from heaven like a dove. The Father speaks from heaven—“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” And after forty days of testing in the wilderness, Jesus heads back his hometown of Nazareth, and there—in His hometown synagogue—He’s not Jesus the Carpenter, but Jesus the wannabe Rabbi. And He’s given the privilege of reading the Scripture to the congregation on the Sabbath.

Now, there was an assigned reading for the day, but Jesus chooses to ignore it. (Think of this in terms of my having asked Ed to read a particular Scripture today, and having him—without any clearance—choose to read something else. You know how that’d go over with me and my tidy little order of service, right? That’s what happens here!) The Gospel of Luke tells us that when the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Jesus, he unrolled it to a different place than where he had been assigned to read from.

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

It was—I’m sure—a powerful reading of the text! (I mean, you’ve got the Word reading the Word!) And here’s what you’ve got to know about that: This was a prophetic passage. It was something the worshippers at Nazareth anticipated coming to pass in the future…and perhaps even well into the future. It’s the same kind of thing we think when we read about the breaking of the seven seals in Revelation or the Battle of Armageddon. We’re sure those things are going to happen—and maybe even very soon—but we don’t think they’re happening “now.” Not just yet! But Luke says that Jesus, having read this prophetic passage from Isaiah:

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17-21)

Today this Scripture is fulfilled! What you’ve just heard is happening now! That, my friend, if true , is a startling reality, a profound revelation that compels a re-evaluation of the nature of the age in which we live! I know, right! I don’t think we spend much time considering “what age we live in.” But the Scriptures paint the picture of a coming age of righteousness and peace and wholeness (“shalom” would be the Jewish word to use there). It's an age when everything will be as it should be and one thing we know is that everything isn’t as it ought to be today.

So we must not be there yet, right? But Jesus shows up and says, “Oh yes we are!” I mean—if I can paraphrase it a bit, and interpret Jesus’ words here a bit, what Jesus says is that anywhere He’s present and anywhere He reigns eternity starts now! “You’ve passed from death to life” 1 John says. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!”

The Scripture Jesus reads is about the future—there’s no doubt about that. The Scripture speaks to a divine “year of jubilee,” really, in which sin is pardoned and debt is forgiven and healing is accomplished and liberty is restored! But while his listeners were busy thinking that that only happens somewhere down the road, Jesus says “Nope—that future starts now!” “Today this Scripture is fulfilled …”

And here’s the thing: In the life and ministry of Jesus…and—listen closely—in the life and ministry of the church, as well (read the book of Acts), the kind of things we expect to be true of eternity (“heaven,” we usually say) begin to happen in the present—in the now. Sins are forgiven. Bodies are healed. Demons are defeated. Relationships are restored. Death—ultimately—is overcome! So that the only reasonable conclusion to reach is this one: In the ministry of Jesus, and in the life of the church, God’s promised future becomes present reality! The age to come invades the age that is! (And) “Holy Spirit-filled,” “Holy Spirit- fueled” believers live the future now!

And (just to be clear)…that future we live now—just like the future that *awaits* us—doesn’t consist of (1) harps and (2) angel wings and (3) floating about eternally on fluffy clouds. The future that awaits us isn’t about “just” the redemption of our souls, but also about the resurrection of our bodies. And the promise of our future isn’t limited to “heaven.” It's a new heaven and a new earth—the promise of the whole of creation “filled with God's righteousness,” one translation says:

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)

We’ve talked about this—but when you read the closing chapters of Revelation, the end of the story is not to float about eternally on a cloud, nor is it even a return to the beauty of Garden of Eden. (“People longing for a return to Eden,” says a guy named Paul Rude, “desire the wrong end of the journey”). The end of the story is not an escape from earth, nor is it a return to the Garden of Eden, but it is the hope—the confident assurance—of “a new heaven and a new earth”—all of it enjoying the continued development into the God-honoring civilization God Himself intended when He formed it!

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. [4] ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

That’s not primarily a vision of heaven. That’s a vision of what happens on a renewed earth! Jeff Van Duzer says:

“The last chapters of Revelation reveal that God will get what God wanted from the beginning. With the arrival of the new heaven and the new earth, the curse has been reversed and God’s intended “goodness” has been restored. The sea, which in the Hebrew worldview reflected a dangerous chaos apart from God, is to be gone forever. The intimacy lost in Genesis 3 will be fully restored. Once again, God will dwell with humanity and, in contrast to the whole of human experience since the Garden, men and women will once again be able to see God’s face.”1

Or as Amy Sherman has put it more succinctly: “If anything, this gospel is about heaven coming to earth, not us going to heaven.”

Our opportunity—by virtue of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and then the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh—our opportunity is to—in some way… on some level— live our promised future now. To flesh out and by everything we do make heavenly realities earthly realities in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit, just like Jesus did. To see His kingdom come, and His will done on earth as it is in heaven. In my mind, here’s where it gets good. That’s true in every area of my life and yours—including our work.

In Colossians, chapter 3—which is really my text for this morning (some of you can’t believe I’m just now to my text, and some of you are relieved that, at least, I finally got here!). In Colossians chapter 3, I’m convinced that the Apostle Paul is quite aware of everything we just said about how the appearing of Jesus changes everything . He's quite aware that we get the privilege of living the future now, of “pulling heaven” into our earthly existence, as it were.

Aware of the transformation of the age accomplished by Christ, the Apostle Paul challenges believers to:

  • set both heart and mind on things above (Col 3:1-2)
  • put to death what belongs to the sinful nature (Col 3:5)
  • put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Col 3:10)
  • to whatever you do … do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col 3:17)
  • to do all in the name of the resurrected, ever-living Lord!

And then, in Col 3:18 Paul begins to give some very specific ways in which that is to happen:

  • Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
  • Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
  • Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
  • Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (Colossians 3:18-20 )

And then we get to the matter of employees:

  • Slaves, obey your earthly masters…

I know I know that when I read that, some of you (of course) say, “I’m no slave—what’s that got to do with me?” But I’m also completely confident that others of you know exactly what that has to do with you, because—at least at *some* point in your 9 to 5—that’s exactly how you feel—like a slave! And maybe it’s not even your boss or your work situation, per se, that leaves you feeling that way. Maybe it’s just the reason you’re working in the first place. You wouldn’t work that job or work that way—that many hours, perhaps - if you didn’t you have to. But life has you at that spot and you simply feel you have no choice!

Or maybe it is your boss or your workplace. Maybe you’re sure you’re nothing more to your company than another piece of equipment, that the minute there’s a tool that’ll do your job better, faster, cheaper. You’ll be history and that, in the meantime, all they want to do is grind as much out of you as they can! You’re not a person to them— you’re just a wrench, a calculator, an answering machine. The Apostle Paul has a word from the Lord for you, my friend—because it’s a word for labor offered under even the most distressing circumstances: “Slaves.”

Now is this where I need to stop and say—this exhortation applies whether your labor is extorted from you on a job you hate … or you offer it joyfully as part of a job you love! The exhortation stands—even in a job you hate … even under circumstances you would change completely were it within your power to do so—because surely that was the situation for at least some of the slaves to whom Paul writes. To “slaves,” there is a challenge and a promise:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord (Colossians 3:22)

“Earthly masters,” of course, suggests that maybe some other master is a part of this equation, as well. Paul challenges workers to diligence not only when the boss is looking, but even when you think the boss isn’t looking. He calls for “sincerity of heart”—a singleness of intention in your work , a focus of purpose. (I think that’s tied to the purposeful calling we talked about last Sunday.) And, yes, even your labor should be done with “reverence for the Lord.” (How would you wait a table if it were Jesus you were waiting on? How would you bus that same table if it were Jesus you were picking up after? “with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. (Colossians 3:23)

There it is again! A reminder that there’s a master greater than any human master— that your boss (whether he or she recognizes it or not) answers to a greater boss— ultimately, to the highest power of all. And before you get too happily vindictive about that (“Can’t wait—God’s gonna show them a thing or two!”) … so do we! We answer to the King, as well. And our work, ultimately, is not just to earn a paycheck or advance a career or make a name. It is, ultimately, an offering to the Lord. You, too, are working “for the Lord, not for human masters!” But we work “not only when [their] eyes are on us” or “to curry favor” … we work “with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord” … we work “with all our hearts, as working for the Lord” because our work is rich with promise! Verse 23 again…

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. (Colossians 3:23-24)

Oh, here’s something I want you to know: Your paycheck is bigger than you think! Here’s a little secret: There’s a second set of books! Your employer has a set of books. The IRS is looking over your employer’s shoulder to make sure those books are tidily kept! But there’s a second set of books the IRS doesn’t know anything about! There’s a second set of books your employer will never access. The King of Kings has an account with your name on it (you’re not a number to Him…only the hairs on your head)! And He’s keeping track! He’s making notes! And here’s His promise for diligent, God-centered, pure- hearted, “I’m offering my work to Jesus most of all” workers: “You will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”

This word “inheritance”—the word that gets translated “inheritance” here—I don’t have time to explain it in depth, but there’s an “end-time” character to the word when it’s used in the New Testament—an “eschatological” character (for those who’ve been part of the discussion groups). Using that particular word here (the Greek word is “kleronomias” if it matters) …using that word ties this passage to this very thing we’ve been saying about our future in Christ and bringing future realities into this present age. This word in this context tell me that it’s not just the stuff I might consider “spiritual” that gives me the opportunity to express and advance God’s future Kingdom in the here and now. It’s not just the time I spend in personal devotions … or volunteering at church. Rather, it includes, even, the quite ordinary and earthy and practical labor I offer on the job—under Christ’s reign, even my “9 to 5” becomes a means of (1) serving divine purpose and (2) advancing a heavenly Kingdom!

“Working for the Lord” certainly involves exhibiting the kind of character qualities that the Scriptures encourage—Paul has identified several of those himself in the opening verses of this chapter. But the eschatological character of “kleronomias” encourages us to understand our human labor as a means of anticipating and expressing God’s coming kingdom in the here and now. Our work becomes a way of anticipating and striving toward the realization of the Kingdom of heaven on earth!

When I weld, I lay down a bead that I’d be happy to present to Jesus.When I care for a patient, I offer the kind of generous care I expect to be the norm when Jesus reigns without rival over a new heaven and a new earth.When I drive a nail or finish a concrete pad or calculate a profit or instruct a student or help a buyer find just the right car or finish a tax return or build a tire or sweep the shop floor or decorate a cake…when I do it just like I’d expect to do it in the New Jerusalem when that day comes, I’m making the future a reality now! I’m quite literally seeing Christ’s kingdom come, Christ’s will done, on earth as it is in heaven. And I’m helping to march this world toward its consummation in Christ! I am, as a guy named Murray Dempster put it, “participating in Kingdom-signifying deeds of anticipatory transformation.” That work is never lost! Says Dempster, these “are the kinds of human effort that God preserves, sanctifies and directs teleologically toward the future age of God's redemptive reign.” Murray Dempster didn’t just make that up, pull it out of a head filled with rich imaginings. Scripture says so. What’s built (1 Cor says) with “wood, hay or straw” will not survive the refining fire that consumes this earth. But the Scriptures promise that.

Their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. (1 Corinthians 3:13)

God’s refining fire will test the quality of each person’s work, and what is built using “gold, silver, costly stones” will survive! And when it survives, "the builder will receive a reward" (1 Corinthians 3:14).

I am pointing you toward a shift in the focus of your work. Honestly, for many of us, work probably doesn’t have a focus. We do our jobs to earn a living, like it, love it, or hate it, it is what it is, and we have a hard time seeing it being anything else. But the Scriptures we’ve looked at over the last few weeks have shown me that both my work and your work has its foundation in creation itself—the past—and finds meaning in our present redemption and the call of God that redemption brings (the present). Today I want to move you from the past and even the present … toward the future. Toward the “kingdom-signifying deeds of anticipatory transformation” you can engage in through your work. Toward every moment on your job being an action that looks forward to Jesus’ return and Jesus’ unchallenged reign in a world just full of His righteousness. I want to point you toward 9 – 5 ‘till Kingdom Come.

I used the word “eschatological” a few minutes ago. It’s a word that has to do with end times: with “last things,” with how time as we know it wraps up and eternity (and the unchallenged reign of Jesus our King) is ushered in. Here’s a sentence or two for you to consider as I’m wrapping things up this morning. They’re the words of Miroslav Volf – a Croatian theologian who’s become one of my favorite thinkers. He loves Jesus. He loves the reality of the present gift and activity of the Holy Spirit. And he says about all of this:

“At its core, Christian faith is eschatological. Christian life is life in the Spirit of the new creation or it is not Christian life at all. … Christian work must, therefore, be done under the inspiration of the Spirit and in light of the coming new creation.” -Miroslav Volf

I want our work to be grounded in the history of our creation. I want our work to be rooted in the present of our redemption. But oh, how I long for our work to be pointed toward, shaped by, representative of, our future—that future where everything about this world finds its consummation in Christ! Let my work be marked by the kind of righteousness – the kind of justice and shalom – the rightness and integrated peace – that will mark this world when everything Jesus lived, died, and rose again to accomplish will be reality! It is God’s Gift of Future.

Discussion Guide for The Gift of Future for Blue Collar Workers

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These discussion questions relate to Kent Duncan’s sermon: The Gift of Future for Blue Collar Workers. Learn more about his integrated outreach to blue collar workers by reading his thesis: Facilitating Marketplace Ministry in a Blue-Collar Context.

Tell us something about yourself by answering one of the following questions:

  1. What is the most satisfying part of your work?
  2. How do you spiritually prepare for your workday?
  3. What have to told God recently about your job (the tasks you perform, your job position, your relationship with coworkers)?
  4. What do you look forward to as a reward at the end of your work years?

Discussion Questions relating to this week’s sermon: The Gift of Future for Blue Collar Workers

  1. Based on the significance of passages like Luke 4:17-21 and Acts 2, our study suggests the very nature of the age in which we live is transformed by the ministry of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Think about these changes and give three or four implications that result.
  2. In a recent book, Amy Sherman describes our promised future as marked by two key elements: “justice and shalom.” About justice, she writes, “The justice of God is all about restoring wholeness in relationships – with God and with other human beings.” [1] In what ways do you have opportunity on the job to work toward this justice?
  3. A second element Amy identifies in our promised future is “shalom” – something she suggests finds expression in four quadrants: peace with God, self, others, and creation. When you think about this “shalom” as an expression of Christ’s Kingdom, where do you see your work fitting in?
  4. Read 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1-4. These Scriptures suggest a more “down to earth” eternity than we might ordinarily think. Rather than the destruction of this earth and our “escape” to heaven, verses like 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1 describe “a new heaven and a new earth.” In what ways does the thought of an “earthly” eternity change your ideas about the future?
  5. Consider Jesus’ resurrected body. In what ways was it like His pre-resurrection body? In what ways was it different? What might Jesus’ glorified body tell us about what life in eternity will be like for us?
  6. Describing how our work can be shaped and motivated by an awareness of Christ’s kingdom, Darrell Cosden says, “work becomes a type of eschatological* mandate rather than simply a creation mandate”.[2] How does it change your understanding of work when you focus forward towards our full redemption as compared to looking backward to the stories of Adam and Bezalel? *eschatological: dealing with ultimate or final things; with Christianity, having to do with the destiny of humanity, the Second Coming, or the Last Judgment.
  7. When we work giving attention to Christ’s coming Kingdom, Murray Dempster says we participate in “kingdom-signifying deeds of anticipatory transformation.” Further, he declares that these “are the kinds of human effort that God preserves, sanctifies and directs teleologically* toward the future age of God’s redemptive reign.”[3] Think about your work as “prophetic.” How does it change your understanding as you consider the possibility that God will redeem and preserve such labor? *teleological: having to do with ultimate purpose or design.
  8. What action might you apply to your work this week in light of these Scriptures?
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