This sermon, which came from some preaching notes produced by the Industrial Society, is part of "Work in Worship," a collection of material for work-themed services compiled by David Welbourn. For more sermons, prayers, songs, and readings about work, click on the table of contents to the right.
My Father has never yet ceased his work, and I am working too (John 5:7)
How is God at work in industry? How should a Christian regard the world of work?
In the first place, we are surely to affirm the work of industry. There is plenty to affirm. Industry has brought great benefits, not only in material terms - though certainly that - but in social, economic and cultural terms as well. And we have to remember that it is the wealth created by industry which underpins our education system, our health service, the social services and so much else of value in our society.
We Christians ought especially to value industry, for we believe in a God whose work was and is the creation of the world, and who, in the most breathtaking act of delegation and trust, put us here to "till and keep" (Genesis 2:15) the garden of this world. In taking, shaping and fashioning raw materials, converting them to human use, those who work in industry are participating in God's continuing work of creation. This is indeed something to affirm.
"My Father has never yet ceased his work and", Jesus went on, "I am working too". His work on that occasion was that of healing. The healing ministry of Jesus was, and still is, about making people whole, taking away the disabilities which prevent them seeing and growing to the fullness of life which God intends for them.
The jobs which people do in industry not only provide goods and services but also can enable those doing them to develop to their full potential. It is a joy to see people who are fulfilled by their work, who are being made more nearly whole - and that is part of Christ's ministry of healing. It can and does occur in industry, and that too is something to affirm.
But is that all? You may be thinking, this is a whitewash job. This is not the industry you see on television, or read about in the newspapers, or indeed in which some of us work ourselves.
Some people attempt such a whitewash, not only industrialists but church people too. When the rest of us are not convinced and point to things which seem to us to be wrong in industry, they say it is because of a weakness in our education system or because we are not taught the proper role of industry in our society or because we are ignorant about our dependence on industry.
There is truth in such ideas. But in fact, like all things human, industry has its good and bad features. It is neither better nor worse than any other human activity. Among the bad things should be mentioned corporate greed, profit at all costs, the deadening boredom of some jobs, the harrowing stress of others, the 'them and us' divisions between management and workers, the pollution which sets us at odds with the God whose creation we spoil.
When we look at the Cross it rebukes us. We crucify Jesus whenever we fail to love God or our fellow human beings or do violence to the planet. But we see in the Cross not only judgement but also forgiveness. The Cross shows God's love for us. The same love of God operates in our lives now; it seeks our response, our commitment.
All this we see at work, in industry. Not only the means of God's continuing creation and of his making women and men whole, but also - in the very things that are wrong in industry - the means of his salvation. God is at work establishing his Kingdom, in which all will be reconciled to each other and to himself.
We are called to enter that Kingdom, to work for and to wait for its coming. "My Father has not ceased his work, and I am working too". We are fellow-workers with God, in Christ. Here then is our Christian commentary on industry. We give thanks for it as the means of God's continuing creation and of his making men and women whole. When we see things wrong, we neither whitewash over them nor condemn industry on account of them. Rather we look at them in the light of the Cross, and see not only God's judgement but his forgiving love. And we long to respond ourselves and work for his Kingdom on earth.
Thanks to everyone who has invested in the Theology of Work Project! Thanks to your generosity, we were able to meet all our needs for 2017! We ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers and charitable giving in 2018 as we equip Christians to connect to God's purposes for work.