Creekside Church
Sermon of September 6, 2020

"Working Hands"
Isaiah 45:8-12

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

You may have noticed -- or possibly not -- that this morning’s scripture is not from the gospel of Matthew. We’ll get back to Matthew and Jesus’ teaching and parables after this Sunday, but I wanted to do something a bit different for Labor Day. This passage from Isaiah does something for me that few passages of scriptures do. Reading the Bible always makes me think, it is usually inspiring, often challenging, and sometimes comforting. But this passage from Isaiah makes me laugh, and sometimes that is just what I need. The part about showers of righteousness isn’t humorous, but I am tickled at the way the author shows how ludicrous it is for the clay to argue with the Potter who is shaping it. I can just imagine this mouthy lump of clay asking , “Hey, what are you making here, anyway?” Or maybe even singing “I’m a little teapot, short and stout . . . where is my handle?” The message is, lumps of clay don’t get to boss the potter around. The silliness of it all just tickles me.

Of course, some of the other examples are funny, too: presumably you are not talking to a father who is in the act of begetting anything, but here’s a little tip from a woman who has been through labor three times: think very carefully before you talk to a woman in labor. if you feel you must talk to a woman in labor, the safest thing to say is “You are doing a great job.” Do NOT ask for directions to the hospital -- Tim McFadden can tell you how that went -- and woe to anyone, as Isaiah 45 says, who asks a woman in labor, “Whadda you think you’re giving birth to, anyway?” That exchange is not going to go well. That is not the kind of Labor Day I want to talk about this morning.

The point of all these illustrations is to establish the priority of Creator and created, and to show the absurdity of questioning or arguing with the Creator about how we have been created. Of course we should be striving to do the most we can with the gifts and talents God has given us, but there’s just no point in me being angry at God because I’m not a super-model, or playing in the WNBA. Ain’t gonna happen. There are plenty of things which I was NOT created to do -- those are usually, not always, fairly easy to discover. The more difficult task is to determine what we ARE created to do: and that process of discovery is the work of a lifetime, it is what shapes our lives, and vocation is only a part of that.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell has a quote which has long been a favorite of mine: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” Or a more blunt version of that which is “Be who you are: everyone else is already taken.” Notice that both of those quotes talk about who we ARE and not just what we DO. Being and Doing are of course, closely related -- maybe inseparable -- but I believe we can think about it as Creator and created, or to use Isaiah’s image, of potter and clay. Clay is a useful image because it’s familiar and because it’s biblical. From the very beginning, we’re told that humanity was formed out of dust: shaped from clay. Clay can be shaped in many ways, some of them decorative, most of them functional, some of them both beautiful and useful. But clay NEVER shapes itself. Without the hands and the vision and the skill of a potter, clay is not beautiful, it isn’t useful, it isn’t valuable: it’s just wet dirt. We are the work of the potter’s -- of God’s -- hands. And we are so much more than wet dirt. God shaped and formed each one of us, not on some pre-molded assembly line, but each one of us as unique and special. And because God created us, God actually cares for us and about us. Cares so much that he sent his only Son to live and die for us. Not because we’re teachers or nurses or factory workers -- not because of what we DO, but because of who we ARE: we were created by the potter, and we are the work of God’s hands. That is the most important thing about who we are.

But of course, that’s not where the work ends. We were all created as functional works of art -- created to be useful, as well as beautiful. And I believe the image of pottery still works -- at least to a point. A set of pottery which was all saucers would be of limited use: where would you put soup? Or coffee? Or a 10 lb bag of rice? Different functions are part of what makes the system work: we aren’t all created to do the same thing. Of course, vocation is more complicated than a set of dishes: we have more free will and ability to change than a piece of pottery does. I believe that the Creator shapes us with potential, and we have some input in what we choose to do: not only what we work to do and how much education we have, but how hard we’re willing to work and what other things are priorities along the way. Those decisions are part of the work of our hands.

I went through a fairly long mental list of vocations: mostly, I pictured many of you and the work you do or have done. It’s a wonderful variety of stuff -- all the gifts and talents which you bring to Creekside -- but I couldn’t think of a single one which didn’t need the work of our hands. I know there are people who are disabled and have devices to help replace their hands -- folks like Stephen Hawking, say -- but most of us work with our hands in some way. Whether you are in agriculture, industry, education, finance, childcare, purchasing, management, music, healthcare, whatever -- your vocation is the work of your hands. A lot of unpaid work -- caring for children, processing tomatoes, balancing the checkbook, sending greeting cards -- that is the work of our hands, too. Here’s the thing: I don’t think God cares what our work is, as long as we do it for the Creator’s honor and glory. A neuro surgeon may get paid a lot more than a grocery clerk: but that is a human measure of worth, not the Potter’s or his Son’s. That doesn’t mean that every job is equal: human work can shape us in ways which are not healthy. if you’re doing work which requires you to cheat in order to meet job expectations, you should consider a different job. If you feel pressured to treat people of a particular race or social class with less respect or kindness, you are being pressed into something different than the Potter intended. Are you willing to be a container for kindness? A cup to carry the cold water of service and refreshment? One of the ways we give glory to our Maker is to value and encourage the work of others. There are some jobs which I cannot do, and plenty that I would rather not: I am grateful for those who are gifted in different ways than I am, and especially grateful for people who clean and mow and take care of things which make my life easier. A great practice this Labor Day would be to thank an essential worker or a volunteer for what they do for you and others.

I want to end by going back to the beginning of the passage which Diane read for us today. This is Isaiah 45:8, which says, “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also; I the Lord have created it.” When we dedicate the work of our hands to God’s honor and glory, we participate in a harvest of salvation and righteousness. We didn’t plant it: we tend it and help it to flourish. We don’t create righteousness -- that is the work of God’s hands. It is the potential which has been built into each one of us, in unique, beautiful, and occasionally quirky ways. The work of our hands is to discover that privilege of a lifetime which is being ourselves, and to foster and encourage that potential in others. Whatever job you do and whatever job you have done, I pray that you would continue the work of discovering who you have been created to be. That is the work of a Christian life; that is how we reap a harvest of righteousness. Blessings to you this Labor Day. Amen.

 

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