This past Sunday was the 3rd week in our September worship focus on WORK and its theme was the “Ethics of Work”. Ethics are moral principles that help us determine the rightness or wrongness of actions as they relate to every area of our lives. But our worship was not a time to determine whether certain actions are correct, whether something is dishonest or someone has been lazy or unfair. Sunday’s worship had a positive purpose — to encourage us to face up to the challenges of work in every area of our life and not look for the “easy way out”. Certainly that is the mantra of Christianity. There is no easy path. Faith in Jesus is a challenge. It takes effort and intentionality to be His follower. It is not for the fainthearted or for those seeking comfort and ease. At the same time we do not have to do the ‘heavy lifting’ of saving or working for our own eternity. Jesus did that work for us. Our work is to believe, to follow, to trust and to make good choices when faced with the temptation to take shortcuts. For in truth THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS!
But life is full of shortcuts. I shared my impatience as a driver at times and my often ill-fated attempts to “get around” traffic. Most people present seemed to identify with the refrain students often give “how much do I have to do to get a grade?” Whether looking for a simpler way, a shorter path, a less trying alternative we face the temptation to “get by” or “get around” what seems to be our lot in life. Its not always bad but much of the time shortcuts taken arise from our desire to do less than whatever ‘work’ seems to be called for. Jesus recognized this about the people in John 6 saying:
“You are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.“
Jesus nailed it too. The crowd is a sizeable part of the 5000 who had eaten the miraculous meal from 5 loaves and 2 fish just the day before. They had expended a lot of effort to travel around the Sea of Galilee to where Jesus and His disciples had taken a boat and it seemed like they were after another free meal and a show! Jesus is trying to let them know that following Him does not consist in entertainment but quest for meaning and significance. So the crowd asked:
What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus replied “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” … For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.”
There is no shortcut possible in those words. Believing in Jesus and trusting Him as Savior is work. It is a challenge to hold on to that faith in the face of doubts, less acceptance of public expression of faith and a general apathy towards God. It requires some courage and a willingness to do what is right rather than what is easy. (Our bulletin cover quote)
One example of such courage was found in Sunday’s theme reading from Acts 5. Peter and John had healed a lame man a chapter or two before and when asked how they had done it they had naturally given credit to God and Jesus (“whom your leaders crucified”). As you might imagine this inconvenient truth did not sit too well with the religious authorities and they called them in and told them to cease teaching in Jesus name. But the disciples went on proclaiming Jesus name anyway (especially after they were miraculously released from jail by an angel and told to go on teaching in the temple.) So when the authorities hauled them back in and threatened them severely the answer they gave is one that can be a principle that guides every temptation we have to take shortcuts (big or small) in life. They said
“We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—[and] exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Not a shortcut to be found here. The right thing was pretty hard and had some harsh repercussions but they chose to do it.
Kind of reminds you of the work of Jesus doesn’t it? He was faced with a very hard work to do. Sacrificing one’s life for the sins of the whole world and making atonement for what angered and offended God would take everything He had and it would be extremely harsh — an agonizing and horrific way to die. He knew what was coming and while He asked His Father in heaven for another route He did not take any shortcuts. He faced up to it and you and I receive forgiveness and grace that we can never earn. For us Jesus death is a shortcut of sorts. We don’t have to pay for our sin. We “get off” easy. We “get by” without losing our eternal connection with God. All God asks of us in return is that we show some thankfulness by going about our work and our labor in this life (no matter where it takes us) with some honor and respect for this wonderful gift of grace and mercy He has given us. So what might such ethics look like in ordinary life?
Consider the ongoing story of Ruth and Boaz from our recent chapters of the week (ChoW). Naomi recognizes that Ruth has a chance to be wife to Boaz under the Jewish law of “kinsman-redeemer”. (Basically this was a way that relatives who were down and out were to be taken care of and provided for by their closest relatives.) Boaz was such a close relative to Naomi and had been impressed by Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law. So engaging in some cultural customs of the day Boaz and Ruth have an encounter on the threshing floor at night where she requests that he fulfill his responsibility as kinsman-redeemer for her and Naomi. In many ways their encounter was a mating ritual in Jewish law but they do not take advantage of the moment. Both continue to show character as they do right thing in the moment. In the end we will see how God blessed their decision and their restraint but the opportunity was there but not shortcut taken. May you and I see this for what it is. An example of trust in God’s faithfulness to redeem us in our time of need. No need for us to take shortcuts when He is on our side.