September 2nd, 2018

Learning to Enjoy God’s First Blessing
Genesis 2:8-15

Tomorrow is Labor Day, a day when we remember and honor the working people of America. Although, when it comes to work, some people would rather forget work than remember it. Such is the sentiment of a lady who indicated her disdain for work on her tombstone. Here’s the epitaph etched on her tombstone.

Here lies an old woman, who always was tired,
She lived in a house where help was not hired.
Her last words on earth were, “Dear Friends, I am goin',
Where cookin' ain't done, nor sweepin' nor sewin'
But everything there is exact to my wishes,
Since nobody eats, there's no washin' of dishes.
I'll be where loud anthems will always be ringing,
But having no voice I'll not have to be singing.
So don't mourn for me friends, don't mourn for me never,
Cause I'm going to heaven to do nothin' forever.

“Going to heaven to do nothin’ forever,” for me, that doesn’t define heaven; that defines “boring.” I don’t think I’d enjoy being in a place where I did nothin’ forever.” I hope when I go to heaven there’ll be some kind of work.

As we move into Labor Day, I want us to see what the Bible says about our work. Interestingly, one of the first subjects discussed in the Bible is work. In the creation story, found Genesis 1, we hear about God working for six days to create the world then resting on the seventh.

As we move into the 2nd chapter of Genesis we learn about the work God gave to humankind. Listen to today’s text as we hear God assigning work to Adam and Eve. Our text is found in Genesis 2:8, 9 and 15.

8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . . 15 (Then) the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Did you hear the last verse? The very first thing God does after creating humankind is to give them a job. He introduces Adam to work, telling him to take care of the garden he has just planted. Yes, work was one of the first blessings God bestowed upon humankind.

Now if you are seated here today, bone-weary and tired from a week of hard work, you may find it strange that I would call work God’s first blessing. In fact, some may be quick to point out that work came as a result of sin. In Genesis 3:17-19, we are reminded that hard labor was part of God’s punishment for Adam and Eve’s sin. Listen to these words:

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Yes, phrases like “painful toil,” and “the sweat of your brow,” are not phrases one immediately associates with blessings. These words sound more like being cursed.

I think it’s important to remember that there is a difference between the work God assigned in Genesis 2 and the work he assigned in Genesis 3. The work in Genesis 2 is work before sin came into the world. The worked described in Genesis 3 is work that has been turned into arduous labor by the unleashing of sin into the world.

You see, that’s the way with sin. Sin takes what is good and turns it into what is bad. Just think about it. God blesses us with medication but when medication is misused it become a curse. God has blessed us with food and drink but when we overeat or overdrink those blessings hurt us. And the same is true with work. Work in itself is God’s blessing, but because of sin, God’s blessing of work turns into the curse of toil.

That’s what happened to Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2, God blesses them by giving them a job, by asking them to tend the Garden of Eden. But when they disobeyed God and brought sin into the world, the conditions of their work change. No longer were they tending a verdant garden. Instead, they were tending one with thorns and thistles, no longer was that garden productive, but because of sin, they had to work unproductive land that showed little for their effort.

No, work in itself, is not a curse; it’s God’s blessing, and if it doesn’t bless you, you can usually trace its toilsomeness back to the effect of sin.

So how does work bless us? First, I think work blesses us by giving us a sense of fulfillment and significance.

Many of us find our value in work and I think, to some extent, that’s what God intended. Every now and then, when I’m dealing with a family who has lost a loved one, someone will try to console me by saying, “Pastor, I’m sorry you have to deal with all of this. I know it must be very hard work.”

In one way they are right. Caring for people who are facing the most difficult days of their lives takes a lot of emotional and physical energy as well as a lot of time. But you know what? Caring for hurting people gives me a sense of fulfillment, a sense of significance. When I can bring comfort to a mourning spouse or deliver a funeral eulogy that helps an entire congregation cope with the loss of someone they love, that work gives me a sense of fulfillment. It helps me know that I’ve done something important, something that has made a difference in someone’s life.

Yes, work blesses us because it gives us a sense of fulfillment, a sense of significance.

But secondly, work blesses us when it gives us a sense of productivity. Few things make us feel better than the process of producing something good.

Children learn this early on. How often have you had a child run up to you and say, “Look what I made, mommy?” When children stop and look at what they’ve made with their hands, they don’t stop and think about the burdensome nature of the work that created it. They are excited for the freedom and opportunity to produce something good. When we feel like we are being productive, it always gives us a sense of blessing.

One of the blessings I regularly experience is what I call “the curb-side view.” Let me explain. I enjoy working in my yard and sometimes will spend days in back-breaking, exhaustive yard work. While I’m in the middle of the job, I don’t always feel so blessed; but once my work is finished and my tools are put away, I’ll walk out to the street and take “the curb-side view.” I walk out to the street and look back on my finished yard, and when I see the beauty of what I have created with my own hands, it makes me feel good. Yes, from that curb-side view I feel blessed by my work. I feel blessed because I’ve been able to be productive.

But last of all, I believe work is a blessing because work gives us a chance to exercise our God-given gifts. You see, God gives each of us spiritual gifts which allow us to accomplish some kind of holy work. To some of us he gives the gift of public speaking, to others, the gift of making music, to others, the gift of organization, or the gift of caring for children. To some of you God gives the gift of hospitality or the gift of encouraging; and to others the gift of teaching. Yes, God gives each of us these gifts so the work of his kingdom will be done. But, at the same time, I believe God gives us these gifts so we can find the blessing of using them.

I love retirement, and because I love it so much I initially hesitated becoming your pastor. But before I began working with you, there was one thing I did not like about retirement. I really missed the work of preaching.

Now let me assure you, preaching is work – sometimes arduous work. It takes a lot of time and effort to come up with something meaningful to say every Sunday, and a lot of effort to do the research and word-crafting that produces a meaningful sermon.

But you see, that’s my gift. That’s the spiritual gift God has given me, the gift that allows me to be a co-laborer with God. And when I can’t use that gift, I feel like something significant is missing in my life. That’s one of the reason I became your pastor. Being your pastor allows me to exercise the gift God has given me.

Yes, work is a blessing from God, a blessing because it allows us to feel a sense of significance, a blessing because it allows us to sense the joy of productivity, and a blessing because it allows us to exercise our spiritual gifts; but let me add a word of warning. Work can quickly change from a blessing to a curse if we do not heed God’s commandment to rest. When the Hebrews told the creation story, they didn’t stop with telling about God’s work. They ended the story telling about God’s day of rest. And like God, our work will only be a blessing to us if we take seriously our need to rest.

Let me close by offering this Irish Blessing,

May your work be that which warms your heart, heals your hurts, and gives your life true value.
And when all your work is over, and your day of rest has dawned, may your thoughts be not of burdens lifted, but of the tasks well done.