The Gift of Humble Work
Monday of Pentecost 20
8 October 2018
Many years ago, I was present at an eighth-grade graduation at which the principal announced the career goals of each child who was graduating. One appreciates that the children all chose high income careers as their goals: doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, and NBA basketball player. The chairman of the school board, who was himself an attorney, responded to this list of career goals by saying (rather awkwardly), "If everyone is a high-income worker, who is going to collect the garbage?" Parents, of course, did not appreciate this question, because every parent expects their children to become successful and high-income adults. Yet, the question delivered by the chairman of the schoolboard is not illegitimate.
When I was a child, NHL hockey players were garbage collectors in my home town. These men were my hockey heroes, and I couldn't imagine why they would do such work. When I expressed my confusion, my father told me that they chose the work for two reasons; they needed an off-season job and it was a way to stay in shape for the NHL season during the off season.
What would be the condition of our country's large metropolises without garbage collectors? The occasional strike by garbage collectors reminds us how important they are. We see trash pile up on city streets, the stench overwhelming, and the vermin attracted by the rotting garbage. This decisively answers the question why we need garbage collectors. Yet how often do we think about how important garbage collectors are? We think of the work as too humble and even humiliating. Shame on us! How important for us to have the garbage collected.
Often the humblest work is the most important. If hospital rooms are not properly cleaned many patients would die of the biological bugs lurking in improperly cleaned spaces. The disease that would be spread by rotting garbage on the streets shows how important these humble tasks are. Cleaning toilets and collecting garbage are essential to our health and safety.
This humble work is a blessing, if it is a gift of God. Yet we despise humble work like flipping hamburgers, collecting garbage, cleaning the house, or changing diapers. At one time or another, most of us has had to do humble work like this. Often the gifts of family life given by the birth of children bring us humble service. Our first paying job was likely not the job that we wanted for the rest of our lives, but it was important both to our employer and to ourselves. The employer got the job done that he needed and we learned useful life skills. More importantly, we received from God the gift of daily work and vocation. And because vocation is a gift from God, our faithful service in it cannot be anything but great and glorious in God's sight. The value of daily work cannot be measured by a paycheck. Its value is measured by the honor that God gives to it. We become the highly acclaimed nobility of God in our daily work, no matter how humble.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"If this truth (that there is joy in service to parents and rightful authorities), then, could be impressed upon the poor people, a servant girl would leap in praise and thank God. With her tidy work, for which he receives support in wages, she would gain such a treasure of good works. It would be unlike all those gained by people regarded as saints. Is it not an excellent boast to know and say that if you perform your daily domestic task, this is better than all the sanctity and ascetic life of monks? You have the promise, in addition, that you shall prosper in all good and fare well. How can you lead a more blessed or holier life as far as your works are concerned? In God's sight faith is what really makes a person holy and serves Him alone (Rm 4:3-5), but the works are for the service of people. There you have everything good: protection and defense in the Lord, a joyful conscience, and a gracious God besides. He will reward you a hundredfold (Mt 19:27-29), so that you are like a nobleman if you are only pious and obedient. But if you are not, you have, in the first place, nothing but God's wrath and displeasure, no peace of heart, and afterward, all kinds of plagues and misfortunes."

Martin Luther, Large Catechism,
1 Peter 4:7-11

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)
O Lord, grant me both daily work and the heart to offer service with joy and thus show due obedience to employers and other authorities. Amen.
For David Hendry, that His God who knows him inside and out would watch over him and grant him the peace that surpasses all human understanding
For God to grant to His Church singleness of purpose, that all we do and say would point to His dear Son and the forgiveness He has won for all people
For President Dale Meyer and the faculty and staff of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, that they might be upheld in every good work as they teach the Light from above
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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