A surprising little statement about work
Pent 9 B 03 Proper 14 Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. … Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. … Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
You’ve heard the saying, “Give ‘til it hurts.”
Professor of Renaissance literature and real estate tycoon Zell Kravinsky took this phrase literally.
He recently gave one of his kidneys to a stranger.
It’s no simple procedure, and in doing so, Kravinsky become one of the 133 people
out of over 46,000 donors who gave their kidney to someone they didn’t know.
Robert Seigel interviewed Kravinsky, as he was recovering from the surgery,
for the radio show All Things Considered to find out why he did it.
Kravinsky said it was about the pursuit of the moral life, the good life.
He had a recognition that, in his words,
“someone else’s needs are as worthy of being met as mine.”
He said: “Once you realize the equality of all people,
if someone has a superior utility for something that I have,
then it follows logically and morally that I should give it to them.”
I was really impressed with this statement.
Kravinsky used the word ‘equality,’ but to me it’s about ‘connectedness’.
Both equality and connectedness are about our relationship with other people.
They presume a relationship with humanity in general.
Kravinsky would not have given his kidney to a stranger
if he didn’t feel a strong kinship with humanity.
Kravinsky’s comments and actions fly in the face
of the rugged individualism we are used to admiring,
Our culture idolizes the self-made man, pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, the lone ranger.
It’s such a focus in our society that it becomes hard to see
that all of us build on the successes of others.
It becomes hard to see that we are all connected, and our welfare is linked to that of everyone else.
But this concept of connectedness is not foreign to the Bible.
In fact the Bible is built on that presumption.
Instead of assuming each person is autonomous and ultimately responsible for his/her own fate,
The Bible assumes that each person is interconnected,
part of a human organism where what happens to each part happens to the whole.
The most famous exposition of this idea comes from the book of 1 Corinthians,
Where St. Paul likens the Christian community to the human body.
Each part is equally valued; each has a specific function.
If one part suffers, all suffer with it; if one part rejoices, all rejoice with it.
Destiny, purpose and welfare are linked.
The apostle writing in Ephesians builds on this notion of the Body of Christ.
Our second lesson for today says:
“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,
for we are members of one another.”
Like Zell Kravinsky, the understanding of their connectedness to others
led the Christian community in Ephesus to a new understanding of the moral life.
Being connected to one another, being the Body of Christ, had many consequencess.
It meant that you told the truth all the time.
It meant that you used the power of your words to build up rather than tear down.
It meant that you dealt with anger appropriately.
It meant that your attitude mattered, and that kindness and forgiveness should be practiced.
But the consequence for being a part of the Body of Christ that I find most provocative
is this part right in the middle:
“Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands,
so as to have something to share with the needy.”
It’s easy to glide right over this passage.
After all, it’s just common sense that if you want to be good religious people you shouldn’t steal.
But take a closer look at the reason thieves must give up stealing.
The reason is twofold:
First it’s about integrity, making an honest living.
It’s the answer we expect.
But the second answer is rather surprising.
The reason to work instead of steal is so that you may have something to share with those who have less.
This one little statement, which at first blush seemed to be speaking only of thieves,
actually redefines the whole purpose of work for all of us.
The purpose of work is not to provide something extra for oneself;
It’s not about saving for retirement or being financially secure.
It’s not even about working for the personal satisfaction of making a difference.
According to Ephesians, the first reason to work is so that you have something extra to give away.
How might your experience of work change
if you thought about it as a way of having something to share with others?
Would you act differently?
Would it change how you treat people?
Would it change your attitude about things like
Dealing with conflict, working overtime, downsizing, corporate bonuses?
For me, it puts my priorities in a new order.
Instead working to earn money for myself, I work to have money to give away.
It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be concerned about providing for myself or my family,
But it does mean that my spiritual need to give as a member of the Body of Christ comes first.
And if we take seriously that we are all connected, it becomes imperative to share.
Giving becomes the first priority, and work is simply a means to do it.
The book of Ephesians makes this point even more broadly.
God gave us the gift of Christ to free us from our sin, something that we could never do ourselves.
Each of us knows an essential equality, an essential connectedness to all other people—
We know what it’s like to stand in need.
We know what it’s like to receive the undeserved gift of forgiveness.
In imitation of God, we give to others in need.
God provided for us, so we become God’s provision for those who can’t do it for themselves.
“Be imitators of God,” it says in Ephesians.
I don’t know if Zell Kravinsky has ever read Ephesians,
but in the area of giving, he’s a pretty good imitator.
He has given away not only a kidney, but money, property and his time.
And I am grateful for his example.
Because in him, I’ve seen how recognizing my connectedness to other human beings
goes hand in hand with giving.
I may never give up a kidney, but I may eventually give up other things:
a meal out, a bit of my privacy, perhaps even a second car.
In giving these things up, I am freed to give things away that someone else has a higher utility for
Whether its food or money or companionship,
And I can feel a new connection to them.
When giving is my first priority, I find that indeed I have plenty to share.
And so therefore today I pray for a bigger heart, for you and for me.
I pray that we learn to trust in our connectedness to all people.
And I pray that we learn to give as God gives.
Growing in the soil of the spirit, let us pray for the church, the world, and all who seek the richness of life in God.
O Living Bread from Heaven, nourish your church with the supper of our Lord, and give it boldness to invite all people to your table. We remember this week our Churchwide Assembly meeting in Milwaukee, that your Spirit would guide their deliberations and fill all with your wisdom, understanding and welcome. Gracious God,
Hear our prayer.
O God, Thank you for people in our lives who challenge our presumptions
and show us new dimensions what it means to be the body of Christ. Remind us of our connections to all your people, and our responsibility to share God’s generous gifts. Gracious God,
hear our prayer.
Lord Jesus, you have made us your own in baptism. Bless Matthew and Branson
Who are baptized here this day, and fill them with the gifts of your Holy Spirit. Gracious God,
Hear our prayer.
O Bread of life, you satisfy every hunger. Be with all in need, draw near the sick and grieving, esp. (list) as well as those we name before you. (silence). Gracious God,
Hear our prayer.
O God, you call us to imitate you as your beloved children. Bless the fruits of this congregation’s ministries, that many may be drawn to you for nourishment.
Gracious God, hear our prayer.
Presider: hear us as we pray, living God, and in your mercy give us all good things, through Jesus Christ our Lord.