Good Work

Preacher: Nate Hosler

Scripture: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Psalm 32, Matthew 4:1-11

Date: February 26, 2023

God put them in the garden of Eden to “till and to keep it.” The Biblical witness is one in which good work and responsibility is given as a blessing—part of what it means to be human. This work comes alongside the work of God. God creates and brings wholeness and humans are invited into this work.

This work and being is in harmony with all of creation. Resources are used but used with care and gratitude. Really, “resources” isn’t the right word. Plants, animals, minerals, and water are more than just “things” for us.  Other created beings consume what is needed for survival and then other parts of a harmonized and balanced ecosystem continue the process of consumption and renewal. The original vocation of caring for the garden is both duty and celebration. It is good work which joins the created with the Creator in mutual creative work.

The vision of shalom weaves throughout the entire bible. This is often defined as peace but is not merely peace in the narrow sense of no violence or no conflict but that of right relationship between people and God, people and people, and humans with the whole of Creation. Randy Woodley, Cherokee Christian theologian, calls this the harmony way. He writes, “The Harmony Way is embedded in the created order and is meant to be lived out on earth by all creation. The Harmony Way, or shalom, is revealed deeply in Jesus’s life, even as a baby, with many of God’s creatures surrounding him at his entrance into the world.”[1]

In my book on peacemaking my short definition is, Peace is the presence of wholeness in relationships that are characterized by justice, mutuality, and wellbeing. Peace is not a universal or homogenous experience but is experienced in the appreciation and celebration of diversity and between individuals, communities, nations, and with the environment (non-human world). (Hauerwas the Peacemaker? Peacebuilding, Race, and Foreign Policy)

The vocation given in Genesis includes work—paradise isn’t an endless lounging vacation—it includes work—“to till and care for” the garden”—but the work is good, fulfilling, and in cooperation with the Divine creative process and a well ordered ecosystem. However, in short order this is disrupted. The text tells of a serpent—a tempter—coming and enticing the first humans to disrupt, to turn from their calling and relationship. To step away from the harmony way.

In Psalm 32 we see this in a song of praise:
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Worship, right relationship with God and marking this by gratitude and praise, includes thinking stuff—often called theology or belief—but it is also a matter of action. It is not that right action earns us God’s favor but that it is necessarily part of

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is 40 days of preparation before Easter. It mirrors the 40 years of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness after escaping slavery in Egypt and the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness.

At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, we read that he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted—this could also be rendered as tested. A type of spiritual endurance competition or excursion. The ordeal—or showdown—begins with 40 days of fasting. Isolation and prayer. Austere conditions and the focus of a struggle.

At the end of the 40 days Jesus is tempted. Through scriptural reasoning, three, seemingly benign or even good things are proposed. These are:

Creation of food from stones,

a miraculous stunt which would demonstrate Jesus’ favored status and angelic protection.

and power for Jesus to be in charge.

All of these are at least potentially good. At least, they are not necessarily bad. Fairly soon Jesus will, of course, miraculously multiply food. He will heal people and calm waves. And he will speak of the Kingdom of God as well as was announced as the “Prince of Peace.” However now in this way is not the time. Pastor Eric Elnes notes that these were good things, but they were the wrong good things. I’ll also add that this includes for the wrong reasons and were proposed by wrong suggestion.

Broadening out and extending to our own spiritual formation Eric writes, “Finding your distinctive path in life involves more than applying reason, logic, and strategy. It requires instinct and imagination. Instinct because the surest sign that you’re on your path is not reason alone but whole heartedness, (Eric Elnes, Gifts of the Dark Wood, 106)” To this I would add that the community’s role in prayerful and wise discernment is a key. We, as a community of faith, work with one another to discern the way of Jesus.

During Lent—the run up to Easter—we focus on preparing, a renewed focus on turning towards life—a life rightly oriented towards God and others. While this very well may be away from harmful habits or practices, or even systemic or personal sins, it is primarily toward. Towards God and towards others. Often this has happened by removing a distraction or engaging in a spiritual practice.

In Genesis—turning away from their vocation led to a breaking of relationship between God and people and people and the rest of the created order. This turning away from a calling happened by turning towards what was forbidden. A willful distraction led to a disruption in right relationship.

In the Psalm we observe a connection between blessing and living in right relationship with others and God.

And in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is put to the test. The test was with good things backed up by scripture. These, however, were not the good thing or way that Jesus was to begin his ministry. We collectively and individually must discern the right good thing today. Turning away from the bad, or less good call on our lives requires a community of discernment and spiritual focus.

As we begin the move towards Easter may we turned towards God with ever greater focus and may our lives be defined by the love of others.

[1] Woodley, Shalom and the Community of Creation, 44.

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