Based on Psalm 130, 2Samuel 18, Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2, John 6:37-51
You’ve probably seen the commercial from a home improvement business whose tagline states they have all the tools and knowledge to help “doers get things done”. Honest confession, right up front this morning, they are not talking to or about me. Lucinda will back me up on this; I am ok at repairing some basic things around the house and I’m possibly above average doing things outdoors but get anything more involved or complicated and we are calling a true handy man to come and “do” whatever needs to be done. I admit to an honest bit of envy towards those folks who have all the tools and the know-how to use them safely and correctly to get handy work done. That is a knowledge and skill that are not in my gift package from God – nor do I have the interest in developing those skills and knowledge.
Certainly, home improvement is not the only handy work that needs doing. Work that is done to improve the lives of others is quite handy. That kind of handy work may be volunteering with MESA, cutting and delivering wood to those who are in need, working in many ways to improve the lives of those around us by accomplishing things that are useful to the broader community, to God’s creation or to the Body of Christ. In fact, God gives each one of us unique and special gifts that are to be used together with other believers and with God to make the world a place of shalom. This is the type of handy work that we are going to be thinking together about today.
Our scripture readings today call to us to think about how our lives can work with God in a way that can be honest and handy for all. The Psalmist sings about there being no place we find ourselves where God is not present and attentive to our needs, providing the hope of redemption which enables our handy work with God. Jesus speaks of doing the Father’s will which is to work so that all might believe in Jesus and thus know that they have eternal life – today and forever. The Apostle Paul writes that the work of our hands should be done honestly so that we have something to share with the needy. In all things, we need to give thanks to God for giving us gifts and the hands to use them in ways that help others – let us pray together to God…
Psalm 130 is both a “Song of Ascents” and a “lamentation” song. This was a song that was supposedly sung by pilgrims on their way up the hill to the Temple of Solomon. The song begins with a lament – “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice!…” It goes along with the cry of King David in 2Samuel 18 when his son Absalom is killed by David’s soldiers. King David is inconsolable over causing the death of his son – a son who was trying to overthrow and kill his father, by-the-way. David has sinned again and like the psalmist, has to understand that “there is forgiveness with God [sic you], so that God [you] might be revered….” This understanding will not be quickly realized, and David’s soul will have to wait for the LORD, anticipating God’s coming “more than those who watch for the morning”.
Jesus continues his teachings in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel about him being the bread of heaven which gives eternal life. This teaching, in the early days of Christianity, was interpreted by non-believers as cannibalistic behavior by those who followed the Christ. Like the non-believers in the scripture, they interpreted the teaching of eating him and drinking his blood literally instead of metaphorically and missed the teaching entirely. Jesus’ handy work here was to try to help people understand that in him there was something new from God – a portal by which humans could share in God’s eternal life both here on earth and also after they died. Each time a believer shares in Holy Communion they partake of the essence of God as demonstrated through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul has been writing about giving up Gentile ways and to practice what they have learned in Christ. Beginning in verse 22, Paul writes this, “…You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness….” Our reading for today picks up this thought of the “new self” writing that this new self must put away all falsehoods and speak the truth to all. Our mouths must speak only graceful things which can be used to build others up. We are to “…put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you….” Further, thieves should repent and instead work honestly with their hands “so as to have something to share with the needy”.
The writings of Paul state clearly that we are to do our handy work honestly. Thieves must give up stealing. Who are our modern-day thieves who take something that doesn’t belong to them? How might we be involved in stealing from those less fortunate than us? It seems to me that modern-day thievery includes, for example: employers who fail to pay their employees a living wage; workers who don’t give their best work every day; politicians who have been using their power and influence to pad their “war chests” instead of honestly working for the people who elected them; corporate PACs and “dark money” influencers who pay to stack laws in their favor; multi-national banks and corporations who are too large to fail and thus get away with not paying their share of tax and yet still move jobs overseas; those of us who do not hear the cry of the needy around us while we surround ourselves with more than enough every day; those who do not do their best to prevent the spread of a deadly disease and thus steal the very lives from those around them.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that we are to work with our hands in conjunction with God. In our age of technology, we might add that we are to work with our minds, our creativity, our skill, our education, and our passion in concert with God the Holy Spirit. God created us to be creative – to care for the earth like a garden, to name the animals, to create loving and wholesome community with one another. Holy handy work is meant to engage one’s whole self, and we are meant to engage in our work – not let our gifts sit on a shelf unused. We work because we are made in the image of a creative and creating God. Ultimately, says Paul, we perform our handy work so that we can share with those in need. This scripture takes the American idol of unbridled consumerism and stands it on its head. We don’t work primarily to keep up with our neighbors or to upgrade our house. We don’t work so that we can buy ourselves the latest toys. We work so that we have something to share with other people who will never have enough!
Last week we talked about how God calls upon our gifts to be used to gladden our hearts and to meet a deep need in our world. The home improvement project that we are called to is to work honestly to make our world, and all creation, better. We are called to do holy handy work with God by using our gifts honestly to improve the lives of those around us. We are called to use the gift of our lives to build up one another so that all might know the almighty love of God which is at work every moment in our lives and our world. We become imitators of our living and loving God when we meet head on the needs of the world with the love of God made visible in Jesus the Christ. It is time for all of us to give up stealing from one another and instead to work to be kind; to be tenderhearted, empathic and compassionate towards all, and to forgive as we all are forgiven and redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This is the handy work that God most needs us to be engaged in from now until Christ comes again in glory. May the grace of God Almighty break open our hearts and minds so that we might always do an honest and handy day’s work for God. Amen!