The Joy of the Lord's Work

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,

because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15.58

This Church stuff takes a lot of effort!  So often it seems that every time one walks into church there is more work to do.  It can be exhausting.  Every time we turn around we are provided with new opportunities to volunteer either within or outside the church.  Some of the work is for ourselves, some is for others.  Honestly, either way, it takes some serious effort.

Simultaneously, there is the effort that our faith calls us to within ourselves.  The Book of James reminded us a few weeks ago at Sunday morning bible study that “faith without works is dead.”  We are called into relationship with Christ but honestly relationships take effort.  We can’t stay close to someone if we aren’t consistently engaging in their lives, hearing about joys and struggles.  I recently received a text from one of the students I mentored in California apologizing for not keeping me abreast of what has been happening in his life.  To be frank, when we do connect I will confess for not keeping up my level of effort to have a mutual relationship.

Our Saturday April 14th workshop was a great reminder of the effort that is required in healthy Christian community.  We spent a good portion of time looking at our life together through the lens of Ephesians 4.  Our facilitator, Ted Lewis, reminded us repeatedly of the need to be mindful and intentional about our choice of words, tone, pitch and any other other way we communicate.  One helpful analogy a participant shared was a realization she gained working in her college’s theater department.  It took weeks to build a set but that same set could be completely torn down in an evening.  Our words are like that.  The amount of time it takes to tear a person down is remarkably short.  Many of these folks who experienced this in their childhood spend the rest of their lives trying to rebuild what was destroyed.  An yet, it takes significant effort to be mindful of our words.

So, is it really worth it?  Is all the effort we all put into this congregation worth it?  Are all the hours in the kitchen, in preparing worship services, in planning meetings, in discernment, in looking over the dollars and cents really worth the effort we put into it?  Of course this is my life work so I may be bias, but everyday I live shows the me the importance and power of Christ’s work through the church.  Let me tell you why.

If you have been trapped in a conversation with me in the last few weeks you have heard me talk about Dr. Nadine Burke Harris.  Dr. Harris is a pediatrician who works in a San Fransisco neighborhood where the leading cause of death is violence.  She has devoted her life’s work to helping kids in an area where prior to the establishment of her clinic there was one pediatrician for 10,000 children.  She wants to change the lives of these kids.  What she found was that despite her best efforts in treating the health issues of these children she wasn’t making a lasting impact.  She began to realize there was something larger at play.  She is a gifted doctor but couldn’t help in ways she had been taught.  She tells one story of a girl with asthma that wouldn’t respond to even the strongest drugs she prescribed.  The girl kept coming back to the clinic with asthma attacks.  Finally, Dr. Harris asked the mother if she could think of anything that caused the asthma to flare up.  The mom responded, “It usually gets bad right around the time her dad starts punching holes in the wall.”

This little girl and so many others were encountering something that no doctor was screening for, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES).  Dr. Nadine Burke Harris just published a book entitled The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-term Effects of Childhood Adversity.  She recently appeared at the Westminster Town Hall Forum at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis.  The problem she and research has found is that these ACES cause strikingly different outcomes in health from cancer rates to heart disease deaths.  The body remembers the stress and trauma even if our minds don’t.  This “remembering” shortens and dramatically lowers quality of life.  That said, this isn’t the end of the story.  How does Dr. Harris recommend countering these ACES?  Being in a healthy, stable relationships first and foremost.  In her presentation at Westminster, this doctor literally “prescribed” deep engagement within communities of faith.   Churches provide healing in peoples lives no doctor can recreate.

Of course, none of us should find this surprising.  Christ is called the good physician after all.  So is this endeavor we call the Church worth all the effort?  Absolutely!  We save lives both spiritually and physically.  May we keep at the forefront of our minds the truth that we must “always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  May it be so!

In Christ’s Service,

Pastor Jeremiah

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