This morning’s sermon looked at Ps 127, a psalm right in the middle of the Psalms of Ascent, which deals with the subject of fruitful work. Work takes up a huge part of our lives, but it’s easy to fall into one of two extremes, characterised by Eugene Peterson as ‘Babel or Buddhist.’ (‘The Journey’, P 91)
The Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) was a monumental work effort (literally), but of course, it was fuelled by the people’s desire to make a name for themselves (Gen 11:4); it was essentially a selfish project which had man as their own god. For many of us, work is our god; it’s the means by which we feel secure and look after ourselves. The psalmist says this kind of energetic work without God gets us nowhere fast: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. ‘Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for He grants sleep to those He loves.’ (Ps 127:1-2) In other words, work without God is in vain: it gets us nowhere in the long run.The ‘Buddhist’ extreme is at the opposite end of the spectrum, typified by Eastern religions with their teachings on withdrawal from the world so that sin can be avoided, with the Buddha as their symbol: an enormous, fat person sitting cross-legged, inert, doing nothing. If all our hard work and effort end up in sinful confusion (as it did in Babel) or in hypocrisy and self-righteousness (as it did with the Pharisees), the only safe bet is to do nothing. Paul warned the Thessalonians against this extreme (see 2 Thess 3:6-12) and as always, the truth about work lies somewhere in the middle!
Work itself is not sinful; God is a God who works (see Gen 1) and we are made in His image. Work must be redefined, however, so that God is central. Ps 127 reminds us of the value of children, showing again the importance of relationships and the fact that so much of what is truly important in life is a gift from God. When God is at the centre, we are free to relax and let Him be in control (see Matt 6:25-34). When grace is reigning in our lives and in our relationships and in our work, then we’re living life God’s way and we can be fruitful in Him (see John 15.)