You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.  Leviticus 19:18

Last Sunday one of my pastors mentioned how Basil the Great (Bishop of Caesarea) founded what some consider the first hospital in Europe.  It was an example of how the church’s love for its neighbors demonstrated the truth and power of the gospel and aided in the ancient world’s acceptance of Christianity.

It is pretty easy to see how work of that kind can help spread the faith.  Jesus, Himself, cared for the sick.  But what about those of us who don’t work directly in the care industries.  What about Christians who work in manufacturing, consumer durables, or other sectors?  Do we have stories of how people working in our professions have served the Lord?

It turns out we do.  The Abbey at Fontenay, founded by Saint Bernard of Clairveaux in the 12th century, built the first metallurgical factory in Europe in 1220.  The monks of Fontenay invented the hydraulic hammer.  For the first time in western history, people were able to forge and shape iron without the limitations of human muscles.  Powered by a waterwheel, the monks’ hammer could tirelessly strike the metal harder than any human smith.  The result was a massive increase in metal production, both decreasing costs and increasing the quality of iron tools.  Some would hold that those humble Cistercian monks of Fontenay started the industrial revolution that helped bring Europe out of the dark ages.

It also turns out that the way most Christians love most of their neighbors is through the economy.  We buy and sell things people need at prices that are fair and create value for both parties.  We innovate in ways that help ourselves and others.  We discipline our competition to be more efficient every year.  We manage our resources in ways that maximize the value of all the things over which the Lord has granted us stewardship – including each other.

When the church gets up and goes to work every day, we each have an opportunity to spread the gospel.  As we humbly and quietly work to love our neighbor, we instill trust and appreciation in the people of Christ.  What we do (and occasionally refuse to do), how we do it and, most importantly, who we do it for, bears witness to the power of God working in us.  Work well, my friends.  Allow the Lord to make you salt and light to the people around you.

He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Luke 16:10

Much of our lives are spent dealing with little things.  I have a series of deadlines throughout the week to approve people’s expense reports, to post my students’ attendance, to prepare an agenda for my weekly meetings, and a host of other things.  None of them takes a long time and they are repeated over and over again, week after week.  If I failed to do one or more of them, it might inconvenience some people but no one would stop breathing in and out.

It is easy with those types of tasks to consider them unimportant, and unimportant tasks that have to be repeated can become tiresome.  We might be tempted to complain about them.  “Why must I keep doing this tedious, unimportant task, over and over again?  I have larger, longer reaching, more important projects to which I should be devoting my time.”

Looking for efficiencies in your routine tends to be a good thing, and trying to prioritize your most important tasks just seems to make sense.  But if we look down on some of our less challenging, repetitive tasks, we may miss a much larger point.

Think about the biggest issue you are working on at the moment.  Think about the one that, if you resolve it, the organization will be transformed, or, if you don’t, the organization will fail.  Now think about whether God could manage that issue without any of your help.  Hopefully, you are prepared to admit that the God who does not need your help to run the universe does not need you any worse to run your organization, or family, or whatever is looming large in your world right now.

The Lord gave you that big issue to resolve, not because he couldn’t manage, but because He wanted you to walk with Him through it.  In exactly the same way, He gave you the tedious, repetitive tasks that you must do every day or week.  You aren’t doing those because God could not manage them.  You were assigned them because God has something to show you in those things.

Let’s not wish away our blessings, my friends.  Every task that the Lord has placed in front of you is part of His plan for your good and His glory.  It is actually pretty exciting to review expense reports, once I know God has a hand in my doing it, and that He has a divine-sized plan for even the littlest of tasks.

The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.”  Genesis 3:2-3

Life can be full of temptations.  Sometimes the exact cookies you are absolutely craving have been left in the break room refrigerator.  You’re not sure whose they are but you know they aren’t yours.  You go in that room several times a day and there is never anyone else there.  Do you grab a cookie?

Sometimes it is about much more than cookies.

Jesus knew that Judas Iscariot was a thief.  All the same, the Lord made Judas the treasurer of their group.  The money bag was always in his possession.  The temptation to take what he wanted was ever present.

It has always been so.  From even before our text in Genesis 3, the tree of the forbidden fruit grew right in the middle of the Garden of Eden.  I have a niece who, complaining about her own temptation once, asked the Lord why it was so convenient.  “Couldn’t You have put that tree in the far edge of the Garden and maybe covered it up with bushes?”, she asked.

The answer of course was, “no”.  Sometimes temptations are right in the middle of your life because they are not there to be avoided.  They are there to be overcome.  Sometimes, if temptation is a fire, our job is not to run screaming, but to put it out.  If that temptation is a mountain, our job is to climb it, not skirt around it.  Our maturity in Christ requires the development of purity, holiness and spiritual strength.  Only by the testing of that strength can we know our limits and grow past them.

In a way, this positioning of temptation in our lives can be convenient. Our challenge stands right in front of us.  To work, my friends!  We don’t have to go farther than the break room to begin the struggle.

Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.  Exodus 12:5

Our scripture for today comes from God’s instructions to Moses and the Hebrews as to how they were to observe the Passover.  The lamb was the most critical part.  The Death Angel was coming.  That lamb’s blood was the only thing that could save them.  It had to be a perfect lamb, a lamb without blemish.

In the first century, Hebrew priests still took this unblemished standard seriously.  They examined the lamb of each family celebrating the Passover carefully to make sure it met the Lord’s requirements.  Historians say there were even priests who took the examination too far and denied the use of any lamb that wasn’t purchased locally, from flocks in which they had a financial interest.

Just like those ancient Hebrews, we also need to be passed over.  We need a sacrifice for our sins.  We need salvation.  We need a lamb, too.  And not just any lamb.  We need a perfect lamb.  When we became Christians, we chose Christ as our lamb.  His sacrifice on the cross paid for all our sins and saved us from death.

Our lamb was inspected, too.  Pontius Pilate and Herod could find no wrong in Him.  The Jewish Sanhedrin had to resort to perjury, and even that was reportedly farcical.  Per Deuteronomy 19:15, the Lord proved His innocence by two or more witnesses.  Our lamb is perfect, without sin or blemish of any kind.

But our lamb is also much more.  He was the eternal son of the Holy God.  He lived the perfect life, and, unlike all those other lambs, willingly sacrificed Himself for the sins of all the world, for our sins.  Rest in Christ my friends.  He was proven perfect in every respect.

“While all who borrow life from Thee are ever in thy care; and everywhere that man can be, Thou God art present there.”  Isaac Watts

Over our lives the Lord gives us many gifts.  It starts with life, and then can include a variety of food, clothes, family, friends, education, and opportunities of all kinds.  For many of us, we receive careers that enrich us and also allow us to bless the people around us.  If we were mindful of all we are receiving, we would be in continuous praise for our blessings – a worthy goal.

But sometimes we lose things.  I am no longer able to eat some of the foods I loved as a boy; my post-cancerous system will punish me if I try.  Friends I had in college have moved beyond my horizon and I can only occasionally wonder how their stories have unfolded.  Once when I settled into a job that I thought was so stimulating and meaningful I could do it for the rest of my life, the firm ordered my transfer across the country to a new position.

At those times of loss, we can wonder about the love and generosity of God.  How is it fair for Him to take what is ours?  It has ever been so in human history.  I Samuel 13 recounts how the Lord made Saul king over Israel, establishing his family as a dynasty forever, but then cuts off that dynasty after Saul usurps Samuel’s role as prophet.  Deuteronomy 28 describes how the Lord, who gave the Hebrew people the Promised Land as an inheritance forever, would dispossess them of it if they refused to follow His law.

The answer lies in our relationship to God as His children.  When my children were little, I put clothes, food and toys into their lives and then removed them when I thought it would be beneficial to them.  No one would have criticized me, I think, for my giving and taking, motivated as it was by my love for them and guided by my adult vantage point.  Everything that was “theirs” was really mine, just deployed in their lives to grow them, sometimes with accompanying joys and sometimes with necessary pain.

It is time we surrendered our false claims on the world and ourselves to the Lord who owns all He made.  Our God is a good father and we are His children.  It is time we opened our hands for the Lord to add and remove according to His love for us.