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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC) was founded by John Stott on the principle of double listening: an ear to the Word and an ear to the World - connecting Biblical wisdom with culture. And that is what we will be doing today as we look at work together.
Our motto at LICC is 'Life's a peach, not an orange'...
By which we mean that God is interested in all of life, not just the spiritual segments - just as interested in what we do as we engage with our working week as he is in our gathering today.
And this is because, very simply, Jesus is Lord of all.
As we read in Colossians 1
16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
Jesus is the one through whom and for whom all things were made.
And he is also the one who is reconciling all things to God through his work on the cross.
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
And Jesus, we read in Revelation 21:5, is renewing all things.
This will be completed in the age to come, but he has started already and I wonder if you can imagine what that might look like... could it include you and me in some, maybe all, of the things we do?
You see, our God, who created all things, cares deeply for all of his creation. He has acted through the work of the cross and continues to act to reconcile and renew what was damaged and broken by our rebellion and sin.
Now, we often concentrate on our relationship with God in this context, with good cause, but this morning I'd like to broaden our horizons somewhat and, like Paul and John, pan out to the bigger picture.
And I'm doing this because more than our relationship with God was damaged at the fall....and so God's mission to reconcile and renew all things includes more than that as well.
As a result of our sin, the relationship between us and our work was cursed, the creation itself was subject to frustration, and the relationship between men and women changed as well
So crops fail, the project goes way over budget, women are abused and trafficked, our financial systems stagger.
Ultimately Jesus will restore all of these relationships to his original intent.
And right now, in a time when he has brought his Kingdom to earth but it is not yet fully realised, he calls us to be a part of this holistic big picture as we engage with his world.
So that, as Paul entreats us in Colossians 3:17
17 ...whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
...wherever we are, whatever we are doing, not just on a Sunday morning or in our home groups, but at home, at the school gate, at work, on the sports field, in the club.
These are all 'frontlines' of opportunity for us to be a part of what God is doing, and I want to think about our work this morning as one particular frontline, but a very important one
And I mean work in the broadest sense....whatever we do to shape the world around us, as God delegated to us at creation, wherever we are.
When he made us, God gave mankind responsibility over everything on the earth - all of creation.
It was perfect, but not complete and we had and still have the task of cultivating it to the glory of God and in his image....the image of a working God, who as he worked to create the world brought...
Order, beauty, provision, joy, and released potential as we read in Genesis
We might ask ourselves...how does my work do that...how am I reflecting a working God?
I asked that question of a group recently and a Teaching Assistant described how she brings order out of chaos every day in the dinner queue.
And a McLaren engineer recognised that he created components of beauty....at least they were to him....and I have to confess to me as well!
Last week you heard that Charles Christie-Webb finds homes for people, rather than just brokering house sales. He's found a Kingdom purpose for his job: creating a context in which people can flourish.
Now, God gives us many examples to show us how to work well, in his image as part of his mission, in the Bible... and one of those is our subject this morning... Boaz.
Boaz shows us that when we are sent to the frontline of work... our godly values are a powerful asset and good news for our work, those we work with and our workplace structures as well.
Let's take ourselves back a few thousand years to put our reading this morning in context...
The book of Ruth actually starts like this...'In the days when the Judges ruled'.
Now the time of the Judges was definitely not the people of God's finest hour....if you remember, a founding promise given to Abraham was that they would be a blessing to the nations of the world as they acted in obedience to God, but the book of Judges is a story of failure in that regard: failure to complete their occupation of the promised land; and failure to live as the people of God.
This was not how it was meant to be as we read of corruption, apostasy, exploitation and sexual violence.
And yet, even the book of Judges contains some glimpses of hope....of how the people of God were supposed to act...
And the book of Ruth, set right in the midst of this corrupt age, is a shining example....a ray of hope at a dark time.
It tells the story of Naomi and Ruth, one of her daughters in law, who return to Canaan from the land of Moab in abject poverty because they had both lost their husbands, which in those days meant all means of support and provision.
Driven by hunger, Ruth looks for food in one of the harvest fields and finds herself in a field belonging to our hero....Boaz.
Now Boaz was the owner of a family business...he produced grain, employed harvesters and was a man of standing we read in chapter 2, verse 1...so he must have been quite successful.
So what can we learn from Boaz about bringing godly values to work?
Well, let's look at the culture he set up in his family business:
Firstly, it was a God-fearing culture....
One in which the boss hails his workers with a 'The Lord be with you'....and do they reply....'and also with you?' as we might in church today....well actually, they reply 'The Lord bless you' and they are in their workplace not in church.
There was a reverence for God in Boaz plc...a recognition of their dependence on God for everything and a respect for God's ways of doing things.
In Boaz's business, they had clear values - they did not sexually harass Ruth although this might have been her fate in another man's field.
In Boaz's business they did things God's way.....they obeyed God's law...in particular the gleaning laws in Leviticus.
I wonder, have you ever asked yourself the question...
Are there Godly values that I can bring to bear in my workplace, or my corner of it if I don't happen to be the CEO? Could I create an atmosphere of forgiveness in a blame culture, or build trust with my customers and suppliers (not just treating them as debtors and creditors on a balance sheet), or be a peacemaker, helping to heal relationships where relationships are strained by the sheer pace and demands of today's working life?
How might I teach others God's way of doing things?
Secondly, Boaz was generous in his concern and his practical care.
He went beyond the letter of the gleaning law and instructed his men to pull out extra strands of grain for Ruth to gather.
He looked beyond the needs of his immediate family to the wider society .
Let's contrast that for a moment with today's company practice in which directors are constrained to act only in the best interests of their shareholders, which normally means financial success. What results is a corporate culture that has lost its sense of public purpose, and instead will harvest, as it were, 'to the very edge of its fields'.
So, for example, should a pharmaceutical company buy the IP rights in a new drug simply to keep it off the market and allow its own product to flourish, even if it is less effective?
It's hard in this environment to act in the common good - to act with concern for a good relationship with all of the stakeholders - to pull out some extra stalks of potential profit to bless the disadvantaged for example.
And yet, if we as the people of God take note of the generosity of spirit within Boaz, and take that same, God-given approach to our workplaces, we can in however small a way shine the light of the Kingdom of God around us on a daily basis.
It is counter-cultural...against the tide often... and sometimes risky... but something that our working environments desperately need as recent headlines have shown us.
Is Boaz perhaps a model for our time? A working man who was...
And so what can we take with us from the story of Boaz as we go to our working frontlines tomorrow?
Well, we can remember that our work is not a segment in that orange... it's not separate from the life of Christ within us, and his work. And it begins, as I suspect it did with Boaz, with our dependence on God: recognising that Jesus is Lord of our working day, staying connected, and letting godly values shine...
...looking to God for inspiration... an idea for an article, or this year's strategic plan... lending a hand to that struggling colleague just when we are really busy ourselves... doing the commercial equivalent of pulling out some extra stalks of grain to bless those in need... sacrificial love in action in the everyday .
Whatever you do, wherever you do it, be assured that God really cares about the work of your hands...what you do every day to his glory can be part of his plan to put right what was broken a long time ago.