“Not Losing Your Soul in Your Work”

Matthew 16: 21-28

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

August 31, 2014


Here we are on Labor Day weekend.  What does it mean?  Why is there a Labor Day?


What do you think of when you think of Labor Day?  In my family growing up it was the traditional or practical end of summer!  School started (had already in some cases); the lazy, crazy days of summer were over and it was time to get back to work; it fills the need to have a three-day weekend at this time of year.


The idea of Labor Day started way back in 1885.  Different states slowly adopted it.  Oregon was the first state to make it a law on February 21, 1887.  The US Congress finally got onboard on June 28, 1894 when it was nationally codified to be the first Monday in September.  Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Labor Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate the many gifts God has poured out on people.  Sometimes we mistakenly think that it is only ministers that God calls to a vocation, but, in fact, God calls everyone to a vocation.  Here in this congregation we have nurses, educators, aerospace workers, homemakers, and many others.  Each of us labors to provide for our families and ourselves--food, clothing, shelter, education and recreation, taking care of ourselves.


It’s easy to get caught up in all of this and become focused, obsessed, stressed over it all.  I spoke with a young woman in the community about a situation she faces.  She’s a single mother with a child facing significant surgery and will be away from work four or more weeks.  Her job typically is one where if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.  Her employer is able to be compassionate and, through volunteers and other employees stepping in to cover her responsibilities, she will be paid for the time off.  When I spoke with her she said how grateful she is and how much stress has been lifted off her shoulders.  The need to provide for herself and her child is great--especially when facing a huge hurdle!


One of the great questions of all time comes to us in the middle of these verses from Matthew.  What good does it do to gain the whole world and lose your soul? These words often get lost among the other words we hear about taking up the cross and about get behind me Satan.  So what good is success in our world?  (And, we all want to be successful at providing for our family and ourselves!) What good is it to get all the money you want and all the success you can imagine? What good are all those things?


More and more biographical information is coming out about Steve Jobs since his death.  Many people want to be like him and others are glad they are not like him.  Since he had such a big impact on our lives through the computer revolution, the big question is, “What did he gain?”  He was a computer rock star, a billionaire and for many a genius.  He was for many the face of a new world.  But now he has gone and we find out he did not gain much in this life.  What looked like a wonderful life was instead a life full of pain and broken relationships.


So, the question Jesus asked so long ago applies to Steven Job or anyone else for that matter--including each one of us, what good did it do for Jobs to gain the world and lose his soul?  Did his teenage impulsive rejection of God because of a false image of God make his life unhappy?  Did Steve Jobs constant desire for control make his life less joyful?  Did Steve Jobs leave behind all his friends as some people maintain in pursuit of the perfect product?


So, today on Labor Day Weekend--when we so often get caught up in materialism, consumerism, and stressed out over a very legitimate goal of providing for our families and ourselves through the work God has called each of us to do--what does it mean to gain the whole world and lose our life?  What does a rejection of God mean?  What does it mean to not have any knowledge of God on your side?  What does it mean to live a life of hopelessness?


When we lose our inner life, when we lose our connection to the eternal life offered us, we find ourselves being nothing more than a few years of life.  When we deny our inner life or soul we find ourselves adrift with no real place to turn.  Our life then becomes nothing more than existence.  The point may be to imagine life confined to a few moments of existence while losing our identity, our self-worth and our purpose.  We lose who we are since it becomes nothing more than ambition and accomplishments.


What does it mean to lose our inner life and replace it with just an outer life?  Rejection of God leads to isolationism.  We become so consumed with achieving success and/or amassing resources that we think will provide us with security that we push away those around us.  Where being a success and getting ahead is the main thing, there is no room for others.  We know of too many stories--and maybe we are one of them--where one or more parents miss their children’s growing up years!  We think of Harry Chapin’s The Cat’s in the Cradle song.  You know it--it’s about a child born into a family that consistently goes to this father asking for some of his time.  Each approach is met with the busyness of the father and a promise to do what the son asks soon.  Finally, when the tables are reversed and the father wants to spend time with the son, the son is too busy and promises to get together soon!  We isolate ourselves from one another when we reject God--or at least set him aside while we pursue other things--because at the same time we push aside those people and things that take time from our pursuit of success.


I think we also lose our moral compass when we reject God.  There is no outside ultimate morality to hold onto.  Morality becomes relative--it becomes what feels good; it is what I think is right (so there become many “rights” as others interject their “right” into the arena).


Please don’t misunderstand me and think I am saying that someone who accepts God always does it right; for they most certainly don’t.  What I am saying is that left up to me, I will always be right, for I am the definer of right.  I think of couples who wander away from the intimacy in their marriage into the arms of another knowing it’s wrong, but lack the contact with the Ultimate Moral Compass.  Left on their own, they justify what they do.


When the storms of life come, those rejecting God, do not have comfort and hope.  Some not only have no belief in God but they actively and constantly reject God.  There is a difference to note between the way they deal with tragedy and loss compared to the way believers do respond.  Their instinct is to deny that death or tragedy will or might happen during their lifetime to someone they love.  In the midst of life they find death and in that death, anger and depression.  So what happens is that life becomes existence and mere survival and since we did not mind non-existence before life we do not mind non-existence after life.  In ministry, one encounters all kinds of loss and suffering.  In those moments it has been a great blessing to be able to find words of comfort and hope.


It is sad when people who reject God are closed off to any words of comfort and hope when they need that the most.  Instead they left with pain and bitterness trying to find solace and an anchor in all that they know to be transient.  An atheist writes, “For all the talk of rationality, intellectual honesty, and objectivity we engage in as atheists, this is one of the most uncomfortable questions we have to wrestle with.  What can we offer as a substitute for the emotional comfort religion offers believers in facing their own death, or that of their loved ones?  What should we say to our believing family and friends when they are acutely grieving these losses?  He continues…My friend's note jolted me. Not because I didn't have a response. I did. I just wasn't sure how to articulate it in a way that was both accurate and emotionally supportive, her loss being so recent. It also forced me to revisit the death of my own father, who I had a very close relationship with.  Processing a horrific experience like the loss of a loved one using rationality and logic does help when you're trying to make sense of things, but not as much during those times you're feeling helpless and emotionally vulnerable. I can see how believing in God can help there.”(www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-a-rizvi/atheists-death_b_4134439.html)


To lose our soul means to lose our identity. You become a statistic, from being a person to a faceless number.  You will forget who you are and you don’t care what may happen to you. You don’t want to remember who you are and you will take anything to do this and resort to selective memory.  It means losing your purpose in life. A lost soul is purposeless person. He is living in a meaningless life. His or her number one priority in life is himself or herself. He is the “god” to himself or herself. He is a self-conceited person whose philosophy is “Whatever will be, will be”. He believes only in himself even though he keeps changing his mind and a double minded man.  It means losing your worth of life. There is no life worth living for a lost soul. You feel dead even though you are still breathing. Hopeless people usually do not see the future, there is no tomorrow. Money can buy them way, way less than their life’s value. You think you are worthless. (http://www.wojc.com/2012/03/31/220/)


So, here we are on Labor Day Weekend.  We celebrate God’s given talents that we employ to support our families and ourselves.  How do we find balance between work and faith?  Can we find a way to not get trapped into gaining the world and losing our life?  I can name the ways you’ve heard from me many times before--personal time with scripture and prayer (use one of the many devotionals available--two are in our narthex), worship,  educational opportunities, service--put your faith into practice.


Let me suggest a specific way--the stories of Jesus.  They’re coming on six Monday evenings beginning October 6th.  The stories of Jesus are stories in which you will find your story.


Each of these--personal devotions, worship, study, and service--are our lifelines to keep from gaining the whole world and losing our life.  God’s lifelines are thrown to each one of us.  But, we have to grasp them!  And, keep grasping them when we lose our grip.