Genesis 2:15, 3:17-20 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” 20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
They hurled a bomb at the police. It killed a police officer instantly and injured others. The police fought back. They fired into the crowd. Sound familiar? But this didn’t happen sometime earlier this year. It happened back in the late 1800’s. And it wasn’t a protest about race. It was a protest about work. The protesters wanted their employers to give them an 8-hour workday. Today it’s known as the Haymarket Affair. It became labor’s flashpoint and even gave the labor movement enough momentum to gain a national holiday. And this weekend we’re celebrating Labor Day. Work is complicated for us.
Even aside from the national holiday, our laws show this. 134 countries have laws setting the maximum work week. Not America. Germans take a federally mandated six weeks of annual vacation. We have no annual vacation mandated. And look at how this plays out. We generally work about six and half weeks more per year than British workers. I could keep spitting out statistics like this, but I don’t think I have to. We know that we work more than anybody else in the world. We also know that it’s not because we want to. In a recent Gallup poll 90% us - that’s nine out of every ten of us – is either “not engaged” with, or is, “actively disengaged,” from their jobs. In other words, 90% of us spend half of our waking lives being in places where we don’t want to be and doing things we don’t want to do.
Not to be trite about this, but I’m pretty sure that if work had an American Facebook page, it’s relationship status with the American worker would say, “It’s complicated.” What makes this important to us is that if there’s anything that’s most true about our work it’s that is personal. Incredibly, incredibly personal. Work uses our limited energy. Work wears on our limited minds. And now after the fall into sin, work uses our very limited time. It’s our very souls – their worth, their sacrifice, and their very occupation that we’re talking about here. It’s nothing less than that. That’s why it’s not surprising that as God sets out the foundational elements for everything we need to know about ourselves and him he talks about work.
Seriously, it’s that big a deal. The minute – no, the second after Moses described the paradise God had made for people he tells us what God wants people up to while they live there. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (2:15) It’s interesting to think about that. No one these days snaps a selfie of themselves pounding out an Excel sheet. Or putting up a house. In fact, we might even think someone a bit masochistic if they posted on Instagram a pic of themselves digging a ditch or working fields. What you do find is people snappy selfies sitting under palm trees sipping Piña Coladas or posting on Instagram while lazing by the ocean. But the LORD God when he wants us to find meaning, have enjoyment, and be relaxed he doesn’t take us and put us under a palm tree and stick an umbrella in our drink. He hands us a hoe and says, “Enjoy.”
Now before you say, “Pastor, where does it say that we’re supposed to enjoy work? I get that we’re supposed to do work, but I don’t know about this fulfillment and satisfaction thing.” But that’s just it. This is chapter two of Genesis. This isn’t the chapter where God sticks us with chores. It’s the chapter where God is setting up the perfect life for us – the most fulfilling and perfect life in paradise anybody could ever have. How do I know this? Because that’s what Moses said. He literally said that the Lord God took the man and, “caused him to rest,” in the Garden. And, no, that isn’t Moses talking insanely and confusingly out of both sides of his mouth. This isn’t Moses saying, “God put him in the Garden to sip Piña Coladas and to work and take care of it.” This is Moses saying, “It is a part of the divine plan that we find fulfillment, satisfaction, meaning, dignity, and enjoyment in good employment.”
Now we sort of get this. Especially when work leaves. Lynn Joseph, a psychologist who wrote a book about job loss says, “It’s completely normal to feel panic after a job loss.” Then she goes even further saying, “In fact, it may feel like the rug has been pulled from under your career and your life.” What she’s saying is that job loss is far, far more than a financial loss. Job loss is something that tugs deeply at the the strings of the soul. And we also understand boredom and its devastating effects. We understand that if we’re really interested in punishing someone we don’t send them to a labor camp. We send them to its opposite. We send them to the hole. At some level we get the value of work.
But what Moses has done here is to take work and elevate it to a truly stratospheric level. He’s saying that work isn’t just a necessary evil. He’s saying work isn’t even a neutral player that we use to make money. In the plan of God, work is a central part of our existence and our thriving. It not only gives us something to do with our time. It not only is a gift that allows us to provide for ourselves and our families. It also is an essential part of how God puts satisfaction into our souls and blessing onto our minds. There is great fulfillment and profound enjoyment in hard work. So God placed us in the Garden of Eden, handed us a hoe and said, “Here ya go. Enjoy.”
And I’m sure that as long as that lasted, it was just awesome. Adam wasn’t spraying for bugs. He was pruning back apples trees that were just going crazy. Adam wasn’t dealing out the latest incarnation of Round Up. He was probably picking the latest round of cabbage and peppers and squash for his wife. I’m sure that as long as it lasted that Adam’s green thumb was more magical than Miracle Grow or Scott’s Turf Builder put together. But then everything changed. When Adam reached out his green thumb for that piece of forbidden fruit, he pulled back not only a piece of fruit but also a red-hand. Adam got caught in the act of sinning.
And that red-hand – well – the thumb it contained was no longer quite so green. “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (3:17-19) When Adam went from a green thumb to red-handed, work went from toil to painful toil. Harvesting amazing abundance went to pulling weeds and applying Round Up and somehow praying the bugs away. Enjoying the delightful work of tilling with a hoe went to chugging Gatorade in a desperate bid to stay hydrated. And spending an eternity enjoying the amazing production of the ground went to fighting the unforgiving, cursed ground for a few short decades only to return right back to it in death.
And why is this? Moses would have us know. “Because of you.” (v. 3:17) In fact, I see second person “you” kind of pronouns in this section not five times. Not ten times. I see second person “you” kind of pronouns in this section twelve times. If that’s not sticking an accusatory finger in our chests a dozen times, I don’t know what is. And let’s be clear that God here wants us to feel this finger in our chests also outside of gardening. What God is doing here is taking Adam’s main occupation and letting his sin infect it. Just as our sin infects ours. This isn’t only God giving turf guys a job. It’s also God allowing Excel spreadsheets to collapse, bosses to be grumpy and misguided, and machines – both bureaucratic and mechanical – to break. This isn’t God making it tough on farmers in particular. It’s God making it tough on workers in general.
And as crazy as it sounds that’s because God doesn’t want work to be regarded as only a past gift. Like it used to be good, but now it’s always and only bad and to be avoided as much as possible. God wants work regarded as our present gift and a huge part of his salvation plan for us. Even when the toil is painful. Even when the work is hard or unproductive or ineffective. Perhaps especially then. I know I may sound crazy, but it’s really true. That kind of work is meant to work on our souls too. Every day we have to chug a Gatorade or wake up tired and groggy and trudge off to another day of tiring work God is speaking his, “because of you,” into our souls. Every time Excel mangles the brain or the copier jams is another moment God preaches to us that we’re red-handed too.
And as crazy as it sounds that was a tremendous gift to Adam. Work worked on his soul. Truly, it did. Work began to work in Adam a deep and profound hope. It was a hope that he treasured so much – and it was a hope that he wanted to remember with almost perfect consistency. So that every time his sweat dripped off his nose, he would hope. So that every time, he pulled another weed, he would thrill. So that even as he breathed his last breath, he would believe. And he found his way, “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.” (3:20) Adam named his wife LIFE. And let’s be clear. That’s not just because she would be the mother of us all. It’s not just because we all somehow bear her genetic thumbprint or her DNA signature.
You have to understand Moses. Really understand him. You have to understand he’s the king of the prophets. You have to understand his education level. This guy went to the Harvards, the Princetons, the best of the best schools of the Ancient Near East. This was guy who was raised in the cradle of literacy, Egypt, by Pharaoh’s daughter herself. And you have to notice how this highly intelligent, highly educated scholar set up this Scripture. It’s not just a fun fact that the very next Scripture after Adam hears the curse, Moses predicts that the curse will be repealed. It’s not just interesting to notice that the very next words after dust to dust are Eve to LIFE. You have to see this isn’t just about Eve being the mother of us all. You have to see that the prophet above all prophets is telling us that Eve would be the mother of true and forever LIFE.
Because cursed right along with the ground that day was the snake. He would be crushed. By a coming Son of Eve. Adam knew for him that meant life. And Adam couldn’t wait. He just couldn’t wait. He couldn’t even wait for his wife’s belly to swell in pregnancy for the first time. He couldn’t wait at all. He immediately named his wife, LIFE, or, Eve, the mother of all the living. Because every time he pulled a weed, he trusted in his heart that a time would come when he never would again. Because every time his sweat dripped, he believed the time for Gatorade would pass. Because even as his body grew old and close to death, he knew that he would once again live. Work worked on or reminded Adam to place his hope in the coming LIFE: Jesus.
Granted. Sometimes work just blesses. The alarm goes off and you pop out of bed ready and raring to dive into another day of work. Or you lace up those Sketchers or grab your heels, hop in the car, and get after that job. Sometimes God gives you a beautiful glimpse of how God originally intended work to be. You feel the dignity it gives. You sense the satisfaction, the fulfillment, and even the joy it can have. And sometimes you just can’t. Sometimes in your garden the weeds tangle everything up and the thorns grow crazy fast. Sometimes the boss makes you sweat or work place inefficiency badly frustrates you. Sometimes work even comes home with you and keeps you up at night. Sometimes work feels more like life’s scourge than anything that resembles a gift.
So, yeah, our personal relationship with work is complicated. Or maybe it really isn’t. Maybe when work is a blessing we revel in it and enjoy it and appreciate it and give thanks for it. And maybe when work bites we still do. Because maybe work works on our souls. Maybe work’s sweat is the perfect way to remember the saving sweat that leaked out of Jesus’ pores the night before he died. Maybe work’s thorns are the perfect way for us to remember the thorns that the Son of Eve didn’t just fight, but actually wore. Maybe the “erk” that’s now in work is the perfect way to help us remember that Jesus died for every one of our “erks.” And maybe that’s why the world over you find Christians embracing the BUSY?! of work. Maybe no matter what work works. Happy Labor Day, Peace Family! Amen.