Faith on the Frontline: Christians at Home and at work
Morning Service led by Revd. J. Millington
FAITH ON THE FRONTLINE
FAITH ON THE FRONTLINE
During this coming week, members of the churches in Orpington will be out on the streets, hoping to engage people in conversation about God and about the Christian faith. It is part of a huge nationwide mission project called The Turning (enabling people to turn to God).
Not everybody feels called or able to do this. Fair enough.
But every single one of us has what is called a “Frontline,” a place where we are for many hours of our ordinary waking lives: our workplace, our home, our club, our charity- and this is what the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (aka LICC) calls our ‘frontline”- the place where we each stand the greatest chance of making other people aware of God. Not necessarily by trying to preach to them but simply in the way we do our job.
So, thinking about the story of Moses, I have chosen three short readings from the early part of Exodus which tell of three very different jobs and how the people did them.
The first is about Pharaoh. Occupation-Supreme Ruler of Egypt. How did he do his job?
READING: Exodus 1, verses 8-14
Pharaoh was harsh and cruel; racially prejudiced and totally committed to ethnic cleansing. He belongs in the same class as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin- men whose names arouse horror. Yet, you could say that Pharaoh was only “doing his job.” He was the ruler of Egypt. It was his job to make his nation powerful, prosperous and secure. The Hebrew people, as he perceived them, were a threat. Therefore, in order to do his job, he must enslave them. Hitler and Stalin would have said that they, too were “doing their job,” trying to bring their struggling nations back to power and the only way to do this was to liquidate anyone who appeared to threaten that power.
P.D.James wrote of a barrister who had been taught that her job, above all else, was to cast reasonable doubt upon her client’s guilt. Even if she herself knew him to be guilty of the most horrible crime, it was her job to convince the jury of his innocence.
A friend of mine once went to work for an insurance company, where it was her job to find any and every possible loophole in people’s policies that would save the insurance company from paying them the compensation they were owed. In order to do her job, she had to -as she saw it- cheat people in crisis out of the help they were entitled to.
Sometimes “doing your job,” according to your job description, means doing what is wrong and when our nations and businesses and social structures are founded on principles which are basically wrong and seriously unjust, sooner or later trouble will come.
In the story of Moses, we are told that Pharaoh gets his come-uppance through a series of plagues, natural disasters God unleashed upon the country. And we think yes, well, this is the stuff of fairy tales and legends. It has nothing to do with us. Except that it has, now. What has caused the worsening ecological disasters of our day? Greed, corruption, irresponsibility built right into world politics and economics. Pharaoh was doing his job, but the way that job was set up, would sooner or later lead his country into disaster.
The second reading is about two women named Puah and Shiprah. Occupation: midwives.
READING: Exodus 1, verses 15-20
These women were doing their jobs within a very cruel system. They were ordered to see that male babies of Hebrew women died at birth. If they had protested, they would at best have lost their jobs and at worst been killed for daring to question Pharaoh. So, they did their job, but they found a way of doing it subversively. They allowed the baby boys to live and reported back that these babies had been born alive too quickly for them to do anything about it.
I am reminded of Otto Schindler, officially a member of the Nazi party, keeping his business going under the Nazi regime, but making sure that he employed as many Jewish people as possible, to save them from the death camps. Schindler did his job but again, found a way of doing it subversively.
It seems often as though the most notable people in religion are those who leave their “normal” homes and jobs in order to do something dramatic in the name of God. But for every religious celebrity, there are thousands of men and women who have done amazing things in the name of God, without actually leaving the place where they were.
In his book “Imagine Church” Neil Hudson shares two stories of people doing what they could, where they were. The first was a man called Ed, working at a job he thoroughly disliked but which, with a young family to support, he could not afford to leave. In the end he decided to make the best of where he was and started getting into work fifteen minutes early, just to have a bit of time to get to know his workmates better. They swapped jokes, talked about football and local news, making light of the tedious work they were doing. When his workmates realised Ed was a Christian, they started to ask him to say a prayer for them if they were in trouble. The job, which had seemed to him like a spiritual dead-end, became an exciting opportunity.
The second tale was of an elderly lady called Isabelle, who believed that her “useful” life was over. She did little more than now look after her home and, from time to time, feed her grandchildren. Although she was a devout Christian, none of her family seemed interested. But one granddaughter-aged 22- used to come regularly to Sunday lunch and always asked Isabelle about the church service and what the sermon had been about. When Isabelle told the Minister this, he started thinking carefully about his sermons and what might be passed on to her granddaughter. A few months later, Isabelle reported that her daughter was asking questions about the Christian faith. “I’m on a roll, now,” she said.
Without Shiprah and Puah doing their job but, as they believed God wanted it done, many innocent children would have been killed. Those women’s names may not be as famous as that of Moses, but they had their part to play for God.
The third reading is about someone who was called to leave everything behind and start something dramatically new. Moses. Occupation: Deliverer of the Hebrew Slaves
READING: Exodus 3, verses 1-10
Moses was the agitator, the whistle-blower, the leader of Time’s Up. He was called by God to redeem his people. He is “up there” with Mahatma Ghandi, with Nelson Mandela, with William Wilberforce, with Martin Luther-King.
Moses was reluctant and unsure of himself, convinced that his efforts were doomed to failure, but he did have a passion for justice, and he did have a heart for suffering people.
He took his first steps very hesitantly, ready to cut and run if things did not work out.
But his faith in God and his belief in himself as God’s servant increased from the moment he got started. And once he started, Moses found that there was no turning back. As with other great social, political and religious pioneers, he had to keep going or every belief in God, every belief in justice, every belief in humanity he had started to awaken would have collapsed with him. No matter what the personal cost, Moses understood that the “cause” was greater than he was and that that “cause,” would continue long after he had lived out his lifespan. Truly great men and women are always humble. They keep themselves in proportion. But humility is not the same thing as diffidence- convincing yourself that you can do nothing.
Pharaoh, Shiprah, Puah, Moses- pursuing three very different occupations and yet in each one we see that God gets involved. God gets involved in the affairs of government and economics and social structures and social care. Which means that everywhere we live and work is “holy ground,” a place for God to be experienced.
(HYMN: Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the holy one is here.)
In the Exodus story, Pharaoh is described over and over again as “hard-hearted.” He has a closed mind and heart. He was brought up by generations of Kings to believe that the power and prosperity of Egypt was more important than any other country or any other race of people. This left Pharaoh incapable of “looking outside the box.” He could not imagine any way in which native Egyptians and foreign Hebrews could live peacefully together. In common with many other powerful political leaders, he could not begin to think about how a campaign to gain world domination might endanger long-term peace, let alone cause havoc to the environment. His narrow job description left him blinkered to life’s wider picture.
We hear a lot about how religion needs to be kept as a private and personal matter and not allowed to interfere in politics or social structures. And yes, it has to be admitted that when religion has tried to run the country, the results have not always or even often been good.
But to segregate our “faith-life” and our “work-life” is not, I suggest, what the world needs.
Surely what the world needs right now are people who are able to look “outside the box.” People who will challenge the status quo in politics, economics and care systems, asking “does it have to be like this? Are we ignoring a wider picture at our peril?”
And this is where faith-on-the-frontline comes in. If men and women of faith are looking first and foremost to God for guidance, for wisdom and for inspiration, then they are the ones who will see the bigger picture; they are the ones who will find new ways of looking at a situation; many will remain in the jobs and lives they have but will find means of bringing God’s values into their home and workplace.
The LICC compiled a list of what they call the 6 M’s. Six ways-without breaking the law- in which Christian men and women might make a real difference in the places where they live and work:
Model godly character- show what you believe by the way you behave
Make good work- do your job well
Minister grace and love- there is always a place for grace and love, no matter where you are or who you are with
Mould culture- think outside the box. Look for ways to challenge the status quo, when it is clearly bad. Pray for God’s guidance.
Become a mouthpiece for truth and justice. Don’t just sigh or grumble or shrug your shoulders or say it is none of your business. Look for what you can say and for what you can do.
Be effective messengers for the Gospel.
This is the one which makes us shudder nervously. (Preaching on the streets and all that…) But for the Hebrew slaves, the story of their own miraculous escape from Egypt became the foundation of their future society. Long before it was written down, they would repeat it to their children and their children would repeat it back. This story became the basis for a system of government which took seriously the rights of the poor and the vulnerable; the foreigners and the refugees; a system which ensured that business and economics were protected from corruption; for as their ancestors had been redeemed by God from slavery, so this race must believe in redemption for all. They had a story to tell and in their own story was the message of God. They did not “preach” so much as “share.”
We each have known the power of God in our lives-or we would not be here. Around us in the places where we live and work are many people feeling in some way enslaved by their environment, their jobs, their relationships, their personal weaknesses. We have a story to tell of Jesus Christ who came to redeem us and give us hope. We have a story to tell of the what the love of God has done for us and the difference this love has made in our lives, day after day. And if we can share just some part of how our faith has become a means of redemption for us, so others may find a reason to hope that they too will be redeemed from that which is holding them back.
So think about where your own frontline will be during this coming week. Where might you be called to demonstrate some of these 6 M’s? Talk to each other about it, if you wish. And then we will pray.