July 19, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for his entire life.” This bit of proverbial wisdom speaks to the value of skill and hard work, which is somewhat lost on my generation, I confess on behalf of us all. We are a lazy generation, and we know it because you older generations never miss an opportunity to tell us just how lazy we all are. But it’s not entirely generational. There are young folks who are quite industrious, and there are geriatrics whose laziness surpasses their years.
As it plays out in society and political battles, it seems as though work is viewed either as a virtue to earn personal satisfaction, or as a punishment, albeit necessary for basic survival. Mike Rowe, a former television host, now travels the country to promote the value of good, honest work. On the other end of the spectrum is communist ideology that enjoins work on the masses for the collective good. Not that there is a moral equivalency between the two, but allow me to submit to you that this is not how Scripture views work. It’s not to be found on a continuum from vice to virtue. Instead, Scripture views work as a gift. It’s right there in the second chapter of Genesis.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (v15 AAT). Now at first blush it seems as though God had created Himself a little slave to do his bidding, but let’s put this work in context. The LORD God formed man out of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. The LORD God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there He put the man He formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground — a delight to see and good for food — and the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river started in Eden to water the garden, and outside it divided into four branches. The name of the first was Pishon. It flowed around in the whole country of Havilah, where there was gold. And the gold of that country was good. There were also bdellium and onyx stones. The name of the second river was Gihon. It flowed around in the whole country of Cush. The name of the third river was Tigris. It flowed east of Assyria. And the fourth river was the Euphrates (vv 7-14 AAT).
God creates a man to work, but notice who does the first work. God forms the man out of the ground—Adam from the adamah. God gives him life by His Spirit. And God plants the garden. God made the trees grow there. God caused them to bear fruit. God made the rivers flow and branch out and water the earth. God put the gold and the bdellium and the onyx in the earth.
In my younger years, I always considered this garden of Eden to be some sort of primordial wilderness, most likely because of the pictures in children’s Bible stories books. But as I’ve matured, I see Eden as more like the hanging gardens of Babylon, or one of the palatial gardens in Europe. The garden God creates is not a place of disorder, but of order. Adam is set smack dab in the middle of the easiest job on earth. He’s given to work and tend the garden, but it’s God who does all the hard work. Adam’s work is a gift—tend it, eat it. God establishes work to provide Adam with daily bread.
But just as surely as God established work, He also established rest. The rhythm of creation has rest worked into it. The day for work, the night for rest. And every seventh day, an entire day for rest. In his sermon for today, Luther says:
“A farmer must be busy plowing, digging, and tilling; a pastor must work hard at teaching and preaching; a schoolmaster must be busy with reading and training children, and so on, each one in his divinely appointed vocation. Yet each of these must also be done in moderation, for man cannot always be working. He also needs to rest on occasion, for without that he won’t last very long. That is also why God not only established the day for work, but also the night for sleep and rest. We also observe a midday rest for dinner as well. For God is not a murderer like the devil, whose goal it is that works-righteous saints kill themselves with fasting, prayers, and nightly vigils. That is not pleasing to God…”
Rest is as much a gift as work, but with rest comes another gift: God’s work. Man was not created for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man (Mk 2:27). And God orders rest right in the midst of the garden—at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The LORD God gave the man an order: “Eat as you like from any tree in the garden, but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The day you eat from it you will certainly die” (vv 16-17 AAT). “Work at every tree,” says God, “except for this tree. At this tree you are to rest.” Luther says that the tree of knowledge was the divinely established place of worship for Adam and Eve, because it was here that work ceased. Every other tree provided food for the body, but this particular tree provided food for the soul. Here Adam and his wife were fed with a different kind of food. Here they dined on the Word of God.
It’s only when they rejected rest and relied on their own work that work became a burden and not a gift. Childbirth is now hard labor. Gardening requires sweat and blood. We are heirs of their legacy. What’s more, that old desire is always lingering in our flesh, encoded in our DNA, that work is what really matters before God. It’s the inversion of sin: we’d rather rest when we should be working and work when we should be resting. And so both rest and work become a curse.
But then there was another Adam. This one was not born when God breathed His Spirit into the earth, but when His Spirit overshadowed a virgin. This second Adam came to work our work and to rest our rest. And He did it at a tree of His own—a tree crowned with thorns, painted with sweat and blood, a tree of hard labor. The work of Christ is a work that pleases God, a work that fulfills every letter of the law, every dotted I and crossed T.
And then He rests. The seventh day. The Sabbath. Jesus lay in the tomb, and in so doing He turns death into merely a rest. Because there’s more to come. The rest that Jesus gives doesn’t cure aching bodies, but dead ones. His is a rest that ends in resurrection.
And so in Christ work is restored. No longer is it a curse, nor is it a means to approach God. Work is a gift. It’s the means by which God continues to provide for His creation, day after day.
And in Christ, rest is also restored. There is a new tree that’s the place of our worship, because of the fruits borne by the One who was crucified upon it. The Word of the cross is a new bread, an eternal bread that endures to eternity. It’s no wonder that the majority of metaphors of the New Creation speak of it as a feast, because you can give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but if you give a man Jesus, he’ll eat for eternity.
That’s the promise that’s attached to Christ’s work and His rest. The ugly tree of death has become for us a tree of life. The fruits of that stump are a new creation, a new Eden, a new paradise.
By His Word and By His Rest, Christ Jesus Transforms Your Work and Grants You Rest.
In + Jesus’ name.
Jacob W. Ehrhard
 Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, VI.333.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Photo.