360°: Gathered, to Scattered, to Gathered

Posted By Renita Reed-Thomson on Feb 22, 2021 |


Over the last three weeks, we’ve seen the impact of a quadruple bottom line applied in the workplace through Brian, Patience, and Michael.  I’ve been so thankful for the feedback and encouragement from many of you in response.

But we are beginning to see (again, thanks to the work of Willson and Kaemingk’s book, Work and Worship) that the “church gathered to church scattered” is only half of the challenge (or shall we say opportunity) before us.  What about the “church scattered to church gathered?”  We need to come full circle.  We need to integrate into our worship and “our church gathered liturgy” new and different practices as we return to the sanctuary.  This has been a recent and ongoing “aha” for me.
Psalm 73 helps us to see this clearly.  In verses 2-3, 12, and 16-17, it says, As for me, my foot had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…This is what the wicked are like – always free of care, they go on amassing wealth…When I try to understand all this, it troubled me deeply until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

The perspective of this writer shifted as he entered the sanctuary.  The “church gathered” gives a chance to look at the cluttered economy of the world from a different perspective, allowing us to see into the true economy of God.  All workers need to regularly and physically withdraw from the economy of the world so that we can discover how our work can stand in alliance with the justice, rest, and generosity of God!

When we do not do this, we risk being part of what Ezekiel 28:18 says, “By your many sins and dishonest trade, you have desecrated your sanctuaries.”

We need to examine ourselves before worship.  We need to be aware of our unclean hands when we enter the sanctuary.

If this does not happen, the integrity of our worship will be impacted.  And if we engage in unfaithful worship practices, the integrity of our work will also be impacted.  One leads to the other, either to both flourish or to both suffer.  The two are tied together and we must not forget that.

The authors of Work and Worship paint a picture that I have relished as I imagine it.  I long to see this take place in every church that is gathered.  They ask us to imagine a church gathered, that is about to have communion.  Each person brings up something of their work:  a hammer, a wrench, a tie, a muffler, a uniform, a day planner, a plate of muffins, a bottle of wine, a baby bottle, blueprints, a loaf of bread, keys, a laptop.  Children bring up crayons, soccer balls, textbooks.

These are all placed around the communion table and the pastor says, “Let’s pray:
Lord of all creation, 
You have given us this work.
You have planted us in this city.
We serve in hospitals, businesses, homes, and schools,
Places to care and create, places to serve and to bless.
We come to you today grateful for all these vocations,
Grateful for the opportunity to join you and your work in this city.
And so today we present our humble and imperfect works to you.
We ask that, through the redeeming power of your Son,
You would take our fallen and finite tasks and turn them into worship,
Works of praise, pleasing to you.
In the power of your Spirit, take our meager and imperfect crafts,
Use them to feed, and serve, and bless this city.
Through the power of your Spirit, may these fruits produce an aroma,
An aroma that is sweet to you
And all who are blessed by them.

Lord, some of these callings frustrate us.
Many of these challenges cause us pain.
From injustice and discrimination at work, we pray for deliverance.
From pain, we pray for your healing.
For those straining to receive a new calling,
We pray that your voice would be heard strong and clear.
God, we confess that we do not always offer our best at your table
We confess that sometimes we do not offer our all.
We hold back.
We try to control these callings.
We think they belong to us.
We think they exist to bless us alone.
Forgive us, Lord.
These labors we offer today are imperfect, Sometimes they are outright rebellious. Forgive us for our unfaithfulness at work. Clean our soiled hands and hearts. Renew our minds. By your grace and through the power of your Spirit, Take these callings and make them yours. Break these callings open and feed your people. Pour these callings out and quench their thirst.

May the work of our hands,
The offerings of our whole lives
Give you pleasure and bring you praise.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Then the pastor takes the loaf of bread and the bottle of wine from the pile before them, and they have communion together.  

The people marvel at how the works of their hands (bread and wine) become the elements of a meal in which Christ says, “This is my body…this is my blood…for you.”  

Our work transforms into His work.  

His work transforms us to do our work.

Full circle.