Weekly Sermons

Weekly Reflections for Sunday Morning Worship Sharing
at the Meetinghouse and via Zoom

September 4, 2022
 
 
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for people, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.         Colossians 3:23,24
 
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.       II Peter 1:3
 
How Good is “Good Enough for God”?
 
After I graduated from high school, I worked for five summers in between college years for a natural gas pipeline booster station near my hometown.  They hired a few summer workers each year to enable them to keep the grass mowed on their huge grounds, and to do lots of sandblasting and painting of big pipes and valves leading to and from the building which housed the massive engines that propelled the gas onward.  The station foreman occasionally assigned us summer workers to work indoors assisting the permanent guys who were overhauling one of the engines, or to keep the oil mopped off the concrete floors of the football field-sized building.  The 25-person crew got our assignments at 8 AM each day in the lunchroom, then headed out to begin work.  We got 15-minute breaks back in the lunchroom  at mid-morning and mid-afternoon (which became more like 25 minutes with walking time) and a half-hour lunch break at Noon.  The shift ended at 4:30 PM, meaning that actual work usually ended soon after 4 as the guys put things away and headed to the locker room to clean up.  They were all sitting in their cars at 4:30 PM like the start of the Indy 500, ready to fire up their engines and head for home.
 
Those work hours and break times were all specified in the contract negotiated between the corporation and the labor union to which those permanent employees belonged.  We non-union summer workers were expected to adhere to the conditions of that contract (and were protected by it, too).  I tried to do the work I was assigned and not rock the boat, but my personal work ethic made me think that the company wasn’t always getting the seven and a half hours of actual work for which it was paying the best wages in town to all those guys.  I don’t recall that the mild-mannered salaried foreman ever reprimanding any of the hourly workers for taking extra-long breaks.  That might be because he knew what usually happened with the field crews who left in trucks each morning at 8:15 AM to do safety checks, maintenance, and repairs on many miles of pipeline running through that part of Kansas.  A friend who worked in field crews told me that the drivers with whom he rode had secluded spots where they parked their truck in the shade for 90-minute lunch and nap breaks on many days.  If the foreman tried to change the lax “system” that had developed and was tolerated over many years, the company would end up in a dispute with the union, and they obviously had decided it wasn’t worth that.
 
Each day I went to work at the booster station, I was required to wear steel-toed boots which the company made available to employees at a price far below retail.  Before leaving the locker room to begin work, we all had to be wearing the hardhat and earplugs the company provided at no cost.  The equipment we used each day had the latest safety switches and features to prevent injury to the operator, and there were printed safety procedures posted everywhere in the plant and vehicles.  All that was in place because sometime in the past, someone working in a similar situation without those safety measures had been harmed.  That ended up costing the company money and prompted the labor union to demand and negotiate safer working conditions.  I was always thankful for the safety precautions provided, and for five college summers getting to be well-paid to work in a potentially dangerous environment without being injured.
 
Labor Day is a good time to reflect upon the importance, privilege, and dignity of work and workers.  Labor Day came about at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s as manufacturing steadily replaced agriculture as the main source of employment.  People often worked twelve hours per day, sometimes seven days per week, in unsafe, unsanitary factories and mines for subsistence wages and no added benefits.  Children as young as age 6 were put to work in factories and paid almost nothing.  Workers were considered expendable.  If any got injured on the job, they were dismissed and others eager for employment stepped in.  The wealth accumulated by the few industrialists and financiers who controlled the means of production led to the Gilded Age (1870-1900) of a small group of privileged, powerful people running a world filled by masses of barely-surviving workers. 
             Labor movements and strikes sprang up in Europe and spread to the US to protest the poor treatment of laborers.  Workers got organized and held the first Labor Day protest march in New York City on September 5, 1882, with 10,000 people walking off their jobs to demand higher wages, shorter workdays, safer workplaces, and days off.  Labor Day celebrations were held in several states on May 1 for the next twelve years as part of International Workers’ Day.  In 1886, a labor march in Chicago turned into the violent Haymarket Riot and resulted in the deaths of several workers and policemen.  In May 1894, Pullman rail car manufacturing workers went on strike in Chicago over wage cuts and disrespect of their local union.  A month later, the national rail workers union began a boycott of using that company’s rail cars, badly disrupting rail travel nationwide and again leading to deadly riots in Chicago.  Just two days later, Congress and Pres. Grover Cleveland made Labor Day an annual federal holiday in acknowledgment of the need for better balance between business and labor.  Labor Day was set on the first Monday of September in order to distinguish it from the May 1 celebrations promoted in countries moving towards communist political systems.
 
The More Things Change….    The press reported this week that 12.6 million Americans would take to the skies for Labor Day weekend trips.  Timed for maximum impact over the busy travel holiday, the airline pilots’ union picketed at 13 major US airports on Thursday to demand higher wages and (unspecified) improved working conditions.  The union’s spokespersons assured reporters that the picketing pilots and flight crew members were off duty and not causing flight cancelations.  One can’t help being somewhat skeptical about that claim after this summer’s record number of canceled flights, usually blamed on bad weather but also related to pandemic schedule cuts and crew layoffs.  In Indianapolis, journalists demonstrated over similar demands and concerns late this week at the offices of a national news service where digital publishing and other technological changes have displaced many workers.  After sixty years of almost unchecked growth in the power of big business, the steady weakening of labor unions, and the rapid widening of the wealth and income gap in our society to Gilded Age levels, there are plenty of other industries facing similar stresses and tensions in 2022.  Workers seem to have the upper hand at the moment due to high post-pandemic demand for goods, but that pendulum will swing back before long.  The external circumstances may change over the decades, but human self-interest rarely does.  It really does seem that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
 
“Quiet Quitting”     Into that current reality comes the new social media-fueled phenomenon of “quiet quitting.”  Its proponents say that it means rebalancing one’s life to no longer allow a job to dominate your existence, avoiding any job-related activity outside working hours, and instead filling your after-hours life with enjoyable, completely unrelated things.  On its face, that doesn’t sound all bad.  In real life, they say it means declining to do anything more than is required by your job description or remunerated in your paycheck, and never working extra hours or taking on extra work assignments.  One proponent termed it “taking care of yourself, carefully coasting, rejecting the ‘hustle culture’ of chasing ever-greater income.”  Its critics see it as slacking, as ceasing to care about one’s work, employer, or coworkers.  I see some truth on both sides – Christian simplicity certainly calls us to reject “hustle culture” — but I also see “quiet quitting” being lived out as one more expression of our currently self-focused, self-obsessed culture.
 
Clashing Cultures     It has long been my conviction that God’s calling for the Church is to reveal the resurrected Jesus to the unknowing world by letting his Spirit fully live within us.  We are called to accomplish that by first striving to know Christ as deeply as possible (a) through our inner life of contemplation and prayer; (b) through our study of his character and principles for life as described in the Bible; and (c) through our fellowship with others who genuinely are seeking to know him too.  Knowing Christ like that is the key to being able to be like him, to “follow in his steps” (I Peter 2:21).   Then we can joyfully, authentically tell and show others the difference knowing him has made in our lives.  In answering that calling to make Jesus known, we will challenge and hopefully help redirect “the kingdom of this world” toward “the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ” (Revelation 11:15).  We are called to challenge and influence the world’s dominant culture towards the Way of Jesus.  That Way is the way of humility, of servanthood, of sacrificial love, of dying to selfishness and trusting the Lord to care for our needs while we offer his care to those around us.   Unfortunately, it feels most of the time as though that challenging and influencing is going in the opposite direction. 
 
Adversarial Competition vs. Mutual Well-being     It is absolutely essential that Jesus’ followers are grounded in the life and ways of his Kingdom, and that they evaluate and respond to the lesser kingdoms of this world with the Kingdom of God as the standard and measure, not the other way around.  The systems of this world are set up as adversarial.  People go into courts of law with winning their case, not discovering the truth, as their highest goal.  Employees negotiate with bosses to get the most wages and benefits for the least commitment of time and effort, and they suggest they’ll quit or look elsewhere if they don’t get it.  Employers negotiate with workers in the same way, looking to get the most work out of them for the least wages and benefits possible.  “Quiet quitters” show up to get a paycheck but have no real investment in the customers who need the product, in relationships with coworkers, nor in the success or well-being of the company.  That makes it pretty easy for them eventually to just stop showing up.
             In contrast, the Kingdom of God is a relationship of mutual well-being.  Trying to bring those adversarial ways into friendship with the Lord is fatal to one’s spiritual life and harmful to his Church.  There is no negotiating with God – he has already given us everything in giving us his Son, and the only appropriate response to that gift is to give him all of ourselves, nothing held back (I Cor. 6:19,20).  His goal for you is to provide you a meaningful, joyful, purposeful earthly life until he welcomes you into his presence for eternity.  Those who accept the gift of his redemption and his Spirit’s indwelling presence become fully invested in the purposes and success of his Kingdom.  They acknowledge that their time, their skills, their families and other relationships, their job, their possessions, and every other detail of their lives belong to God and are to become avenues for witness and ministry as the Spirit leads to opportunities.  If something we are doing is not compatible with a life of witness and ministry for Christ, we choose to stop doing it.  We have no business calling him Lord if we’ve not put him fully in charge of everything (Luke 6:46).
 
At that pipeline booster station and at other jobs I’ve had, I sometimes heard people say, “it’s good enough for government work” to excuse a shoddy or incomplete task.  They obviously didn’t think about the fact that we all are the government, and they were hurting themselves.  On this Labor Day weekend, I pray that none of us will ever have that attitude about our work for the Lord.  I pray that we will be thankful for our jobs (or the jobs we had in our working years), for the lives and opportunities they’ve made possible for us, and for the work of others who’ve helped and blessed us.  And I pray that we all will be fully invested in the well-being of God’s Kingdom, giving our best in all we do, for as long as he gives us breath. 
 
–Ron Ferguson, 4 September 2022
 
 
 
 
Queries for Worship-Sharing and Reflection
 
1)  When was a time that your daily job afforded you an opportunity for meaningful ministry to someone?

2)  In what ways have you seen today’s secular culture influencing the Body of Christ negatively or harmfully?

3)  What is the best way to find a faithful balance between remunerative work, rest, and soul-nurturing activities?

4)  How might “quiet quitting” as described above be done with spiritual integrity?
 
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Winchester Friends Ministry & Oversight
State of Society Report – Annual Report for 2020-2021
June 2021/ October 3, 2021
 
Lives That Speak
Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your  carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone….       –Friends founder George Fox
 
As the Ministry & Oversight began discussing the state of spiritual life at Winchester Friends at the close of the 2020-2021 church year, it was nearly impossible to think about the past twelve months in any framing other than that of the changes caused and necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Each M&O member offered reflections on what they have observed and sensed about our life together in the past year, and their hopes for the days yet to come.  The following is a summary of their thoughts.
 
Trials of 2020-2021    For all of us, the past year was one of significant losses and profound sorrow.  At least fifteen participants in our faith community tested positive for coronavirus infection and experienced various degrees of illness.  A number of our Friends lost close or extended family members to COVID or other causes during the year and often did not have the comfort of gathering to mourn together.  Added to that was the sadness of watching the number of pandemic deaths in the US steadily climb past half a million.  It was a year of lost chances for close fellowship, handshakes and hugs, a long period of isolation and loneliness.  One M&O member compared it to the pupae stage of a butterfly’s life when the caterpillar “shelters in place” inside the chrysalis to await favorable conditions outside.  It was a year without the encouragement of singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs together” (Colossians 3:16).  Many ministry activities had to be suspended, meaning lost inertia and momentum.  In some cases, people who may have had only minimal interest in participating in the Meeting simply withdrew and have not reappeared.  Because the pandemic changed so many things in our lives, we all were required to expend large amounts of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy to accomplish in different ways what used to be fairly simple, routine tasks.  Work, school, social, travel, and meeting schedules were disrupted, with resumption in many cases still uncertain, making planning very difficult.  In the community and society beyond the Meeting (and potentially within as well), economic stress and civil unrest have led to fraying of the social fabric in ways that make many relationships tenuous.
 
Encouraging Surprises of 2020-2021     The M&O clerk pointed out that none of us should be surprised that the pandemic has not changed God.  For those who have remained engaged and have continued seeking the Lord, the pandemic has provided a new or renewed sense of God’s identity and character.  Technology was adopted and adapted to our Meeting’s unique needs in a way that has allowed us to maintain relationships and a surprisingly deepened sense of community.  In the butterfly analogy, meeting by Zoom has helped break open the isolation of the chrysalis stage to make new life possible. The shift to a worship-sharing format on Sunday mornings has found encouraging success in nudging Friends to be participators rather than spectators, and it has taught us to listen more carefully for “that of God in others.”  Meeting via Zoom has made it possible to welcome local newcomers, distant former Friends and family members, and other faraway friends into our fellowship in meaningful, delightful ways that none of us had imagined before the pandemic necessitated these changes.  Despite the financial uncertainties and hardships that the pandemic has imposed on so many people and organizations, the Meeting’s finances have remained healthy due to the faithful generosity of so many of our Friends.  That consistent support has given us confidence to continue sharing resources from the Best Trust to help “make Christ’s love tangible and visible” in the community and world around us.
 
Outcomes of 2020-2021      The past year has given us – and all in the Meeting, we hope – a deepened sense of Christ’s faithful presence with us and care for us, no matter how dire our circumstances might get.  Worship in a more semi-programmed manner than before has shown many Friends the importance of giving verbal witness of God’s love and Truth within our fellowship when the Spirit prompts them.  That hopefully has strengthened and improved their ability to do the same in their relationships beyond the Meeting.  Our meetings for worship online have shown the importance of engaged participation by everyone, whether verbal or not – the things said by many Friends on Sunday mornings are most meaningful when heard and absorbed by everyone.  Hopefully we will move into 2021-2022 with a new realization of the importance of showing up consistently, whether we end up sharing what we have learned, or we listen deeply to the helpful words of other Friends.  Each of us has learned many things about ourselves and our calling to daily ministry during the “inactivity” of the pandemic months.  If we’ll let it, that knowledge should equip us for effectiveness in the new environment of the upcoming church year.  Returning to the butterfly analogy, the caterpillar-transformed-into-a-butterfly hangs in the opened chrysalis, gaining final form and strength to prepare for flight.  That is the hopeful picture of Friends being readied to begin “walking cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone” – letting Christ’s light shine through us, letting our lives and our living speak (Luke 8:16) in the world that the pandemic has left for us to inhabit.
 
Hope for 2021-2022      The Ministry & Oversight members are determined to learn and grow from the hard lessons of 2020-2021, and not to squander the unexpected blessings and opportunities that have come out of the unprecedented church year just completed.  We desire to remain highly attentive to the Lord’s constant, consistent presence.  We acknowledge that although we do not yet know everything we will need to understand for effective ministry in the post-pandemic world, we know we cannot just go back to what was “normal” before.  We acknowledge that it will require the input and participation of every Friend in the Meeting if we are to successfully fulfill the Lord’s desires for our faith community.  We gratefully recognize that the blessings we have enjoyed during the difficult past year are due in large part to a core of Friends who have remained committed to the Meeting and its ministries.  They have done so because of their love for the Lord who has saved us, their love for one another in this community of believers, and their dedication to our shared spiritual life.  Moving forward, we hope to find relevant new ways of letting Christ’s timeless light of love and Truth shine through us.  We long to help the minimally involved to renew their seeking.  We desire to welcome the uninvolved to discover the benefits of living by faith – especially young adults and families in this overly secular era for whom the pandemic has been a rude awakening to human frailties and mortality.  Like the butterfly that has been protected and nurtured inside the chrysalis, we know we must in faith release our grip on the refuge of “what has been” and fly into the unknown future in order to fulfill God’s calling and purpose for us.
 
We invite every Friend in the church to join us in that journey.  Like Paul appealing to the Corinthians (I Cor. 2:1), we cannot depend on eloquent words or superior human knowledge (or slicker technology and flashy entertainment).  We welcome you just to let your daily lives speak, both in words and actions, of God’s love, Truth, and presence.  As George Fox discovered, it’s the way God enables us to “walk cheerfully” throughout our lives, and to forge rich connections with others who desire to know and live for the Lord.  In the world’s present turmoil, he needs every one of us to get involved.  Thank you for letting your lives speak in ministry through Winchester Friends.
Winchester Friends Ministry & Oversight, June 2021:  Cleo McFarland, clerk;  Sharon Reynard; Dave Longnecker; Linda Groth;  Doug Baker;  Ellen Craig;  Marsha Kritsch, ex officio;  Pam Ferguson, ex officio;  Ron Ferguson, ex officio
 
 
 
 
 Lives That Speak — Lives of Resilience and Hope
 
The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery (of the king’s dream).”       –Daniel 2:47
Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!  They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”           –Daniel 3:28  
 
Let your light shine before people, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. 
–Jesus, Matthew 5:16        
 
Today is World Quaker Day, an initiative of the Friends World Committee for Consultation to remind Friends that in every time zone around the world on the first Sunday of October, Quakers will gather in the presence of the Spirit of Christ.  We meet to worship the Lord who unites us in a global community of faith, and to pray for one another’s effective witness in the challenges and opportunities we face.  Clearly with the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises in mind, FWCC selected “Resilience and Hope:  Drawing Strength from our Faith” as the theme for World Quaker Day 2021.  As in the past several years, Winchester Friends’ Ministry & Oversight has chosen to present their State of Society Report for the recently-completed church year during worship on World Quaker Day.  The theme of their report (“Lives That Speak”) turned out to dovetail almost seamlessly with FWCC’s focus, and with the past week’s Through the Bible chapters centered in the Book of Daniel.
 
Daniel was one of Judah’s young “best and brightest.”  He and hundreds of other skilled and educated Hebrews were exiled to Babylon in 605 BC after the Babylonian army forced the surrender of Jerusalem, helped themselves to Judah’s treasures, and turned Judea into a client state.  Part of Nebuchadnezzar’s strategy for keeping conquered nations weak was to deplete their human capital as well as their treasury.  Daniel and three other young Hebrews featured in the first half of the Book of Daniel – Hananiah (Babylonian name Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego) – were chosen to undergo three years of language and other training to become servants in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace (Dan. 1:3,4).  As part of that assignment, they were fed rich food and wine from the king’s own table, food that had been offered to idols and included things that violated the dietary instructions of Moses’ Law.  Rather than follow orders and spiritually defile himself, Daniel resolved to obey God and requested permission from their Babylonian boss to eat only vegetables and drink only water.  The Babylonian feared he would be blamed for underfeeding the Hebrews, but he reluctantly agreed to a test.  After ten days, the Judeans looked and performed better than their counterparts who ate the rich food.  Their diet was switched, and at the end of their training years the king found them superior to all his other wise men and advisors.  Their lives spoke.
 
When I was around five years old, I watched “Popeye the Sailor Man” cartoons on TV each Saturday morning.  My brother and I became convinced that if we ate enough canned spinach, we too could get strong enough to rip the top off a can and eat the contents like a beverage.  We got our mother to fix us some spinach.  After I had choked down a couple of spoonsful, I went outdoors to play and saw our neighbor Mr. Carmichael working on his lawn mower in his driveway.  I ran over and told him I had eaten some spinach and was now as strong as Popeye.  I asked him if he wanted to see.  He didn’t reply right away, so I flexed my skinny biceps for him, then slugged him on the shoulder.  I was only five, but I’d bet it hurt a little.  I am horrified every time I remember that incident.  It makes me wonder how many parents persuaded little kids to eat canned spinach by telling them they’d be strong like Popeye.  They probably should have told us more about the virtues of Olive Oil.  I’m pretty sure that my siblings and I were told the Bible story of Daniel and his friends a few times, too, to persuade us to eat our vegetables and stay away from wine.
 
Daniel 2 tells the story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dream, and his demand that his advisors tell him both what he had dreamed and what it meant.  When the advisors had no idea what the dream had been, the king ordered them all killed (including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).  Daniel was given a chance to plead his case with the king and was allowed time to seek the Lord.  After the Hebrews prayed, the Lord revealed the complicated dream and its meaning to Daniel.  When he laid that all out to Nebuchadnezzar, the king acknowledged the sovereignty of Yahweh (Dan. 2:47, above) and spared the lives of his wise men.  Daniel 3 tells us of Daniel’s three friends’ courageous refusal to bow in worship to a statue of Nebuchadnezzar, even on the threat of death.  After the Lord miraculously accompanied them through the fiery furnace and enabled them to emerge unscathed, the king again praised Yahweh’s omnipotence (3:28, above).  Several years later, following the Medo-Persian conquest of Babylon, their ruler Darius made Daniel one of the most powerful administrators in his kingdom (Daniel 6).  Other officials, jealous of Daniel’s power and friendship with Darius, fooled the king into signing a decree sentencing to death in a lions’ den anyone who prayed to any deity other than Darius.  Daniel’s life had spoken.  They knew he prayed three times daily towards Jerusalem — the City of Zion where the presence of Yahweh dwelt — and would not cease doing so.  He was arrested and thrown into the lion’s den, but God “sent his angel and shut the mouths of the lions.”  Darius witnessed Daniel’s miraculous survival and issued a decree praising Yahweh as the one true God (6:26,27).
 
In young adulthood, Daniel and his three friends were forced into a horrible situation they never would have chosen.  Rather than giving in to Babylonian cultural religion and surrendering their deepest identity as children of the Living God, they held tenaciously to their faith and made the best of their difficult circumstances.  They were resilient.  In faith, they never gave up hope that God would allow the Hebrews to return to Jerusalem and Judea, and would help them live more faithfully than the people had whose disobedience and idolatry led to Israel’s captivity.  Their determination to obey the Lord in all things first, then deal with whatever consequences resulted, spoke volumes about God and about themselves to anyone who was paying attention. 
 
We in 2021 face a combination of challenges – pandemic, climate crisis, economic upheaval and disparity, armed conflict, social and racial injustice — that may add up to nearly equal those which faced the Hebrew exiles.  And due to modern communications technology, a lot more people are now paying attention.  The Lord’s message to us today through Daniel’s examples is that the resilience, hope, and resolve to “seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness” which they displayed 2600 years ago are still available to all who wish to live lives that speak to others of God’s holiness, loving compassion, and eternal promise.  All he needs is our invitation to allow his Spirit to live fully in us.  Let’s help one another to let our lives speak for God in all we are, in everything we do.
 
–Ron Ferguson   3 October 2021
 
 
Queries for Worship-Sharing and Reflection
 
1)  What have been your greatest trials or discouragements of the past 18 months?  How has God helped you with them?
2)  What do you think “spiritual resilience” and “spiritual hope” will look like in 2021 and beyond?
3)  What encouraging surprises or positive changes have you experienced in the last 18 difficult months?
4)  Why is it important to consider what others will conclude about God and faithful living when they watch how I live?
5)  What are your most fervent hopes as the world and our community slowly emerge from these months of pandemic?
 
 
 
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Winchester Friends Church           765-584-8276
124 E. Washington St.      Winchester, IN  47394
www.winchesterfriendschurch.org
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