1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Gal 5:1, 13-25
Wouldn't it be great to have a boss who let you do whatever you wanted? A boss who promised you when you signed on that the work would be easy and fun? And wouldn't it be great to have a boss who would never fire you? You could sleep in, go to work as late as you wanted, slack off while you're there, take long lunch breaks, leave early to go home, and you know you'd always have the job. You could bring your friends to work if you wanted, yell at the co-workers or customers who annoy you, drink on the job, smoke on the job, sleep on the job. And the boss wouldn't blink an eye - in fact, the more you did, the more the boss liked you. Sounds like a great boss to have, eh?
Just imagine a boss who didn't have rules or regulations, didn't impose any code of behaviour or even have a code of ethics. Imagine a boss who let you sleep around with your co- workers, cheat on your spouse, start fights, lose your temper, get drunk, party all night, and it's all fine. In fact, imagine if all those things were part of the job - if they were on the "responsibilities" listing in your job description. Imagine if doing all these things is why the boss hired you in the first place.
Strange as it may sound, there actually is a boss like that. In fact, this particular boss took us on as workers right from the beginning, and has always had us working under these conditions. He's hired us to take it easy and have fun, and he won't ever fire us, no matter how badly we mess things up. So who is this boss? Who is this employer who sounds like such a fun, laid-back person to work for? Well, he's almost always been around. He hired Adam and Eve straight from the garden, he gave Cain employee-of-the-year award. He tried to get Jesus to come on board out in the desert once, and sometimes it seems like he's running the show here on earth. The devil, Satan, the Great Deceiver, whatever you want to call him, that's our boss, our slavemaster, the one who's hired us to do all this easy work.
Of course, since our boss is the devil, there must be some kind of catch, right? It can't possibly be as good as it sounds, can it? You betcha! Since this is the devil, it's as bad as it sounds. The first catch is that even though the work is easy, the pay isn't very good. In fact, rather than our boss paying us, we actually end up paying our boss for the "privilege" of doing our work. Now, to be fair, we don't have to pay until our last day, so we can live it up until then, but every day the charges rack up and you can bet that the interest rates are worse than a credit card company's. At the end of our career with the devil, what we owe is too much to be calculated. "The wages of sin is death," goes the quote from Romans. What we have to pay for the work we do ends up being our life.
And don't think you can get out of it by leaving. I said that we'll never get fired, but the truth is that we can't actually quit. That's the other catch - when this boss hires, it's for life - there's no getting out of this contract. Even if we don't want to do the job anymore, the devil won't let us go, and we'll still have to pay out when we leave, no matter what.
It's slavery, actually, more than employment. We're signed on the minute we're born, we work our entire life with no time off or any pay whatsoever, and we're in debt when we die. Yup, we're slaves.
Or we would be. You see, something happened one day. The devil attempted a hostile take-over. About two thousand years ago, another guy came on the scene, an up-and-comer who was trying to recruit new employees, promising cancellation of debt, telling people he could get them out of their contract. Well, the old boss decided to deal with it swiftly and decisively. If there was only one boss that would mean that everybody would have to work for him and so the boss had the new guy killed. Wiped out the competition.
Or, at least, that was the plan. Yeah, the new guy was killed, but when all the dust settled, three days later, everything was turned upside down. The new guy was back, and the old boss found himself bankrupt. Everything he had was gone, the debts that were owed to him had been cancelled, even the debts that had already been paid were written off, and all of a sudden, all of his employees, and I mean all - from Adam and Even on down - were on the new guy's payroll! It's enough to drive a business person crazy!
But it's good news for us, because since then we have a new boss. You see, when you were all baptized, your contract with the devil was made null and void and you were issued a new contract with God, with Jesus as your new manager. The pay-off that you were supposed to make when the contract ended, the wages of death, were taken care of by Jesus, and you were given a fresh start under God.
So what's our new boss like? What kind of work are we doing for him? Well, to start off, our new boss promises that our work is going to be hard and difficult. The most important thing he says is that our primary responsibility is to love our neighbours as ourselves. Now, this isn't as easy as it sounds. Loving your neighbour as yourself means taking it easy on them when they're having a bad day. It means letting them into the line in front of you. It means giving them the food you were dying all day to eat. It means letting them have the last word - every. single. time. It means letting them have the closer parking space. Loving your neighbour as yourself means being willing to pay their debts yourself.
Paul, the writer of our second reading, breaks down this responsibility into a list of things that Jesus' employees are meant to do. The fruits of the Spirit, he calls them. The list starts with love - that's the most important thing we're to do. And then there's peace. As Jesus' employees, we're to spread peace, to give peace, to be peace. That means no starting arguments, no causing divisions, no "divide and conquer." Instead, we're to seek the path of reconciliation, of healing, of unity. Which takes patience, another thing on Paul's employee list, that and faithfulness, which go together. Our work with Jesus is long-term, it's work that will take a life-time, so patience is a big one. We can't expect to see the results of our work right away - it could take years, and maybe we'll never see the results, but that shouldn't stop us.
The next thing that Paul talks about is kindness, and later on he adds gentleness, two things that are pretty self-explanatory. Generosity, too, is a hallmark of the Jesus company. I'm going to talk more about generosity in a couple of weeks, but I'll just say now that being generous as Jesus' employee means not only being generous with material things, like money and food and clothes, but also being generous with God's forgiveness and grace. Our new boss isn't looking for us to be frugal, or efficient, our new boss wants us to be wasteful with the company's resources, to throw forgiveness and grace on every person who walks in the door, to give it away as fast as we can.
Lastly, Paul lists self-control as one of the things Jesus' employees are supposed to do. Now, it may be the end of the list, but self-control is the most crucial part of working for Jesus, because without it we can't do the rest of our job. It takes self-control to love instead of hate, to speak kind words instead of getting into arguments, to be patient instead of rushing, to be generous in times of self-need. But that's the job we're hired to do.
So in case I haven't been clear enough, I'll say it straight: our boss didn't sign us up for an easy job. There's no time off, there's no thanks or overtime for the work. There's no getting out of this contract, either. This is slavery, too, although as Paul puts it, it's slavery through love. Our new boss has hired us on for life. But that's good news, actually. It means that even if you can't do the job, even if you make a mistake and slip into the work habits that you had under your old boss, your new boss forgives you, sets you on the right path again, and keeps you going. No matter how many times you do something wrong, no matter how bad you make the company look, Jesus wipes the slate clean and gives you a new start. And he doesn't let you go.
So it's still slavery, you're still life-time employees, but the big difference between your old boss and your new boss is that your new boss works for you. You new boss actually thinks os you as clients instead of employees, and shows his workers the same grace and forgiveness that he shows to everyone. Jesus doesn't just ask you to love your neighbour as yourself, but actually loves you that same way. When you are conflicted, Jesus offers you his peace. When you need some time to work things out and make a change, Jesus is patient with you, and faithful to you. When you've been treated harshly, or are just living in a harsh world, Jesus is kind and gentle to you. And generous? Jesus is so generous with God's grace and forgiveness, sharing it all with you, that it's a wonder there's any left.
This arrangement is better than a promotion, better than overtime, better than an employee rewards program. "The wages of sin is death," Paul says, "but the gift of God is eternal life." That's why we can be thankful that we've been freed from the slavery of the devil and that Jesus is our new boss. Amen.