Sermon for Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022 by The Rev. Jim Stickney

St. Alban’s Church

September 4, 2022

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Pastor Jim Stickney


Jeremiah 18: 1 – 11

Psalm 139: 1 – 5, 12 – 17

Philemon 1 – 21

Luke 14: 25 – 33



God is an artist, and the universe is God’s work of art.


This morning our church will celebrate a Baptism, and welcome a new Christian

to join our community. And tomorrow, our country observes Labor Day.

So in my sermon I’ll be reflecting on work. As I do that, we can also consider

how being an authentic Christian involves a great deal of work —

the external work of serving our neighbor, and the inner work of spiritual growth.


The Jewish and Christian scriptures view work in two ways: negatively,

we can find that work is a curse, as far back as the mythic story of the Fall [Gn. 3:19],

when the Man (which is what “Adam” means) is told that “by the sweat

of your face you will eat bread” — summing up how alienating some work can be.


Yet even earlier, in the story of the mythic Eden [Gn. 2:15], the Man is placed

in a garden called Eden, and given the pleasant task of tending to God’s abundance

before the appearance of thorns and thistles, when the ground was blessed.

In this view, work is positive and fulfilling — abundant with meaning and purpose


God is an artist, and the universe is God’s work of art.


I think we can admit that we find enjoyment in seeing someone else at work.

It’s not so much that they’re working and you aren’t. It’s more the sense that

it’s an unsung pleasure to see someone else display their working skills.

I’ve told you before about how I started learning stained glass from my father-in-law —

how he would share his expertise with me (developed over many many years).


One morning he set me up to work on a large project, and left to do some shopping.

By the time he got back I had managed to cut one piece precisely backwards,

and after carefully scoring a second piece, it shattered rather than breaking clean.

When he came back he told me, “as soon as you think that you know all about it,

then you’ll relearn something basic.” But these mistakes were also teaching me.

With patience, we can reframe our mistakes as chances for deeper learning.




Seeing someone employ tools and skills to do a good job — that’s such a joy,

and it adds urgency to the tragedy of jobless people who are now searching for work.

Human beings need more than wages from a job — we need that sense

that our work makes a difference. Along with money, work provides meaning.


In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah was watching someone at work

in much the same way as I watched my father-in-law. Jeremiah watched a potter

working with wet clay that was turning on the potter’s wheel. This artisan

tried to make something useful out of the first lump of clay, but gave it up.

Rather than toss the clay aside, he reworked it into a much better vessel.


Then it came to Jeremiah — God works on us like that. God’s original plan can change,

depending on how responsive people are to the different divine messages.

God, the Creator of all that exists, shows greater skill than any human craftsman.

God’s ultimate purpose will come about, even when there’s a change of plans.

As the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas put it:


God is an artist, and the universe is God’s work of art.


We’re familiar with the phrase, “working like a slave.” Our country’s history

is deeply entangled with the oppressive reality of slavery and the struggle against it.

The New Testament is remarkably passive about the institution of slavery.

It seems the first-century authors could not conceive of an economy of free consumers,

but encouraged everyone to keep the status quo: “Slaves, obey your masters!”


The exception is our second reading, one of the shortest Biblical books, “Philemon.”

Philemon is a slave owner, & Onesimus, his slave, had run away, and found Paul.

Paul now writes to Philemon to tell him that Onesimus has been doing God’s work.

Paul is not above using guilt to persuade Philemon to set his slave free.


In the Gospel, Jesus gives examples of the kind of work demanded in following him.

An artisan building a tower has to inventory the materials before starting —

anticipating what we might call “supply-chain issues” and cost increases.

Planning in advance takes a lot of work, and we should not be shocked

that working for the reign of God is like planning for battle, or home improvement.


A final reflection on work is just this — our entire lives can be a work of art!

God creates from nothing. We act like God when we take the things of this world —

including its inhabitants — and work with them to make something new —

something beautiful for God, a new creation. This Christian work begins at Baptism,

and continues through struggles and triumphs all our lives in faith, hope and love.


God is an artist, and the universe is God’s work of art.