In the first part of our discussion on the Book of Common Prayer and work, we discussed the “Prayer for Every Man in his Work” and the implications of the Fall and the Cross on how our work is meant to glorify God. In the second part, we talked about tearing down the false compartmentalization of our lives by looking at how our “bounden duty” in the Offices of Instruction and in Mass bring our worship into our work. Today we’ll look at the third and final passage from the Prayer Book, “A General Intercession.”
Read our introduction and overview of Vocations (Vocations 1) here
Read part one of our discussion on the Book of Common Prayer and Work (Vocations 2) here
Read part two of our discussion on the Book of Common Prayer and Work (Vocations 2) here
Facing Some Reality
So far the prayer book has looked at the ideal with respect to our vocation and work and has offered up teaching and prayer that can help us move toward that ideal. In today’s passage, we see some of the harsh reality that comes with living in a broken, fallen, and sinful world:
O God, at whose word man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening; Be merciful to all whose duties are difficult or burdensome, and comfort them concerning their toil. Shield from bodily accident and harm the workmen at their work. Protect the efforts of sober and honest industry, and suffer not the hire of the labourers to be kept back by fraud. Incline the heart of employers and of those whom they employ to mutual forbearance, fairness, and good-will. Give the spirit of governance and of a sound mind to all in places of authority. Bless all those who labour in works of mercy or in schools of good learning. Care for all aged persons, and all little children, the sick and the afflicted, and those who travel by land or by sea. Remember all who by reason of weakness are overtasked or because of poverty are forgotten. Let the sorrowful sighing of prisoners come before thee; and according to the greatness of thy power, preserve thou those that are appointed to die. Give ear unto our prayer, O merciful and gracious Father, for the love of thy dear Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen (BCP, Family Prayer: A General Intercession, pp. 599-600).
The first thing that immediately stands out in this prayer is that we are acknowledging how sin has corrupted work and working conditions. Like anyone else in this world, Christians can be overworked and underpaid. Work can be overly difficult, tedious, and burdensome. Accidents happen. Fraud is a reality. Employers exploit their workers and workers cheat their employers. Education and “works of mercy” are undervalued. The aged, the young, the sick, and widows can be vulnerable to people taking advantage of them. The poor and prisoners are forgotten. The government can (and often is) marred by corruption of one sort or another. In short, things are a mess!
Crying out to God
But the prayer doesn’t leave us there. On the one hand, in facing this reality, we cry out to God, even as the Children of Israel cried out to him when they were enslaved in Egypt. And just as he heard their cry (Ex. 3:7-8), he hears our cry as well. In the Resurrection of Christ, we have the promise that we will one day rest from those labors and come to the Promised Land. Our Lord Jesus Christ is, indeed, the second Moses who rescues us from slavery. The most important part of this rescue mission is, of course, our justification and redemption from slavery to sin and the devil. But we will also ultimately be rescued from the brokenness, fallenness, and sinfulness of the world when he returns to fully establish his Kingdom on Earth in the final Resurrection. He will judge with righteousness the case of all those who have been wronged and will set everything right again. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the long-awaited returning King was described at his coronation: “ancient of days he seemed and yet in the flower of manhood; and wisdom sat upon his brow, and strength and healing were in his hands, and a light was about him (p. 6908)”. How much more will this be true of Our Lord when he returns and gives justice!
Working for the Kingdom
On the other hand, the Church has long recognized that we have a duty as God’s people to bring a taste of God’s Kingdom into the broken world. In addition to evangelism, this has always taken the form of working to make the world a better place. In Ancient Rome, Christians protected abandoned and unwanted infants, spoke against abortion, and worked to end the brutal blood sports so common in those days. In America and England, Christians were at the forefront of the abolitionist movements to end the evils of slavery. Christians were at the forefront of movements to get legal equality and voting rights for women. Christians have always been great builders of schools, hospitals, and orphanages. In short, Christians have always wanted to end the evils and sufferings in this world in practical ways.
This principle also extends to business practices. In Ireland, for example, the Guinness family began their famous brewing company as a way to provide good employment their fellow Irishmen, alleviate the horrible poverty typical of the area, and to provide a drink that was healthier than the oft-polluted water or the oft-abused whiskey. To the Guinness family, this was part of their Christian duty, living out their vocational calling as Christian businessmen of means.
The Gospel calls the Christian employer to treat his workers as his brothers, with fairness, justice, and mercy. The Gospel also calls the Christian worker to treat his employer as his brother, working in a diligent and truthful manner. Furthermore, we all are to use our work as a way of living out the Gospel, both in living out its principles and in working for the kingdom.
What are some ways you’ve seen Christian vocation in action in the workplace?