Monday, June 24, 2013

Ordinary Time - Work

“. . . the world of work is the primary context for spirituality—for experiencing God, for obeying Jesus, for receiving the Spirit.”

(Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall, 31).

My wife, Emily, and I grew up, at least from our early teens, in the same church. Ours was a church in the holiness tradition (it was really the only church I knew, having previously been only an episodic Lutheran and an occasional Presbyterian as I tagged along with my religiously uncertain parents), and there were plenty of colorful and unusual characters to be found there.

One rather ordinary and uncolorful character was a man named Chet Dexter (Chet was short for Chester). He and his wife were very kind people, committed both to Jesus and to our little church community. Chet always went out of his way to be nice to Emily, who often came to worship and youth group alone, her parents finding church in general not to their liking. Chet served for many years on the church board, sometimes voting no on an issue when everyone else voted yes, just in case he was representing someone in the church who would have an objection about repaving the parking lot or getting the brakes fixed on the church bus. Chet took our democratic process very seriously.

Chet was a working man, getting up early every morning to do a job that no longer exists in most places in the US. He was a milkman, delivering dairy products in little metal baskets to his customers all over town. Every so often I’d see Chet driving his white milk truck, wearing his white milkman uniform, making sure that cream and cheese and buttermilk arrived in a timely fashion on the appropriate doorsteps.

I liked Chet very much, but I never thought much about his significance in the world, until he died many years later and my wife and I attended his memorial service.

His adult grandson spoke lovingly, through tears, about how Grandpa Chet would teach his grandchildren to start the day with the Bible, prayer, and cup of coffee. They would sometimes stay at his house and get up when he rose to start his day, sitting on his lap as he read Scripture aloud, prayed with them, and gave them tiny sips of hot coffee. Then off he would go, leaving them to appreciate the relationship between God and caffeine.

The grandson also revealed that Chet kept a paper cup in his milk truck into which he would drop spare change from time to time. Then, when he heard about a young couple who had just had a baby and were scraping to make a living, or the husband who had been unable to work because of an injury, Chet would see to it that they got milk for the baby, and sour cream for their baked potatoes, and cottage cheese for a little protein. He would reach into his cup full of coins and pay for their deliveries from his own meager resources, making sure that his accounts balanced at the end of each day. I imagine that he left a few prayers on those porches as well, tucked in among the bottles and cardboard cartons.

I received an entirely new vision of good old Chet that day. Here was a man who was a faithful follower of Jesus every day, not just on Sundays. His spirituality was not only expressed in slapping on a suit and tie and showing up at church (at least three times a week, in that tradition), but also in the breaking of each new day, navigating the dawn-kissed streets of our town, visiting so many front porches, always attentive to the lives present in those little houses. Chet was like a town deacon, bringing the aroma of Christ to the world of life and work, the fragrance of Jesus hovering over the baskets delivered at the hand of this faithful Christian.

When I read the list of heroes of the faith in Hebrews chapter eleven, my mind wants to make a slight change to the text:

“And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David, and Samuel, the prophets—and, of course, Chet Dexter.”

May this day of work be redeemed as it becomes, for all of us, the place where our life in Christ is both nurtured and expressed in a world that is broken, and yet deeply loved by God.

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