“Work for the Night is Coming”

September 1, 2019


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Sept. 1, 2019

“Work for the Night is Coming”
John 6: 25-34

In a university commencement address several years ago, Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca Cola Enterprises, spoke of the relation of work to one’s other commitments:

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them: work, family, health, friends and spirit. You’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends, and spirit are made of glass. If you drop on of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.

You must understand that and strive for balance in your life. Don’t undermine your worth by comparing yourself with others. It is because we are different that each of us is special. Don’t set your goals by what other people deem important. Only you know what is best for you.

Don’t take for granted the things closest to your heart. Cling to them as they were your life, for without them, life is meaningless. Don’t let your life slip through your fingers by living in the past or for the future. By living your life one day at a time, you live all the days of your life.

Don’t give up when you still have something to give. Nothing is really over until the moment you stop trying. Don’t be afraid to admit that you are less than perfect. It is this fragile thread that binds us to each other.

Don’t be afraid to encounter risks. It is by taking chances that we learn how to be brave. Don’t shut love out of your life by saying it’s impossible to find time. The quickest way to receive love is to give; the fastest way to lose love is to hold it too tightly; and the best way to keep love is to give it wings.
Don’t run through life so fast that you forget not only where you’ve been, but also where you are going. Don’t forget, a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated. Don’t be afraid to learn. Knowledge is weightless, a treasure you can always carry easily.

Don’t use time or words carelessly. Neither can be retrieved. Life is not a race, but a journey to be savored each step of the way.”

On this Labor Day weekend, I want to talk about our work, our life and our life’s work. I suppose of all the people I have known, the one I admire most would be my grandpa. I called him “Papa”.

Papa was the valedictorian of his high school class. He taught in a one-room school house and farmed as a young man. He worked as a janitor and maintenance man at Kansas State University. When he was about 40, he opened his own construction business, specializing in fire damage restoration and remodeling. Papa believed in hard work and frugal living. He saved almost half of what he earned.

Papa was a tall, thin man, who sweat, got dirty, cleaned his fingernails out with his pocketknife, roofed in the heat of the summer, laid bricks with back-breaking patience, hauled lumber and supervised those who worked alongside him. Yet, Papa never lost sight of the important things in life:
letting a little girl brush his almost bald head,
teaching math to his grandkids,
doing morning devotionals with his wife,
writing a children’s book about two little dogs for his grandkids,
praying before every meal,
having deep discussions around the table and into the evening,
playing the organ.

Yes, my 6’4”, 180lb. contractor Papa played the organ. He taught himself in the evenings, never being able to pay for lessons. He owned two music books: the manual which came with the organ, and a hymnbook. His favorite songs were “Wild Irish Rose”, Bicycle Built for Two” and “Work for the Night is Coming”.

After I went to bed, Papa would sit at the organ to play and sing. I often fell asleep hearing the words of this song:
“Work for the night is coming,
Work through the morning hours
Work through the light of day,
Work for the night is coming…

Papa believed that nothing showed a person’s inner strength like hard work. He also knew the difference between living to work and working to live. He worked with all he had, and he worked for a purpose: so he could come home to his family in the evenings. He made us feel like we were the most important part of his life. Jesus taught his disciples this important lesson as recorded in the Gospel of John …

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” John 6:25-34

Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life.” Papa gave me food which lives on, decades after his death. He gave me the love I needed as a young girl. He taught me how to love life, enjoy people, sing while I work, find pleasure in wood, love God, struggle with being a person of faith, ask the hard questions, and to be true to myself. Papa’s love for God and love for me have nourished me long after he gave that love. I know that many of you, whether parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors, foster parents or other role models offer this support to children.

Do we work to live; or live to work? Do we work for selfish motives, for personal gain or fulfillment, for notoriety, or to make a living so that we can give our priority to family and to God?

Do we come home too exhausted to play with our children, read a good book, love our spouse, and play the organ? Do we give the best of what we have to our jobs and leave the family with leftovers?

Jesus was clear when he admonished the people to work for things which last into eternity. What do you do which will last after you are gone?

On this weekend of rest from our work, let us look at our lives and our work and evaluate how many of the glass balls have been scarred and broken while we have been bouncing the rubber ball around.

Have we eaten so much fast food on the way to something else, that our physical health is suffering…. have we put ourselves under so much stress that our psychological health is in turmoil… have we nurtured our friends and laughed with them…. have we taken time with our families to enjoy the sun, the changing season… have we shared the lessons we’ve learned with our children and grandchildren…. have we read a good book, enrolled in the basketweaving class… taken a nature walk… made love to our spouse… had an intimate talk… played with our pets… planted a garden…

How are we juggling all those balls?

When the people asked Jesus how to do the work which would last eternally, Jesus replied, “The bread of God is the one who gives life to the world.” And the people responded, “Lord, give us this bread always.”

The bread we earn- is it giving life to the world? or our families? or our church? or our community? or our spouse? or God? Are you dropping the rubber ball (work) or the glass balls of family health, friends, or spirit?

Resources Used:
Farrar, Fletcher. “Pastor, My Business Is Your Business. The Christian Ministry. May-June, 1997.
Dyson, Brian. “Georgia Tech 172 Commencement Address”. Georgia Tech Whistle. Sept. 30, 1991. Volume 17.