May 11, 2014 John 10: 1-10
How many of you sitting out there have ever had a job you disliked? - or even hated? How many have had a job where you were bored? My father once told me, back when I was in college, that I should be prepared to be bored in my job something like 70 or 80 percent of the time. I told him, “No way!” I think back and wonder if he was bored that much of the time.
I read one time that the best preventative medicine against heart disease is a low stress level, and to love what you are doing. If you’re happy in your job, your risks of heart disease decrease substantially.
A recent Gallup poll revealed that 77% of American employees hate their jobs. That seems hard to believe! No wonder heart disease is the #1 cause of death in this country. In his book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, Patrick Lencioni tackles this workplace epidemic head-on, and what he discovered may surprise you.
You would think that how much money you make, your job responsibilities and your possibility for advancement would be key components in how well you liked your job. Lencioni says they are factors, but not key ones. You could be a star athlete and still be miserable. Think of those who asked to be traded every year. Whereas, the guy selling hot dogs at the game could be having the time of his life.
What makes the difference between a miserable job and a satisfying one? Lencioni points to three signs that, when combined, are an accurate forecast of an unhappy work experience. The first, and most telling, is anonymity. (This would not apply to star athletes.) Lencioni tells us “People cannot be fulfilled in their job if they are not known.” They need to be known and appreciated for their particular gifts and personality by someone in a position of authority.
The second sign is irrelevance. He says “Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting improvement”. Think about it, we all want to feel as if what we do makes a difference in someone’s life - that what we do matters. Anna, who cleans our church, matters to us. We appreciate that she does a good job.
Lencioni invented a word for the third sign: immeasurement. By it he illustrates that employees “need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves.” They don’t just want someone else subjectively judging how they’re doing. They want an agreed upon, tangible criteria of some sort to help them measure their performance and improve on it. Think about it, if you feel anonymous, irrelevant and unable to tell if you’re doing a good job, you’re likely to be miserable.
My sister, unfortunately, is a perfect example of what Lencioni is talking about. After working successfully for years as a claims adjuster for a large insurance agency, her company was bought out by another. Determined to replace the long time employees with younger, less experienced and less costly new ones, the new management made their work environment impossible.
She became an impersonal face they wanted to get rid of, no longer a respected and valued employee. The work load was so daunting it was impossible to accomplish and she heard more complaints than thank you’s from clients. The overwhelming claims load made for an unreasonable criteria on which to be judged or to judge yourself. Her job went from one of pleasure to abject misery. So much of her life was consumed by her job, that misery infiltrated and impacted other parts of her life. Hers is not an isolated experience in the modern workplace. We all know of them. (She now works for a different company.)
You may be wondering about now, “What does any of this have to do with John’s Gospel story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd? Jesus tells us “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” Those 77% of Americans who hate their jobs are not enjoying an abundant life. They might have a roof over their heads, possibly even a nice one, but Jesus is talking about a different kind of abundance, one that has nothing to do with how many possessions we accumulate, what kind of job we have or salary we earn. His kind of abundance leads to a life that is both fulfilled and fulfilling, one that is measured by the amount of love we give and receive.
And he gives us, in this story of the Good Shepherd, a different set of criteria that lead to this abundant life, but they relate to those three signs described by Lencioni. But first let me set the stage for Jesus’ story. Jesus has been arguing with the Pharisees who are all bent out of shape over Jesus’ healing of a blind man on the sabbath. Legally that wasn’t allowed - no regard for the fact that this poor, anonymous man can now see! You might equate the Pharisees here with a clueless manager who chastises you for breaking a ridiculous rule, despite the beneficial outcome.
So Jesus sets about to describe how a good boss would behave. And what vocational metaphor does he place himself in? - a lowly shepherd! - the poorest of the poor, and a miserable job at that - lonely, boring, dangerous. If one didn’t know Jesus, you would find this a peculiar metaphor to describe his relationship to his followers, and an even more peculiar role model to lead one to a life of abundance.
He tells us the abundant life starts with the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. Jesus calls his sheep by name and they follow him because they know his voice. A relationship of trust has been established. No anonymity here. If you think of Jesus, literally or metaphorically, as an incarnation of God, then the passage tells us God too, knows us, values us and cares for us. We’re not a number in a book. We’re here to know the abundance of God’s love and grace.
Church is a community where we are known by name. Each of you is more than a face or a name on your name tag. It’s the relational aspect of church, both our relationship to God that is nurtured here, and our relationship to one another and the world, that makes this a place of abundance, a place where we are known for who we are and for our unique gifts to the community.
The shepherd is here to guide and protect the sheep. Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the gate for the sheep.” Shepherds were known to lay down across that gateway at night so any predatory animal or thief had to cross over them first. The love and care of the good shepherd has a purpose, a relevance. He was willing to give up his life for his sheep. How often do we hear a parent who has lost a child wish it had been them instead?
What gives our lives relevance? Not many of us are asked to sacrifice our lives for another, but we are asked as Christians to follow Jesus and continue his work in the world. “We find our relevance when we see our connectedness to the purposes of God for the whole world.” And that’s not easy. It requires sacrifice.
At the end of his book, Lencioni encourages his readers to engage in what he calls “the ministry of management.” “I have come to the realization,” he says, “that all managers can - and really should - view their work as a ministry, a service to others.” What kind of workplace would that create today? What would it do to our rate of heart disease?
We can apply that principle, not only to jobs, but to anything we do in our lives. Imagine if we looked upon our lives, everything we do, as a ministry? How would that change our lives? How much more relevant would your life be viewed and lived in this way?
Jesus doesn’t measure abundance in the same way as our modern world. It’s not about the job, the things. It’s about the amount of love we give and receive. That’s real abundance. And Jesus is the standard bearer against which we measure ourselves.
Today is Mother’s Day. In the UCC it’s also referred to as The Festival of the Christian Home. We all have biological parents, but we were not all raised by them. So mothers and fathers come to us in different packages. Parenting can be a love feast. It’s also a job. It’s hard work. It’s a full time ministry.
To be a successful parent does not depend on our job, salary, or material possessions. They can both help and hinder good parenting. Many good parents have very little of that. As Jesus tells us here, it depends on the amount of love we give and receive.
I like to think of my mother as a good shepherd. She named me. From infancy, before I could even see clearly, I knew her voice, her smell, the warmth of her body as she held me in her arms. Her unconditional love flowed out to me. She is who I turned to to guide and protect me.
I put my ultimate trust in her. Years ago I was hiking in the mountains with a friend and he asked me what in my life gave me my sense of security, and without a second thought I said my parents and my family. I have always known they were there for me no matter what: someone I could share my joys and my disappointments, and my fears with. And I am there for them.
My parents guided me through life by their examples. They taught me the importance of faith, by taking us to church every Sunday, praying with us, giving us a Catholic education. But then they allowed me to make my own choice about which path to follow. Mom was the first to suggest that maybe I had a calling to ministry.
She prepared me for adulthood and then gave me wings to fly. My sisters and I once talked about how in the world did we have the nerve and ambition to go out and pursue our dreams, and do all the things we’ve done. The answer was easy - “Mom” - she encouraged us. She gave us permission.
Mom taught her children to try and always be positive and look for the good in everything. It’s not always easy. We’re not always successful at it, but we keep on trying. In the last years of her life she taught us the most valuable lessons: how to face pain and adversity and loss with courage, dignity, an incredible sense of humor, patience, a joy of life and unconditional love. That’s the abundant life Jesus was talking about.
So today is Mother’s Day, that special day when we let our mothers know they are appreciated for all their gifts to us. We let them know that they have made a difference in our lives, not only their biological children, but those many others whose lives they have touched.
Happy Mother’s Day.