Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sunday Sermon

May 15, 2011

The Third Sunday after Easter

Ever had a miserable job? You know, one of those soul-sucking employment situations that make you feel like a drone in a corporate hive somewhere? If so, you’re not alone. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 77 percent of American employees hate their jobs. Gallup also contends that this ailing workforce is costing employers more than $350 billion dollars in lost productivity. Americans are increasingly unhappy with their jobs.

These figures intrigued author Patrick Lencioni because they reminded him of his own experience. Says Lencioni, “I became interested in this topic because, as a kid, I watched my dad trudge off to work each day and became somewhat obsessed with the notion of job misery. Somewhere along the line, I came to the frightening realization that people spend so much time at work, yet so many of them were unfulfilled and frustrated in their jobs. As I got older, I came to another realization — that job misery was having a devastating impact on individuals, and on society at large. It seemed to me that understanding the cause of the problem, and finding a solution for it, was a worthy focus for my career.” His latest book,
The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, is his attempt to meet the problem head-on.
I have to admit, as I sat at my desk writing this sermon, I felt strangely Déjà vu. I remember when I was a child, seeing how much my dad hated his job, he would literally hate it so much that his attendance record at his job must have been deplorable, but thanks be to God, they never fired him.

You’d think that the barometers of job satisfaction would depend on things like salary, job responsibilities and the possibility for advancement. Those aren’t insignificant factors, but, says Lencioni, they aren’t the key values that determine whether or not you have a miserable job. I have said a few times in my career, that it isn’t the job I hate, it is where I am doing it. Lencioni seems to confirm this feeling, as he wrote, “It’s important to understand that being miserable has nothing to do with the actual work a job involves,” says Lencioni. “A professional basketball player can be miserable in his job while the janitor cleaning the locker room behind him finds fulfillment in his work. A marketing executive can be miserable making a million dollars a year while the waitress who serves the executive lunch derives meaning and satisfaction from her job.” I fully agree with Lencioni on this. I have met, as an example, many waitresses and cashiers over the years who have held that same job for eons, and yet are happier than a corporate executive making tons of money.

What makes the difference between a miserable job and a satisfying one? According to Lencioni, it’s the relationships formed on the job, particularly the relationship between manager and employees, which determine whether your job is a dream or a soul-sucking nightmare. Lencioni points to three critical signs that, when put together, form the perfect storm of vocational hell.

As much as this sermon sounds like a topic of “Workplace hell”, however it is actually leading somewhere, so bear with just a tiny bit longer ….

The most telling indicator of job misery is
anonymity. “People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known,” says Lencioni. People need to have a sense of being understood and appreciated for their unique personality and gifts, and that feedback needs to come from someone in a position of authority. If people feel invisible or anonymous in the workplace, particularly to their supervisor, they can’t love their job no matter what it is or what it pays. We’re not talking about the need for constant praise here, just a sense that someone in authority cares about the people in their charge.

The second sign is
irrelevance — not knowing that your job matters to someone, to anyone. “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,” remarks Lencioni. A job must have some kind of purpose and impact on others, even if it’s just flipping hamburgers. We all want to feel that what we do matters and that someone will miss us if we’re gone.

Lencioni invented the word
“immeasurement” to describe the third sign. Immeasurement illuminates the fact that employees “need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves.” Employees don’t want their jobs to be merely judged subjectively by the opinions of others, which can lead to politics and posturing in the workplace. They want to know how they measure up based on a set of agreed-upon criteria. Measurements don’t necessarily have to be numerical, but they do have to be tangible. Take a bagger at a grocery store, for example. How many bags he fills on an hourly basis is one measurement, but there are others, such as how many times he makes a customer smile or the time it takes for him to move customers through the line. Humans like to feel a healthy sense of competition, seeing it as an opportunity not only to measure performance but to improve it.
These three statements by Lencioni are so very true. In my 27 years in retail management, I have seen how true these statements are. As an example, our company recently unveiled a new employee review system. Instead of the manager sitting down with the employee telling them how he feels they are doing, they must take a criteria of 8 items and tell the managers how they think they are doing and then the manager critiques that. I find that completely demoralizing, however. An employee already knows how they feel; they hardly need to write it down. They want to know how their manager feels about them.

These signs that Lencioni talks about all seem like pretty elementary stuff that anybody who works with people should understand. It should be a given that leaders know their people well and care about them, help them see how their place on the team matters and give them markers to assess their progress. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work that way. Its little wonder, then, that job misery more often than not spills over into the other aspects of a person’s life. Health problems, addictions, broken relationships at home — these are just some of the byproducts of a miserable job.

However, I said all this was leading somewhere and here it is. I simply have taken a familiar topic and stretched it out a bit to help everyone relate to what I am going to say from today’s lesson.

We weren’t created to work this way or live this way, for that matter. We were made to enjoy a fulfilling and life-giving relationship with God and with others. We were created to live with purpose and to measure our lives not in terms of the dollars we earn or the amount of stuff we own or produce but by the amount of love we give and receive.

Jesus came that we might have “life, and have it abundantly”. If there’re markers for a miserable job and, a miserable life, Jesus offers a completely different set of signs to mark a life that is ultimately fulfilled and fulfilling

As John 10 opens, Jesus is still engaged in a rather heated exchange with the Pharisees — a conversation sparked by Jesus’ healing of the man born blind in John 9. The Pharisees were acting like the ultimate bad boss, engaging in religious ruthlessness rather than in compassion and amazement at the man’s healing. Notice that the blind man is never named — he’s anonymous, and the Pharisees seem to care less about the man himself than about the legality of him being healed on the Sabbath. In response, Jesus draws on a different vocational metaphor to counter the misery-making legalism of the Pharisees.

It would’ve been hard to imagine a more miserable first-century job than shepherding sheep. Besides the grinding boredom of moving sheep back and forth from water to pasture to sheepfold, shepherds faced long periods of time away from home and family. Living most of the time in the open, and they were often pounded by harsh weather. Their nomadic life meant that they could dine on only the most basic foods. Certainly not with the preservatives that modern day food has either. Besides that, they and their flocks were in constant danger from animal predators like lions, bears and wolves and human predators like sheep-stealing thieves. Shepherds were among the poorest of the poor.

It’s interesting, then, that in John 10 Jesus chooses to put himself in the shepherding role to describe his relationship to his followers. In doing so, he placed himself firmly in the prophetic tradition of Ezekiel, which describes God as the good shepherd who cares for the sheep. By calling himself the “good shepherd”, Jesus identifies himself as fulfilling the role and promises of God.

Back up a bit to verses 1-10, though, and you see that Jesus is setting up a contrast between the shepherd who cares for the flock and the “thieves and bandits” who come only to “steal, kill and destroy”. The Pharisees may have seen themselves as the benevolent bosses of the people, but Jesus makes it clear that their oppressive religious posturing is bringing the people nothing but misery. They’re clueless managers who just don’t get it. Jesus, on the other hand, understands the needs of his flock and is invested in bringing “abundant life” to those in his care.

Here, then, is the second set of threes:

The signs of the
abundant life: Being known. No anonymity here. The abundant life has everything to do with the relationship of the shepherd to the sheep. For Jesus, the first and foremost sign of an abundant life has to do with knowing and being known. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” says Jesus of the shepherd, “and the sheep follow him because they know his voice”. If a basic human need is to be valued by someone in authority, Jesus is all over this. We don’t serve a dispassionate, disconnected God who sits in a divine office dispensing orders. In Christ, God knows us by name, values us, and cares for us. In a world that seems to always operate out of a sense of scarcity, where the operative principle is always wanting, doing or being more, Jesus offers an abundance of love, grace and hope.

Moreover, the church has always recognized the value of being known, not only by God in Jesus Christ, but by each other. Thus the emphasis on hospitality and community. You could say that church is meant to be a cheery place where “everyone knows my name.” If not everyone, at least enough people to satisfy the human need for being known.

Relevance: That love isn’t just a sentimental thought. Jesus would “lay down his life” and be the “gate” through whom all his sheep, his people, would “come in” and “be saved”. The love and care of the Good Shepherd has a purpose. We are people who can make a difference! We’re not just saved from the dangers of life apart from God; we are also saved for the mission of sharing the abundant life in Christ with others. Jesus came to bring an abundant life and says to us, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.

Our relevance in the world isn’t based on our job title, on what we produce or how much we make. No one gets out of bed in the morning to program software or assemble furniture or do whatever it is that accountants do. They get out of bed to live their lives, and their work tasks are merely part of their lives. An abundant life embraces a larger vision of life and our place in the world. As Paul put it, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). I suppose it is much like a little saying some of you may have heard before, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down!” No matter what job, family or life situation we find ourselves in, we find relevance when we see our connectedness to the purposes of God for the whole world. When we function in our jobs or just the everyday, seemingly mundaine life, if we simply put Christ at the head of it, life doesn’t seem nearly as bad.

And finally, it’s about
Ministry, not measurement: 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.” Whether you manage workers or just your own life, viewing your work as a ministry is a step toward understanding your relevance.

Measuring the abundant life involves a different kind of math than the rest of the world uses. All the things that typically mark success in the world don’t add up to a hill of beans in the eyes of Jesus. The abundant life is always outwardly focused, always concerned about how much one gives rather than gets. If there’s a measuring stick for the followers of Jesus, then it has to be Jesus himself. We measure ourselves by asking, “How well did we represent Jesus? How did I reflect his presence in my life? Did I move the kingdom of heaven a little closer to earth today?”

As I mentioned earlier, I have often noticed how the most humble of workers, are probably the happiest workers. We should not live to work, but work to live. Some become slaves to their jobs so as to have more and more. But what really counts is to have more happiness and to have it fully with Jesus. No matter how glorious a job or how exuberant the pay; nothing can match the happiness found in Jesus and letting Him be our directing force, not our jobs.

Being a disciple of Jesus may be a tough job, but it’s certainly not a miserable one. After all, we serve a divine manager, a shepherd, who loves us enough to die for us — one who gives us an abundant life designed to be fully lived with and for him.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.