Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Story of God CN | Beautiful Faith at Work in a Sanitation Truck


If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, or Beethoven composed music ...  Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: "Here lived a great sweeper who swept his job well." + MLK

For this Special City Notes, in honor of the work we get to do in the city of Worcester across all our vocations that serve our communities and neighbors, and to complement the "Faith at Work" interviews I have had the joy to do with people throughout Emmaus City Church, I want to provide you with an overview of how God's story in the Bible shapes how we approach our jobs. And what better job to highlight than our sanitation workers who fight biological warfare for us to help keep our city healthy and clean.

Adapted excerpts from Bruce's story in The Symphony of Mission:
Playing Your Part in God's Work in the World by Michael W. Goheen and Jim Mullins

Creation: Each morning, Bruce steps into his truck, prays for God's blessing, fires up the engine, and begins his route. While most other drivers find little meaning in their work, Bruce knows that he's embarking on a mission. The hands that grip the steering wheel were created to display the glory of God. One of the first cards he reads each morning displays this quote from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:

If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, or Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: "Here lived a great sweeper who swept his job well."

Another index card bears the words of Genesis 2:15: "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." As he reads these words, Bruce is reminded that just as God placed Adam in the garden of Eden, so he has placed Bruce in that truck. Bruce's particular plot in God's garden happens to be the back alleys of his city. He cultivates that space for the glory of God. The broken glass, old furniture, weeds, and cinder-block walls are the materials of his sanctuary, a sacred space that belongs to God ... Every plastic bag or dirty diaper that Bruce keeps off the streets is an offering to honor his King. He sees himself as beautifying God's good earth and protecting the masterpiece of God's creation.

Creation Core Questions: Who am I? How is my identity formed and defined?

Crisis: "The reason I find so much joy in my work is that I believe every inch of this world belongs to God and that by keeping the city clean, I'm serving him. He made us to flourish, but everything got messed up a long time ago. All the proof you need is in the back of this garbage truck. When you look back here, you see a lot of formerly good things that are now broken, rotting, and decaying. What used to be a nourishing meal is now rotting meat; what was a good chair is now splintered wood. You and I both know that what's happening in the back of this truck isn't limited to the garbage bin. It's happening in countries at war, in the cancer growing in Dave's liver, in the corruption of politics, in the strain of our marriages, and in the pain we feel in our knees. Sin isn't just a list of bad things you shouldn't do but a disease that infects all of creation, starting with every human heart. It would make sense for God to crush this whole world and all that's broken. However, he doesn't intend to throw the world in the garbage heap but plans to recycle, renew, and restore all things."

Crisis Core Questions: What problems do I see? Who's to blame?

Covenant Community: Bruce's working before the face of God, lifting up each trash bin with that robotic arm as if his own hands were raised in worship. His coworkers may give him a hard time for his strange love of sanitation, but behind their banter there's a deep level of respect. Several of them treat Bruce as a mentor and a man of integrity who can speak into many aspects of life. His coworkers often show up at his house during the weekends to eat pancakes with the rest of his family. Bruce and his wife have three of their own children, but there are eight seats at their kitchen table. Each week they ask God to fill those seats with people who need a sense of family. Often the seats are filled by Bruce's coworkers, especially the younger ones who have become estranged from their own families. Bruce and his wife know they've been adopted by the Father through Christ, so they take a posture of adoption toward all who need a family.

Covenant Community Core Questions: How do I find people to belong to, to trust?

Christ: "When Jesus came into this world, he entered the garbage bin of this earth to make all things new. He didn't just snap his fingers to make things better. He stepped into the trash compactor in our place: 'He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed' (Isa. 53:5). Essentially, whenever you see that hydraulic trash compactor crushing the brokenness, you should be reminded of what Jesus did on the cross. He was crushed so that we, along with the world don't have to be. In his resurrection, he shows the power of God to deal with the brokenness of sin, Satan, and death – and to renew the world."

Christ Core Questions: What will save me, others, and the world?

Church: Not only does Bruce give of his time for the sake of his coworkers; he also intentionally chooses the hardest routes. By bearing the burden of a difficult route, he imitates the self-giving pattern of the cross. Driving his garbage truck isn't just a means of serving his coworkers; it's Bruce's way of washing the feet of the city. As he drives through each alley, he prays over the homes there, prays for the flourishing of the city. He imagines what would happen if nobody were to pick up the trash. Life would become miserable as God's good world would be covered in garbage, and the stench would offend the nostrils of the whole neighborhood. Disease would drive people from their homes. By removing trash from the streets, Bruce tangibly loves his neighbor. His coworkers often ask Bruce why his life is so different, why he loves his job so much, and why he goes the extra mile to serve others. It would be easy for Bruce to give them a stale, memorized gospel presentation. Instead, Bruce has reflected deeply on the redemptive analogies that are embedded in his context. So he often takes his coworkers to the back of the truck to look at the trash and says something like the Crisis and Christ sections above ... After one of these conversations with Bruce, some people roll their eyes or politely try to change the subject. But sometimes people want to learn more, and Bruce invites them to come be with some people with his church so that they can experience community and see the gospel lived out in the lives of many different people. And occasionally, Bruce has the privilege of baptizing one of his coworkers in the community pool at his apartment complex.

Church Core Questions: How do I approach my work, calling, and purpose? (And again, how do I find people to belong to, to trust?)

(New) Creation: What can we notice about Bruce's participation in God's mission? You probably noticed that his life displays the gospel from many angles. He displays God's character through his good work, his sacrificial service to his coworkers, and his gospel analogies from within his context to verbally proclaim the gospel. Rather than pitting these aspects of mission against one another
 –debating which one is most important – he embraces all three of them, knowing that work, service, and evangelism were intended to work together to bear witness to God and offer a glimpse into the shalom that is the goal of the true story of the world.

(New) Creation Core Questions: What is ultimately worth placing my hope in?

Now, after taking a deeper look at Bruce's work and as you think about your own work, I invite you to consider these four questions:

1. How does God reveal what the work of the Creator, Gardener, Builder, Healer, Champion, etc., is like through my work? (Creation / Identity) 

2. Where do I experience brokenness with my job (ex. how I relate to it, how it does or does not accomplish its goals, etc.)? Where do I see brokenness in how I and others relate to the work I do? (Crisis / Problem) 

3. When do I see reflections of God's work of redemption (i.e. bringing freedom, value, restoration) in myself and others as I work? (Covenant Community + Christ / Promises, People, Redemption) 

4. When do I sense that my work is part of God's greater work in the world? (Church / Purpose)

Asking these questions, along with observing how our work interacts within the Story of God, can help us understand how Jesus comes to rescue us and set us free not to diminish our work into idolatry or idleness.

Work Idolatry Examples
+ "My job is my primary source of value, identity, and satisfaction; I know who I am and my worth by what title I hold." 
"My job is the way I can perform the best in order to promote my success and make a name for myself to boost my reputation among those I most want to impress."  
Work Idleness Examples
"My job is just another means to make money, bide my time before the weekend, and get to vacation and eventually retirement." 
+ "My job is the most frustrating thing in my life because I control it the least, so I invest my worst self in it and save my best for other things (i.e. entertainment, hobbies, escape)."

May we each receive Jesus' rescue and find our identity in the God who made us and welcomes us into a greater story that helps us see our work for what it truly is
  the garden God has placed us in where we get to steward what God gives, serve those around us, and tell the story of renewal.

Lady K-Fever Sanitation Truck Artwork NYC

More Story of God posts:

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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