A few years ago I visited a friend in Wilmington, Delaware, and preached at her church, Trinity Parish. The more than 100-year-old church was once one of the predominant features of the downtown Wilmington landscape. But now its spires are dwarfed by the immense gleaming Chase Bank skyscraper.

Trinity Parish and Chase Bank are next door neighbors. On Sundays, the bank allows church members to park in its parking lot.

But the rest of the week, these two side-by-side buildings represent two very different worlds — the world of religion and the world of the marketplace; worlds that seldom, if ever, come in contact with each other.

The outward appearances of this modern urban landscape are very different from the time of Jesus, but the realities they represent are much the same. In Jesus’ day, many religious leaders shunned the world of the marketplace, making sharp distinctions between the religious and the irreligious, the pure and the impure, the sacred and the secular.

It may have, of course, been necessary at times to do business with the money handlers, but the boundaries were distinct. No socializing, no real interaction, no acknowledging one another as fellow children of God.

To a devout Jew, to mingle with the money handlers meant contaminating one’s self, to make one’s self less pure in the eyes of God.

That is why it is so shocking that Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector, to be his disciple.

In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were considered the prime example of sin. In Jewish eyes, they occupied the bottom rung of life in the marketplace They were considered thieves and traitors who worked for the Roman government, the enemy of all good, faithful Jews.

The tax collectors were Jewish, but they were agents of Rome. They collected the taxes levied by the Roman government, and were free to raise those taxes and keep the surplus for themselves.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus himself uses tax collectors as an example of people who always act in their own self interest.

There was no such thing as an honest, upright, God-fearing tax collector. The faithful, the religious, the pure, avoided all contact with such as these,

But not Jesus. He not only speaks to Matthew  — he invites him to come and share in his ministry, to share in God’s work.

And he doesn’t stop there. Jesus invites many tax collectors and others seen as sinners to come and eat with him. Jesus acts as host of the banquet, inviting those who were not clean enough to enter the Temple to eat at the table of the Son of God.

No wonder the religious leaders of the day were appalled. Jesus had broken every boundary, crossed every line.

Jesus blurs the distinction between the church and the marketplace, the sacred and the secular. By inviting Matthew to join his ministry, Jesus is saying that the work of God is to be carried out not just in the Temple, but throughout the world, even the marketplace.

He is saying that God’s work is to be done not just by professional religious types, but by all people, no matter their profession.

In our day, Jesus is still working to blur those boundaries.

We no longer have the strict purity codes that prohibit people of faith from associating with money handlers and tax collectors. Leading bankers and business people are often valued members of the church.

But too often we still draw those distinctions between the sacred and the secular. We compartmentalize our lives. We too often think of our “religious” lives as only the things we do here in church.

We come to worship on Sunday mornings. We sing in the choir or serve on the altar guild or as lay readers. We serve on the vestry or various committees.

The temptation is to think of these things as the sum of our ministry, or our religious life.

Don’t get me wrong. All of these are good, important, and necessary ways of serving God. But we must not allow our lives to be compartmentalized into the church and the world.

By far the great majority of us gathered here today spend most of our lives in the secular world. Our jobs, whether in the home, the marketplace, or the community, are the main context in which we live our lives as Christians.

Years ago, when I was working on a newspaper in Nashville, and had only recently returned to church, my priest asked me, “How do you see your work as ministry?”

At first, I had no response. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my work was a ministry, even though I had never thought of it that way before.

As a reporter, I could minister by treating the people I interviewed with respect and fairness, and by holding accountable those in power. 

As an editor, I could minister by my decisions on which stories we should cover, making sure that important issues were brought before the community, and that the needs and concerns of those on the margins of society were heard.

As a manager, I could minister in the way I treated people who worked for me.

All of us have similar opportunities to do God’s work wherever we are. Any job, paid or unpaid, no matter how seemingly mundane or menial, is an opportunity for partnership with God.

In the book “Being God’s Partner: How to Find the Link Between Spirituality and Your Work,” author Jeffrey Salkin recalls a conversation he had with his mover.

The man said he saw his work as a ministry, a comment that surprised Salkin.

“It’s like this,” the mover explained. “Moving is hard for most people. It’s a very vulnerable time for them. People are anxious about moving to a new community, and about having strangers pack their most precious possessions.

“So I think God wants me to treat my customers with love and to make them feel that I care about their things and their life. God wants me to help make their changes go smoothly.”

It seems to me that we are in a period when the Church too often makes sharp distinctions between the sacred and the secular, rather than working to equip the faithful to do God’s work in the world.

James Fenhagen, the former dean of General Seminary in New York, suggests that the church really exists in two forms.

There is the “gathered” church, the group of the faithful who come together on Sunday mornings or other times of the week. The church gathers to worship and pray, to study and learn, to support one another in times of crisis and joy.

But the church is only gathered for a few hours of the week. For the great majority of the time we are what Fenhagen calls the “scattered” church. We leave this community to go many places and do many tasks. And when we scatter to our various places, we take the church with us.

In many ways, it is in the scattering that the real work of the church is done. Our post-communion prayers remind us of that, asking God to “send us out into the world to do the work which you have given us to do.”

When we scatter to do that work, we find that far from being separate worlds, the church and the marketplace are really reflections of each other.

When you look at Chase Bank in Wilmington, Delaware, what you see reflected in its mirrored glass is the image of Trinity Parish. You can not look at one without seeing the other. Both are arenas for God’s work.

It was in the worldly marketplace of Jerusalem that Christ accomplished our redemption; and it is in similar marketplaces where it is continued.


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