Sunday 23rd January 2022
3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

Many businesses, companies and corporations have what are described as "mission statements" or similar declarations of purpose and identity; (as indeed do local churches.) Jesus' use of the words of the prophet Isaiah at the outset of his ministry is often portrayed in similar terms - many have described it as his "manifesto". The values embraced by these significant words of Scripture have an application to every aspect of our lives. Those so inclined might easily consider what this says to us about the world of work.

Through work and wealth creation, we can bring Good News to the poor, yet we also know that some of our economic and market-driven systems can serve to reinforce and exacerbate poverty. In a similar way, accessible, well-paid and fulfilling work can do much to provide hope, vision and release for those who feel captives to their circumstances. Work can also be a means of oppression, holding people captive and blinding them to better possibilities. Those to whom the world of work offers power and influence can use this for good, or become blind to their responsibilities and the needs of those around them. Work is not in and of itself evil, but it can be used for evil ends. These words of Jesus offer a powerful value set for any business enterprise and context.

The story of Nehemiah might be offered as a further commentary on this. Although the set passage comes at the end of Nehemiah's programme of restoration, his story begins as someone who is very much trapped in a workplace situation of oppression and captivity. He is an exile, forced to work in the court of a foreign king, but he does allow his circumstances to overcome him, retains a vision for a renewed Jerusalem, and eventually uses his workplace connections as a means of opportunity. Part of the present reality of God's Kingdom is that many of us may well face life circumstances that would not be of our choosing - these are often epitomised by our access (or lack of it) to work and the experiences that come with it. God calls us amidst circumstances that may not always be easy, to hold on to our vision of the purpose and possibilities of His Kingdom.