In 1st Corinthians 15, Paul gives us the longest treatise on the resurrection in the whole Bible. It’s one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture. It’s about the world being set right, everything is how it should be, death is no longer a factor. But Paul chooses to end this chapter in a strange way. He says, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Which is kind of a strange way to end this chapter isn’t it? He ends by talking about our work.
If the resurrection is about going to another place in the sky, than this doesn’t make sense. But if it is something else, sometime about this world being renewed, than that changes everything. Because what you do here and now matters.
So a couple of weeks ago, the world lost one of the greatest men of the last century. His name was John Wooden, and the world knew him as a phenomenal basketball coach. He won 10 national NCAA basketball championships in 12 years, a feat not even approached by other coaches. He is in the Hall of Fame as both a NCAA player and a coach. In other words, he knew his stuff. Guys that went through his program had more than their skills honed, they had their characters shaped. They became good players, and good men.
But to some people he was more than just a great coach. Rick Reilly, the ESPN sports writer, has written extensively on Wooden’s inner life. In the last article he wrote after Wooden’s death, he wrote about his relationship with Nelly, his late wife:
“He [Wooden] took me into his bedroom once, in 2000. The clocks were all wrong. He stopped them at the time of Nellie’s death, 15 years before. Only one side of the bed was slept in, and above the sheet, not under them, and hadn’t been since the day she died. On her pillow were hundreds of little letters in envelopes tied up in bundles by yellow ribbons. He wrote her every month telling her how much he loved her and what all the kids were doing. Did it right up until the last few months of his life, when his eyes stopped working.”
Wooden showed the world what it meant to be both great at your job and a great person.
And Wooden did it all as a devout Christian. Because he was a devout Christian.
But the problem with that is that it happens all too rarely. Think about this, when someone hands you a business card with a Jesus fish on it, do you automatically feel reassurance? Do you think, this must be someone who will give their best because they aren’t just working for money or an employer, they must be working for the Lord? Maybe you aren’t as skeptical as me, but in my experience, there isn’t always a very good correlation between over Christian business’ and quality workmanship.
Now my experience could be skewed, and I know that there are plenty of great Christian business men and women out there. And that’s why I wanted to write this. Because Paul has got a word for us that makes all the difference.
The other day I was hanging out with some RHCC quilting ladies (a much wilder experience than you might think) and they were telling me about what they’ve done over the years. Every week a couple of dozen ladies sit down and make blankets for the under-privaledged. They give their quilts to the mentally handicapped, the orphans, kids in the cancer wards, basically anyone who needs to keep warm. And after hearing their stories this is what I told them.
That what they did is going to matter forever. The resurrection means that every quilt they made is going to have echoes into eternity. That every honest act of trade from a car mechanic to your plumber is going to have eternal ripples.
Look at one of my favorite quotes from N.T. Wright about our work in relation to the resurrection:
“You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that is about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on a fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are-strange as it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself-accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness, every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course ever prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world-all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.”
So John Wooden’s career was a great one, he did what no one else in his field has ever, or probably will ever do. ESPN talks about Wooden and uses words like legacy, but they have no idea what kind of legacy he’s really going to leave behind. Or really how long it will last. Even if by some long shot someone breaks his records it still doesn’t matter. Because Wooden’s life, and his work was in tune with God’s new Creation, and now nothing can destroy what he chose to do with his time.
Because the resurrection means your labor is not in vain.