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The Ethics of Working on Sunday

I promise I am not making this up …

My daughter, taking a break from her pursuit of a graduate degree, is a server at the Chili’s a few miles down from our house. Like many others her age she is already pretty critical of the church and its obvious hypocrisies. Her cynicism is neither atypcial nor incomprehensible. Nor does this kind of thing help ”her or others.

A group of six church-goers came in the other night after their evening services and sat down, not in her area but in another server’s. When the girl came to greet them and take their drink order, one of them said, “We want to tell you up front that we will not be tipping you tonight because …”

Are you ready?

“… we do not believe in people working on Sunday.”

The girl, taken aback, stammered out something like, “I wouldn’t have to work on Sunday if so many church people didn’t come in,” or some such. She was furious. So was the manager of the restaurant whom she summoned to deal with them. I think he should have tossed the people out on their … uh … Bibles. To his credit, and demonstrating something like agape all around, he did say to them, “Well, we don’t believe in making our people work for nothing, so I will be serving you tonight.” And he did. God bless him.

No one is consistent. I am clear on that. But better to confess your own sin in such a situation than presume to see it in another who is just doing the best they can. No wonder Jesus had such animosity toward Pharisees who “lay (heavy burdens) on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4). No wonder an entire generation of would-be believers has such animosity toward the church.

As George MacDonald wrote long ago, “Had you given yourself to understanding his word that you might do it, and not the quarrying from it of material wherewith to buttress your systems, in many a heart by this time would the name of the Lord be loved where now it remains unknown …”

For my part ”and I am a Pharisee myself even saying this, but I cite my practice not with pride but with confession ”I pray for the forgiveness of God and verbally ask the forgiveness of the Hardee’s drive-through lady each Sunday as I buy coffee on my way to church.

I know I am complicit: On the one hand I do wish, with my head and heart, that all people had Sunday free; that said, I do nothing, nothing to lift a finger to make that happen by even so little a fast or act of self-sacrifice as making my own coffee on a busy Sunday morning ”much less by not eating a Sunday lunch or dinner at one of the sit-down places in town.

Thomas R. Steagald is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Stanley, N.C. A version of this column appeared first on his blog.