Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shepherds and a Shoeshine

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field . . . (Luke 2:8)

His commute to work took an hour and a half and involved catching more than one bus.

For more than 30 years Albert Lexie made this journey twice each week, leaving his home in Monessen, Pennsylvania, and making the journey to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. Arriving early in the morning he would begin his work for the day. For 30 years Albert has served the Children’s Hospital community by shining shoes.

This week Albert Lexie is retiring at age 71. Having faithfully tended his post for 30 years, he is being celebrated by a grateful hospital staff. In this modest role he has engendered the affections of the people who work at Children’s as well as many patients and their families.

A number of factors might explain his popularity: his long tenure there, the quality of his work, his likeable demeanor that endears him to others. All of those things could be said of Albert Lexie. But what is truly admirable is his generosity. Since 1981 Lexie has given $200,000 of his personal income to the hospital’s Free Care Fund.

For three decades the task of shining shoes has been incidental to Lexie’s true work: Making children well. His job was about shoes. His vocation was about changing lives.

Shining shoes and shepherding are nothing alike, but they share this in common: neither of them are careers to which we aspire. We don’t dream of seeing our kids shine shoes, and when Jesus was born no one thought very highly of shepherding.

At Christmas we tend to romanticize and sentimentalize the shepherds. When Luke tells us that “there were shepherds abiding in the fields at night” we could easily substitute “there was a DOT worker standing in a toll booth during the night shift.” The shepherds were working – and working a very mundane job at that.

Interestingly, once the shepherds had gone to Bethlehem and seen the Christ child we are told that “they returned praising and glorifying God.” Returned to what? They went back to same job, same flock, same fields – but they went back with more than a task. They had a vocation. They had good news to tell.

Some of you, perhaps many of you, are reading this as you get ready for a day of work. You might even be at work. As we reflect on the shepherds at Christmas and a man who shines shoes, this question comes up: What are you working for today? This is different than asking what your job is, or who your boss is. A better and deeper question is what is your work about?

The significance of what you do is not defined by a title you have or a position you hold in the organization. You don’t find a vocation by earning advanced degrees. Albert Lexi shows us that the most ordinary work can make a difference in the lives of people.

As you go back to work, return like the shepherds. Work like Albert Lexi. Even the smallest and most ordinary tasks have meaning when done by people who know they are called.

Be glorified in my work today, O God. And help me to find meaning in your call – more than title or position or income. Work through me to accomplish your work in this world, I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

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