LABOR DAY WEEKEND 2013
Psalm 128, Luke 10: 1-12, 16-20
This is the weekend we recognize and honor all whose hard work and effort make up the backbone and strength of this country. It’s a day of parades, family cookouts, and finishing up our summer’s activities. This is a secular and not a religious holiday, but even so there are spiritual implications to employment. For our work, whether its caring for children, running a business, or volunteering our time has a significant impact upon who we are and what we become.
Scripture emphasizes the importance of work. In the creation story we are told that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). So even in the very beginning the God expected people on earth to work, to take care of things. Then in the Ten Commandments, the God says, “six days you shall labor and do all your work and one day is for the Lord. And when the Lord sent out the seventy to proclaim the Gospel to all in Luke 10, he told them not to take money or garments, “for the laborer is worthy of his wages” He expected that they would be rewarded for what they did.
It’s not hard to see how valuable work is in our lives. When the opposite occurs and we’re forced to be idle due to extended illness or unemployment, how do we feel? Frustrated? Depressed? Feelings of uselessness can rob us of our self-esteem and can destroy our desire to do anything.
That’s why retirement can be a challenge to so many people. People who had been accustomed to hard work suddenly find themselves without any need to get up in the morning. All too often we become defined by what we do, not who we are. Until usefulness is re-discovered in other ways, retirement can seem like a pointless waste. It’s hell to be without any self-perceived use in life. It is easily seen in the faces of the long-term unemployed who have been passed over so many times for any job that they have given up.
However the excessively rich have different issues. Obviously money has nothing whatsoever to do with whether a person one gets to heaven. People, who lead useless lives because of their wealth, whether earned or inherited, will likely find little happiness in the spiritual world. Spending a life finding new and more exciting ways to amuse themselves self for themselves is hardly the Scriptural norm of employment.
Some people may complain that they have to work to earn a living. But it is actually a blessing that we need to find jobs. Being able to work, to find gainful employment outside the home, or devote one’s attention to rearing a family and taking care of a home, are ways that God has provided for us to learn to be useful.
We can talk and talk about what we believe, about what ought to be done in this world, but if we don’t do anything about it, what is the point? Genuine charity and love for others exists in what we do for them. And our jobs when we perform them justly and fairly, whatever they are, become lives of charity.
To have regular work establishes a structure for our lives. Another way of saying this is that, work keeps us out of trouble. It occupies our time; it keeps us busy. Even more than that, working is the Lord’s way of teaching us to be useful.
The Holy Spirit oversees the process of our growing up and finding work so that we might be productive. We all know how children take such delight in learning. In the course of their education most will discover subjects or skills that draw their attention. After graduation, these delights will lead them to find work in these areas. As beginners, though, they are not particularly capable. For example, a first year surgeon is not ready for complicated brain surgery. There is always more to learn. But as it gained, as mastery comes that initial delight of childhood is restored–an affection for the work grows, which is an affection for being useful.
From work, people become able to learn how to help others and be productive and useful. This is especially seen in the story of Jacob. Jacob had to flee his home after he had stolen the birthright and blessing from his older brother Esau, who rightfully deserved them. Without land, without herds, he had nothing; he was nothing. Then he saw the beautiful Rachel, the woman he desired for a wife. Laban agreed to the marriage and to Jacob’s offer to work for him for seven years for Rachel. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed but a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20). Unfortunately for Jacob, after the seven years he found himself married to Leah, the older sister. But after agreeing to another seven years of labor, he was permitted to marry
Rachel also. Then, in need of flocks and herds, he agreed to work for Laban another seven years that he might acquire some. Thus, at the end of over twenty years of work, Jacob returned home a wealthy man.
What happened during those years? In addition to acquiring a family and wealth, the work was the means the Lord used to change Jacob, to mature him. For when he finally returned home he asked his bother’s forgiveness and recognized his seniority. This could not have happened unless he had grown through the work unless he had developed a new set of priorities.
As Jacob learned to be useful, we do too. Often we start out with selfish goals at our jobs, but we learn to be more productive, the Lord can change our attitudes from working for selfish ends to find a reward in doing something good for others. Work can have heavenly qualities when we serve the God while doing them.
As we perform to the best of our abilities in our jobs, we serve God. We do His work while we do our work. For everything is part of the God’s way of helping people. God enables people to participate in His Creation. He operates through us to bring about heavenly conclusions. He is present in every interaction between people, guiding them so that their spiritual lives may grow.
This means is that there is no meaningless labor on this earth. Each job, from the most poorly paid menial work to the most exalted executive position, contributes to God’s purpose in creation. God will use every facet of our labor, to further heaven on earth from the human race. Even though our materialistic culture tends to measure personal worth by what we are paid, that is not how the God looks at this. God sees in each of us how fair we are trying to be, how dedicated we are to doing our jobs well. This determines our quality, the worth of our labors.
The job we do is not as important as our approach to it. Is it simply a way to earn money to buy more things? Or is it a way to be of service? While many jobs are relatively unrewarding in this world, our attitude toward them can make them better or worse. If we focus on the money earned, the prestige acquired, or rapid advancement possibilities, we are likely to become dissatisfied.
But if we focus on our usefulness, then any job can have its joys and rewards. If our love in our working lives only to be useful, looking for better jobs or promotions but these will be but means, not the end.
Our work opens doors for us to work with God’s purpose for creation. As we learn to care for others, heaven can grow within us. Not that just by working hard we will somehow buy our way into heaven, but that through our labors and our service, the truths of religion come to life.
As the psalmist said, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you” (128:1,2). The labors of their hands are their rewards of their use in our lives. Because we love of serving others, we devote ourselves to our work.
Let us on this Labor Day delight in our usefulness. Let us delight in the fact that as we work, we realize it is our assigned ministry. May we be blessed by it and honored to perform it. It is our place in the Kingdom.
May it be so.