Labor Day Revisted

Labor Day Revisited

Written by: Rev. Steven Grant

This weekend we will be celebrating the national holiday of Labor Day. This yearly observance does not have the same emotional impact as does Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Veterans Day or 9/11 remembrance days. Nevertheless, Labor Day significantly relates to our American worldview and daily living. Though it may seem a less exciting a subject than some of our other holidays, we must have a clear “theology of work” so that we can fully embrace the significance of honoring those who work.

My impression is that in America we have always valued hard work. We certainly celebrate accomplishment and the effort that goes into it. Despite expressions of TGIF and the all too often heard laments about Monday mornings it has always been part of the American worldview that work is a good thing. However, we must be careful! In an affluent culture such as ours we can easily slip into a mindset that work is something to be avoided. Whether it be the trend to live for the weekends or vacation time, quest for more and more conveniences, the utopia of retirement or simply lapse into fallen man’s tendency to laziness as we can joke – or  maybe it isn’t joke for some – that “work” is a four-letter word.

At the very beginning of the human story, what is the very first thing God had Adam do? Work! “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) And note this was before the Fall! God has purpose for each of our lives and has wired each of us with gifts, abilities and passions to exercise these for the benefit of the whole. He has something for each of us to do. During different seasons of life that may change or evolve, God calls us to work and serve in our own unique ways. It has been said that the happiest people on earth are those who have discerned what God’s purpose is for their lives and spend their lives doing it! They may be able to make more money doing something else but they would not be as content or successful. Ideally, they would not see their work as an obligation, but rather something they want to commit to heart and soul. If they could embrace what God has called them to do, then they could say, “I do not have to work, I get to work! 

Regardless whether a person has been able to get to that point, whatever honorable and meaningful labor that a person does is to be considered as something of value. There are three principles we need to embrace 

First, we value the work that is done because we recognize how interdependent we are on each other. There is a myth of self-sufficiency that allows us to convince ourselves that we are in control and rely only upon ourselves. This is a great delusion. For example, we all need to eat. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I am not going to grow or raise the food I require. I need farmers and others to do that. Further, I am not going to transport it all to my home, I need drivers and grocers to make that food accessible. Speaking of transportation, I am not going to build the roads those trucks need to drive upon, nor am I going to build the trucks. We can analyze all our needs in this way and discover that without the good labor of one another, we would not survive, or at least not enjoy the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. 

The myth of self-sufficiency is assumed because we have financial resources. We allow ourselves to believe that if we have money, we can get what we need. For example, I may say that I am going to build a house because I have a stack of money to pay for it. But that money is useless unless there are people to manufacture the components and others to build the house. Money is only a means of exchange; without people’s labor it is of no value. 

We must shift our understanding of vocation to recognize that whatever the vocation, if honorable, provides a service for the good of the whole. Jesus said that the greatest in the Kingdom is the servant of all. Without a doubt a person is going to make a living by that vocation. Jesus also said that the laborers are worthy of their hire. Labor serves the community and we must live with a spirit of thankfulness, hence the reason for this Labor Day holiday. 

The second principle is that we must value the people who do the work. We tend to admire, celebrate and give high wages to those we see as high achievers of all sorts, as well as celebrities, athletes and cinema actors. This is fine as there are certainly very gifted people who do extraordinary things. But imagine what life would be like if those hearty fellows who pick up our trash every week were not there to do their jobs. Those men would become very important awfully quick! How about our teachers, baggage handles at airports and those who clean the restrooms? There are many jobs that must be done but do not compete for the higher salaries or are held in high esteem. Without them, life would be almost unthinkable. We easily forget this. Case in point, we often say that Solomon built the Temple. Solomon did no such thing. It was built by the thousands of workers who toiled for a very long time to raise that house of worship. 

Finally, the third principle is to observe the Sabbath. God built this into Creation by setting the example Himself. The concept of sabbath is to be observed daily, weekly, yearly; even the land gets a sabbath. Sabbath rest is not self-indulgence but rather the good stewardship of self. Rest and time with the Lord are necessary to function. If we are “burned out” we are less effective in our labor and may even become of no use to all. A distorted idol of an otherwise honorable work ethic, at the expense of sabbath, in the end serves no one at all. 

This concept is so important that God made it a commandment!  “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) Notice what is missing? There is no mention of recreation or family time. God certainly values recreation and family time, but for life to be in balance, He gives us six days to do all we choose to do and one day for rest and time with Him. Good stewardship of self includes developing our relationship with Him. If we neglect this, we diminish the spiritual resources we need to draw upon in good times and bad. Without a close relationship with our Lord it is much more difficult to live as His instrument as He desires. As with any relationship, it takes time, attention and commitment. God demands we set aside adequate periods of time regularly for that purpose.

God’s work never ends, and what He calls us to do is part of His work in the world. But never forget, the best work God may do in your life, includes the work He is doing within you. May we learn to value the good work people do as well as the work we do. May we embrace with gratitude the people who provide that work. Let Labor Day be more than a three-day weekend complete with auto and appliance sales, but a time to be grateful to God and for each other! 

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