Reflections to start the week
Monday, September 1, 2014
It’s been said that praying shapes believing. What we pray for, what we ask for molds our hearts and directs our affections. Prayer is not about the ways we can change God (as much as I often treat God in my prayers like celestial valet). Prayer is about the change that happens in us as we offer joys and concerns to a power greater than ourselves. With that in mind, on this Labor Day morning, I share a prayer crafted by our church in honor of Labor Day (see below). Labor Day, along with Thanksgiving and Independence Day, is one of the few national holidays included in the church calendar, with appropriate prayers and scripture readings appointed for the day. That says to me that our faith cares a lot about the ways that we regard our work and the work of others.
So let’s unpack this prayer a bit to see how it shapes belief. I don’t know a whole lot about the history behind it, but I’m imagining it was written well before Thomas Friedman pointed out that the world is flat, his way of describing globalization. With prescience, in this collect, we note that our lives are linked one with another. All we do affects, for good or ill, the lives of others. It’s the notion that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Japan affects the weather in Brazil. It’s the experience I have when I’m changing airline reservations or asking a question about my banking statement and discover I’m talking to someone in Manila or Bangalore. Our faith notes our connection with each other. We’re in this together, workers among workers. We depend on each other.
We pray today to be guided in the work we do. What would it mean to offer that prayer each Monday morning, perhaps each morning. One way to put faith to work in the world is to take it a day at a time, to ask that God’s spirit guide, given that we don’t know what a day will bring.
We pray that our work will be guided in a specific way: that it won’t be for self alone but for the common good. Of course, work has a component of self-fulfillment, the realization and stewardship of our gifts which can bring great joy in work. As Frederick Buechner famously noted in his description of vocation, we work best when our work responds to our deep gladness. But it becomes true and authentic vocation when that deep gladness intersects with the world’s deep hunger. How do your labors, your energies work for the common good? How do they realize that intersection?
What kind of work are we talking about? It can be work for pay. It can be work as a volunteer. It can be work set before us in our household, our neighborhood, our church. And on those occasions when work seems boring or pointless, a focus on others can bring meaning to menial tasks. A focus on service can inspire and animate.
We pray that as we seek a proper return for our labor, whatever that may be, we will be mindful of the rightful aspirations of others, again seeing ourselves as part of something greater than ourselves. We are called to be mindful of those who are out of work, who often slip into invisibility, calling us as people of faith to work for a common life filled with wider opportunity and meaningful engagement for all.
Today, we honor the work we have been given to do. We thank God for it. We ask God to bless it. But as in so many dimensions of our faith, as we think about our work, we are called to think about others. As we focus on ourselves, our own journeys, we find meaning in those journeys when we look beyond ourselves, and wrap our minds around the common good. Find a way to do that on this holiday.
- Jay Sidebotham
The Collect for Labor Day
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Love and work, work and love, that’s all there is. -Sigmund Freud
Therefore, my beloved…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. -Philippians 2:12-13
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.