Faith at work: Thoughts on Labor Day
Along with Thanksgiving and Independence Day, Labor Day is one of three national holidays that has made its way into the church calendar. Why so few? Why these three? What’s the spiritual dimension to Labor Day, as prayers and scriptures selected for the day pose questions about the work we do?
A reading from Ecclesiasticus celebrates the variety of kinds of work that people do, smiths and potters and such. What kind of work would that passage talk about today? How can today’s work be so celebrated, so honored?
A reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians focuses on what it means to build a life. It asks about the work we do, paid or unpaid, about the kind of foundation on which we build. What would it mean to build on Jesus Christ, as St. Paul recommends?
In the gospel, an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges the disciples to think about where they are giving their hearts. Jesus says: Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. In our work, do we give our hearts to that which will not satisfy our hearts?
(We’ve listed those readings below. Take a few minutes on this national holiday to reflect on those passages.)
I’m particularly taken with the prayer crafted for Labor Day, mindful that our praying shapes our believing. This Monday morning, pray it with me. It’s found below. Parse that prayer a bit, beginning by noting that our lives are linked one with another. Recently, I’ve been reminded by three ways that we are all connected.
For starters, I’m mindful of the ways that life came to a halt on a Monday afternoon as the sun sped across the continent, eclipsed by the moon. In a time when our nation seems more divided than ever, for a brief darkening moment, there was unity forged in the presence of a force greater than ourselves. The cosmic scope of the event evoked a sense of wonder. We were united by beauty and maybe a bit of holy fear. For once, something was genuinely awesome.
And in a nation in which one in three people knows someone personally affected by Hurricane Harvey, we’ve seen a different way in which our lives are linked with others. That unprecedented weather event has called people from all walks of life to pitch in to help. Schools and sports arenas, bowling alleys and mattress stores, mosques and megachurches opened doors to strangers, a recognition that in the face of powers greater than ourselves, we are bound to each other.
Then last Monday, ministers from around the country gathered in DC to remember Dr. King’s march on Washington. Their trek, their tribute reminded me of Dr. King’s letter, written from a Birmingham jail, addressed to mainline clergy who he thought were, how shall we say, under-performing in pursuit of justice. He wrote:
“We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”
So what is the so-what factor? Given that we are all in this together, the work we do is intended to be done, not for ourselves alone, but for the common good, done not only mindful of what we get out of it, but what we can offer to the wider community. We’re in this together. That’s something to celebrate on Labor Day. Something to work on this fall.
May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us; prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork.
A prayer 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.
Readings for Labor Day:
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