Texts: Deuteronomy 5: 12-15
James 1: 22-25
By: David D. McDonald
September 6, 2020
NRSV DEUTERONOMY 5:12-15
12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work--you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
NRSV JAMES 1:22-25
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act--they will be blessed in their doing.
Today is Labor Sunday and in one sense we worship as a congregation as we have for many other Sundays. In another sense, we worship knowing that for many this is a holiday and a time for rest and recreation. As Christians we set aside this day for devotion to God and cessation of labor so that we may worship and give thanks to God. We are commanded to do so by the fourth commandment, recognized by Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith communities. Yet, in some ways, this Sunday is a totally secular day with no particular ties to any religious celebration. If you went to the Department of Labor’s Web site you would find the following information:
"Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country," said Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor. "All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day...is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation." Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
“The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.”
While the name of the organizer of the first Labor Day is in doubt. Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter, was the man. Interesting to ponder, isn’t it? A carpenter seeking rest for his fellow laborers; it reminds us that another carpenter called his disciples aside for praying, teaching, and service.
Many of us find Labor Day as a call to avoid work. For some work is dangerous, hard, and a necessity for survival. For others, work is life itself and there is little danger and a great deal of satisfaction to be taken from daily tasks. Consider this story:
KENNEDY, John Fitzgerald (1917-63 president of the United States (1961-6:, first Roman Catholic to become president Kennedy made a great impact on the nation.
He was assassinated in 1963. (The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, p.327)
During the contest for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, Kennedy visited a mine in West Virginia. "Is it true you're the son of one of our wealthiest men?" asked one of the miners there. Kennedy admitted that this was true.
"Is it true that you've never wanted for anything and had everything you wanted?"
"I guess so."
"Is it true you've never done a day's work with your hands all your life?"
"Well, let me tell you this," said the miner. "You haven't missed a thing."
The Bible speaks frankly about work. Qoholeth, the preacher, the author of Ecclesiastes, ruminates about work and labor in chapter two of his book. He writes:
“What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation, even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.”
Or in the book of Job we read:
Job 7:1 -4
1 "Do not human beings have a hard service on earth,
and are not their days like the days of a laborer?
2 Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
and like laborers who look for their wages,
3 so I am allotted months of emptiness,
and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
4 When I lie down I say, 'When shall I rise?'
But the night is long,
and I am full of tossing until dawn.
While the Bible recognizes the toil, the frustration, the pain, and the intensity of labor; it also speaks warmly and encouragingly about our calling. We are called to be servants of Jesus Christ. We are called to be creatures of light and not of darkness. We are called to serve the Lord with gladness. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. The word called is used 612 times according to The NRSV Concordance. Granted, not all of those are used in the sense of vocation, but it does serve to demonstrate that vocation is talked about frequently in the Bible. The Scriptures do not distinguish between who we are as people at home and who we are as people in the work place. Rather, work is seen as an essential element of who we are and an opportunity to give concrete form to our faith.
James Lowry, preaching at Idlewild Church during Pentecost in 1997 reflected on the topsy-turvy world in which we live:
We don't know why
some babies are born poor
and others are abused.
We don't know why
some children get very, very sick
and some grownups, too, before their time.
We don't know why
we need to have guards in the parking lot at church;
but we are bold to wonder . . .
and in our wondering
we want to be very, very reverent . . .
reverent toward the God who is ...
the God who is
and who promises hope.
In the meantime, .
by serving each other in the name of Christ
and by serving the city in the name of Christ,
we have found
and are finding the truth of God;
and the truth of God lives among us
and lives in us. (pps. 110-111)
This is Labor Day weekend and the observance has become a long weekend for fun that marks the end of summer. It is seen as an opportunity for that final trip, relaxation by the swimming pool, a cookout, or whatever catches our fancy. Rarely, do we ever think about labor. In some ways the name of the holiday and what it represents are the things furthest from our mind. The epistle of James; however, views all of life as the believer’s calling. That is, there is never a time, when we are not working for God. All of life is lived as a testimony to God’s gracious care, His abiding presence, His influence upon our lives, especially what we do.
Our calling as Christians is more then avoiding the snares of evil though that is a constant battle. It is more then doing those things that are distinctively practices of faith such as praying or reading the scriptures though we must constantly develop in our spiritual disciplines. We are first and foremost followers of Jesus Christ. We are sinners and we are saints in that strange mixture that of human society into which we are born. We trust God to help us sort things out. Further, we intend, we work towards, we wish to become what God envisions for our lives, recognizing that our vision is imperfect and we are unstable in our ways. We trust God to provide correctives. Thus, we have hope and joy, because God is the architect of our faith. Even in those moments when try as we might and fail, God utilizes our efforts. Our labor is not in vain. Contrary to the protests of Qoholeth, what we leave behind for others can provide fulfillment for us now, knowing that God has a purpose for it. The inspiration of the people of God is rooted in the family tree. The strength to withstand the storms is not only in the soil where the tree is planted, but also in that system of roots that provides nourishment and stability. James would encourage us to labor for those things that sustain and remain. We are working for the Master Carpenter who is the architect of faith. The work order has few construction details, no time clocks and no deadlines. We work for the good of the family of God. I am reminded of this story:
EVANS, Dame Edith (1888-1976), British actress, celebrated for her Shakespearean performances. In the course of her long career she played most of the great classic roles of the British stage.( The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, p. 199)
When Dame Edith was introduced to Dr. Billy Graham, the evangelist told her, "We in
the ministry could learn a good deal from you about how to put our message across."
"You in the ministry have an advantage over us," replied Edith Evans. "You have long term contracts."
Tuesday’s coming, enjoy today and tomorrow. Then come and till the Lord’s garden and bring in the harvest. Invite those who are weak and heavy laden to follow Jesus and He will give you rest and strength to last all your days. Let us bear witness to the glory of God found in Jesus Christ through our rest and our labor.