a place to find hope from heaven in the face of human misery;a place where one could find the strength to lift up one’s head and straighten one’s back from the oppression of the world;a place where wealth and prosperity were weighed and measured not by dollars and cents but by prayer and devotion.
“Scripture tells us that the church is not OF the world but it’s also true that the church is IN the world; and because the church is IN the world, some of the world will always be IN the church, so the best of the church can also be IN the world.”
Through our work, God has made us co-creators with God, giving us the ability to shape the world in which we live. And, God gave dignity to our labor by sending God’s Son to labor with us; with his hands; as a carpenter.
As a symbol of this belief, my father wore a cross which he fashioned himself out of nails. He wore it to remind himself and anyone who saw it that Jesus was a common laborer. That was important to him as a factory worker.
In late September of 1997, my father suffered a small stroke. He had been preparing his beloved garden for winter. The doctor told him that this was going to have to be his last garden, that his 84-year old body could no longer tolerate the work required to tend a garden.
I saw him a few weeks after that. He was standing in front of the window, hands in his pockets, looking with great sadness at the plot of land from which he had lovingly tended and had fed his family for many years.
I came up beside him silently and simply stood there with him. After a while, he looked at me and said, “Doc says I can’t have a garden. What am I supposed to do? If I can’t feel the dirt in my hands, if I’m not pulling up crops from the ground, well . . . what’s the point of living?”
By February 1998, less than five months later, he was gone.
My father worked in a factory all of his life – Firestone Tire and Rubber – but gardening was my father’s life work. It was what he loved to do. He worked hard at it. Sweated and strained and pulled muscles - gladly. He was a poor man but that work ennobled him. Through it he felt a co-creator status with God. The work in the factory was what he did to support his family, but the work in his garden was what he did to honor God.
I sometimes wonder if at least some of the problems we face in the world today aren’t due to the fact that we have become a nation where labor is cheapened and leisure is glorified. I wonder if we haven’t subverted our priorities and made ourselves, as individuals and as a nation, sick unto death.
The Dali Lama is quoted as having said,
“Man surprised me most about humanity. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”I hope we are able, this Labor Day weekend, to spend just a little time thinking about the source and value of labor. Indeed, I hope I may have inspired you to think about the value of labor and the balance of leisure.
About the dignity and value of work.
About the way our understanding of the tenants of our faith translate into social programs like unemployment insurance, old age pensions, social security, government relief for the destitute, safety regulations, and – above all – wage levels that mean not just survival but a tolerable and even enjoyable life.
A living vs. a minimum wage.
Jesus says to us this morning, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
That means that we may sometimes find our lives at the crossroads of the sacred and the profane, the secular and the spiritual. We may find ourselves like Moses, discovering the holy in the midst of the common, the seemingly unimportant, the unexpected. And, that salvation may be found in the work of the church outside the walls of its buildings and grounds, in the work of justice and peace.
“Scripture tells us that the church is not OF the world but it’s also true that the church is IN the world; and because the church is IN the world, some of the world will always be IN the church, so that the best of the church can also be IN the world.”