Ever think about why we’re here, why it’s emphasized in the Bible that we were “created in God’s image” in the first place (reread Genesis chapters 1-3)? In the beginning, God created, made our clouds, air, water, dirt, vegetation, beasts of the field, everything. And after all that God created Adam (lit, “man,” or “humankind” in the Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament.) And Adam, or humankind, is to be a co-creator, the steward, the manager, the caretaker and caregiver of God’s creative endeavors.
So there’s the tilling of the ground, the planting of the seed, the daily nourishment and care, and then the harvesting, the cleaning and cooking, the sharing and eating with thankfulness to God (why one of the two Christian sacraments is called a “holy communion”). Just a piece of the loaf and a sip of the wine so that there is something for everyone.
And it’s all of something called “grace” or undeserved favor and not because of our accomplishments or goodness but as a reminder that billions on our planet have nothing to eat or are malnourished, have sunken eyes and empty stomachs, not enough muscle or fat, and are weak almost unto death. It’s a reason why I decided to lose about 45 pounds, to lose my belly fat especially. For a minister to look over-nourished when so many are under-nourished? Not compatible!
So we are “lucky” or “blessed” to have a job, wages, to purchase sufficient provisions in our refrigerators and to serve on our dining tables. Even to have snacks, treats, desserts. I vividly remember my late mother silently saying a prayer of thanks each time before a meal and even when she took her meds and supplements.
Labor Day was established around 1882 to recognize our work and working people, to lift these up, to acknowledge and celebrate workers and their contribution to the fabric of our life. We recapture that meaning plus the significance of work itself in giving us purpose and meaning in the sacrament we call Holy Communion. We are all recipients of God’s grace, His unmerited favor for our basic and spiritual needs.
And why “retirement” for many can be difficult. Now there is no labor. How do I find a larger purpose for myself than just my own or my family’s survival in my retirement? The importance of making a contribution whether as a boss or an employee or a contract worker or as an essential front-liner, or as a retiree, to the welfare and well-being of others is incredibly important throughout our lives.
Not to be able to work and to have an income because of a disability, injury, illness, a pandemic like COVID-19, often is a terrible blow, not only to an individual’s self-esteem, family, team or workplace, plus the inability to pay for essentials like food, rent, mortgage, water and electricity, the family’s healthcare, education, whatever. Today many have to have an extra job or two just to “make ends meet.”
For many Labor Day is a fully paid holiday by one’s employer, a special thank-you. The employer is saying, “My success is from you … and you … and you–all of you.” It’s a statement and acknowledgement of an important interdependency. An employee wants to contribute to not only his/her own financial needs but also to the success of the employer. If the company or organization fails the damage can be far reaching. It’s to be a glad and sincere acknowledgement of this interdependency.
A clearer and newer reality today. And more difficult today because of COVID-19. Because churches have to enforce and practice social distancing, income is affected negatively, staff ministers and church employees may lose their positions, mortgage payments are difficult, physical (buildings and grounds) upkeep as well.
For the most part, gone are the days of exploitation and harsh working conditions. There are laws today to protect the laborer. The employer hopefully gladly participates. And needed PPE, personal protection equipment is provided for all. Masks, gloves, goggles, safety eyewear, training are provided, whatever is needed.
An acknowledgement of an interdependency, a mutuality.
And today the smarter bosses are those who purposefully thank, appreciate and build morale and profit-share and provide for the laborer’s future retirement, treat all employees with fairness, respect and dignity, are generous with needed training and with genuine praise and even needed corrections, and who purposefully apply the Golden Rule which is to treat their workers as they themselves would want to be treated if the roles were switched. Today when owner-bosses retire they may even sell or give the company to their employees.
On Labor Day, we celebrate those who labor and their contributions to the fabric of our lives. And to celebrate the God who ultimately gives us the brains to think, plan, recruit, train, perform well and who is to be thanked and praised. Honestly.
Written by The Reverend. Ron Ching