By: Rev. Larry L. Leland, Jr., Faith United Methodist Church, 700 Fairview Drive, Montoursville, PA 17754
If you were like my family, you spent at least part of last weekend celebrating Labor Day with a picnic with friends. Labor Day has in its origin story a celebration of the labor movement in the United States and the contributions of both laborers and labor/union movements to the economic strength of the country. For many, though, it has become the unofficial end of summer, a three-day weekend, and little else.
The truth is, I pastor a congregation that includes teachers, homemakers, law enforcement personnel, students, business owners, and medical professionals. It also includes retired folks, those whose disabilities make it difficult to find or maintain employment, people who struggle to make ends meet while working two or more jobs, and those who find themselves underemployed and unemployed. The truth is, also, that our people will spend a great deal more time working at workplaces and in the home, or attending school, than worshiping at church. Because of that, I am thinking about Labor Day a bit differently this year. Don’t get me wrong; I am looking forward to a picnic. But I am also reflecting on three truths about the intersection of work and faith.
1. We are created to work. Our work gives us the opportunity to reflect the nature of God, whose image we bear, because God worked and still works. God created and is still creating. Rest is a part of who God is, but so is meaningful work. So it should be for us. In our own origin story, found in Genesis, God places humanity in the garden of Eden and tasks them with naming animals and the overall stewardship of creation.
2. Throughout history, people of faith have often been on the frontlines of seeking justice for workers. We are not perfect, to be sure. And people of faith with sincere commitment to the common good can come to different conclusions about what economic justice looks like. Members of my own faith tradition, though, have historically been active in everything from ending child labor practices to providing living wages to setting the 40-hour work week. As Christians, our desire to see God’s “kingdom come and will be done” extends to caring for all those who labor and those who can’t.
3. God has a purpose for our work. For too long, there has been, even in the Church, a separation between what is seen as sacred work and what is secular. Sacred work has been thought to be confined to religious professionals or missionaries. However, all work can be holy because all Christians are sent into the world to be “salt and light.” It is important to remember that we follow a carpenter who called fishermen and tax collectors to be his first followers. Sometimes, God’s call invites us to leave our nets behind. Other times, our calling invites us to take our faith into homes, schools, businesses, conference rooms, hospital rooms, and restaurants. And the work is holy because God is part of it.
As we leave Labor Day in the rearview mirror for this year, let us look forward to the work that follows. And remember to, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3:23 NLT).