Posted by: dacalu | 5 September 2016

Is Labor Holy?

Today, I had the privilege of worshiping with Church of the Apostles, in Seattle, WA. We were celebrating Labor Day.  Here’s the sermon I shared.



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.



1 Corinthians 3:10-14 (“that foundation is Jesus Christ”)

Matthew 6:19-24 (“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” and “You cannot serve God and wealth.”)



I’m conflicted about labor day.
It’s one of those civil holidays,
	that may or may not be a Holy Day.
It depends on how we view labor, I suppose.
Is labor “services rendered for monetary compensation”?
	Or is it “work we do in the world”?
	A little bit of both.
		(Here at COTA, it’s always a little bit of both.)
I am grateful for my ability to do work in the world,
	to change my environment for love of God and neighbor,
	to make the world a better place.

Labor is law and grace and sanctification,
	all wrapped in one.
Labor is law, for God said,
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken;”
We must work to support ourselves.
Labor is grace, for we can do just this.
We can shape the world around us,
	bend it to our will, for good and evil.
We can plant and reap, 
build and tear down, gather and throw away.
	We can even support ourselves,
		if only by building on a foundation laid by another.
And labor is sanctification,
	because it allows us to participate in God’s work,
	to reflect God’s glory in our charity,
	to tend and keep creation,
	and to heal.
That kind of labor is a holy thing, worthy of a Holy Day.
That kind of labor is worth reflecting on.

But labor is also “services rendered for monetary compensation.”
We associate it with work and wages,
	unions and collective bargaining,
	a working class and 
political parties that attempt to represent them.

We live in a society that keeps score.
Our society keeps score in dollars and cents.
	Lumps us together and keeps us apart,
	based on our jobs and our bank accounts.
Our society likes to measure the value of work – 
	and the value of people –
	based on their labor
		and the fruits of their labor
		and, all too often, on their ability
			to accumulate the fruits of other people’s labor.
Paul wasn’t alone,
	when he worried about the wrong people getting credit.

So we have this good kind of labor – the work we do in the world –
	and we have some unhealthy ways that we think about it.
How do we separate the good from the bad,
	and get to the labor of love
	that is true faith?
Let me suggest three rules for helping us keep on track.
1)	Money is not the only kind of value.
2)	The exchange of work for money is not the only kind of labor. And,
3)	You are much, much more than your potential earnings.

First, money and value.
I find the greatest value in relationships, in friendship and community.
	These things are hard to monetize,
		but tremendously important.
	Even economists recognize the trust necessary
		for markets to run smoothly.
After relationships I value formation,
	the shaping of self and others into
	better people – education, character, and skill.
And only third do I value power,
	and the currency by which we have power to
	trade our own wealth for that of others.

Second, jobs and labor.
We use our labor to get money.
We have jobs, professions, careers.
Sometimes the jobs are just and equitable;
	sometimes they are not.
I feel blessed to be at a time and place 
where so many jobs are available.
	I need not take on my father’s profession.

Sometimes I think we put too much emphasis on jobs as vocation.
	It is a great joy when it works out,
		but it’s okay to have a job that supports your vocation.
	Perhaps your priority is family
		and your job supports your ability to spend time with them.
	Perhaps your priority is the church, or education, or travel.
	Many vocations don’t pay that well;
		they can still be the best use of your labor.

And finally, self and job.
	You are not your job.
	Nor are you your bank account.
As I said, our society keeps score,
	and we do so with jobs and money.
Don’t fall into the trap of judging yourself
	by the way society judges you.
Don’t fall into the trap of measuring your worth.

How should we judge ourselves?
	That’s the trick.
We need not judge ourselves at all.
If we are not laboring to increase our value,
	we can labor for the love of one another,
	and for the love of the labor,
	and for the love of God who calls us into the fields.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

Our primary labor, is the labor of love:
	building relationships,
	finding people deep down within themselves where they hide
		and bringing them out so they can be their fullest selves,
	finding ourselves and sharing the gifts God has given us,
	respecting the dignity of every human being,
	and – to the best of our ability – 
	loving every living breathing thing.
When jobs and money serve that end, they are beautiful things.
When they do not, they are idols, pure and simple.

Jesus says, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I would add this, “your labor shows what you value.”
	How much do you value relationships, formation, power, and money?
	How do you spend your time and effort?

I don’t want to make you guilty.
	We are far too guilty about making too much or doing too little.
I don’t want to make you ashamed.
	We feel ashamed for making too little and brag about doing to much.
Both are excuses to avoid the real issue.
	What do we value and how do our actions
	help us – or hinder us – in getting what we want?
Let us learn to talk about the ways in which we use money and jobs
	to achieve the things that really matter to us.
Is your work a vocation?
	If not, does it aid you in your vocation?
Does it provide enough to live on?
Does it foster relationships and help you grow as a person?

As an academic, I regularly struggle to understand why I do the things I do?
I write and publish, apply and account, teach and talk?
	Since I do not have tenure, I spend a great deal of time
		wondering about the things I can do for job security,
		and money, and respect, as well as what I am called to.
	I have to balance job and vocation.
	Nor am I alone.
	I expect most of you are making the same calculations.
		How much can I pay for school?
		How long must I pay my dues before I find security?
		Are the things that I do helping me to grow?
		Are they helping others?

Many of you know me.
I’m not good with answers.
	I’m much better at questions.
	I want to share the types of questions that lead to good futures,
		that help you discover and achieve your goals.
	Because that, too, is labor – figuring yourself out 
		and finding your place in the world.
	Whether because of Adam’s sin or some other reason,
		we feel uprooted, separated from the ground of our being.
	Only by the sweat of our brow can we cultivate the kind of life
		that will fulfill not only our own dreams but those of God.

Spend some time this week thinking hard about your values – what you want.
Spend some time asking about your labor – what you do.
	Does what you do get you what you want?
Simple to ask.
Very hard to answer – the work of a lifetime.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself.
And don’t be afraid to be honest with others.
Find people you trust and have genuine conversations 
about the role of money in your life:
what you make, what you spend, what you need, and what you want.
When we are clearer about the role of money – 
	useful, but not central to our lives –
	it becomes easier to communicate.
	And it becomes easier to use our money well.
After all, the currency was made for people,
	and not people for currency.
I forget that sometimes.

1)	Money is not the only kind of value.
2)	The exchange of work for money is not the only kind of labor. And,
3)	You are much, much more than your potential earnings.

You, your heart and mind and strength,
	yes, your very soul,
	is the foundation laid for this world – 
That self has value because God made it and cares for it.
It has value because, like God, it is capable of changing the world.
That’s what labor means.

It is law
and it is grace
and it is an opportunity for sanctification.



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