03 September 2007

"Work" is not a four-letter word.

For many the Labor Day holiday is merely the end of the summer-time fun and frivolity, a somber reminder that the seriousness of work and school must once again, reluctantly, resume. It's even called the "unofficial end" to summer. And I must admit that once the school year begins, it sure is nice to have a holiday for sleeping in, taking it easy, and getting a shot in the arm before really getting down to the business of Fall activities (such as catechesis classes and meetings resuming), which lead to Advent and Christmas busy-ness (with added services and preaching), which leads to Lent and Easter busy-ness (with even more services and preaching).

Perhaps the better way to view Labor Day is to realize that work and labor, though tainted and infected by sin, are not bad things. In fact, God created work before the fall into sin (see Genesis 2:15) as an integral part of His "very good" creation. "Work" is not a four-letter word, at least not by God's design! From the Christian viewpoint, work is our calling from God to care for and manage His creation, our calling to serve our neighbor in love. Surely we can say that we are God's co-workers in tending His world.

The website of the U.S. Department of Labor explains the purpose of Labor Day thus:
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.
(I'm also tickled to see that my own home state of Oregon was the first state in the Union to pass a bill, on February 21, 1887, to observe Labor Day. New York may have started the process first, but Oregon got it done first! :-)

As Christians, we can and should most certainly embrace giving tribute to workers, for workers of all kinds are God's agents to take care of His creation and supply "everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body" (Small Catechism, Fourth Petition). Dr. Veith, at his Cranach blog, suggests co-opting Labor Day and calling it "Vocation Day." He says:
Let us engage in cultural evangelism as the church did centuries ago, co-opting non-Christian festivals and turning them into Christian feasts. Join my crusade to turn Labor Day into a celebration of the Christian doctrine of vocation.
And permit me this bit of wisdom from Dr. Veith on Christian vocation in the workplace, this time from his book God at Work, pp. 67-68:
Christians are engaged in the world by carrying out their vocations. This is how they can be a positive influence in the culture. Christian actors, musicians, and artists can be salt and light in a realm that is often tasteless and dark. This is why we need Christians in law, politics, science, journalism, education, academia, and all the other culture-making professions.

Furthermore, it is in vocation that evangelism can most effectively happen. How can non-Christians be reached with the Gospel? By definition, they are unlikely to come to church. Perhaps an evangelist might knock on their doors, but these days they may never let him in. But in the workplace, non-Christians and Christians work together and get to know each other. Occasions for witnessing and inviting a colleague to church come up in natural ways--over the watercooler or during a coffee break, discussing a disaster like the World Trade Center attack or a failing marriage, or in times of joy such as the birth of a child. Christians penetrating their world in vocations have access to more nonbelievers than a pastor does.
So let's celebrate this Labor Day as Vocation Day, a time to celebrate the vocations and the work that our gracious God has given us in this world. Because, after all, "work" is not a four-letter word!

Lord Jesus Christ, as once You shared in our human toil and thus hallowed the work of our hands, bless and prosper those who maintain the industries and service sectors of this land. Give them a right regard for their labors, and grant them the just reward for their work that they may find joy in serving You and in supplying our needs; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen (Collect for Industry and Commerce, Lutheran Service Book, p. 314).

Heavenly Father, we commend to Your care those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Grant that the wealth and resources of this rich land be profitably used so that all persons may find suitable and fulfilling employment and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen (Collect for The Unemployed, Lutheran Service Book, p. 317).


Brandon said...

I just visited a vespers service at a local Orthodox church (english speaking) and was struck by their Prayer of the Church. Not so much by what they said as by what they didn't. They prayed explicitly for our government officials, soldiers, etc, and for the priests, bishops, monastics, and church workers, but they did NOT pray for husbands and wives, parents and families, or single people (as my church does).

This seems to encourage a common misconception amongst Christians, one that Luther tried to reform, (seemingly without much success if you judge by modern American Christianity). That the only vocations really worth anything are the "specialized" ones.

Which brings to mind Søren Kierkegaard's notion of what it means to be a Christian:
"[it] is to confess sincerely before God what his position is, so that he may worthily partake of the grace which is offered to every one who is not perfect, that is, to every one. And it means no more than that. For the rest let him attend to his work and find joy in it, let him love his wife, rejoicing in her, let him raise his children to be a joy to him, and let him love his fellow‑men and enjoy life. God will surely let him know if more is demanded of him, and will also help him to accomplish it;" (Preparation for A Christian Life, found in) the last section: "The Moral"; http://www.ccel.org/ccel/kierkegaard/selections/files/preparation.htm).

Here's to celebrating the 'simple' vocations!

P.S. (What, exactly, is the theology of prayers in a blog article? Can one actually pray in cyber-space? I assume so, but I'm curious to know what the Father's would say about it.)

Randy Asburry said...


Thanks for your observations. Very interesting indeed about the prayers in the other church. Kierkegaard's quote seems to fit with the teaching on vocation.

As for a "theology of prayer" in cyberspace? I have no idea what the Fathers would say. I know that I simply offered the prayers as a way to observe "Vocation Day." And if one cannot pray in cyberspace, then print off the prayers and put them with your Bible and hymnal for use at family prayer time. :-)

Christine said...

And yet work can become another form of idolatry. Because I am European by birth (German) I remember many long, peaceful walks along beautiful pathways leading up to medieval forests and castles, the only thing being heard on Sundays being the local church bells ringing.

Of course, both in Europe and America Sunday has begun to revert to just another day of the week. The only advantage the Europeans have is that that have shorter workweeks and longer vacations than Americans.

Why do we drive ourselves mad working long, hectic hours in order to have more and more "stuff" ?

Randy Asburry said...

Why do we drive ourselves mad working long, hectic hours in order to have more and more "stuff" ?

Well, Christine,

That would be another problem with our modern-day view of work - viewing it as our way to "get ahead" and "get rich" rather than God's gift for serving our neighbor. Why do we drive ourselves mad trying to work long and hard just to get "stuff" that passes away? Simple answer: Because we routinely take our eyes off of Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

Helen K. said...

Hi Pastor Asburry,

I read your message for Labor Day yesterday, but didn't take time to look for a place to comment. I was linked to it by the Aardvark Alley archieves. Just want to say how much I appreciate what you said. I am a Christian exploring Lutheranism (LCMS) and am reading some of Gene Edward Veith's remarkable little books. I have the one on vocation you mentioned in your blog here. If you don't mind I think I'll join your group. There is so much to learn. I notice your home state is Oregon. I'm from Grants Pass originally so that is fun to note. Hope this note comes through. I'm not very computer savvy.
Surprise, AZ

Randy Asburry said...

Hi Helen,

Yes, your note came through just fine and you commented at just the right spot. You must be more computer savvy than you first thought :-)

And you are from Oregon too! That's great. I grew up all over the state, as my dad used to work for the State Highway Dept. However, I claim Eugene as hometown since that's where I went to high school, and I also went to college in Portland (hometown #2? :-)

Thanks for reading my blog post from a few years back. I did enjoy writing that one, as I recall. I even used those same ideas in Bible class this past Sunday (Labor Day weekend).

You are on a good path when you read Dr. Veith's little books. I've learned a lot from him as well. Great stuff! Keep reading him. Be sure you read "Spirituality of the Cross." Also, if I may recommend another great book for exploring Lutheranism, I would highly recommend the book "Dying to Live: the Power of Forgiveness" by Harold Senkbeil.

Please feel free to follow my blog, and of course read it frequently. Actually, I have changed my blog's address and appearance. All of the posts from my former blog (this one) as well as newer posts are on my new site: "The RAsburry Patch" (http://rasburrypatch.blogspot.com). Please join us over there!

Also, if you're interested and along the lines of getting to know Lutheranism, I invite you to listen in to a radio series that I am currently doing with KFUO Radio here in St. Louis. Last Thursday (9/1/11) we began a 4-5 week series on Luther's Large Catechism. I posted the link to last week's audio archive over at "The RAsburry Patch." The series will continue on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. (Central Time). You can listen live online at kfuo.org, or you can listen to the archived audio as well. My plan is to post the link for the audio files each week.

Thanks again for reading my blog, and I appreciate your kind words about my post on "Work." I'm glad it's been helpful for you! If you have further questions as you explore Lutheranism, please feel free to shoot me an email.

+ God bless! +

Pastor Asburry