So you just came through another low Sunday in worship. Don't be discouraged or downcast. Don't let this get the better of you as a pastor. I invite you to reflect on this past holiday and to consider why it is we work so hard as well as why it is we need to have a day to honor the works of our hands?
Labor Day in the United States is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend and it is considered the unofficial end of summer.
Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor. "Labor Day" was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, which organized the first parade in New York City. In 1887, Oregon was the first state of the United States to make it an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty U.S. states officially celebrated Labor Day.
(From the Wikipedia website)
In the 90th Psalm, the writer pleads with the Lord to establish the works of our hands. "Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it." (Psalm 90:17).
This week in my Doctor of Ministry class, Dr. Ellen Ott Marshall had us read a sermon by the great theologican, H. Richard Niebuhr, on "Man's Work and God's." This sermon gave me an entirely different perspective on the work that you and I do and that our congrants do each and every day.
I will not claim to understand all of what Dr. Niebuhr is talking about. but I believe I get the message that we long to have our work count for something. We long to leave an impression upon the world and upon the lives of others. Yet, our papers, our sermons, our buildings, our products which we shape and make, our institutions, and our governments are not going to last. Everything, and I mean everything, will die and vanish away. How then can the work of our hands prosper? How can the work of our hands make that lasting impression?
Niebuhr caught my heart with these words which, for me, answer our question: "Build this particular thing that we are doing in the permanent structure. Establish it, not for our glory, but as a part of something in which we can rejoice because it is truly good."
Once again, it is not about you and me and about our making a name or leaving our mark upon something. It is about working with our hands and our hearts to the glory of God. All my work is done to invest in the work of others in this journey of life, especially as that life reaches out to bring others to an understanding of Almighty God. This is what is truly good and the very best.
One day you and I will be gone, and who will remember us except for notation in the Conference Journal, but ... but a life may be changed, because of the work of our hands and hearts. If this be the case, then to God be the glory.
Our work is not to make this country great, but rather to make the Kingdom of God come and to draw all people to the love of Jesus Christ. Our work is done in faith, building upon those who have gone before us and laying a foundation for those who will come after us.
I think I like Niebuhr, and I hope he will forgive me if I got it wrong. The work he has done helps me do the work I am called to do today. I pray that the work of others is helping you do the work you are called to do today and that you will also lay that foundation for others.
Yes, a low Sunday, but not because we are resting from our labors since our labor never ends until we "fly away" as the Psalmist says. Pray for all who labor, my sisters and brothers, that they may get it and not begrudge it.
Working for you,