A Labor of Love
Old Testament Reading- Ecclesiastes 2:17-26
New Testament Reading- Acts 20:32-35
By Henry J. Rafferty CP -September 5, 2021
We celebrate Labor Day, enjoying our long holiday weekend with family picnics,
camping trips, and by the gathering of friends. Some enjoy a parade, gather at the beach, or just relax at home, it has become known as, ‘Summer’s Last Holiday.’ The kids are now back, or going back to school, fall semester has begun in colleges and universities, and we can all notice that the days are not as long as they were just a few weeks ago. Nature shows us in many ways: the birds are quieter, with the exception of the Blue Jays, crickets are the dominant nighttime song, and the leaves start to change in the trees. Yes, September is that in-between month where it could be like summer or fall on any given day.
As I said before, this weekend has become more like the farewell to summer, but what does it really signify? Labor Day? Why would we celebrate work? Isn’t work what everyone is trying not to do? Labor is never good, just ask anyone, no one likes to go to work.
When humans sinned at the beginning of creation, they were told by God that they would now face the consequences for that decision. The paradise, the complete trust and care offered in the beginning by God was broken and the bitter result was that human beings would now have to toil and sweat to produce all that they would need to survive on this planet. The whole of creation fell with our ancestor’s fateful decision and even the plants were affected. Now, weeds grew with the plants used for food, choking out what was good and requiring someone to tend the crops. Hoeing and pulling of the weeds were now required to be able to help the good plants produce enough food to survive. Trees that produced fruit were now affected by weather, insects, and disease thereby limiting the crop produced. God still provided, but it would take work, we would have to labor for our food, our shelter, and our clothing.
Imagine what it must have been like in ancient times, no tractors, automobiles, bulldozers, combines, or grain elevators. We think things are hard now, we have no idea and many of the items I just listed have only existed for a little over a hundred years or less. Even my own grandfather started our family’s nursery using a horse and plow, that was only in 1953. Hard, back-breaking work was what our ancestors faced every day of their lives. We wonder why people looked older back then? I say, why wouldn’t they look old when they worked so hard?
Don’t get me wrong, we still have hard work today. A few weeks ago, when the temperature was ninety degrees with eighty percent humidity, go stand holding a traffic sign for a paving company, pour concrete driveways, or roof a building and tell me it’s not hard work, machines haven’t made all work easier. How about healthcare workers? Do you think they’ve had easy labor in the last two years? No way! Physical labor is not the only hard work, I have been more tired sitting in an office all day behind a computer or in front of a drawing table than I have been all day outside, it is a different kind of tired, but still work. I am not trying to say that one person’s occupation is harder than another or that some are more deserving of recognition, but what we all do is hard in its own right.
“Why am I breaking my back to make money that I will never enjoy and will only go on to someone who might not even appreciate it?”
The author of our Old Testament reading is writing of their experience in hard work. I think most people who have worked long enough over the years has experienced what the Old Testament author is saying, “Why am I breaking my back to make money that I will never enjoy and will only go on to someone who might not even appreciate it?” I have felt that way earlier in my life. Some might say it is a self-centered view or pessimistic, but sometimes it is hard to think differently when you work so hard while others are watching from a chair sipping lemonade. “All is meaningless,” the author tells us, and what good does it do to ruin yourself just to watch it enjoyed or squandered by another who probably won’t deserve it? How many of us today have said, “Why am I working so hard to fund the government’s wasteful spending?” or “This next generation of people doesn’t have a clue, all they want to do is sit around on their phones and get fat while the rest of us do all the work.” You know what? Some of those statements may be right, but we don’t really know, only God knows that. Many things change in time as they mature.
My generation is called GenX, we grew up in the 1970’s and 80s. The generalization was that ours was the generation that saw both parents working for most or all of our lives, therefore we were alone at home more than kids were before. In the early nineties, it was believed that GenXers would utterly fail in all they did, we were clueless, more interested in Atari and MTV than anything else. You know what, they were probably right about us then, but we grew up and when you grow up you start to be more like your parents and teachers. GenXers were raised by Baby Boomers for the most part, but some were raised by the Silent Generation or even by their grandparents, the Greatest Generation, the ones who won WWII. These good for nothing, MTV watching, GenXers finally learned and now we are known as the generation that produced more entrepreneurs than any other of the generations before. In light of that, what will the Millennials and Generation Z look like thirty years from now? Only God knows, but I trust He has it in hand.
Why work then, when all is meaningless? Paul tells us the following in Acts 20:17-24,
17 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 18 When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace."
Paul is working hard for God in preaching the Gospel and he is going into dangerous territory where he is likely to face severe hardships, yet he goes on working. He continues in Acts 20:32-35,
32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Paul tells us, that like us, he doesn’t know where all this work leads, but that he is doing God’s will in preaching, and he is working hard doing other work to support himself and others while he preaches. This is done not just for himself but for others to benefit.
Christ tells us that it is better to give than to receive and often in our daily work that may be what we are doing. I remember when I was in the hospital, unable to do anything for myself. I had to be fed, bathed, bandaged, and moved with a lift and wheelchair from place to place. I was completely reliant on others for everything in my life. I even had to have others help me with bathroom needs. All of these things, at first, are depressing, but soon turn to humbling and not in a bad way. You learn that there are people, in this world, that are only doing their jobs for a paycheck, but also that there are more doing something because they truly want to help. That is God’s work indeed, people helping others that can’t help themselves. That is what Paul is talking about, doing every thing we can, to the best of our abilities, to provide for ourselves and for others who no longer can provide for themselves. Visit a nursing home some time and talk to some of the residents there who can still talk. They were not always the way that you see them now. Maybe they are bound to a wheelchair or too weak to walk on their own without falling. Maybe they can’t feed themselves anymore because of a life changing stroke. Once they were young and full of energy, they may have had a young family of their own and worked hard to provide for themselves and others. Everyone of them has their own story, but once they were just like you. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that one day you may be in their shoes? You might need help doing the most mundane things?
So, we celebrate Labor Day because God has given us the strength, the energy, and the ability to work to help make our homes, our communities, and our nation a better place. On Labor Day we honor those, past and present, who are doing the work that needs done. Work is inevitable, it is built into the system, what will you do with it? Will you complain about it every day, or will you embrace it as something that needs doing to help make the world better? You might say, “I’m just a janitor, or a garbage collector. I’m not a doctor or a firefighter saving lives.” So what? The world wouldn’t be a very nice place without janitors and garbage collectors, in fact, I give an extra thanks to you because it is often a thankless job that might not pay as well for all that you have to do. If you are retired, thank you for all your years of labor and for all the volunteer hours you do now in our churches and in our communities.
"...never forget to thank God Almighty for all the good work He has done in creating and sustaining all things and for the salvation that is provided for us through Jesus Christ," ~ Pastor Henry Rafferty
On Labor Day we should never forget to thank God Almighty for all the good work He has done in creating and sustaining all things and for the salvation that is provided for us through Jesus Christ. God has labored long and hard for all of us, now let us follow His example and labor with the best ability He has given us to help all others, not because it is deserved or because we will benefit from it, but because that is what Christ would do. Thanks be to God. Amen.