A Grumpy Not-So-Old Man on Labor Day

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By David Williamson

Labor Day Morning is traditionally the last day of summer and the beginning of Fall. Regular hours, routine, work…as I reflect on this year’s Labor Day, at first I’m grumpy. Not only because of the end of summer, with anticipation of Minnesota’s winter, but primarily from thinking about the way Labor Day is treated by society, and particularly by the church and the Christian culture. This might be the one time during the year when work is honored, celebrated by a sermon or by an newspaper editorial; when ordinary work is affirmed for its usefulness or dignity. Rarely would you see the editorial or hear the sermon at any other time during the year.

Work is a gift form God, part of God’s nature, and our work is part of the imago Dei, our being created in the image of God, who works, creates, orders, structures and blesses the work of our hands, minds and hearts – that is, all work. Several years ago, Bill Diehl, manager of sales for Bethlehem Steel, theologian and writer, wrote a book titled Thank God It’s Monday. Diehl, moves from the dread of Monday, implicit in society’s cheer “Thank God It’s Friday,” to anticipating the gift, joy and celebration inherent in working, being who and what God created us to be – gifted, skilled, active, productive workers.

Diehl writes: “It is the premise of this book that indeed we are held captive by many forces….principalities and powers…the demands of our jobs, the values of our culture, the responsibilities of family and citizenship and the uncertainties of life all press upon us.” He argues that the church institutions inadvertently fall into this.

Sunday worship is often treated as an end in itself: focusing the energies of the church on Sunday, treating it as the culmination of God’s work, as an end in itself. But Sunday is not a day for escape, before the week begins; it is the “first day of the week,” a time of preparation for what God intends to do in the week ahead. Jesus was raised on Easter Sunday (“early on the ‘first day’”) and initiates the resurrected and transformed work, God’s activity in the world (including ordinary, everyday work) from creation forward, now that ordinary work is redeemed, restored and transformed according to God’s purposes, including the fulfillment of our call, vocation and giftedness.

Church worship happens on Sunday because it looks at Easter occurring the morning of “the first day of the week.” Therefore Sunday is a celebration of Easter morning, and thus with resurrection joy and power, energizes and equips us for the week and work ahead.

If we are “Easter People,” we can be of a mind and mood to say “Thank God it’s Monday!” Indeed, we are created for Monday and for work, to enjoy, utilize and giving thanks or the gift of work, productivity and exercising our giftedness, our humanity as imago Dei.

I became a bit less grumpy this Labor Day morning when I reflected that work is a gift. It is a timeless gift – there is a witness in work, as part of God’s resurrection life taking place in the eternal kingdom, that our work on earth continues and has heavenly benefit. And I can anticipate with joy and hope that the gift of work this week will be there on Monday as well as Saturday and Sunday, at 81 as well as 41. So I will “Thank God it’s Labor Day.” And, for tomorrow: Tuesday!

Maybe I was grumpy because I’m perceived as “old” at 81. I’m supposed to be “retired,” past my prime, in the last third of the the “second half,” no longer an active worker. It is assumed that we are to work full time, for pay, until we’re 67 (it used to be 65!) and then retire to enjoy doing what we “enjoy” doing, without regard to financial reward, yet for existential reward. Volunteering (donating your time, energy) to doing “good things” for your family, self, community and church, along with other leisure recreational activities, hobbies, relaxation and rest.

I’m 81 and still want to be active, meaningfully productive – working. Yet society, and even the church, places me in a category of “retired,” I’m seen as a volunteer, available to donate my time. When I was working, I was supposed to donate my skillfully earned income – money! I’m supposed to take advantage of the opportunity to develop my supposedly neglected spiritual life, devoted to God and God’s purposes.

I am grumpy because I think the church treats me this way – that it expects me to embrace this stage of non-productivity and “freedom from work.” Yet I have energy, passion, skills, experience and a “calling” – a vocation indeed – to express, utilize and employ in the world; to use, and enjoy using, the gilts, experiences and skills God has given me, and exercised in me and through me. The five-day, 40-hour work week is essentially a social, industrial-era construct with little to no connection to God’s creating us in the image of the God who works. God is the worker, calls work “good” and continues to work. The Hebrew word avodah is used both for “work” and for “worship’.’ Work, at any and all stages of life, is a good gift from God. Let’s keep working with gratitude, and joy and skill.

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