This is Labor Day Weekend. In some ways it’s one of the most peculiar holidays on the book. We celebrate the social and economic achievements of the labor movement- which are by no means insignificant – 8-hour work days – a 5 day work week – stricter labor laws—and most of us will get to acknowledge these victories not working but with a day off work.
Labor Day has become alongside Memorial Day the holiday that book-marks summer. Instead of marches and strikes, it is now most known for picnics, BBQs, and beach outings. Yet for all the leisure and relaxation, Labor Day reminds us of something very important. Whether we like it or not, work is a very important part of our lives. Most of us will spend the majority of our years at some employment or other. Add to that - the work we do around our houses or apartments, lawns - the volunteer hours at charities - the hours we invest in care for ourselves or loved ones - a significant majority of our time is invested in work of some sort or another. Labor Day asks us not only to remember those brave souls that fought for justice and safe workplaces, but it asks us to look at ourselves as workers and claim our identity as workers dedicated to building a better world, following the example of Jesus.
Our identity as workers is rooted in our Christian tradition – in the very nature of God. Created in the image of God, we are created in an image of a worker God – whose first acts in Genesis were to create a world, indeed, to create us – and then resting from all that was done. Jesus worked: he learned the trade of the trade of the carpenter before he preached, and invited working men of various trades to be his disciples: from what we know mainly fishermen and a tax – collector. We are called to see the intertwining of life and work. Work supports life, and life gives us hope, direction and purpose to our work.
So, our scriptures today call us to make important choices. Since work is such an important part of our lives it is important we work well. We must choose between life or death. Jesus takes us further: our primary work is our discipleship. Hebrews talks about our love we must express for one another in all we do. Who knows? We are entertaining angels in our very midst in our loving-kindness. This caring-kindness must inform how we file our taxes. It must guide how we treat our employees and employers, stockholders and the decisions that will affect their lives. It must guide how we use our work time as well as our leisure time. Our work life is not separate from our spiritual life- if anything, it is the key place where we live out our lives of discipleship. Think of it a minute. The average person spends two hours at church a week, but 35-40 hours on the job. Where would Jesus want discipleship carried out?
Of course, discipleship should be carried out wherever we go – to church or to our office – but discipleship is a total life-encompassing experience. It doesn’t exclude any part of our lives – especially our work.
We see this in Jesus’ stunning words: some of the strongest hyperbole he has ever used: “whoever comes to me and does not hate father or mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” He says to be his disciples we must give up all our possessions. Jesus is using such strong language to make a point: That we are not to love those near to us, or to necessarily throw everything away.Jesus is saying that yes, discipleship must be our priority.
Jesus already had large crowds following him, and he suspected they might not know what they were getting themselves into. Jesus was traveling from town to town, so if you wanted to follow him, you really did have to leave your family behind. The disciples did it. They also risked their lives by following Jesus into Jerusalem, where he told them plainly, he would be crucified. So, Jesus warned the crowds against following him. There would be a cost. And he said, if you don’t carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
What does it mean when Jesus says to carry your own cross? When some people talk about bearing their cross, they often mean putting up with an illness, a handicap, or a bad situation that won’t go away. But that’s not what Jesus meant. Jesus was not talking about the suffering that is just part of life, that we don’t choose. He was talking about the things we take on voluntarily, because we love God and are following Christ.
So being a disciple is our life’s calling and work – more than being a musician, teacher, engineer, a minister – whatever vocation we have chosen. We choose to act like Jesus, meaning we must choose to love and care for others. We learn to sacrificially love those who need our help. We must be willing be perform caring tasks day in and day out, over and over again. When we fail, we must get up. We must envision everything we do as contributing to discipleship
So, we count the cost, Jesus says. We are disciples, workers in the vineyard of the Lord. Our work has value and gives glory to God. God, who works ceaselessly spread the Good News invites us to embrace this task. We are workers and may the complete dedication of our work, whatever we are called to do, so inspire others as to bring glory to God. Amen.