Labor Day weekend provides a good opportunity to reflect on work. The etymology of the word work comes from the word worship. Worship is literally the WORK of the people and today it will be especially so. About 7 years ago when I was the pastor at SPCUMC, I received the offering plates, and noticed a bright red object – I looked more closely – it was a TOMATO!!! It turns out six-year old Emily had heard the story in the Bible about offering your first fruits to God. She took this story LITERALLY. Her family had planted and tended a tomato plant in their yard, and this tomato was the very first on the vine to ripen. Emily wanted to bring in the literal fruits of her labor and place it in the Offering Plate to give it to God.
Our theology of work begins in Genesis 1: God is hard at work creating the universe and everything in it. God calls it ALL good and takes satisfaction in the result each day. In fact, God creates the Sabbath as a time for God to enjoy all that God has created! Then God creates human beings and invites them to participate in this work of caring for creation. Genesis 2:8, 15 shows us that work is a natural activity: “The Lord God placed the earthling in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
On the other hand, from reading Genesis 3:17-19 we may get the idea that work itself is punishment: “With labor you shall win your food … You shall gain your bread by the sweat of your brow.”
When we look at Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, we have a continuation of the theology of work: It is fitting to find enjoyment in our toil under the sun the few days of life God gives us. This is a gift of God.
Angie and I had the opportunity to hear NY Times best-selling author Louise Penny speak on Friday night. She is the Canadian author of the Inspector Gamache murder mysteries set in the fictional village of Three Pines across the border from VT. She talked about how she wanted to be a writer from the age of 8. At the age of 45, her husband told her, “I think it’s time you started writing the book you’ve always wanted to write. I will support you.” Louise said, “I’m glad he meant financially, because as soon as I quit my job as a journalist to become a writer, I spent five years having writer’s block. Sometimes even the thing you most want to do, the thing you think you’re going to love doing, the thing that you think you are good at is hard won, with toil and sweat. It doesn’t always come easy.”
Is it possible to find enjoyment in our toil? If it is labor that is not exploited, that offers a living wage, I think it can be possible. AND we need to continue to do the work of justice advocating for a living wage and safe working conditions for all people. One of the basic tenets of the Protestant Reformation was that all work holds value. One could serve God as authentically as a farmer or merchant or a priest. Presiding over a meal you cooked for your family and friends can be as sacred as presiding over the communion table. Brother Lawrence, a contemplative monk in the 17th century wrote a book: “Practicing the Presence of God.” He asserts that God can be found in all things, even in such menial tasks as washing the dishes. This is where I was headed last week in my sermon about Living a Life with Purpose. It’s about experiencing internal shift in attitude regarding our work to discover that sweet spot of experiencing God’s presence and what Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen calls your Give-Away. That part of us that naturally rises to the surface and not only brings us joy, but also brings joy and healing to others.
Can you remember the first time you realized your labor, your work, your sweat, your effort was deeply satisfying to you and brought you joy? I believe those moments – which are sometimes few and far between – have a deep connection to what we offer back to God from our hearts. They become the fruit of our labor, our give-away. While it might be much easier to talk about what we see as someone else’s give-away, we can really only claim and name that place within us that is our own give-away in life.
The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.
~ Joy J. Gollive
What is your Give-Away? (Congregational sharing…)
This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God. For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.