Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

Like the world, Labor Day was created in six days. That's how long it tool for the bill to sail through Congress and be signed into law by President Grover Cleveland in 1894. The holiday was created to soothe unionized labor in the wake of the Pullman strike (which involved railroad workers in the company monopoly-town of Pullman, Illinois; the strike became violent, disrupted the Mail, and was forcibly put down by US Marshalls and the Army, with a dozen deaths).

The ambiguity of our public holiday matches the ambiguous role of organized labor. Everybody knows unions have done a lot of good, and have also been crooked and sometimes violent. The same can be said of employers. Accordingly a Christian observance of Labor Day needs nuance, and will call for honesty, justice, and generosity from workers and employers alike.

The Scriptures teach that the need for hard labor results from original sin. While Adam was supposed to tend the garden of Eden from the very beginning, it was only after the Fall that he began to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow. During this life the redeemed must still toil, and "those who do not work should not eat." But at the same time the Gospel urges and delivers a freedom from anxiety about toil. We're supposed to work, but are not supposed to worry about what we are to eat, or drink, or wear. "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness," says Jesus, "and all these things will be given you besides." We can be content, indeed joyful, with a poor sufficiency, knowing that God is our great and everlasting love and treasure. We work a few shifts, and as hard as they may be we can look forward to a sabbath that lasts forever, and to the crown of life, everlasting life in God, as our great reward.

(Not the sermon I preached today, but something like this might not be bad next year!)

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