Luke 14:1, 7-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Our scripture reading reminds us that as followers of Jesus, we are called to the hard work of what that means. Being a follower of Jesus means expectations that we will live up to what we are called to do.
Following eye surgery this week, I knew I was unable to do all the prep work I usually do for a sermon, so our focus today is on Labor Day. The roots of Labor Day began in the 1800’s during the industrial revolution where some companies would use human workers like an expendable commodity! Inhumanely long hours. Subsistence pay. Child labor. Dangerous conditions. Withholding pay. Grinding the workers into the dirt knowing that there were many more who could replace those who became sick, were maimed or died.
The first observance of Labor Day is believed to have been a parade of 10,000 workers on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, organized by Peter J. McGuire, a Carpenters and Joiners Union secretary. By 1893, more than half the states were observing “Labor Day” on one day or another, and Congress passed a bill to establish a federal holiday in 1894. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill soon afterward, designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day.
This is a public and federal holiday that honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws and well-being of the country. The actual holiday is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend and it is considered the unofficial end of summer in the United States. Ironically, it is a day when laborers do not labor. And it is the rule of law that white pants and shoes can no longer be worn – at least that was the rule in New England when I was growing up.
I often leave home in the morning to come to church singing Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho; it’s off to work we go from the animated Disney film of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I love that song probably because I love to work – I love my work. I joke that I tried retirement for 5 minutes but didn’t like it. I am very fortunate to love what I do.
There’s a story I recently came upon and share with you this morning: Reaching the end of a job interview, the Human Resources Person asked a young accountant who was fresh out of school, “What starting salary were you thinking about?” The Accountant said, “In the neighborhood of 100,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.”
The interviewer said, “Well, what would you say to a package of 5 weeks vacation, full medical and dental, Company Retirement Fund to 50% of salary, Executive Share Option Scheme, Profit Related Pay and a company car leased every 2 years – say, a 5 series BMW?” The Accountant sat up straight and said, “Wow! Are you kidding?” The interviewer replied, “Yes, I am, but you started it.”
Sometimes we need to ask ourselves hard questions about work. Most of us need to work to earn a salary to survive, but there are other blessings to working that comes our way without necessarily having to have a huge salary.
Rich Pütz wrote the following in Exploring the Universal Christ Facebook group (Richard Rohr): Reflecting on this labor day weekend, he wrote: So on this weekend I think of Merton, I think of Dorthy Day, and I think of social justice, I reflect on Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. I am re-reading ‘Pacem in Terris,’ and in the words of Merton:
“The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God Who is making something good out of it in some way, we cannot see. If we can do [God’s] will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand.”
This morning I invite an opportunity for reflection about your work – paid or unpaid and how God may have had a hand in what you do – guiding you, empowering you. Please take a few minutes to share in small groups. The focus question is Where Is God in what I do? (Groups took 10 minutes for conversations.)
Your job as church is to let your light shine in the darkness. Your work this week is to share at least one of our church’s calling cards with someone and telling them about why you feel you have found a spiritual home at First Christian Church.
As you leave this place today may the Mother of Love bless your work this week – no matter what it is that you do. May the Father of Gentleness embrace you at the end of the day. Amen.