Sept. 4, 2017
On this Labor Day weekend, with school having just or just beginning, I invite you to listen and hear these wise words from a teacher, “ 2Vanity of vanities,! All is vanity. 3What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? and …. 23For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” This is from the 1st chapter of the book Eccleasiastes, in our Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible.
Toil, work, labor is vanity. It says it right there in our scriptures. So some of our modern day teachers, who may not only be enjoying these last few unofficial days of summer, the end of summer “Vacation” (Go Gos), and who also as of late have been the brunt of so much political disrespect. These and others laborers may be just “working for the weekend” (Loverboy), and if they could who would love to say, “Take this job and shove it”. But not of course till after this holiday weekend.
Labor Day is not simply the sad farewell to summer; like the writer of Ecclesiastes does not just celebrate work and toil. This holiday is actually another benefit of a strong labor movement, so that we don’t all have to work “Seven Days of the week” , some can work “9 to 5” —the 40 hour work week, and the weekend, child labor laws, family sustaining wages, health care, retirement benefits, etc. and so forth. Organized Labor created this holiday to honor the men and women “Working on the Highway” (Bruce Springsteen) who’s hard work builds and makes the things we use, who grow, serve, and process the food we eat, the “Doctor, Doctor” (Iron Maiden) who care for our sick and elderly, and so much more—the “Working Class Hero” (John Lennon).
So for many of us tomorrow will not be ”Just another Manic Monday” (Bangles). However, work is, as the Teacher/the writer of the book of Eccleasiastes, not a picnic. Some men and women feel like they are “Just another brick in the wall”, a “slave to the wage”. We are a “slave to the grind” (Skid Row) trying to make “money, money, money” to buy stuff to just live, to buy stuff to make us “Happy” (Farrell) in this rat race called the American Dream. You know, as William Sloane Coffin, and comedians Jackie Gleason and Lilly Tomlin have said, “even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”
Lots of money is made by book writers, seminar speakers and others offering cures for this condition, fixes for this vanity. To words like self-care, balance, priorities, retirement, today I will add: the cross.
Oh great, you might be thinking, Pastor has finally gone “Crazy”—equating work with crucifixion. Do not worry, I am not saying that enduring work is bearing our cross. Because I think that is wrong understanding of taking up the cross. Work—toil, just like disease, just like tragedies like hurricanes, monsoons, droughts, and all sorts of evils, abuse, cancer—things that are thrust upon us, things that happen is not bearing the cross. Jesus calls his followers, you and me to take up the cross; it is a taking on (not merely accepting a bad situation). The cross is a choice, choice of God to endure state sponsored act of terrorism called crucifixion because Jesus chose to live and labor with the lost, to live and labor with the least, a life and labor of love.
Not being overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good. That is taking up the cross that Jesus talks about. That is what we heard Paul saying in his letter to the church. This is what we as individuals and also we as a church do. Taking up the cross is: 9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14Bless those who persecute you; 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. That is taking up the cross. And it can be done in and through our everyday lives, in our work.
Al Letson was doing his job. He is host of the investigative radio program and podcast Reveal. One day just a few weeks ago, he was covering what was going to be a white supremacist march in San Francisco. Mr. Letson saw one right-wing man trip and fall to the ground, and then some left-wing antifa protesters started beating him. This journalist saw a crowd coming so he Letson jumped on top of the guy to protect him. This white supremacists was being shielded and protected by Al Leston, by the body of not just a journalist, but a black man.
When interviewed, Mr. Letson as asked whether any of this was going through is mind?
In Letson’s own words: LETSON: Yeah, none of it went into my mind at all. What came to me was that he was a human being. And I didn’t want to see anybody die. … And, you know, in retrospect, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t see my humanity. What matters to me is that I see his. What he thinks about me and all of that, like, my humanity is not dependent upon that.
Letson went on to say:
You know, I mean, this sounds really high-minded and maybe a little nutty, but I am a huge NPR nerd. And many years ago, I was listening to Terry Gross and Father Greg Boyle was on there.
And he gave this quote that has just stuck with me ever since. He said, I want to live like the truth is true and go where love has not been found. And it’s how I want to govern myself in the world.
We may work to earn money, but we can’t work and toil to earn love. That’s what the words of Ecclesiastes tells us. Our work does not define us. But we can define our work. We define it with the cross of Jesus, the love of Jesus. As Al Letson says, “live like the truth is true and go where love has not been found. We labor at our jobs, with our families, in our retirement, as a church—when we speak, when we act, it is the labor of love—not for rewards, not for RESPECT, not even for members. Ours are labors of love because we are already incredibly and unconditionally loved by God. Everyday we get to choose to to carry the cross of love in this world—to live as the truth is true and go where love has not been found. There is nothing vain in that. It’s just “This is how we do” (Katy Perry). Amen.