To see a reflection on preaching about work/Labor Day, see Zach Dawes’ article “Labor, Wages, Often as Overlooked Sermon Topics.” *
As Labor Day approaches, there are a variety of factors on whether one will actually get to cease from labor this weekend. As Christians, we should be mindful of this reality.
Amazon’s impossible expectations, the New York Times’ series on nail care technicians, and the introduction by President Obama to offer overtime for anyone making under $50,000 (with exceptions) all point to the recognition of the importance of rest, and just compensation.
Further, erratic working schedules that many persons in the service sector experience lead to a strain in relationships, as workers are unable to offer a firm commitment to many activities because of the need to be available to work. There are also intersections of race, class, and gender to be considered as well.
I wrote a couple of years ago about how a changing working climate could affect participation in churches. While it’s certainly not the main, or only reason for the decline of church affiliation, it does consider how our faith and work life (dis)connect.
Because our faith is holistic, our faith has a role to play in how we view work, and how we act on behalf of our neighbors (and ourselves) who are overburdened/oppressed by working conditions and unjust compensation.
A key theme in Scripture connecting to work and rest is the notion of Sabbath. Sabbath is present in the creation account, when God rested. In the Torah, to keep the Sabbath was not only to refrain from working, but also allowed for animals and the land to rest. Vitor Westhelle, in his Scandalous God, reflects on how the women at the cross still practiced Sabbath in the aftermath of Jesus’ death. They brought the burial spices on Sunday, after they rested on Saturday. They kept the Sabbath even in their time of grief. Westhelle argues that in order to practice resurrection, one must also practice Sabbath.[i] Moltmann views the Sabbath as “the presence of eternity in time.”[ii] For him, the Sabbath is not only connected to creation, but to eschatology.
As Christians, and as faith communities, how are we to respond when the demands of the world and the concerns of our faith (and the well-being of our neighbors) collide?
This is difficult, and I don’t think there are any simple answers.
Off the top of my head, I would have these questions that may help us think further:
- How do we see ourselves as faith communities? How does fellowship currently take place? Who’s missing?
- How does our spending and consumer habits harmfully affect the Sabbath of others? What might we do to change that?
- How might we respond out of our love for God and others to examine, assess, and act on these issues at a systemic level?
These are just a few brief, unpolished thoughts. What do you think? How does our love for God and others bear witness on work and Sabbath?
[i] See Vítor Westhelle, The Scandalous God: the Use and Abuse of the Cross (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), chapter 7.
[ii] Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: a New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 276.
*while Dawes offers some good insights, I disagree with him on the possibility of using Ephesians 6 as translatable to sermons on labor.