03 September 2007

"Work" is not a four-letter word.

For many the Labor Day holiday is merely the end of the summer-time fun and frivolity, a somber reminder that the seriousness of work and school must once again, reluctantly, resume. It's even called the "unofficial end" to summer. And I must admit that once the school year begins, it sure is nice to have a holiday for sleeping in, taking it easy, and getting a shot in the arm before really getting down to the business of Fall activities (such as catechesis classes and meetings resuming), which lead to Advent and Christmas busy-ness (with added services and preaching), which leads to Lent and Easter busy-ness (with even more services and preaching).

Perhaps the better way to view Labor Day is to realize that work and labor, though tainted and infected by sin, are not bad things. In fact, God created work before the fall into sin (see Genesis 2:15) as an integral part of His "very good" creation. "Work" is not a four-letter word, at least not by God's design! From the Christian viewpoint, work is our calling from God to care for and manage His creation, our calling to serve our neighbor in love. Surely we can say that we are God's co-workers in tending His world.

The website of the U.S. Department of Labor explains the purpose of Labor Day thus:
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
(I'm also tickled to see that my own home state of Oregon was the first state in the Union to pass a bill, on February 21, 1887, to observe Labor Day. New York may have started the process first, but Oregon got it done first! :-)

As Christians, we can and should most certainly embrace giving tribute to workers, for workers of all kinds are God's agents to take care of His creation and supply "everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body" (Small Catechism, Fourth Petition). Dr. Veith, at his Cranach blog, suggests co-opting Labor Day and calling it "Vocation Day." He says:
Let us engage in cultural evangelism as the church did centuries ago, co-opting non-Christian festivals and turning them into Christian feasts. Join my crusade to turn Labor Day into a celebration of the Christian doctrine of vocation.
And permit me this bit of wisdom from Dr. Veith on Christian vocation in the workplace, this time from his book God at Work, pp. 67-68:
Christians are engaged in the world by carrying out their vocations. This is how they can be a positive influence in the culture. Christian actors, musicians, and artists can be salt and light in a realm that is often tasteless and dark. This is why we need Christians in law, politics, science, journalism, education, academia, and all the other culture-making professions.

Furthermore, it is in vocation that evangelism can most effectively happen. How can non-Christians be reached with the Gospel? By definition, they are unlikely to come to church. Perhaps an evangelist might knock on their doors, but these days they may never let him in. But in the workplace, non-Christians and Christians work together and get to know each other. Occasions for witnessing and inviting a colleague to church come up in natural ways--over the watercooler or during a coffee break, discussing a disaster like the World Trade Center attack or a failing marriage, or in times of joy such as the birth of a child. Christians penetrating their world in vocations have access to more nonbelievers than a pastor does.
So let's celebrate this Labor Day as Vocation Day, a time to celebrate the vocations and the work that our gracious God has given us in this world. Because, after all, "work" is not a four-letter word!

Lord Jesus Christ, as once You shared in our human toil and thus hallowed the work of our hands, bless and prosper those who maintain the industries and service sectors of this land. Give them a right regard for their labors, and grant them the just reward for their work that they may find joy in serving You and in supplying our needs; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen (Collect for Industry and Commerce, Lutheran Service Book, p. 314).

Heavenly Father, we commend to Your care those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Grant that the wealth and resources of this rich land be profitably used so that all persons may find suitable and fulfilling employment and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen (Collect for The Unemployed, Lutheran Service Book, p. 317).


  1. And yet work can become another form of idolatry. Because I am European by birth (German) I remember many long, peaceful walks along beautiful pathways leading up to medieval forests and castles, the only thing being heard on Sundays being the local church bells ringing.

    Of course, both in Europe and America Sunday has begun to revert to just another day of the week. The only advantage the Europeans have is that that have shorter workweeks and longer vacations than Americans.

    Why do we drive ourselves mad working long, hectic hours in order to have more and more "stuff" ?

  2. Why do we drive ourselves mad working long, hectic hours in order to have more and more "stuff" ?

    Well, Christine,

    That would be another problem with our modern-day view of work - viewing it as our way to "get ahead" and "get rich" rather than God's gift for serving our neighbor. Why do we drive ourselves mad trying to work long and hard just to get "stuff" that passes away? Simple answer: Because we routinely take our eyes off of Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.