509) Labor Day Meditation on Work (part two)

     The Angelus by Jean-Francois Millet  (1859)

     (…continued)  This isn’t all the Bible says about work.  The Bible is a practical book, and when it comes to work, it commands us to simply work hard and do it right.  Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,” and Ephesians 4:1 says, “Lead a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

     Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) was an English writer who thought and wrote a great deal about the Christian’s work in this world.  In this quote she uses the example of a carpenter to discuss a Christian approach to work (paraphrased):

The Church’s approach to a carpenter us usually limited to telling him to come to church on Sunday and to not get drunk or disorderly in his leisure time.  What the church should be telling him it this– that the very first demand his religion makes upon him is that he should build good houses.  Of course he should go to church, and certainly he should find decent forms of amusement.  But what use is all of that if at the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God (and hurting his neighbor) with bad carpentry?  I dare say that no crooked cabinets or ill-fitting drawers ever came out of that carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.

     Our work in this world is sacred because by it we are serving God by serving our neighbor, and so it is our Christian duty to do our best at it.  We work to get money, of course, and with that money we support ourselves and anyone else God has given us to serve and support.  But we also work to get something done, something that benefits others.  God has made our lives intertwined with others, and we obey his command to serve God and our neighbor even as we do our daily work.  Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord, and not only people.”

     Martin Luther once summed up the Bible’s teaching on work with these words:

Work should be done to serve God by it, to avoid idleness, and to satisfy God’s commands.  Your work is a very sacred matter.  God delights in it and blesses you through it.  God could support you and feed you without work.  God could make a fried chicken fly into your mouth if he wanted, and he could make vegetables grow on your table.  But God will not do this.  God wants you to work and to use your mind and your hands.

     There is one more thing that the Bible has to say about all this.  While the Bible tells us to work, it also tells us to rest.  There are some people don’t know enough to get to work and keep at it; and, there are other people who don’t know when to quit working, and they ignore rest, worship, family, and everything else in life.  The Bible calls on us to keep a balance in our work and rest.

     The Biblical command to remember the Sabbath Day has two parts to it– to remember to worship and to rest.  Deuteronomy says, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but on the seventh day you shall not do any work.”  Some Jews have been very specific about what one can and cannot do on that day of rest.  Christians, for the most part, have not been so specific.  There is always some work that must be done on Sundays.  Even Jesus acknowledged that.  So while we may have different opinions on the specifics of obeying the Sabbath rest, the basic command cannot be ignored.  We are commanded to work and we are commanded to rest.

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Ecclesiastes 9:10a  —  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…

Ephesians 4:1b  —  …Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Colossians 3:23a  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…

Dueuteronomy 5:12-14a  —  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work…

Luke 13:14-15  —  Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work.  So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”  The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites!  Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?”

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Almighty God, you have so linked our lives with one another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives:  So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good: and, as we seek a proper return for our labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

–Book of Common Prayer