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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Laboring Days

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 + 1 Corinthians 3:7-9


It’s so nice the government gives us a three-day weekend to celebrate football time in Tennessee.

Especially this year, since we’re playing on Sunday night.

It’ll make Monday morning a bit more tolerable.

The nation needs a distraction.

It’s good to see men of all races and conferences putting on body armor and hitting each other without teargas, and where the only casualty is Steve Spurrier’s headset.

It’s good to know football still works.

So give us a day of rest from our labors.

We’re due a day to celebrate what works.

Because we work, way, way more than is healthy for us and most of us don’t get to enjoy nearly enough of it.

I don’t need numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Bible tells me so.

Labor, days of labor, and the economics of labor are Bible issues.

Labor and its fruits were religious issues long before they belonged to the economists.

The Bible talks a lot about people who work.

How they work.

What they’re paid for their work.

And how they should enjoy their work and the fruits of their labor.

The Bible knows labor is not a game.

In the Bible, every day’s Labor Day.



You know the passage from Ecclesiastes that we read earlier.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

That’s very poetic, but around verse 9, though, he gets to his main point.

He says,

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.

And, then, in verse 12:

I perceived that there is nothing better for [people] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all [their] toil—this is God's gift to man[kind].

In other words,

if you work for living,

and if you enjoy your work,

if your work affords you some living,

if your work is more than a wage,

if your living is more than your work,

this is God’s gift to you.


If your work is more than a wage, if your living is more than your work, you’re one lucky son or daughter of God.

Because not everybody gets to say that.


It’s ironic that we read this passage - which really is about work - a lot of times we read it at funerals.

You know what people say.

No one on their deathbed ever says, “Gee, I wish I had worked more.”

And then we turn around and read Ecclesiastes - a book about work - at their funeral.


Maybe some people do say that.

Maybe some people do wish they had worked more.

If your job is composing great symphonies or creating great works of art for the world’s appreciation, maybe you wish you had.

If your job is curing Ebola, maybe you do wish you’d worked a little more.

If your job is changing diapers, or managing a household,

If your job is bringing dignity, or bringing education, or bringing justice to people who can’t get it on their own, I think it would be OK to say you wished you’d worked a little more.

Because you’ve been given a gift.

You’re lucky.

Because not everyone can say that.

Which is a shame.

Because it’s God’s idea that you should be able to say it.

According to the Bible, according to Ecclesiastes, there’s nothing - absolutely nothing - better.

I perceived that there is nothing better for [people] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all [their] toil—this is God's gift to man[kind].

Labor Day might be an American holiday.

But give God credit for the idea.

...there is nothing better for [people] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all [their] toil...


I worked the concession stand at the high school football game Friday night.

It was really kind of fun.

But after four hours of asking 15 year-olds, “Do you want Red Powerade, or Blue?” it gets a bit tiring.

And then there are the few grownups who say very unchristian things when you explain we’re out of Chick Fil-a sandwiches again.

And then the questions: “What’s ON the Chick Fil-a sandwiches?”

(Pickles. That’s all that’s ever on a Chick Fil-a sandwich.)

No matter what it is you do, there are days when your job is going to make you feel undignified.

If you’re a teacher, you will have a pair of shoes ruined during flu season.

You will have a parent yell at you because you failed her child just because he didn’t know any answers on the exam.


Or maybe you don’t have a job, or someone in your household doesn’t have a job.

Maybe you’re one of the millions of Americans out of work.

And you’re thinking, “Gee, I’d be great at undignified work, because the job market’s making me an expert.”

And maybe whatever you do, day in and day out, without enough recognition and without enough reward you’re thinking, “Um, excuse me, God? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing with my life? Is this your plan?”

And the answer, straight from the Bible, is:


God’s intent is for your work to bring you dignity.

That you should be able to eat and drink, and find joy in what you do - whatever that is 40, or 50, or 168 hours every week.

Whether you’re paid for your work, or not.

Or retired from your work.

Or disabled from your work.

God’s intent is dignity.

God’s intent is joy.

And while there may well be a time for productivity and a time for futility,

a time for prosperity and a time for recession -

while there may be those times,

all your times - all your time - is a gift from God.

It is never God’s intent that you work, or toil in vain.

it is never God’s intent that you live in vain.

If you’re ready to throw your hands up and say, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,”

if all your labor feels like an exercise in vacant futility,

if that’s where you’re at,

you are closer to the Bible than you could ever know.



A while back, the New York Daily News published a lovely article about the history of Labor Day.

According to the New York Daily News, Labor Day began in - where else? - New York City, naturally, the source of all that is good.

Reading the article, you can imagine the scene like something out of a movie.

“On Sept. 5, 1882, 20,000 workers from all trades marched up Broadway to demand an eight-hour workday and other reforms before picnicking and enjoying "lager beer kegs ... mounted in every conceivable place," ... Other cities followed suit until Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894.”[1]


Whether these festive, curly-moustached, immigrant unionists were, in truth, the origin of Labor Day is for historians to decide.

But it seems reasonable.

Especially the part about beer.


The source of the holiday, like the source of good works, isn’t as important as the good that grows.

Like the Apostle Paul said, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. ...For we are God’s servants, working together.”

Individually, we may be people battling frustration and futility.

But when you put us together, we’re God’s hands, and God’s feet, working as the Body of Christ, clearing the way, so God can provide the growth.


Your Labor Day celebration might involve football.

Or fireworks.

Or “lager beer kegs ... mounted in every conceivable place.”

Or a big nap.

How you celebrate isn’t so important.

The point is that you step back.

Take a break.

And take a look at your work, the way a painter steps back and looks at what she’s done.


If you look real close, you might begin to see that it’s not your work in the first place.

It never was.

You might find that you thought you were doing one job, when really, something else was going on all along.

Because, you’re never the only one at work.

You’ll see the brush strokes of your friends.

You’ll see the colorful marks of your family.

You’ll feel the inspiration of your church.

And if you look real hard, you’ll see that God’s at work, too.

And even where you feel like you might be toiling in vain, God is guiding your hand.

God is giving growth.

God is working, too.

Even when we think God’s on vacation, every day is God’s Labor Day.


Let’s pray.