Question: What thoughts about work does Labor Day stir in you?
Labor Day A Celebration of Work
The first Labor Day was held in the place where I live: New York City. It was September 1882. The impetus behind Labor Day was to guarantee an extra day off and to champion the rights of workers. The emphasis was necessary because of the exploitative practices of business owners. Yet, as the Department of Labor states on their website, Labor Day also “constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” 
With this in mind, I’d like expend this post on a Labor Day celebration of work: the work we do, the work of others, each as an expression of a God who is ultimately at work in our world. There are many problems with the world of work, exploitation, extreme income inequality, lack of engagement, increasing fragmentation of the workplace community, decreasing margins/increasing demands, etc. These challenges are to be expected and attacked in a post-eden world. But dark as the difficulties may be, they need not eclipse the goodness of work.
Celebrate the Work You Do.
What is work? Tim Keller and others suggest that work is exerting energy, influence, and skill to transform the raw materials of creation (commodities, talent, time, ideas, people) into something (product, service, experience) useful for the common good. Work is moving something (or someone) from chaos to order for the good of all.
Four things are powerful about this definition.
- It applies in some way or another to just about every job.
- It does not confine “work” to a paid job. Work is bigger.
- It mirrors the activity of God in creating the cosmos (Genesis 1 & 2).
- It establishes the fundamental goodness of work, a goodness that transcends the evils of the labor market and the challenges of the daily “job.”
And so we are free to celebrate our work
Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. (Ecclesiastes 5:18)
But it’s not just the good work we do, for which we should be thankful.
Celebrate the Work of Others
One of the striking things about city life (My family and I moved to NYC in January) is the massive number of people here whose work is to serve others. Equally striking is how impossible life would be if they weren’t at work. Every day the doorman greets us as we leave for work, the delivery personnel who are constantly coming and going from our building, the shuttle driver takes us to the subway, the subway engineers keep the train moving and safe, police direct traffic, vendors and shop owners sell everything we need (and want and don’t need and don’t want). People are always working, taking the chaos out of city life for other people, in ways small and large.As we see the multiplication of specialized work place roles: shepherds, musicians, and metal workers (Genesis 4:21-23) we see God providing for us through the work of others. Suburban life (where I have spent the majority of my years) encourages independence and may diminish our awareness of the good we derive from the work of others. One fills his house with all the tools and provisions to survive independently. You venture out of your cul-de-sac castle only for transactional interactions and then retreat back to your fortress. In the city, we are constantly presented with the work of others, work on which we depend to do life in this incredibly densely populated space where we literally live on top of each other. No matter where we live, the work of others all around us. Even in our islands of suburban independence we wouldn’t last long without the skills and products of others.
So we celebrate the work of others on Labor Day. And still take a moment to speak of the most important player in the “other” category.
Celebrate the Work of God.
Criticized for healing a lame man on a Sabbath Day, Jesus responded: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working. (John 5:18). Jesus saw himself as always engaged in work to rescue people from the crippling affects of sin: a work mission that drove him to the cross and to the ultimate sacrifice. This is God’s work on our behalf, the most monumental movement from chaos to order for good.
So I suggest you take a moment to be thankful for the capacity to work, the work of others, and the work of God on your behalf.
Have a happy “Work Day.”
How About You?
What could you celebrate more about work?
What are appropriate ways to express your joy?