By Mike Coyner
Yesterday was the American holiday we call “Labor Day,” which many of us celebrate by having the day off. Up until the last few years, Labor Day weekend was always a time for the Coyner family to get together and celebrate birthdays – my sister Jill on September 2nd, Mom on September 6th, and mine on September 7th. Typically this meant a pool party at Mom and Dad’s home in Anderson, and it was a good way to mark the end of summer. I have good memories of those weekends, and I feel the sadness that they are gone with the passing of my parents.
Now it seems that summer ends much earlier – at least in terms of school starting so early. But Labor Day weekend is still a kind of end of summer/beginning of fall threshold. Seldom do we spend much time thinking about the meaning of the holiday. We don’t honor well those who worked for laboring folks to have a reasonable work schedule, benefits and equal rights to work. That’s too bad. It is a part of our American history which deserves honoring.
Even worse, it seems to me, we forget that we are also called to do what I call “Emmanuel Labor” – the godly work we are called to do. No matter what our job or career or work may be, those of us who call ourselves Christians are also called to do godly work, Emmanuel Labor if you will. The hard work of following Christ is to live and share the Good News (Emmanuel, God-with-us) by every action of our lives.The letter of James reminds us that faithfulness always involves work, putting our faith into action, and not living off platitudes and easy verbal answers. Ministry is work, hard work, and it involves stress, difficult schedules, and sometimes dealing with difficult people. I see some clergy give up on their ministry because they have an idealized view of ministry which runs into the hard reality that ministry is work, hard work.
Whether we are clergy or laypersons, following Christ is hard work. As a reminder, here is what James says we need to do in order to put our faith into action:
- Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger
- Don’t be greedy and seek the excesses of this world
- Control your tongue
- Take care of the widows and orphans
- Keep yourself unstained by this world
That is not an easy list. It requires hard work. It requires allowing God to guide and strengthen us. This day after Labor Day is a good day to be reminded that all of us are called to the hard work of “Emmanuel Labor.”
Mike Coyner is the bishop of the Indiana Area of the United Methodist Church.