Sermon: Sept 4, 2016 – “Labor Day Reflections”

“Labor Day Reflections”

Text: Luke 4: 16-19

 

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

I don’t know how many of you have ever had the experience of having a job where your job description is held over you like a ton of bricks. I know I have been in situations where the review process involves a re-reading of the job description and then a following evaluation of all the points that you have either forgotten about or have not had the time to get to. In my opinion, job descriptions, although often necessary, can also be a real drag-and they can be easily abused or misused. But of all the job descriptions that have been written over the ages, how would you like to have this

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s

Not only is it a little ambiguous, but it is also a bit of a tall order. Proclaim release to the captives? Really? What does that look like exactly? Recovery of sight to the blind? Good luck with that one. You get the picture.

As my theological perspective has evolved over the years many things have been modified, but one thing has remained fairly consistent and that is I have always considered this text to be a rather concise and accurate description of the ministry of Jesus. This was his job description; and from most accounts, he did it fairly well. But that was Jesus, not us; and that was then and not now.

Even though there is actually only one scriptural reference to Jesus being a carpenter, the accepted tradition is that Jesus was employed as a carpenter prior to beginning his ministry. I have often wondered what that transition was like. Did he lay down his tools after that day in the temple and decide he was starting something new? Did he just walk away? Was the transition a slow, painful process where Jesus had trouble letting go of his identity as a carpenter? I wonder how he decided that his teaching ministry held more weight than his career as a carpenter?

As we celebrate Labor Day tomorrow and honor the American worker, it occurs to me how complex this topic really is. What we do is so intricately woven into who we think we are that I believe it is worth thinking about. There are positive aspects of this and not so positive aspects. It can inspire us but also bring us down. Clarity of thought around this particular topic I think is imperative to a healthy self image and a healthy outlook on life. But it can be challenging.

Many of you know there was a time not that long ago that for a variety of reasons I found myself in-between churches. This was a tough time. I was unemployed for a time and then seriously under-employed, at least that is how I thought of it at the time. Because of the circumstances, we had moved back to the Denver area and even had to live with one of the kids for a time until we became a little more self-sufficient. If you remember, the economy had tanked and jobs were scarce. It took a long time for me to find a position with JCPenney where I went around to people’s homes and installed drapes and blinds. I suppose it could have been fun in different circumstances, but the management style and a number of other things made the job less than stellar. But I needed a job, so that’s what I did.

I knew that during those few months when I was working as an installer for Penney’s that wasn’t who I was. In spite of that knowledge, it was still hard for me to maintain my same level of positive outlook and enthusiasm for life that I had prior to the economic crash. During this time there was another installer who had been with the company, doing essentially the same kind of work for 20 years and he was happy as a clam. This experience taught me that external circumstances, while very real, still do not have the power to make you happy or unhappy, external circumstances do not have the power to make you feel good or bad, motivated or unmotivated, worthwhile or worthless. All of those feelings are up to you; it’s just easier to blame the circumstances.

Now this story has a bit of an ironic and humorous ending. If you fast forward about another year, we have pretty much given up on Denver and had moved back to the northwest, but I was still looking for meaningful employment. It was at that time I landed the job with Habitat for Humanity that actually brought Heidi and I to the LC Valley. As part of my orientation for this new position with Habitat one of the experiences they thought would be useful is for me to spend a day volunteering at a job site. So my third day on the job, I am at a job site in Clarkston, but the house is almost finished. The work to be done is mostly finish details; touch-up painting, cleaning up the exterior, putting finishing touches on light fixtures or plumbing fixtures, you get the idea. So I show up, with my tool belt, ready to have a volunteer experience and gain some insight about my new position.

I find the construction coordinator and ask the question; what would you like me to do? He then asks me if I thought I could put up the blinds in the bedrooms, because everybody hates that job and often it isn’t done very well. I told him I would be happy to do that and not to worry, they would be installed correctly.

So there I am, third day in a new job that I was sooo excited about, hanging blinds. I couldn’t believe it. I started to laugh at myself because I found the entire episode simply hilarious. Once again, I was taught in another interesting way, how external circumstances really don’t control your disposition. How you choose to look at things actually controls your disposition.

I wanted to share with you an excerpt from a poem by Robert Frost that has always been a favorite of mine. The poem is called “Two Tramps in Mud Time” and it has many layers of meaning around the ideas of meaningful and fulfilling work. But it is the last stanza that really sparks a fire within me; the words resonate with me because for a long time I felt the same way. Here are those words:

 

My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

How wonderful it is when you love what you do and you find it to be meaningful and fulfilling work. But I also know from experience that often it is not the work, it is the mental awareness around the work that makes the difference. I love photography, but when photography became work, like it did at times when I worked for an advertising agency, it lost its appeal. As Robert Frost said, the work was no longer play.

Frederick Buencher also has an interesting perspective as he has written in his book “Wishful Thinking, A Theological ABC”: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I believe this may be a better description of that serendipity when it feels like everything just comes together; that is the melding of your personal gladness, that thing that you love is combined with a deep need or hunger in the world. But this statement is not necessarily tied to occupation, the place where God calls you can be a place of personal reflection, a place of volunteerism, a place of relationship or a place of leadership – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be what you do to make a living.

As we reflect upon our own lives and careers and livelihoods, I think it is important for us to recognize how what we do can become intricately woven with who we are. This can be a good thing, but it can also be a dangerous thing; it can be good because sometimes what we do impacts the world and helps other people. It can be dangerous in the sense that often what we do is temporary and it can easily go away. If we secure our identities in the temporary, ultimately we will be disappointed. If we secure our identities in the relationships and the needs of the world we help meet, we can experience a long lasting sense of meaningful and fulfilling contributions regardless of how we choose to pay the bills.

And that, of course, is food for thought. Go in peace.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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