A Spirituality of Work – Labour Sunday – a sermon Matthew 5:13-16

Audio only here

It is but a distant memory now. The details are all but forgotten. But I can still feel the emotions as if it were yesterday. I couldn’t have been more than about five or six years old. I desperately wanted to be a big girl. I wanted, so very much, to show my mother that I could help her. Still, I can almost feel the heat and see the steam as it rose from the iron. I knew it was dangerous. I knew that the heat that pressed the cloths could burn me. But I wanted to help.

Either I nagged my mother so much that she finally gave in, or her own loathing of the chore of ironing was so intense that she just couldn’t help herself, and somehow taught her little girl. I can’t remember Mom showing me how it was done. But, I do remember carefully moving the hot steaming iron over the dishtowels and pillow cases and marveling as the creases disappeared. I remember carefully folding the cloth and then magically creating new sharp creases in the folds. I remember the pile of neatly pressed items growing in stature. I can still feel the pride welling up in me as I completed my work. I was a big girl. I was helping my Mom. I was brilliant! I was so proud of myself and proud of the fruits of my labour. I could wait to show my Dad when he got home. I was a good little worker!  And yet, even now as I remember the pride swelling in me, I remember also, the quick rebuke. Don’t be a smart-alec! Who do you think you are?

I don’t think my Mother actually said the words, “Pride goeth before a fall.” but my memory of these events provokes these words in me. The words well up inside me. Indeed, the words are part of my being – “pride goes before a fall” – don’t get too big for your britches.

All too often, I feel the self-rebuke. Who do you think you are? Oh, there are other memories other clichés. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Take pride in your work. I heard these phrases from parents and teachers as I grew up.      But somehow the warnings not to be proud of myself, these warnings undid any pride that I could ever muster.

 On this Labour Day weekend, when we are all encouraged to celebrate our labours, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the gift that work is. In the stories handed down to us from the anonymous gospel storytellers we are told that Jesus was a “tekton.” The Greek word tekton is often translated as “carpenter” but a more accurate translation of tekton is worker. Jesus we are told was a worker, but the anonymous gospel storytellers are not clear about what kind of worker Jesus was. They also tell us that Jesus was a rabbi – a teacher. Whatever kind of work that Jesus did, I hope convinced that Jesus took pride in his work. For how else could Jesus teach his followers that they are light of the world, unless Jesus had also known the pride of a job well done?

“You are the light of the world. You don’t build a city on a hill, then try to hide it, do you? You don’t light a lamp, then put it under a bushel basket, do you? No, you set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, your light must shine before others so that they may see your good works and give praise to your Abba God in heaven.”

So, who do we think we are? I know that we are humble Canadians and we tend not to blow our own horns, but seriously, “We are the light of the world!”.

I know, it makes me feel very uncomfortable to think it, let alone say it. I am the light of the world. We are the light of the world! Maybe, if you say it with me? Come on say it:  I am the light of the world!  We are the light of the world!

What are we afraid of? What prevents us from embracing the reality of our own splendor? Why must we continually insist that we are “only human.” For we are, in the words of the psalmist, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” – that’s the King James English way of saying we are “awesome” – awesome and wonderfully made. Why can’t we accept our own magnificence?

I can almost hear you thinking – pride goeth before a fall.  This dire warning holds us back and we perish the thought of seeing the truth of humanity’s awesome power to shape and mold a new world – the kind of world that Jesus of Nazareth continues to call us into. The kind of world where we use our talents in the difficult work of creating justice and peace. Have we magnificent creatures become so afraid of failure that we have given up on Jesus’ vision of justice?       

Marianne Williamson writes:

What holds us back in our lives is our fear.

And sometimes when you take a very close look

you find out that your fears

aren’t exactly what you thought they were.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves,

who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest

the glory of
God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,

we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

So it’s holy work to move past your own fear.

It doesn’t just help you.

It helps the world.

 Today, as I look around the world I can see that there is so much work that needs to be done. As I look around this sanctuary, I see so very many talented workers.I think about your various skills and talents and I can’t help but remember the little girl that I once was, so proud to offer up the fruits of my labour to my Mom. Those neatly ironed tea-towels were but a small part of the fruit of my labour, the bigger part was the love that I was offering up. The poet Gibran insists that, “Work is love made visible.” Work is LOVE made visible. Cornell West insists that “Justice is what LOVE looks like in public.” Work is LOVE made visible and justice is what LOVE looks like in public. How about we put away the tired clichés that are holding us back and take a few a few risks for the sake of LOVE?

When we engage in the work that needs doing we become embodiment of LOVE. Those neatly ironed tea-towels made visible my love for my MOM and for everyone who would ever use one of those carefully ironed tea-towels. Our work is in so many ways our LOVE made visible.

Theologian Joan Chittister insists that, “When we grow radishes in a small container in a city apartment, we participate in creation. When we sweep the street in front of a house, we bring new order to the universe. When we repair what has been broken or paint what is old or give away what we have earned that is above and beyond our own sustenance, we stoop down and scoop up the earth and breathe into it new life again. When we compost garbage and recycle cans, when we clean a room and put coasters under glasses, when we care for everything we touch and touch it reverently, we become the creators of a new universe.  Then we sanctify our work and our work sanctifies us. A spirituality of work puts us in touch with our own creativity. Making a salad for supper becomes a work of art. Planting another evergreen tree becomes our contribution to the health of the world. Organizing a good meeting with important questions for the sake of preserving the best in human values enhances humanity. Work enables us to put our personal stamp of approval, our own watermark, the autograph of our souls on the development of the world. In fact, to do less is to do nothing at all.

A spirituality of work draws us out of ourselves and, at the same time, makes us more of what we are meant to be. Good work — work done with good intentions and good effects, work that up builds the human race rather than reduces it to the monstrous or risks its destruction — develops qualities of compassion and character in me. My work also develops everything around it. There is nothing I do that does not affect the world in which I live. In developing a spirituality of work, I learn to trust beyond reason that good work will gain good things for the world, even when I don’t expect them and I can’t see them. In that way, I gain myself.  Literally. I come into possession of a me that is worthwhile, whose life has not been in vain, who has been a valuable member of the human race. Finally, a spirituality of work immerses me in the search for human community. I begin to see that everything I do, everything, has some effect on someone somewhere. I begin to see my life tied up in theirs. I begin to see that the starving because someone is not working hard enough to feed them.  And so I do. It becomes obvious, then, that the poor are poor because someone is not intent on the just distribution of goods of the earth. And so I am. I begin to realize that work is the lifelong process of personal sanctification that is satisfied only for the globe. I finally come to know that my work is God’s work, unfinished by God because God meant it to be finished by me.”

Chittister’s view of work as an expression of our love, reminds me that the LOVE that we call God, finds expression in the work that we do. Indeed, the LOVE that IS God works in, with, through, and beyond us. “You are the light of the world. You don’t build a city on a hill, they try to hide it, do you? You don’t light a lamp, then put it under a bushel basket, do you? No, you set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, your light must shine before others so that they may see your good works and give praise to your Abba God in heaven.”

On this Labour day weekend, may we all celebrate the sacred work that has nourished, grounded, and sustained us in the magnificent lives that we lead. May we honour all the sacred workers who have provided a means for LOVE to find expression in the world. May we all find work that gives expression to our love for the world, our love for one another, and our love for our neighbours. Work is indeed LOVE made visible. LOVE is the source, and ground of our being. Justice is what LOVE looks like in public. May our work, together, and beyond make the LOVE that is God visible in the justice that creates peace. Now and always.


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