The Importance of Work: A Theological Reflection

Market Basket Store, Klamath Falls, later Sentry Market
(my first regular job during high school)
Today is Labor Day. For many today is a day to rest from one's labors. For others it is a day for sales, and thus some will will work. As we head into a fall season that will feature an election that will allow Americans to decide who should lead the nation for the next four years, the economy, and therefore jobs, are a topic of conversation. Unfortunately much of the conversation fails to recognize the changing realities of our times. Many jobs lost in the past decades will never return. It's not just because they were sent overseas or to Mexico, but because of automation. I grew up in a community that was defined by the lumber industry. In the 1960s and early 1970s my hometown was in Southern Oregon was a happening place. It's been a decade since last I visited Klamath Falls, but things have changed a lot. The lumber mills and the Air Force base that employed several thousand individuals with good paying jobs are gone. The mills have left in part because of environmental concerns, but also because many of these companies moved their mills to the south where right to work laws and anti-union sentiment made for lower wages and higher profits. Essentially all the mills are gone, and the city is a shadow of what was once there. Those jobs won't come back, and my home town will never again be what it was. That saddens me, but it is true. 

In my sermon yesterday and in a litany we shared, we lifted up the value of work and labor. In my sermon I noted that throughout Scripture God is portrayed as one who labors. Jesus is described as having come from a working class family. He was, according to Mark 6:3, a carpenter, and the people of his hometown didn't think much of him.  But the good news in all of this is that the one who reveals God's presence to the world through the incarnation (Jn 1:14) is one who works, and therefore all who work (and almost all of us work in some fashion, are incorporated into his life. His work makes our work sacred. 

Unfortunately we don't pay much attention to this topic in the church. As Joerg Rieger and Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger point out, in the world of religion, religion is something that takes place in leisure time, taking place when we're not at work:

Those who attend worship services are not only off work but are often trying to forget about work. It should not surprise us that much of religion is more interested in what happens in the bedroom than what goes on in the boardroom and that it seems even less interested in other places where people work. Sometimes religion assumes that its task is to regenerate people on their days off work for whatever it is they need to do back at work, but even in this case there is little concern for what really happens at work let alone for transforming what happens at work. What if religion is not primarily about what happens in another dimension but about what difference the divine and people of faith are making in this world, including what happens at work? [Unified We Are a Force, p. 10]
What do we have to say about work? How does what happens in worship connect with what happens at work? How does our faith in God give meaning to what we do with our labor? I am employed by the church. That's my job. In that sense I should have solidarity with those who work in other ways and in other places. That is the point I think that the Riegers trying to make. We who are followers of Jesus. Indeed, they make it clear that all who participate in the Abrahamic religions can look to Moses, to Jesus, and Muhammad, among others, for examples of one's who exemplified work in their own lives.  

With that, let me wish all who work, a blessed Labor Day!


Sheryl M said…
As a Christ follower, I believe my work is part of God's plan for my life. If I'm following his leading then my work is more than just his provision for my financial needs. I believe my commitment, work quality, and ethics are all part of the testimony to who I am in Christ. As I worship him on Sunday and throughout the week, part of my worship is appreciating that he has appointed me to be in the job I am in,

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