My sixty-seventh summer has passed. My sixty-seventh autumn is upon me. And linking summer and autumn is Labor Day. While instituted in 1887 to honor union labor, Labor Day has come to be a celebration of all kinds of work, whether organized into unions or not.
I believe human beings are wired to work, to produce, to create in some fashion. The Midwest killing over the summer by someone who said he was bored reveals the despairing numbness that comes from lack of purpose, lack of work.
Purpose. Rick Warren speaks of The Purpose Driven Life. We ask one another, what is the purpose of man? What is the purpose of life? We seek meaning, and work is an expression of the meaning we have found.
Of course there are many jobs that seem mindless, meaningless. I filed and typed for long hours and longer days as I cobbled my may through college, and later, as a single parent, as I supported myself and my young son. Not all work is meaningful, but most work is productive, if at least for the boss or the company worked for. At the end of each day, the file cabinet was plump with the filings from my inbox, and my inbox was empty. I had been productive. And when I received my paycheck it felt good to have earned it.
And in a sense every job, including sitting here at my computer in the comfort of my office lined with icons and books, with my cat nearby and my husband’s ballgame heard in the distance, has long periods of routine work, of slugging along. But I have been blessed with meaning in my life, so that no matter what work I do, it is offered to God. I am secure in the knowledge that I have tried to listen to God’s voice, I have tried to understand the next step to take, the next turn in the next crossroads (no pun intended).
Christians are or should be purpose-driven people. They know who they are and why they are and how they came to be. They know where they are going and they know the way. Sometimes we take wrong turns, more than we confess, but God brings us back. Through his Church he gives us road signs and we finally get back on the main highway, the way to home.
This morning we witnessed two young adult baptisms in church. The young ladies, one finishing high school this coming year, the other in the middle of her college years, had been brought home to the Church by their grandparents. I thought how wonderful it was that at this moment in their lives, when so many crossroads would soon appear before them – choices of classes, schools, careers, dating, marriage, family – they would have the grace of God empowering them, nudging them along. They would see signs that would steer them in the right direction. And as they make these choices, they would have a reference point – God’s will, his design for them, as expressed through the Church.
We are forever wandering and forever coming home, every one of us. And the nature of what we do with our lives, how we spend our time each day – our work as children of God on Planet Earth – matters. It matters because everything matters, everything counts. We may not always get it right, but as a member of the Body of Christ, we have signposts helping us along, helping us choose.
Many baby-boomers will be retiring in the next decade, and they will face these choices, how they will spend the rest of their lives, their hours, their days, their weeks, their years. Some will volunteer at local hospitals. Some will take another job to supplement their income. Some will spend precious time with children and grandchildren, or neighbors and friends. Some will volunteer at church or temple. Some will give their time to spas and saunas, fitness clubs and golf courses. Whatever the trade-off that is made for the remainder of their days, they will choose activity that brackets and organizes their time, and this choice will shape them in the last leg of their journey through time.
For me, I have the Church, and through the Church I have God. With the Church as my home, with the family of God surrounding me, with the sacraments and hymns and joyful Sunday worship, I have signposts along the way. I need only watch for them. Without the Church I should wander aimlessly, bored, purposeless, without meaning to my work. With the Church I can see; I am given productive years as I travel the last leg of my journey to Heaven. In the Church I am home, and when I stray I know the way back. A good exchange for my working life.
In today’s Gospel, Christ tells of the ten lepers he healed, but only one returned to give thanks. Today, this Labor Day weekend, I give thanks for the meaningful work God offers us, and I return each Sunday to give thanks again and again.