“All in a Day’s Work” Text: 1 Timothy 4:7-10
Elpis Christian Church
September 1, 1013
A farmer once observed, "The hardest thing about milking cows is that they never stay milked.”
That’s one of the best, most succinct, descriptions of work I’ve ever heard. The trouble with work is that it’s never done. I’ve heard any number of you who are now supposedly basking in the “glory days” of retirement – lament the fact that some days it seems like you are working the hardest that you ever have. And based on my observations – I think you probably are.
And then there are the rest of us poor slobs who, day in and day out, get up – look at our “to-do” list – and realize that too often it looks like a “I’ll never get it done” list instead of a “to-do” list. So isn’t it nice that once a year we have this thing called “Labor Day.” One day out of three-hundred sixty-five, where we take a little breather? We deserved it – because someone or something is going to be cracking the whip soon enough.
But Labor Day – especially Labor Day Sunday – gives us a chance to do something else too. It invites us to think about what a BLESSING work can be. Now what do I mean exactly?
Well, first off, I think it’s good for us now and then to remind ourselves how much easier work has become for most of us, at least from a historical perspective. Consider for example this notice that was found in the ruins of a London office building. It was dated 1852:
1. This firm has reduced the hours of work, and the clerical staff will now only have to be present between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays.
2. Clothing must be of a sober nature. The clerical staff will not disport themselves in raiment of bright colors, nor will they wear hose unless in good repair.
3. Overshoes and topcoats may not be worn in the office, but neck scarves and headwear may be worn in inclement weather.
4. A stove is provided for the benefit of the clerical staff. Coal and wood must be kept in the locker. It is recommended that each member of the clerical staff bring four pounds of coal each day during the cold weather.
5. No member of the clerical staff may leave the room without permission from the supervisor.
6. No talking is allowed during business hours.
7. The craving for tobacco, wine, or spirits is a human weakness, and as such is forbidden to all members of the clerical staff.
8. Now that the hours of business have been drastically reduced, the partaking of food is allowed between 11:30 and noon, but work will not on any account cease.
9. Members of the clerical staff will provide their own pens. A new sharpener is available on application to the supervisor.
10. The supervisor will nominate a senior clerk to be responsible for the cleanliness of the main office and the private office. All boys and juniors will report to him 40 minutes before prayers and will remain after closing hours for similar work. Brushes, brooms, scrubber, and soap are provided by the owners.
11. The owners recognize the generosity of the new labor laws, but will expect a great rise in output of work to compensate for these near Utopian conditions.
Talk about something out of a Charles Dickens’ tale.
My own version of this realization – about how labor isn’t what it used to be – came in the form of information I found about what circuit riding preachers had to do in the “good old days.” Once I finished reading about how they would typically ride for hours on horseback through the snow or burning sun, arrive in some God-forsaken place to preach for a couple hours, only to get on horseback again to ride to some other place for their evening preaching rounds….well, you get the idea. Suddenly, riding around in a heated or air-conditioned van didn’t seem all that bad.
It’s good for us to remember that many times, no matter how frustrated we might be at our “work” – whatever it is – at least we aren’t slaving away in truly inhuman conditions, at least, not usually.
And then there is another thing – another blessing – for which we should give thanks, when it comes to simple labor. It’s that, if we have the right attitude about it, it can become a reflection of true vocation – not just drudgery. The great reformer Martin Luther was one of the first to talk about this.
Listen to what he had to say about it. He wrote:
"The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays -- not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship."
Now, I know, that may just sound like someone using religion to justify why we should all work just a little harder. But I think there is a whole lot more to it than that. I think Luther was inviting his listeners to embrace the idea of “vocation” – that we can be co-creators with a God who is always at work – bettering our world, for ourselves and others. We can be partners in the great enterprise of serving God and serving others, as a form of praise, even while engaged in the simplest and most menial of tasks. To Luther, our world wasn’t divided in the beginning between the holy and the learned and the unholy and stupid. We were – we are – all God’s children. And we all have God given tasks to perform. Does it mean we will one day create a perfect world through our efforts? No. Only God in His grace can transform our fallen world that way. But in the meantime – we can joyfully and compassionately and with great dedication go about our daily vocations – grateful for them, whatever they are - as we go.
So let me leave you with this thought, on this Labor Day weekend:
According to one survey, the average number of jobs an American worker has held by age 40: 8. I wonder how many it is by the time you meet that “magic” retirement age of 65? One thing is pretty certain: some of those jobs you will like; some you won’t. And, no matter how you might wish it otherwise, every day, metaphorically speaking, those cows are going to have to be milked again; and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that – and so it goes.
Given that fact – what makes more sense? Complaining and crying out “ain’t it awful” or finding a way to live out a holy vocation, thankful for the ability to do good work, and in the process, give some glory to God?
Enjoy your vacation when it rolls around – I plan to take one very soon. Enjoy Labor Day. But enjoy your work – your labor – your vocation – as well. It may turn out to be one of God’s greatest blessings.