High and Holy Labor Day

By Cindy Koch

There are already too many holidays on our calendar that are a challenge to the Gospel and the pure Word of God. Some holidays are widely scoffed at by Christian communities, like Halloween. When I lived in the Bible Belt, trick or treating would be canceled if it ever fell on a Sunday. Some holidays are in the middle of a church and state type battle, like Christmas and Easter. Do you really celebrate the “reason for the season” and say “Merry Christmas,” or do you trade in your crosses for Easter bunnies? Then there are the holidays that surprise you, where our church and culture just might be celebrating the same thing. For example, that special Thursday in November that everyone takes a day to give thanks for every good thing they have been given. And while we all just love having a Monday off the normal routine (and any reason to barbeque and drink beer), this Labor Day should also inspire a little careful thought.

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

“The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”[1]

And I love this day. To honor those who have worked so very hard to achieve the greatness that is our country. We live in peace and comfort, built off the hard work of the Americans who went before us and work beside us. Rightly we should celebrate the good gift of diligent workers that God has blessed our country with.

At the same time, these strong, prosperous ideals have influenced and created a strain of Christianity that is uniquely American. There are historians who have traced the prosperous churches that survived the new world experiment and the faith expressions that receded in popularity as our country grew. There are churches that developed on our own soil that embrace the freedom of the individual. There are denominations that thrive off American democratic ideas and our country’s understandings of freedom. As interesting as all this history is, today I pause to consider what our theology has to say on Labor Day.

The American Worker is free to labor. He can be the best mason, or chef, or dad, or shoemaker that he can be. He works to provide for his family. He works to create something good with his hands. He works and enjoys everything that God gives. He fails and begins again. But because of Jesus, he doesn’t ever have to wonder if his labor is enough. Because of Christ and His incredible work—perfect life, death on a cross, resurrection to eternal life—the American worker is free to enjoy his toil.

But I’ve met too many American Christians who wonder if their hands are doing enough. I’ve seen the American Christians who will never stop their striving. I’ve even talked to a few who have given up altogether. They were taught in their church that their good work means something to God. Somewhere along the way, they heard that honorable living means you are a real Christian. No longer was the American Worker just building houses or economy; he is expected to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. Labor and work are your measure of value to work out your salvation in eternity. But God’s Law is too much for you. Neither the American Worker nor the American Christian will ever do enough to please God.

So, this Labor Day, I celebrate that you stopped working. I celebrate that you put your striving and your labor on hold for a day to remember the true source of salvation. Your own strength and perseverance will not be enough. Your sweat and toil do not equal greatness before God. Even if you trust in the creed of the American Worker, Jesus still gives you forgiveness and salvation for free.

Enjoy the Gospel today.

[1]U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.dol.gov, “History of Labor Day”. Retrieved September 2, 2018 https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history