Date: September 4, 2016
Title: “Labor Pains”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Luke 13:10-17
It’s Labor Day Sunday! For some, that means a welcome respite from work, a three-day weekend. For others, it is just another observance with no mail delivery and no banking. For all of us, it is a good day to consider just what our “work” means to us, especially in light of our faith.
It doesn’t seem to matter, whether you are newly retired, or long ago made that leap, or if you are still active in the workforce…”work” is a powerful presence in each of our lives. And it is one which engenders many attitudes and much emotion in our society. Some think of work as simply a means to an end: housing, food, medical care, clothing. We work to provide these things for ourselves and our families. We may not like our work, we may not care about our work beyond the money it brings in. Others, though, consider their work the sum of their own value, the totality of their identity. When asked to name their work, they will invariably begin with “I am…” and then fill in the blank. I am a doctor/teacher/farmer/mechanic/pastor.
Still others regard work in the same way those much-maligned Puritans originally did – as something which can be demonic if carried to an extreme, but when viewed as part of a life in balance, work can be a delightful way for the redeemed to participate in the redemption of the world. Work is clearly a topic that can easily consume us with “labor pains” if we are not careful. Or, it can help us to participate in the redemption of the world.
Filmmaker Jason Pamer talks about work as participation in this way:
In the 15th century there was a German cobbler who asked theologian Martin Luther “How can I be a good Christian shoemaker?” Luther is said to have responded, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on all the shoes, but by making good shoes, because ultimately God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
As Jesus’ followers we are to be light and salt for the world. Historically the church has done a really good job focusing on the preserving qualities of salt. But the aspect of salt that that doesn’t get enough focus is the flavoring quality. Salt is added to meals to add flavor.
Our work can give us a chance to “salt” – to season the world with love. If we are fully present in our work, we begin to see our story is a part of God’s story. Dallas Willard, in his article How To Be a Disciple, writes:
If we restrict our discipleship to special religious times, the majority of our waking hours will be isolated from the manifest presence of God’s Kin-dom in our lives.
You begin to understand there are no “ordinary days” because all of life is sacred, even those Monday mornings when there is no holiday to be observed. I know of no better remedy for “Labor Pains” than to remember the story of creation. Genesis tells it in perfect step-by-step progression: from chaos to order, from darkness to light, from heavens and earth and sea and sky to every living creature that has breath.
And after every step – with each progression – God said it was good. God saw that it was all good. God help us if we cannot also see the goodness of life. Donald Posteriski puts it this way:
If we do indeed believe in God and Jesus, then without haranguing people or invading them, let us quietly communicate the fact that our first word to God is not “maybe”. Our first word to God is not “perhaps”, or even “it depends on…” Rather, our first word to God is a simple “yes”.
We started this morning with Jesus in the synagogue, where he definitively said “yes” to God and to all of us. Before she even asks for his help, Jesus sees the bent-over woman, calls out to her, and frees her to stand up straight. Jesus’ “yes” is all about compassion. He understands the need for Sabbath. He wants us to take the time to center on God. He would be the first to tell us to rest. Remember how later he says “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden”. Jesus’ “yes” is all about compassion, because he knows that his story is a part of our story, which is a part of God’s story. And in God’s story, grace is what holds us all together.
In some way, each of us is living “bent over” today. I don’t know what has a hold on you this morning. It could be illness or loneliness. It could be depression or fear, self-doubt or confusion, boredom or regret. It could be you are feeling bowed down by family conflicts or work anxieties. I don’t know what you feel has the power to limit your life, what it is that keeps you looking down at the ground when all you long to do is stretch up and touch the heavens.
But I do know this… Jesus sees you this morning and knows you this morning, from the inside out. And even now Jesus wants to help you to stand up straight. Because it is hard to season the world when you cannot even catch your breath. It is tough to move forward when you are bent over. Jesus is calling you to stand up straight today and to move forward into the fullness and wholeness of life with God… where grace will hold you and all of us, together. Amen.