Saturday, September 1, 2007

Labor Sunday

Labor Sunday – September 2, 2007

Sirach 10: 12-18 * Luke 14:1,7-14

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Labor Sunday

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and , as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. (BCP 261)

Our first reading from Sirach warns, “The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker … The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers, and enthrones the lowly … plucks up the roots of the nations and plants the humble in their places … erases the memory of them from the earth … Pride was not created for human beings…”

And we find Jesus echoing these themes as he urges us to rethink just who we ought to be inviting to the dinner table, which is and always has been the Lord’s own table – he points his host in the direction of common people, workers and those in special need. That is why we say grace a mealtimes at home – to remember from whence our bounty comes, and that it is the Lord’s table not ours. That is why we join in the Great Thanksgiving as we lift up our offerings every time we approach the Altar of the Lord’s supper, Holy Communion – the Holy Eucharist. Just who do we invite to gather around this table?

In 1882, Tuesday, September the 5th, the Knights of Labor organized the original Labor Day celebration and parade in New York City. It was initiated to create a day off for the “working man and woman,” and to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community. In 1884 came a second parade, followed by a general strike in 1886 which eventually won the eight-hour work day in the United States – an idea that would still look pretty good to most of us who work!

In 1887 President Grover Cleveland established the September date as the ongoing and official day for Americans to celebrate Labor Day. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor in1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday, dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Recognizing the centrality of labor in the life of the human community, The Book of Common Prayer, our primary worship book, calls us to pray for those who do work for the common good every day.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the architect of the Book of Common Prayer had a vision for Anglican and what eventually became Episcopal daily life: it was to be grounded in regular daily prayers in the morning, at noon, in the evening and at bed-time. The prayers are not common so much in the sense that we say them together, but rather that we all be saying our prayers wherever we are, and praying for the same concerns. We may say them with others, or by our selves, but they will still be prayers we hold in common.

Every night before bed-time the prayer office of Compline is outlined in our Prayer Book. Compline may be said with others or by oneself. Near the end of the office, one has the choice of two prayers on page 134:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for you love’s sake. Amen

or this

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our common life depends on each other’s toil. One must wonder just how the great political debates of our age might be reshaped were we to actually pray these prayers every night or every day? How might we look, for instance, at immigrant and migrant workers differently?

I find myself often reflecting on just how many individuals it takes to produce and deliver the loaf of bread I buy at the market – seed manufacturers, farmers, farm hands, mill workers, truckers, bakers, delivery people, store managers, buyers, shelf-stockers and the person at the check-out line. And I have probably left some out. It is all a part of God’s economy for our common good. Today we are called to reflect on the spiritual dimensions of labor.

To help us with this, here is a poem by Carl Sandberg, one of America’s most famous poets. Often his poems were populated by factory workers, washerwomen, hobos, crooked politicians, and people of the great Midwestern prairie.

I Am the People, the Mob

By Carl Sandberg

I am the people – the mob – the crowd – the mass.

Do you know that all the great work of the world is done

through me?

I am the workman, the inventor, the maker of the

world’s food and clothes.

I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons

come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then

I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for

much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.

I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.

I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes

me work and give up what I have. And I forget.

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red

drops for history to remember. Then – I forget.

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the

People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer

forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a

fool – then there will be no speaker in all the world

say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a

sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.

The mob – the crowd – the mass – will arrive then.

No comments:

Post a Comment