by Michael Gallup
“Its just one more bratwurst.” These are the words I try to console myself with each year as I celebrate Labor Day by indulging in the most American sin there is: gluttony. Whether it’s beans or burgers, Labor Day just isn’t the same without cooking too much food over an open fire.
But what exactlly are we celebrating? I have always projected the military-honoring values of Labor Day’s buddy-holiday, Memorial Day, upon it. They bookend summer so they must be about the same things, right? Obviously, we do not have school that day and if you work for the government you take the day off; but why?
The holiday has something to do with the military but not like you might imagine. Here is how Wikipedia sums up the history of the holiday:
The first big Labor Day in the United States was observed on September 5, 1882, by the Central Labor Union of New York. It became a federal holiday in 1894, when, following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland reconciled with the labor movement. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike.
After nearly 8 million dollars in damage to the railway system and an exchange that cost 13 workers their lives and wounded another 57, the strike came to an end and a holiday was born for the purpose of appeasment. Obviously little of this incident actually influences how we celebrate but it is interesting that we celebrate it anyway. Despite the fact that all we know of Labor Day is that we don’t have to work (some of us, like me, still put in full days on the first Monday in September) we still celebrate it with similar gusto to any other significant holiday. Yet perhaps that is all we need.
The Hebrews understand this better than most. They have not only adopted the rhythms of Sabbath but have transformed their entire way of life to reflect God’s command to cease striving one day a week. God Himself, even with his limitless power, decided to fire up the grill and sip some sweet tea as he took in the joy of rest after a week of work. And we see in this that not only is rest good but so is work.
Perhaps the reason we party so desperately on Labor Day is the same reason most cash their paychecks on Friday at the local pub. As we punch out of work we feel sweet release. Freedom and the weekend is ours and there is no one named boss to tell us otherwise. Why do so many of us despise our jobs? What have we lost?
Doubtless there is quite some complexity to answering questions like these but maybe under the surface of it all is that we are just so off rhythm. There are few things more sad than a Baptist congregation trying to clap. Within a few beats, half of the place is out of rhythm and while the intent is to make a joyful sound all I hear is noise. We are meant to do work, not just punch a clock, but meaningful and good work. This certainly does not have to be glamorous, it can take place in every area of vocation. The difference is rhythm. God showed us the dance moves: six days we work and one we rest.
I know when I have an extended break I often find myself tired of doing nothing. But conversely, if I go a week or two without taking a meaningful day of rest for myself, I become a shell of myself, dreading every present task. But the demands of our lifestyles and choices push us to our limits, push us to work without ceasing, all the while hating ourselves for it. And so we work for the weekend not so we can rest but so we can ravage our bodies with late hours and copious amounts of booze.
This is not a sermon against partying, I think Jesus models for us that we should indeed celebrate and that it is more than acceptable to involve a little wine. What I am writing against, or rather for, is a healthy rhthym of work and rest. Rob Bell says this about rest: “On the Sabbath we hear again that our worth and value do not come from what we make, produce, or accomplish.” I would add, “but from God.” In the act of trusting that we will make it, that the world is not solely dependant upon us and us acheiving, we find a reason to celebrate both the days of toil and the days of slumber.
So as you gorge yourself today on the finest American fare, I hope you know why you are celebrating: becuase it is good to rest AND because it is good to work.
Michael is working today selling chicken. He also rested well yesterday. Work for him includes being a student at Denver Seminary in addition to the aforementioned chicken-selling. His Idea of rest is being with his family, listening to Bluegrass, or watching football.
One response to “On the Eighth Day, God Made Sweet Tea”
“… a healthy rhthym of work and rest.”
When we drive a car, we have to fill it up with gas periodically, or it just “won’t go.” I think that this is true for us, as living, breathing human beings as well, but we’re not as aware of how to “fill ourselves up” after “using ourselves up.” It’s just not quite as simple and direct and mechanical as a trip to the gas pump — (or McDonald’s!)
Naturalists might say that our “biological processes” are the source of our life and strength, and they might even propose scientific methods of nutrition, exercise and treatments to enhance our survival aspects and performance abilities. But Scripture tells us:
Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”
1 Corinthians 3:16 “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
1 Corinthians 6:19 “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”
To ignore, or downgrade, the Divine aspects of our nature and existence is just plain foolishness, if we consider how much care and proper attention is needed to keep even a car running properly!
Now, consider that the car is actually in a completely passive relationship to us. We are the active force that makes decisions and adjustments pertaining to fueling, maintenance and use of the car.
Is it not the same between ourselves and God? And perhaps more so than we are inclined to realize?
Is not God the source and creator of our Life? Doesn’t it make sense that He should be given the chance to direct our lives, including the resting and re-fueling of our natural and spiritual energies?
We can feed ourselves natural food — (and we usually enjoy doing so!) — but it’s not the same with receiving spiritual “food” or energy. Here we are in as passive a relationship to receiving from God, as our car is to receiving gasoline from us! If we fail to make ourselves “available” and open to God’s restoring and infilling energy blessings, it is us who will eventually feel the depletion and “pay the price” of a poorly maintained “vehicle.”
Even in “partaking” (active) of God’s Word as an “energy source,” we see in the Psalms the little “selah” reminders occurring very often: “pause, rest, and think on these things” — advising us to become “receptive” (i.e., passive) to the activity of the power of these words acting within us.
In restoring a balanced Rhythm between work and rest in our lives, we can maximize our potentials by also restoring, and paying better attention to, that primary Relationship — in which we have a very important “passive”/receptive and acknowledging role to play — between ourselves and God: our Maker, and Lover, and the Eternal Restorer of our souls!
2 Peter 1:4 “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
1 “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”