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Labor Day in 2020

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…”          
Philippians 4:6

This is one of many verses to think about today, Labor Day 2020. The very first Labor Day was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York. Within a few years, nearly two dozen more states would adopt this practice, which was the fruit of the labor movement and dedicated to the economic and social achievements of American workers. President Grover Cleveland signed a law on June 28, 1894 making the first Monday in September a national holiday.

Ironically, some 138 years later, most people I know who want to be “at work” have to do so under the strangest circumstances and many, I know, would simply like to be back at work as we were at the beginning of this year. As I have spoken and prayed with a number of St. Martin’s members, I am finding more and more who are not at all where they want to be–some have been laid off, others furloughed and others simply cut back in work and income due to the oppressive pandemic through which we are now living.

I first read the book of Ecclesiastes many years ago. As I was exploring what vocation I hoped to pursue, a Christian friend pointed me to Chapter 5:18: “This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us…” I confess, meditating on this verse is one of the things that drew me into ordained ministry. I found the work to be a calling to which I was drawn—to which I believe God called me. I do find joy in my work, but I would find more joy if work was what it was this time last year. Even more, I would find joy if everyone who wished to be back to work was working—and finding enjoyment in their toil.

This is my long way of saying that I am praying, and I bid you to join me, for the recovery–a full recovery–of our economy. A mere eight months ago, our national unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, a number not seen since 1969. As of last week, when I wrote this article, it was moving in the right direction, but still at 8.4 percent. We need to pray that we all might be able to return to work and know enjoyment and blessing through our toil. Because, indeed, work is part of the mandate given to us in creation, part of God’s universal blessing for all humanity, despite the curse upon it that came through the Fall. Of my four adult children, I saw three laid off in recent months–two have since found employmentand this I do know, without the blessing of work, it was a source of anxiety and angst. Yet Paul reminds Christians in Philippians that when we find anxiety creeping into our lives, turn to the Lord and in our prayers and petitions, let Him know what our heart desires.

Today, my heart desires that everyone in our nation, everyone on planet earth, may know again the blessings that come with employment.

One of my favorite prayers comes from the Compline service:
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.”
The Book of Common Prayer, p. 134

This prayer does not just point us back to the blessings God bestows, but reminds us that our “common life depends upon each other’s toil.” In short, we are all better when we all are able to work, as God would have us work. So whatever your situation today, be it gainfully employed, waiting to return to work, working from home or in the office, seeking employment or searching for a post that brings greater fulfillment, I bid you to remember to not pray for your own circumstances only, but to pray for everyone’s. A rising tide lifts all boats, and today we need a rising tide of our economy, for the good of all.

As we pause on this 126th Labor Day as a national holiday, let us remember that it was established to recognize the unique qualities of the American workforce, and let us pray together that we will, by God’s grace, see our economy recover that all may be blessed and sustained.

Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The Book of Common Prayer, p. 824
The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.
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