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. Amen.
This prayer will be part of our Prayers of the People this Sunday, and whether you are present or not, please make it a part of your prayers this weekend. It reminds us of how our work connects us to the community around us and to the wider world. Our readings this Sunday show us how God works with us to shape our lives and make us able agents to accomplish the work he has for us to do.
The prophet Jeremiah recounts the familiar story of his visit to the potter’s house. There he sees the potter shaping a vessel on his wheel. When it was spoiled or misshapen, the potter reworked it into another vessel that seemed good to him. God tells Jeremiah that this is what he is doing with Israel; he is shaping and turning it to be his chosen nation, but if the nation (the clay) does not cooperate, he will destroy it and shape another nation for his purposes. The work of the potter with the clay is a mutual process in this analogy-something is required of the clay.
Paul’s letter to Philemon is very short, so short as to need no chapters. In it Paul (now an “old man”) addresses Philemon concerning his slave, Onesimus, who has become like a son to Paul during his imprisonment. With a heavy heart, Paul has sent Onesimus back to Philemon, and he asks Philemon to consider him as no longer a slave but as “a beloved brother,” useful to both Paul and Philemon for the spreading of the gospel. The central thread of Paul’s message is freedom; he refuses to exercise his own authority in directing Philemon to “do your duty,” preferring rather to “appeal to you on the basis of love.” This is also how he encourages this master to treat his slave, as well. This is, of course, how God deals with each of us.
In Luke’s gospel we read this week Jesus’ sayings on the cost of discipleship. A cursory reading of this passage leaves us thinking Jesus sounds harsh, or that he is overstating, when he says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” The scholar N.T. Wright suggests that we might read this passage more subtly as the kind of words that might come from the leader of a great expedition. The call to discipleship is serious, demanding all from those who accept it. Jesus presents following him as a great challenge, something to be placed before the demands and responsibilities of this world.
These readings, coupled with our reflections on human labor, remind us that our work is unfinished, God’s work is unfinished, and we are unfinished works. My prayer this Labor Day is that we return to our life together refreshed and ready for a new beginning in the program year ahead. May God bless your time of rest this weekend.