“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?”
. . . What has been is what will be and what has been done will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.”—Ecclesiastes 1: 2-3, 9.
During my 27 years of ministry, there was one group of people with whom I studiously avoided gathering: preachers. Sure, there were some individuals whose company I sought, but in general, I found conversations among my colleagues to be tiresome. The usual theme of these gatherings was, “Ain’t it awful.” Complaints were aired about the orneriness of elders, the whininess of congregants, the hard work they endured, and the poor pay received for their labors. I think many of these complainers had absorbed too much of the curmudgeonly character of the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, who was himself identified as “the preacher.”
Preachers are not the only ones who succumb to this doleful outlook on life and labor. Many of us may sometimes ask, “Is all our labor meaningless?” as these opening verses of Ecclesiastes suggest. Will there ever be anything new under the sun?
To the first question, the answer is, “No.” When our labor is grounded in purpose beyond just making it to the end of the day or picking up the paycheck at the end of the month, then our work has meaning. The Apostle Paul’s reminder to the Corinthian church is appropriate to us as well: “Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58.) When our labor in this life is practiced and perceived as kingdom work, it will never be in vain.
As to question number two, the answer is, “Yes.” When we gather at the Lord’s table, we say the words of Jesus: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” We also remember Jesus’ words to disciples, ancient and current: A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.” (John 13:34.)
On this Labor Day, let’s remember that when our work is purposeful, we do not labor in vain. Let’s also remember that when we live and work toward God’s new reality among us in Jesus, the risen Christ, our work will not be forgotten. At the end of our days, when our labor is done, we will have inherited the ancient promise to all of God’s faithful workers.
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. Blessed indeed, says the Spirit, for they shall rest from their labors, and their works will follow them.”— The Revelation to John 14:13.
Creator and creative God, you continually work among us toward your kingdom goal. Bless both laborers and their labors as they contribute to the newness of life you have begun in Jesus. At the end of the day, and the end of our days, may we, your laborers in the field of life, find rest and peace in the care of the risen, living Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Grace & Peace,
Offered by the Rev. Dr. Tip Tipton
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