For 33 years I have been on this earth, living in the United States of America. For most of those years I have cognitively been aware of the strange phenomenon that happens on every first Monday in September, which is known as Labor Day. I have been aware of this special day because for more than a dozen years of my life it meant no school! Then it came to be known as the day that I didn’t have to go to work.
Surely this is a good day…
But this year, for some reason, I decided that I wanted to know more about Labor Day.
Specifically I wanted to know why it is a national holiday, and how I should think of it as a Christian living in what is, sadly, no longer recognizable as a Christian nation.
First, a little bit of background.
What Is Labor Day and Why Is It Celebrated in America?
Most historians will point to one particular event that triggered what later became nationally recognized as “Labor Day”.
In New York City, 1882, many local unions had joined together and an idea was proposed at the Central Labor Union to put on one “monster labor festival” in early September. Smaller labor festivals and parades were common in that day, as a way to rally awareness and support for labor issues, but this festival was supposed to be huge!
And it was.
Tens of thousands of workers showed up either to participate in the parade, or to watch and show their support. Many of the workers had to lose a day’s wage for showing up at the festival, but they did it anyway. The largest park in New York City was decorated with flags representing many nations, and the park was full of picnickers who listened to speeches from the Labor Union, drank beer, and then later celebrated with fireworks and dancing. The day was a huge success and celebrated all that our mighty hands were able to produce.
By 1887, New York, New Jersey, and Colorado approved “Labor Day” as an official state holiday. Other states joined in as the years went on and the festivals were well-attended. By 1894, twelve years after the original “monster labor festival” in New York City, “Labor Day” was officially recognized by Congress as a national holiday.
How Should I Think of Labor Day as a Christian?
While the history is interesting, my bigger question is “how should I respond as a Christian?”
Obviously not everything that is put into national law is a good thing for Christians living in this nation (Obergefell v. Hodges and Roe v. Wade certainly stand out in my mind as examples of American law that is in clear opposition to God’s Law).
So what about Labor Day? I want to propose 3 responses for Christian Americans as we observe Labor Day this year and the years to come.
- Remember the Lord Your God
We are blessed to live in a nation that has experienced significant prosperity. It really is a land that is flowing with milk and honey (I literally have milk in my refrigerator and honey in my cupboard… no problem there).
We are blessed.
But sometimes a blessing can lead to a curse. How? Because the blessing can sometimes trick us into thinking it is something we deserved or earned.
God saw this coming a LONG way off. Listen to what God says through his servant, Moses, thousands of years ago…
First we will look at the description of the blessing:
… the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full… (Deuteronomy 8:7-10a ESV)
Doesn’t that sound like a pretty good description of America? Obviously it is a description of Israel, but I read that and I think, “Wow… that sounds like America.” So I think the next couple of verses should apply to us, as well.
Check out the warning that immediately follows the description of blessing:
“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ (Deuteronomy 8:11-17 ESV)
Again, the clear context is that of the Israelites being delivered from the oppressive hand of Egyptian slavery, and brought into the promised land of Israel. Still, I read this description and I can’t help but think, “Wow… that sounds like America.”.
Are we not a nation who has forgotten God? A nation who has forsaken his commandments and his rules and his statutes?
Are we not a nation of people who eat and are full and have built good houses and live in them? Have not our flocks and silver and gold and all that we have multiplied?
This is us. We have forgotten God. We say “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.”
And we are tricked by our blessing.
And we are wrong.
And that path doesn’t end well:
You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 8:18-20 ESV)
Perhaps, for the Christian living in America, Labor Day should be less about celebrating what our hands have done, and more about remembering what God has done.
2. Thankfulness and Worship
Probably the most reasonable response to remembering what God has done is simple thankfulness and worship. I think Paul essentially says the same in his letter to the Romans:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1, NIV)
God has given us an incredible gift in the human body. Think of all we can do. We can move, we can breathe, we can see, we can hear, we can run, we can build, we can speak. It is incredible.
In view of God’s mercy towards us, we should offer those gifts back to him. We should thank him, and we should worship him.
As Christians living in America, we need to recognize that it is an incredible gift from God to be able to work at all! He has provided both the work and the means to be physically able to work. In light of that, we should be worshipers first, and workers second. Yes, we work. But we worship God through our work, giving him all of the credit and glory.
Perhaps Labor Day should serve as a good opportunity to stop and recalibrate our reason for working, and our thankfulness towards the God who provides the means and the might.
3. Praying for Laborers
As I consider “Labor Day”, I am reminded most of the story that shows up in Matthew 9 and Luke 10.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages… When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38 ESV)
When Jesus was physically walking around Israel, he noticed the crowds and had compassion for them. They were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
The interesting thing about these people is that they likely did not even know they were harassed and helpless. Reading through the gospels, you don’t really get the feeling that the general population had any idea whatsoever how badly they needed a Savior. As a matter of fact, the general population crucified the Savior!
But Jesus saw the truth. The people were harassed. The people were helpless. They were like sheep without a shepherd, because they didn’t know the Lord, and they certainly didn’t follow him.
Again, I look at this passage and I think, “Wow… that sounds like America.”
So what was the Lord’s response to his observation?
He said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Perhaps this should be our biggest response to Labor Day. We should pray. We should pray to the Lord of the harvest, that he would send out laborers into his harvest.
(To clear up any possible confusion, Jesus is speaking about sending “missionaries” out into the world who will share the gospel and meet the physical, as well as the spiritual, needs of anyone they come into contact with. This is clearly seen in the way that his words are followed by sending out his own disciples.)
Perhaps we should look at our co-workers through God’s eyes, and we should see that they are harassed and helpless. Perhaps we should earnestly pray that God would send laborers into our workplace.
Perhaps we should be willing to be that kind of laborer, ourselves.
Perhaps Labor Day, for Christians living in America, should be a day of devoting ourselves to the kind of labor that really matters for all of eternity.
*I chose the term “Christian American” because I wanted it to be clear that I am talking about people who are Christians first. For those of us who declare that Jesus is Lord, we are a part of a new Kingdom. We are not Americans who happen to follow Christ. We are Christ followers who happen to live in America.