Laboring in Faith

Fr. Scott Trotter
St Stephen’s, Blytheville and Calvary, Osceola
Sept. 4, 2011
Year A, Proper 18
Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

Good morning. It’s good to see everyone here on this Labor Day weekend. I promise to have you out in time for today’s Labor Day sales.

The bible lessons for today present a wide spectrum. From Exodus we hear God telling Moses and Aaron how the Hebrews are to prepare for tonight’s judgment, the death of all first born. They are very exacting instructions, there is a lot to do, and not a lot of time, only from when God speaks to Moses and this evening.

From Romans, we hear Peter’s continued teaching. He picks up with an admonition to owe no one anything. The bankers, hate, well they avoid, this particular difficult teaching. He continues by summing up the law with the familiar phrase: Love your neighbor. The segment ends with Peter’s declaration that salvation is near lay aside works of darkness put on the armor of light.

From Matthew we hear Jesus teaching about conflict resolution. First, you peacefully confront the person one on one. If there is no resolution you take two or three witnesses and try again. If there is still no resolution you take the matter to the church. If that does not result in resolution, you let it go, and you do not associate with the person, in any manner, again.

All these are very rich texts, giving us much to ponder. However, tomorrow is Labor Day. You know Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It was first celebrated September 15, 1882. In 1884 the first Monday in September was set to be the day of celebration. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon in 1887. By 1894, 31 states had adopted the law. On June 28, 1894 Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. A day celebrating the achievements of American workers is established nationally.

None of today’s readings say much about labor—or do they? I’ve already mentioned the very detailed instructions and very short timeframe, it was a lot of hard work, a lot of labor to get it all done. While Romans is a bit more thought provoking, we are left with the question, How to put on the armor of light? There is at least the implication of work/labor. I don’t know if you have ever been involved in any conflict resolution, but my experience is that it is hard work: mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical— seem to involve moving stuff. So perhaps there is a component of labor in today’s scripture readings. Still, its not quite there.

I know (several/ some) of you have a Lutheran background. I have deep respect for Luther’s salvation by grace through faith. He is right on. However, I think he over did it a bit with his—shall we say less than respectful treatment of The Letter from James. All that is to say, I think James has something valuable to say about labor. James 2:14-18 reads:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

I believe James sees work as an expression of faith. But let me share a current story of what he is saying. Zach Hunter heard about people being bought and sold. He decided to do something about it. Six years later he is still speaking about human trafficking around the world. Another passion is to help his generation identify an area where they can end suffering. He has his critics, many ask him: Why aren’t you just preaching the gospel?
He answers:

Suppose you are volunteering in a soup kitchen and a homeless woman who hasn’t eaten in days approaches you—would you hand her a Bible and tell her, “Jesus loves you?” Will she feel the love?

Sometimes he shares the story of being in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, in the world.
There he meets a mom looking for a way to feed her children. The woman is a Christian—she just needed her brothers and sisters in Christ to show up and help meet her physical needs.

Zach wonders how people who are hurting are supposed to believe that God is loving?
He also talks about those who are curious about his faith because of his passion for abolition. He does not understand why there seems to be a polarization between the Gospel being the priority and living the Gospel being the priority.

Zach talks about projects others of his generation have taken on. A 13-year-old girl, who funded and built an orphanage in Haiti. A group of college guys who have dug a dozen clean water wells in Africa. Some university buddies working to make the plight of child soldiers front-page news. Zach, now 19, continues his work, he believes Christians are being seen differently, which is good in a time when everyone is ready for some really good news.

Few have Zach’s passion at any age, I didn’t at 19. Still, all of us can come to the realization that our Christian faith must have a labor, a working component. And yes, it can be a hard truth to accept, it is truth nonetheless. Kristin Swenson writes, “If we are to take love of God and neighbor seriously, we have to work out the countless permutations of what such love means and how best to execute it in the very real, imperfect situations of our individual lives.”

What might Christian love/ work, look like for you? You might participate in Cleaner Safer Blytheville by mowing, weed eating, trimming bushes, hauling debris, or hospitality
making sure everyone has plenty of water, and helping with lunch. You might be called to help in other ways, including working to meet needs within your church family. There are (4 or 5 individuals /a few folks) who are shut-ins and cannot attend church. This presents two challenges: How to share Eucharist with them? and How to demonstrably let them know we love them? The Episcopal Church licenses Eucharist Visitors. Eucharist Visitors are people, licensed by their Bishop, to take communion directly from church to a member unable to be present. Every adult member could be a Eucharist Visitor.

So two request: I ask you to imagine what a difference it will make within (St Stephen’s / Calvary) as you care for each other by regularly visiting with, and by sharing Eucharist with those who cannot be here. Secondly, I ask that you prayerfully discern if you are called to Christian work / labor as a Eucharist Minister. You might be exuberant, or reluctant, or fearful, or just have questions. Please let me know. Together we will labor in love to ensure everyone knows Christ’s loving presence.

A hundred some odd years ago Labor Day was established to celebrate the contributions American Labor makes to our country. Today, it’s just another opportunity to hold a sale. I hope the U.S. can recover the Labor Day holiday as a celebration of the remarkable prowess of the American workforce.

I also pray that (St. Stephen’s /Calvary) imagines you selves as a vital community working to express you faith that by God’s grace, salvation is yours. It will make a difference in the lives of people you touch. It will make a difference in your lives.