I Will Hold Your People to My Heart* *from the hymn, Here Am I
Matthews 9 (Selected verses)
Today we honor all workers without who’s valued labor there can be no healthy community, no healthy society, no healthy spaces for us to be our best selves. It is a good and honorable thing to do, to honor all who contribute to the welfare of the greater whole. We all play a part. We all have a place. All of us.
In 1894 President Grover Cleveland signed into law this day, to be dedicated to the working men and women of our country.
Some historians interpret this act as a play to soften the damage the president had done during the Pullman Strike only months earlier. At the behest of George Pullman, owner and tycoon, Pres Cleveland had sent in 10,000 troops to decimate the organized labor action killing 30 workers in the process.
But no matter how cynical its origin, we have the opportunity as a community of faith, to take this moment and think about our witness as Christ-followers, in honoring those who work.
Where might we find our motivation as people of faith?
We know that Jesus was a carpenter by trade. We have virtually nothing written about his early life as an ordinary laborer. We do know that there were great construction jobs to be had in a new city, Tiberius, being built to impress the Roman Caesar, Tiberius.
Only in his late twenties, early thirties, does Jesus take on a new form of work. In the 9th chapter of the Gospel of Matthews we read a synopsis of what his work entailed.
A paralyzed man finds healing through Jesus. The anguish of a father pleading for his daughter, believed dead, is put to rest. A woman suffering from non-stop hemorrhaging for years finds not only her body healed but her role as part of her community restored.
And in this chapter, he finally restores sight to two blind men.
The carpenter had gone from building things with wood, to rebuilding people’s lives.
At the end of this chapter we are told that “…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 ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”
There are two things to consider in these words of Jesus.
- One is his deep compassion for people. He understands the communities in which he is fully committed to doing something about their lives.
- The second is his sense of being overwhelmed by the task at hand; “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
It may not be a popular thing to hear but Jesus’ ministry was firstly focused on the poor and the vulnerable. There was a place for all others in as much as they served the ideal of elevating those who suffered. Over and over again, he spoke of this calling. Luke 4 is the summary of his entire ministry— “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…”
How do we respond to this call of Jesus to become laborers in his vineyard? How do we identify with the poor and the suffering around us? And if there is such suffering here in our land, what does suffering look like in the Third World?
I was shocked, some years ago, when the local foodbank discovered that they were no longer just feeding the homeless. We had to open the foodbank on Saturdays because the working poor could not attend it during the week. Despite being full-time employees, they still could not feed their families.
Harvard Medical School states that millions of people regularly skip their medications because they cannot afford them. There are many cases of individuals who have died for lack of basic treatment whether it be a drug they needed to take consistently, or whether it was a treatment regimen they needed to save their lives, but could not afford.
In the richest country in the world where there is such opulence there is also a growing percentage of desperate people.
What is our response to the needs of our times when we see the great divide growing, the numbers of the poor swelling, and the basic human needs of so many simply ignored or even blamed on them?
What could Jesus be saying to us this morning?
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
If we truly wish to honor this Labor Day we might reconsider how we think about the great force of working poor who do for us what we often do not wish to do for ourselves.
On this Labor Day Sunday, may we not take our personal positions for granted. In Christ’s vineyard those who are virtually locked out of a future no matter how hard they work, are our responsibility. There are many George Pullman’s in today’s society. If we, the disciples of Jesus, do not speak up for fairness, their mighty empires will continue to to do what they are designed to do.
And let us pray, “ask[ing] the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
That words of one of our most beautiful hymns says it best.
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart
Dear Friends, more than anything else, I believe that the function of the church to be not just a place of joyful community for its members, but the gathering place of God’s beloved, to practice the love of Christ though deeds and words.
Are we ready to make this promise to God on this Labor Day Sunday?
“I Will Hold Your People to My Heart”.
1And after getting into a boat he crossed the water and came to his own town.
2 And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’
18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue* came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ 19And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.
23When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd making a commotion,24he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. 25But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.
20Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ 22Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.
27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’ 28When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ 29Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you.’ 30And their eyes were opened.
35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”