Labor Sunday 2006

“Let us be doers, not merely hearers” of Jesus’ word
(Based on the lectionary selection: James 1:17-27 — Year B, Proper 17)

Labor Day is the time we commemorate work and workers. In the church, we recognize that God, who loves us and cares about all aspects of our lives, is also concerned about our work lives. Our work situations can be fulfilling and empowering, or demeaning and humiliating. Our jobs determine the size of our incomes, and whether we have health insurance and a pension. Our jobs are the main determinants of whether we live in a big house or any house at all, whether we send our children to college or to bed with an empty stomach. Moreover, even at this time when the economy is considered to be “strong,” one in every eleven people who want to work cannot find a job or can only find a part-time one.

If we are “doers of the word, and not merely hearers,” as James urged, then we must respond to Jesus’ call to love our neighbors. We must work for justice in the workplace. We must help those who have too little. We must change employment situations that degrade workers. What might we be called to do?

We could work to ensure that all workers are paid a “living wage” adequate for the rich life that God intends for everyone. Currently, one-quarter of all jobs pay a poverty-level wage, one so low that a full-time worker cannot keep a family out of poverty.

We could urge Congress to raise the minimum wage. Pending legislation would increase it from the current level of $5.15 an hour ($10,700 a year) to $7.25, the first increase since 1997.

We could strengthen the right to form or join a union, an internationally recognized human right but one that is seriously eroded in the U.S. We could improve safety in the dangerous workplaces that threaten miners, meat packers, farm workers, and many others. We could provide health insurance to everyone including the one in every six people who currently are without it. We could improve contracting practices in New Orleans so that workers would not be left without a paycheck after weeks of work. We could ensure that everyone who wants and needs a job also has one.

God reign does not end at the door of the workplace. Our love for our neighbors must extend to their working lives also. Let us be doers, not merely hearers, of God’s word.