The collect for Labor Day in The Book of Common Prayer goes like this:
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.There must be twenty or thirty (or a hundred) ruminations that might come from this prayer: one might pray for work that brings dignity, for the common good, for a fair minimum wage, for labor unions, for the unemployed and the underemployed... Over the years as a parish priest I tended to deviate from the lectionary for this weekend to focus on this day's readings on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. (Don't tell the bishop or the liturgical police!) To me this day matters a lot and it is rich with possibilities.
But I want to focus today on just one little phrase: "you have so linked our lives with one another..." I think that this is true. I also think it's counter-cultural. Another Anglican poet/priest once said, "no man is an island." But in the United States of America - this land I love - this sounds quite counter-cultural. Capitalism insists what we earn is ours; ours by our own "hard work." If others would work as hard...
This is bullshit. That is the technical theological term for it; from the German. It's idolatry. People who clean toilets work hard and they don't get paid what corrupt Wall Street bankers do.
People of God believe that gifts are given from God to be used for the common good. We deserve a fair return for our labor, but so do all the other laborers upon whom we depend. We are linked together. The migrant worker - whether s/he has papers or not - is linked to us whenever we eat a peach or an apple. So, too, the people of Houston, and Charlottesville, and Flint.
I followed the comments today on a friend's Facebook page: he was protesting on behalf of those he called undocumented neighbors. One of his "friends" said that he was speaking of law-breakers and should say the "right" term: illegal alien. I'll leave it to you, my reader, to imagine how the "conversation" unfolded. But how we speak of people matters and shapes our narratives and whether or not we see our lives as linked together.
The prayer for today says we are linked together. We need to keep reminding ourselves of this and that this linking is not limited to those within the borders of nation-states. I love it that people from Mexico were helping out their neighbors in Texas this past week. We are bound together, and we share the image of Christ. My friend is right: undocumented neighbor is not politically correct. It's theologically correct. It's just true!
Let us, then, give thanks on this day for all work, and for lives that are all tied up together. For good, and for ill.