First Congregational Church
September 6, 2015
Labor Day Sunday, 15th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Reaching the end of a job interview, the Human Resources Officer asks a young engineer fresh out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "And what starting salary are you looking for?" The engineer replies, "In the region of $125,000 a year, depending on the benefits package." The interviewer inquires, "Well, what would you say to a package of five weeks vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, company matching retirement fund to 50% of salary, and a company car leased every two years, say, a red Corvette?" The engineer sits up straight and says, "Wow! Are you kidding?" The interviewer replies, "Yeah, but you started it.”
I’ve always thought that question odd: “What are you looking for in a salary?” Who was not want $125,000 a year? And who would not be the fool for asking such an amount for a job washing dishes or mowing the average lawn? I know that there are sometimes exceptions, but why wouldn’t an employer say, “Here is the amount I can afford to pay. If it works for you, great. If not, good luck in your continued search.” In my naive brain, instead of an honest working relationship, such a question would immediately set-up the me vs. the boss situation. I know, the boss is the boss, but if you give your boss the best, then don’t you expect the same in return?
I don’t know about any of you, but I sort of remember early childhood sermons about the honorability of work. It’s interesting that in the preparation for this sermon, given the holiday tomorrow, I didn’t come across a lot of folks talking about the subject of work. And yet, not only the holiday tomorrow gives a nod to the institution of laboring, but our scripture passage also gives us an example of why the subject of work needs to be elevated and partnered with the subject of sabbath.
I did a quick search on Labor Day, and the Department of Labor’s site said “The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.” My guess about the shift of focus from labor to picnics was about wanting to avoid the hot politics of such a declaration.
Wanting to make sure that information is fair, I found another explanation of Labor from a site called Patheos, which means God path. It said, “First celebrated in 1882 by the Central Labor Union in Boston, "Labor Day" became a federal holiday in 1894 in response to the deaths of a number of workers during the Pullman Strike between labor unions and railroads. I’m sure there are a few other versions of what really happened out there, but for this morning, what matters more is what the two-in-one scripture passage has for us.
Mark 7:24-37 (NIV)
Jesus Honors a Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
4 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Thank you, Bill. At first I was tempted to focus on just the second part of the passage, but it made sense to keep the first, even it contains one of the goofiest passages of scripture - at least in my mind.
So to get it out of the way, not even the great theological minds agree on the understanding of this bit about the dogs, children and crumbs. Stranger yet, in the old Greek, Mark uses a word for dog that actually means a little girl dog, if you get my drift. Even then, calling a woman a dog was pretty low, and apparently, even Jesus did it!
And one has to admire this woman’s courage to stand up to the very savior she believed could heal her daughter - reminding him that even the lowliest among us have worth. It would have been interesting to have been a mouse in the corner, to see if Jesus blushed or hung his head or whatever. He ends up making up for his “error” by making it right - which is a pretty cool example for God’s anointed “worker” of miracles. Maybe one of the many lessons here is that no matter who we are, when we’ve made a grave error, we do best to make it as right as we can. And if any of you retired folks are thinking you are except from this reminder, just remember that God always has a job for you.
The reason I thought it important to keep both passages together is that it sets a scene that shows us Jesus’ very real human side. At the beginning of the first part, Jesus left where he was ,to go to Tyre, and he didn’t want anyone to know. Maybe he just needed some good rest and relaxation, and Tyre had good deals on vacation rentals. Maybe his fatigue was behind his words with the Syrophoenician woman. Maybe Jesus was really trying to take care of himself, to be better help for others, but he just couldn’t catch a break.
So he goes down to the Decapolis, maybe because he had some coupons - stay three, get one free - that were soon to run out. Just because Jesus may have been tired did not change the fact that people still needed healing. I think it was his fatigue and weariness that caused Jesus to do this extraordinary, unsanitary, gross, healing process. Jesus did some pretty odd things with his healings - sending someone for ritual bathing, stirring up optical mud plaster and such. I’m quite sure this second part of today’s passage really pushes the buttons of the obsessive compulsives among us.
We don’t know if Jesus’ healings “depleted” his stores of miracle within himself, like many of today’s cartoon action heroes. But we all can appreciate the need for rest and re-energizing after a long haul. I have to do some more thinking about it, but maybe those who loose a significant person - to death or even divorce or an argument - might do well to think of the time following that loss as a time for sabbath - a time of religious observance and abstinence from work.
In the Hebrew language, sabbath means “to stop, to cease or to keep.” It surely looked like Jesus was attempting to stop or cease his work for a bit, telling people to keep quiet about his healings and whereabouts. William Faulkner once pointed out that work is about the only thing we can do for eight hours at a time. My immediate exception to that thought is sleeping and breathing, and even in a weird sort of thought, all of us have the job to try to get enough sleep. And the body, best as it can, works the breathing apparatus 24/7 for us, including the circulatory and nervous machines.
So maybe some of us will “stop” tomorrow to appreciate those who work over hot machines, carry heavy trays, drive endless hours, stand in front of scanners and stands of plastic bags. Maybe some of us will bring this message back to mind in the coming week and think about the crazy amounts of labor that have changed this country from what it looked like before immigrants created a land and culture that were beyond our ancestors’ imaginations. Still others of us may appreciate the purpose that our work has given us, that is missing in those places where unemployment appears equal with the lack of jobs, generating prayers for those unknowns to overflow our hearts. And to complete the circle, we can be mindful of those, whether forced or through their own need, who work long days and nights without the ability to take the sabbath time that they so desperately need. So let us begin.
God of creation and sabbath, thank you for your own example as well as your “command” to keep holy sabbath days. From our very beginning, you gave us work to give us purpose and the honor of joining you in caring for the kingdom. Help us know how to help those looking for the means to care for themselves and their families, as well as how to help those who are working with fatigue and without hope. Help those who can’t work, yet have the same needs most all of us have. Show us ways that we can help others realize their great contributions to our lives, regardless of the presence or lack of a paycheck. As we continue on into our sabbaths, help us to realize the depths of our labors, that we all may be encouraged to keep on keeping on. For your work in answering all our prayers, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.