Monday, September 03, 2012

For Labor Day

Monday, September 3, 2012 -- Week of Proper 17
Prudence Crandall, Teacher and Prophetic Witness, 1890

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 983)
Psalms 25 (morning)   //    9, 15 (evening)
Job 12:1-6, 13-25
Acts 11:19-30
John 8:21-32

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Note:  Much of today's article was printed as a Labor Day column I wrote for the Northwest Arkansas Times, September 1, 2008
The people of Israel began as a labor movement.  Their Egyptian overlords instituted a policy of increased productivity -- gather your own straw and meet the same output quotas.  Having no union and no standing to negotiate with management, they cried out to God.  God answered their complaints, and sent Moses to be their representative in some collective bargaining.  Things didn't go too well.  So, under God's impetus, Moses led a labor walkout.  It turned violent when management called for troops to enforce a return to work.  Through God's intervention, however the people of Israel escaped Pharaoh's economics of oppression.

They ended up in the wilderness, where most of what God taught them was about economics, labor and justice.  Facing the stark realities of free life outside the imperial system, they had to learn a new way to sustain themselves.  At first, they longed for the old slavery, "If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."  (Exodus 16:3)

But God taught them a new alternative economic practice.  God rained down manna from heaven.  You can see it as a miracle.  You can also see it as metaphor of stewardship of the earth -- agricultural cultivation as a divine gift, beginning with rain and ending with bread.

Moses gave them three economic principles:  (1) gather only what you need; (2) do not store up or hoard more than you need; (3) rest on the Sabbath.  God's economy is radically different from Egypt's.

Exodus 16:18 articulates the ideal:  "Those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed."  We see the same practice in the early church centuries later:  "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need."  (Acts 2:44)

At the heart of this new economy was the Sabbath, a day when we would cease to exploit or control creation and begin to trust God to provide enough for all.  Theologian Ched Myers says, "Sabbath observation means to remember every week this [divine] economy's two principles:  the goal of 'enough' for everyone, and the prohibition on hoarding.  This vision is, of course, utterly contrary to economics as we know it.  And our incredulity is rather humorously anticipated in the story itself:  'Manna' means 'What is this?'"  (from "God Speed the Year of Jubilee!", Sojourners Magazine, May-June 1998)

The Sabbath cycle extends beyond the week.  Every seventh year the people were instructed to let their land lie fallow so the poor and the undomesticated (wild animals) may eat.  In the Sabbath year all debts were to be released.  Every seventh Sabbatical year (7 X 7 = 49 years) all property would return to the original family ownership and all indentured servants or slaves were to be freed, reminding us that "the earth is the Lord's" (Ps. 24:1; 1 Cor. 10:26) and that all humans are free people, created in the image and likeness of God.

Jesus picked up on the Jubilee tradition in his opening sermon, announcing "the year of the Lord's favor" as he opened his proclamation of the Gospel, the "good news to the poor."  Debt-cancellation and land restoration was indeed good news to the poor.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus spoke of forgiveness of sin and forgiveness of debt interchangeably.  He announced a kingdom where many who are first will be last and the last will be first.  He urged a banquet table where the poor and those who cannot repay are the first to be invited, where all would receive their "daily bread."

In a decade when our dominant economic policies have favored the wealthy and pressed for more production out of all levels of labor, some Sabbath and Jubilee and liberation seems to be in order.

Right now we languish in a recession brought on by the economics of Pharaoh -- elite player in the financial industry manipulated housing loans until they burst everyone's bubble.  Poverty and unemployment have risen.  Wealth and power are more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.  Politicians abandon the "common good" while justifying historically low taxes for the wealthy.

The poor and oppressed raise their voices to heaven and to ask for some divine intervention for liberation from this economy of Pharaoh.  The economics of greed has not worked.  It is time for our society to embrace Biblical principles of justice -- God's economy and "good news for the poor."

Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Go to:

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at

Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 1:19 PM, Anonymous mike wertz said...

Amen, what a great post, Lowell


At 4:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


So why don't the intentional spiritual communities work? It would seem that is a possible solution to the rejection of politics as usual - as the early church members did. But when I try to find an intentional spiritual community that works you see those who reject the present world (as the Amish do) or those who reject the world in total (as an exclusive monastic community would do).

When we reach a level of spiritual maturity we realize that you can't live the gospel on your own, and you find a church or religious community to belong to, but is there anything out there that would parallel what the early Christians perhaps were trying? In my thought it would be completely immersed in the reality of the world/community around it, as Jesus was. And a safe place for prayer and renewal, as Jesus needed and did often.

Do you think perhaps our monastic communities are as close as we can come to this? Or are they also rejecting the world by pulling away from it.

Maybe my monastery is as close as we can come, monks and nuns in the central location, the rest of us in the world, tied together by daily prayer. Except there are only six or seven at the central location.

I wonder what the Buddhist community with the land in NW Arkansas is looking like..

I wonder if we will ever have a spiritual community of the heart, where everyone who is human is already a member, one that crosses denominational and religious boundaries, and that strives to live the spiritual reality - because with that we could change the current political system very easily. It would just take one vote.

Peace and Blessing,

At 5:04 PM, Anonymous mike wertz said...

I think that there is a spiritual community of the heart, Janet. It is individually found but universal in its application. I think we are finding one another. Thank God and Al Gore for the internet, eh?

Best, mike

At 7:15 PM, Blogger Lowell said...

You know, Janet,
I think the question is, "what level of perfection will we call 'working'?"

Lots of Christian communities are pretty authentic. Some a pathological. But every one I've ever been close to includes some human beings -- and we always muck it up to some degree.

The New Testament community had some horrific fights, especially between Jewish and Gentile Christians. And as a beloved monk-friend of mine said, "You don't leave yourself behind when you come into the monastery."

I do think monastic communities work harder than most to be healthy and whole. But, wherever you go, there you are.

I will say, I'm pretty happy with so much of the St. Paul's community. Not perfect. But not bad either. It doesn't get much better than that.


At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, St. Paul's is an incredible example of what can be - real, vibrant, and pretty healthy. I guess I am wondering how we all connect on a broader scale so we change the political system.. still have the peace flourishing ideas running through my mind.

At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yes, the internet is a great tool. I woke thinking of Jesus speaking of the kingdom of God as present and I just think I can do more to uncover that - not so much a seeking of perfection but an acceptance of what is and seeing and sharing the Glory of God that is present. And so a prayer this morning is please God, strip away all that I don;t need.

Peace, Janet

At 7:51 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the phrase "acceptance of what is and seeing and sharing the Glory of God that is present."

I need that when I venture into thought about what the other commenter says about how we can connect more broadly to influence the political system.

It is truly troublesome when the "ethic of selfishness" may be the predominate ethos of the upcoming election. Who would have thought the anti-Christian philosophy of Ayn Rand would be so influential in our nation. It's very troubling.



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