(A sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church)
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Delray Beach, Florida
12 Pentecost - Proper 18 - September 3-4, 2011
Romans 13:8 – 14; Ps. 119: 33 – 40; Matthew 18: 15 – 20
Preacher: The Reverend Canon William H. Stokes, Rector
The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Roman 13:9
I am thinking of the importance of community this weekend. I am thinking of community as we celebrate our kick-off to a new Church-School year. I am thinking of community as we bless backpacks for children and youth, some of whom have already begun school, some of whom will begin this week. I am thinking of community as families and friends gather here and in different places – the beach, the mountains, amusements parks in Orlando - to get in that one last hurrah in of summer.
This weekend, I also can’t help thinking of community in the context of the Labor Day observance. How often the real meaning of this observance gets lost, subsumed under the end of summer blow-out and blow-out sales. I’m willing to bet more people associate Labor Day with automobile sales than with the American worker. How sad, especially this year.
Friday’s bad news on the economy consisted of the jobs report which stated there was no growth and that unemployment in the nation remains flat at 9.1%. In the State of Florida it is 10.7%. And actually, because both those numbers – the State and the Federal Numbers – only count jobless claims and do not include those who have given up the job search, the truth of the matter is that real unemployment and underemployment is much higher. More than 14 million Americans are unemployed right now; the highest number of unemployed Americans since the Great Depression. As the unemployment benefits of many of the unemployed have expired and are exhausted, this is a real crisis and it’s a crisis, not only for those who are unemployed, but for us all.
I was angered this past week at the ridiculous display by both Republicans and Democrats in Washington over the timing of the President’s jobs speech and I’ll bet you were angry too. If you weren’t, you should have been. It is clear there was gamesmanship on both sides. Don’t tell me it was the President’s fault. Don’t tell me it was the Speaker of the House’s fault. It was stupid! What a callous and trite exchange in the face of the plight of real people; the plight of fellow of our citizens. How dare politicians play games during a crisis such as this! As The New York Times pointedly stated earlier this week in an editorial chiding both sides, Oh, Grow Up! Sadly, it looks like both parties are going to expend their efforts in trying to score points and make the other party look bad in the face of an up-coming election year, instead of putting their heads together to solve the problem of the Nation’s economy and unemployment. It’s shameful! A pox on both their houses!
There is a collect for Labor Day in the Book of Common Prayer. It’s a wonderful collect. In that collect we pray, Almighty God, you have so linked our lives with one another that all we do affects for good or ill all other lives. So guide us in the work we do, that we may not do it 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 
We need to pray that prayer earnestly….Several critical things jump out at me from that collect. First, the collect assumes that as citizens of this country, we are all part of an inescapable network that makes us interdependent with one another. In fact, the very fabric of a capitalist society depends upon this. I can’t do everything myself, so I exchange money, goods and services with others who do what I can’t. My family will tell you that I am not at all handy. In fact, it’s a big joke in our house.
I tried to fix a toilet once and ended doing more damage and having to call in a plumber and spent a couple of hundred dollars to fix what I had fixed. That is pretty much my experience with any “fix-it” project. I don’t have the skills; I don’t have the patience. Thank goodness my sons Johnny and Richard are both skilled with their hands. Whenever something needs to be done; they push me aside. If they can’t fix it, the say, “Dad take out your tool kit” and I take my credit card out of my wallet.
I’m thankful that Bill Hurd is our parish Administrator. Bill’s skill sets are amazing, and especially when it comes to the physical plant. Occasionally, when something has gone wrong with the physical plant, Bill will come into my office and start explaining the problem. After a short-while, my eyes glaze over and I say to him, “Bill, do you remember who you are talking to?” That’s the way of our country. We have “gifts that differ” (Romans 12:6). We need each other.
The second thing that strikes me from the collect for Labor Day is that it assumes a notion of self-sacrifice; that what we do, we do not only for ourselves and a sense of personal fulfillment, but that we do it for the common good.
This summer I decided to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, in large part because it has become something of a manifesto in very powerful quarters of political and corporate America. Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand’s screed about greed. It is the original inspiration for Gordon Gekko’s famous line in the movie Wall Street, “Greed is good.” The central creed of Atlas Shrugged’s major protagonist, John Galt, the single statement around which he organizes his entire life, around which the entire novel is organized, is summed up in the statement, “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Wow!
Imagine if those who have served and continue to serve in our Nation’s military thought that way. There would be no such thing as the Medal of Honor! Imagine if those who serve as EMTs, Firefighters and Police Officers thought that way. How many more people would have died on 9/11!
Ayn Rand’s philosophy is a philosophy of hateful self-interest. There is nothing wrong with healthy individualism…There is nothing wrong with rewarding ability and accomplishment; these makes things happen; it elevates the human being. But Ayn Rand’s elevates individualism to an absurd an untenable level. It repeats the American myth of the “self-made man” which is just that, a myth. There is no such thing.
All of us have depended on others in some way shape or form. Yes, some work harder; some are more driven and motivated than others. And yes, some are lazy, and some are a drag on society. Some are a drag because they are; others a re a drag through no fault of their own, and require our thought and care; but none of us lives or succeeds in a vacuum. We depend on others. Human beings were and are created to be relational; relational with each other; relational with God.
In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Paul continues, “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8 – 10) It’s about relationships.
To love another is to be in relationship with him or her… and love, necessarily means sacrifice…sacrifice and compassion for others. This is the core message of Jesus Christ and of all who would be his followers. Unfortunately today, radical, Ayn Rand style individualism is on the rise and the whole concept of “the common good” is, quite literally, under attack. There’s even a new business book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble titled, I am John Galt after Rand’s central character.
The third thing that strikes me about the collect for Labor Day is that it calls us to deep empathy: As we seek a proper return for our own labor” it says, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work…
There is no doubt that we live in a global world and globalization is a complicated thing. It brings with it benefits and challenges. It has helped raise many boats around the world; most notably in India and China. But globalization has also put the American worker and American manufacturing behind the eight-ball. It’s a complicated problem without any easy answers; but one thing is sure: Greater efforts must be made to put this country back to work. If these efforts aren’t made, all of us will be hurt.
Right now, the two largest growing sectors of American jobs are the financial services industry and the health care industry; that is, those who manage our money and those who manage our health. In the long-term, that’s a formula for disaster for us all.
Instead of demonizing and vilifying the American worker, (which has become a too popular thing to do), we all have a vested interest in seeing the best minds in this country in the political, corporate and manufacturing worlds putting their heads together and figuring out how to put America to work again. That should be part of our prayer this Labor Day weekend and part of our expectation from Washington this week.
The jobs situation and the economic situation in this country is not an abstraction. People are hurting across this nation; more than 14 million people are unemployed. The families of these people are suffering. As Christians this is not something we can ignore. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, St. Paul writes in another part of his letter to the Romans (Romans 12:15).
As we observe this Labor Day weekend, as people flock to the beaches and the amusement parks at Orlando; as we bless backpacks in this church, we need to remember those who can’t afford a day at Disney. We need to remember those who are struggling to get their children school supplies and new outfits for school because they are out of work; and those who have to decide whether to pay the rent or buy groceries. We are to stand with them and stand up for them, and especially by making our concerns known to those in power, Democrat and Republican alike.
We also need to pray earnestly for one another; because we’re all in this together. In praying, we can also have confidence in Christ’s promise, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20)
Let us pray:
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives with one another that all we do affects for good or ill all other lives. So guide us in the work we do, that we may not do it 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.
 See Economic News Report - Employment Situation Summary, September 2, 2011 - Bureau of Labor Statistics at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm
 See Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary, August 19, 2011 - Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/laus.nr0.htm
 See Cooper, Helene and Calmes, Jackie “Obama moves jobs speech after skirmish with Boehner” NY Times, August 31, 2011 - http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/01/us/politics/01obama.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=President%20job%27s%20speech&st=cse
 Editorial, NY Times, September 2, 2011 - http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/02/opinion/oh-grow-up.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
 1979 Book of Common Prayer – Collect for Labor Day, page 261.
 See King, Jr. Martin Luther “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – April 16, 1963 http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/resources/article/annotated_letter_from_birmingham/
 Rand, Ayn Atlas Shrugged - New York: Dutton - Penguin Group, 2005 (first published 1957).
 The reference is to a character in the 1987 Oliver Stone movie Wall Street
 Atlas Shrugged – Part III, Chapter 1 “Atlantis” – Kindle edition locations 15774 – 79 – paragraph beginning “The door of the structure…”
 Luskin, Donlad and Greta, Andrew I am John Galt; Today's Heroic Innovators Building the World and the Villainous Parasites Destroying It (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2011).