On this Labor Day weekend, let’s put our life’s work – whatever it is – into a God-context.
The local Rochester folk heroine, Hattie Harris, once said something that has stuck in my mind: “Be ashamed.” She said, “be ashamed to die until you have done something life-giving for the community.” Hattie was 101 when she died (08/11/98), honored by young and old alike. People recognized that she lived her words, but her own work of a lifetime in influencing politics and urban life for good was unfinished, just as Moses’ work was unfinished as he died gazing at but never entering the Promised Land.
Still strong at 120, Moses died on Mt. Nebo, in modern day Jordan. Moses, who had led his people for 40 years of struggle through the desert, Moses, who had climbed Mt. Sinai, saw God and received the Commandments, Moses, who trusted God, was not permitted to cross over the Jordan.
“We, too,” says author Tom Cahill, “shall die without finishing what we began. Each of us has in our life, at least one moment of insight, one Mt. Sinai – an uncanny, otherworldly, time – stopping experience that somehow succeeds in breaking through the grimy, boisterous present, the insight that, if we let it, it will carry us through life.”
Stop and think what your own mountaintop experience was and how it gives you courage and energy to go on. Think, if you will, of what you have worked to achieve, where you have added your talents to create the new, what future you build on your past and present. As we take on tasks which are bigger than our lifetimes, we need not be saddened by the apparent lack of completion. Here is how theologian Reinhold Niebuhr puts it: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime, therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history, therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing that we do, however virtuous can be accomplished alone, therefore we must be saved by love.”
Faith, hope and love are the God-works in us waiting to be released into the next generation. They are the spiritual tools that God has given us to offer succeeding generations a world that is less violent and profane, more true and loving.
You might be tempted to say as I have been tempted to say “Who- me? I’m little. I don’t have any great influence. My world is small.” Wrong! We are the inheritors of a very large world, and the co-creators of a very large future in which God lives with us all.
Despite our reluctance to see who we are and what we can offer others, God calls us, stirs up in us desires and hope for justice and peace in our day. God wants us to add our piece – our own wonderful, tender albeit tentative piece to the creation of the future. Believers over the centuries have kept their eyes fixed on Jesus to learn how to do this. On this Labor Day weekend, let’s pledge to do the same.
~Sister Joan Sobala