Summary: Both Jamestown and Plymouth nearly failed in their early years. But it was the Pilgrims' view of labor that not only saved it's colony, but became the driving force in making our nation great.
OPEN: (Asking the Crowd)
What is this weekend?
That’s right – it’s Labor Day Weekend. And our sermon today is the beginning of a series on “What Made America Great”.
This first sermon deals with the greatness that has been brought to our nation because of how and why our people have learned to work.
Back in the 1600’s those from Europe, who colonized America, had different visions of what kind of nation this was to be.
To the south, one of the first settlements by Europeans was in what is now known as Jamestown, Virginia. You can still visit that settlement today, and it is a beautiful and well kept memorial to the experience of those first few settlers.
But what few people know is that the settlement was failure for years. For 40 years the settlers there were almost entirely dependent upon England for their survival. And there were two very basic reasons for this:
1st - God wasn’t that important to them.
There was ONLY one church and it was rarely well attended.
And 2nd - work was considered beneath many of those settlers.
The Europe of that day held to the idea that work was degrading. The rich and powerful rarely stooped to dirtying their hands with common tasks because it just wasn’t done - those duties were reserved for the lower classes. In fact, this idea of a powerful and privileged class of individuals who didn't need to work was reinforced by the teachings of the church of that day.
Many of the original settlers at Jamestown were Aristocrats of the favored classes. Thus they were accustomed to expecting others to do work for them. That might have worked out, had their been enough “others” to do those common tasks, but as it was there weren’t enough workers to plant sufficient crops to support everyone who lived there. As a result, little got done… and food was scarce.
So, what did they do if there wasn’t enough food from what they planted? Where would these Europeans get enough to live on?
From the Indians.
The settlers at Jamestown would often steal from the Indians, and sometimes even kill to get what they needed.
As you can imagine, this didn’t make them real popular with the surrounding tribes.
Now to the North, there was another colony at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts.
This colony was made up of pilgrims that had been forced out of Europe because they refused to accept the teachings of many of the churches there, and Initially the Pilgrim settlement there nearly failed as Jamestown did. The reason?
The first two years, their contract as a colony called for a socialist form of government.
· There was no private property.
· Everyone was required to work together for the common good.
· All goods and food were shared by everybody.
Because of the social makeup of Plymouth, many of these colonists began to realize they didn’t have to work very hard in order to be eligible for sharing from the common stocks… and so they didn’t work very hard. And sometimes they didn’t work at all.
After two years of socialism, their little community was on the verge of collapse.
Food was scarce, hunger was common, and moral was low.
Several years later, the Pilgrims began a custom that is still carried on to this day by their descendents (during the Thanksgiving holiday). They would put 5 kernels of corn on empty plates at the dinner table. This tradition was to remind the descendants of the Pilgrims that this was often all the early settlers had to eat for those first couple of years.
By the 3rd year, Governor Bradford began to realize things weren’t working, and so he ordered a change in the rules:
· Each colonist was given their own plot of land to work (private property)
· They could keep what they grew, or sell to others.
· And if a colonist didn’t work… they didn’t eat.
Almost immediately the Pilgrim colony began to prosper because, unlike the aristocrats at Jamestown to the south, the Pilgrims were willing to work.
But the Pilgrims had another advantage over Jamestown.
Unlike the citizens of Jamestown, God was at the center of Pilgrim society.
And because God was at the center of their theology so was the Bible.
And the Bible taught that labor was NOT “common.”
Work was a good thing… and something that honored and pleased God.
The Protestant Reformation – from which the Pilgrims came – had long before discovered that the Scriptures approved of manual labor. By just going back to the Bible and asking questions… they discovered that:
1. Work was ordained by God.
In fact, in Genesis chapters 1 & 2 they found that God Himself worked. He created the world in 6 days… and on the 7th He rested. And on the basis of this, God taught that His people should also work 6 days… and rest on the 7th. Thus, if God worked at creating the world then work had to be a good thing.