Summary: A Labor Day and Communion message, dealing with the sources of satisfaction in work. Designed for audience participation.
Labor Day, and school is starting again. I wonder, do they still do the same things as when I was in school? Do they still have the same rituals? Maybe not. Things do change.
Dodgeball, for example. Now that was THE game in my day. You had the right to throw the ball as hard as you could and hit anybody you wanted to hit. What a tremendous way to get out your hostilities, and it was all legal! Dodgeball – except that I hear that because there is a fear of injuries – and of lawsuits -- it’s been stopped. One of the rituals of the school year is gone. What a shame!
And elections for patrol officers. Now that was one I always liked. I liked being a school patrol, in the first place. The white belt and the shiny badge – those made me feel important. And if they elected you lieutenant, you got to wear the blue badge; if they went all the way and elected you captain, you got to wear the red badge and walk all the way around the two blocks we patrolled at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Elementary School. Best of all, you got to boss around the other patrols. We had elections every month, and I finally got to be captain. Never mind that everybody else had already had a turn at being captain and I was the only one left. That doesn’t matter. Captain I was, and I strutted my stuff. Do they still do that? Or, have I heard that nowadays that’s considered politically incorrect, and so there are no patrol officers. Is another one of the rituals of the school year gone?
Well, I’ll bet I know one ritual that has not disappeared. I’ll wager I can find at least one thing that has not changed. I’m sure that teachers still do one thing. They must have a course on this in Colleges of Education. Teachers will start the first day of school with a ritual sentence, “Take out a clean sheet of paper.” Always has to be a clean sheet. Nobody ever says, “Take out a dirty sheet of paper.” No, take out a clean sheet of paper, and on it I want you to write a paragraph, “What I did on my summer vacation”. Is that still being done? Well, some places are doing school year round, so there won’t be any summer vacation, but I really hope that’s still a part of the school year ritual. “Take out a clean sheet of paper and write a paragraph on what you did on summer vacation.”
Do you remember? You thought and you scribbled; you dawdled and you jotted. You wrote feverishly until suddenly the teacher jolted you out of your smoldering summer slumber with the command, “Put your pencils down.” Put your pencils down – the signal that, finished or not, you were to stop. The sign that it was all over, ready or not. Your task is complete; or if it is not complete, there is no more time. You’ll have to turn it in, just as it is. Put your pencils down! There’s a good old school year ritual!
Oh, my stars, even that has changed? Now it’s click your mouse, save and name your file, and print it out? I give up! Let’s just stick with, “Put your pencils down.”
Whenever we undertake some task, it comes to a stopping point. We may be finished or we may not be, but it has to stop. We may be satisfied, or we may not feel ready, but never mind. The time to stop has come. And either we feel happy because we have done our best, or we feel ashamed because we just aren’t ready to hear, “Put your pencils down.”
All of life is like that. You don’t have to be in school to experience that. You can experience that at work. At the end of the workday, you can go home and feel that you have truly accomplished something, or you can just stop because it’s quitting time, although you haven’t really done very much.
If you’re retired, you can put your frazzled bones to bed at night and know that you’ve used your leisure time for something that matters; or you can end the day and wonder where the time went. You just didn’t get anything done.
At the end of anything, somebody will be saying, “Put your pencils down,” and you can’t do any more. If you’re in school, they will either graduate you or flunk you. If you’re working, they will retire you, and it won’t cut any ice if you say, “But I wasn’t finished yet. You are finished, like it or not. And most of all, that day will come when “the work of life is ended, the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more”, and life itself will end. I haven’t heard too much about anybody receiving an extension in order to finish some task he started! No, the Master will say to us on that day, “Put your pencils down.” Write no more. Come with me. Your life’s work is ended. And when that day comes, as with each passing day until then, either we will feel wonderful satisfaction, that we have done our best work; or we will feel profound shame, that we have failed to do what we were called to do.