The purpose for work that we keep forgetting

A Labor Day post at Christianity.com offers “8 Biblical Principles of Work.”  The list, by seminary professor James Eckman, is thoughtful and instructive.  See it after the jump.

But the list is all about serving oneself or serving God.  It  leaves out what Luther taught is the major purpose of all vocations:  To love and serve one’s neighbors.

I see this so often:  Theological reflections about vocation that forget about the neighbor.  You really need to include this dimension.  Otherwise, work loses its moral significance.

You start thinking about your callings as something for your personal satisfaction (so that if you are not feeling satisfied, you must not really be called, an attitude that can wreck, for example, the vocation of marriage).  Or you start thinking about work as a “good work” that you are offering to God, as opposed to His gift and His instrument.

It’s love of neighbor that inspires you to do your best work for your customers.  It’s love of neighbor–your family, your fellow workers–that motivates you to work even though you are exhausted.  It’s love of neighbor–the good you are doing in the goods or services you are providing–that gives work its satisfaction.  And it’s love and service of the neighbor that is the fruit of faith and the way that God desires us to love and serve Him. [Read more…]

Sample from my new book on vocation

The Acton Institute has put together a sample from my new book Working for Our Neighbor:  A Lutheran Primer on Vocation, Economics, and Ordinary Life.  It doesn’t include the new things I get into in this particular publication–much of what is excerpted here is developed in more detail in God at Work–but this gives a summary of Luther’s neighbor-centered ethic and the purpose of every vocation (namely, to love and serve our neighbors). [Read more…]

Offering our body and blood to our neighbor

Thanks to Steve Bauer, who, in commenting on our earlier post on the connection Luther saw between receiving Holy Communion and loving our neighbor, quoted this remarkable passage from A Sermon on Confession and the Lord’s Supper, in which Luther says that after we hear Christ’s words, “Take, eat, this is my body. . ..this is my blood,” we should turn to our neighbor and offer him our body and blood.  Read the passage, which is more eloquent than I can paraphrase, after the jump. [Read more…]

The Sacrament and the love of neighbor

Martin Luther, quoted from Bible Studies on Mercy – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod:

There your heart must go out in love and devotion and learn that this sacrament is a sacrament of love, and that love and service are given you and you again must render love and service to Christ and His needy ones. You must feel with sorrow all the dishonor done to Christ in His holy Word, all the misery of Christendom, all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing: You must fight, work, pray and, if you cannot do more, have heartfelt sympathy. That is bearing in your turn the misfortune and adversity of Christ and His saints. . . . [Read more…]

“Greater love hath no man than this. . . .”

Another example of sacrificing yourself for your neighbor:

When Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Harris and Petty Officer 1st Class James Reyher descended to the murky depths of a pond at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., last year, virtually everything went wrong. Their equipment didn’t work right, the communication with sailors on the surface wasn’t clear, and debris trapped Reyher some 150 feet underwater in scuba gear.

But there’s more to the story. According to a report in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper on Sunday, Harris, 23, had the option to cut the line connecting him to Reyher underwater and survive. He refused to do it, though, doing everything in his power to free Reyher, 28, until both men died on Feb. 26, 2013. [Read more…]

Lent and Vocation

Daniel Siedell, in the course of discussing the Russian film The Passion of Andrei Rublev (1966), about an icon maker who returns to his craft when he helps a child, makes some important connections between Lent and Vocation.  (Notice too how Luther’s doctrine of vocation–with his focus on loving and serving the neighbor–is different from that of other theologies.)

Lent is an observance that reveals our weakness and failure in remarkable ways. Each year we vow to “keep” it better, each year we fail, often in unexpected ways—either in the mounting sense of pride we experience in our self-sufficiency, dedication, and discipline or in the despair that our failures somehow reveal God’s true assessment of us.

And so it is appropriate to consider vocation during this most sensitive time of the year, a time in which are reminded that we are unable to set aside those things that so easily ensnare us, like food, drink, Twitter, and sin. Lent reminds us that the Christian, as Martin Luther says, “lives not in himself, but in Christ and neighbor,” in Christ through faith and in the neighbor through love. Lent reminds us just how much we live in ourselves. And our work is one of the most explicit ways in which we do so. [Read more…]