A Labor Day Meditation on Good Works, Vocation, & Our Neighbors

A Labor Day Meditation on Good Works, Vocation, & Our Neighbors September 3, 2018

Happy Labor Day, a secular holiday which we here at the Cranach Institute are trying to co-opt as a Christian holiday to celebrate the doctrine of Vocation!  (Did any of you hear that connection made at church yesterday?)

And what better way to celebrate this holiday than to hear from Martin Luther, the great theologian of Vocation.  Here he underscores how we are not saved by our works and yet how good works are part of the Christian life after all.

He then expounds the purpose of all of our vocations (whether in the workplace, our families, our congregations, and our country):  to love and serve not ourselves but our neighbors (our customers, our spouse and children, our fellow-Christians, our fellow-citizens).

From Martin Luther, Sermon for Pentecost Monday, John 3:16-21–Christ, Our Mediator:

18. . . .No person who professes to be a Christian dare undertake to do any work, imagining thereby to be saved; he is not saved except through Christ alone, whom it cost his all. We must come to salvation through him and his work, with nothing else added to it. If we build upon human works, we are reckoning directly against God’s grace.

19. On the other hand, we must not abandon works, saying as do the impudent: Aye, then I will do good works no longer in order to be saved. True, you dare do nothing with the intent of its being meritorious for salvation, for the forgiveness of sin and for the pacifying of the conscience; you have sufficient for these in your faith. But your neighbour has not sufficient; you must extend a helping hand to him. That you may perform such service, God permits you to live; if not so, your execution would soon be called for. You live for the purpose of serving by your life, not yourself, but your neighbour.

20. Christ the Lord had also sufficient; what the world had was his. He might have passed us by, but it is not the nature of true life to do so. Nay, cursed be that life into perdition that lives for self; for to so live is heathenish and not Christian. Then those who have at present their sufficiency from Christ, must follow the example of Christ and with utter sincerity do good to their neighbours, as Christ did to us; freely, without the least thought of obtaining anything thereby, only with the desire that it be pleasing to God.

[This is from a translation of Luther’s Church Postil, a collection of 117 sermons that were sent throughout the Reformation churches for pastors to preach and model their teaching after.  Much of Luther’s teachings about vocation are to be found in the Postil, which means that those teachings were widely circulated throughout the Lutheran churches.  This is from the translation by John Nickolas Lencker (1905), which is posted on an excellent website on Luther originating in the Netherlands.]

For more on Luther’s doctrine of vocation, see the Swedish theologian Gustaf Wingren’s Luther on Vocation.  For how all of this applies to everyday life, see my book God at Work.


Illustration via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons

HT:  Jackie

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