June 8, 2020

Protests against racism.  Protests against the shutdown.  The lawlessness of looters.  The lawlessness of the government.  Police brutality.  Calls to defund or even eliminate the police.  Defunding and eliminating businesses.  What do we make of all this?

I’d like to look at our current troubles from the perspective of the doctrine of vocation.  To review, we all have multiple vocations, or callings, from God, in the estates that He established for human life:   the household (the family [marriage, parenthood, childhood] and the economy [how we make our living]); the church (pastors, parishioners); the state (the society and its government, as officials and as citizens).

The purpose of each of our vocations is to love and serve our neighbors; that is, the particular human beings whom we deal with in our various callings.  When we do, God Himself works through our vocations to bring His blessings.  But we can also sin in our vocations, insisting that our neighbors serve us, and using our positions to hate and hurt our neighbors.

So what about the police?  They are among the lawful magistrates of Romans 13 whom God uses to restrain and to punish evildoer, thus making it possible for sinful human beings to live together in societies.

But even government officials are obliged to love and serve their neighbors whom they are supervising.  They should not use their power and authority for their own self-aggrandizement, but for the good of their people.  Otherwise, they are sinning against and violating their vocation.

Being a police officer is a high and holy calling.  They love and serve their neighbors by protecting the public from criminals and lawlessness.  Sometimes police officers sacrifice their lives for us.  They deserve our honor and our gratitude.  The slogan of many police forces perfectly describes their vocation:  “To serve and protect.”

In fulfilling their vocation, police officers must also love and serve their neighbors whom they apprehend.  The police are among the lawful magistrates who “bear the sword” (Romans 13:4) and so are authorized to use deadly force in carrying out their duty to protect the public.  But they should not mistreat the malefactors whom they take into custody.

Those of us who have received a traffic ticket might recall the elaborate courtesy with which they were treated by the patrol officer.  (“Sir, are you aware that you were going 85 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone.  Would you please give me your license and registration?  Thank you.  I am writing you a ticket to encourage you to drive more safely next time.  Have a nice day.”)  Yes, such chilly formality is intimidating and makes us feel guilty, but the officer has been trained to treat even lawbreakers like us with respect, as human beings whom he is holding responsible for our actions.

Kneeling on the neck of someone already in handcuffs, who is begging for breath, is a violation of a police officer’s vocation.  He was not loving, serving, or protecting the neighbor whom he had in custody.

We also have a vocation of citizenship, which requires us to love and serve our country and our fellow citizens.  Racism is a repudiation of that vocation.  Instead of loving and serving our neighbors of a different race, we hate and mistreat them.  God does not call us to do that.

Protesting the police officer’s killing of George Floyd and the wider problem of racism can indeed be a way of loving and serving our neighbors.  It thus falls under the scope of the vocation of citizenship. Such protests also lawful, falling under the Constitution’s protections of our civil liberties, as defined in the first Article of the Bill of Rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Notice that this also applies to those who have been protesting the COVID-19 shutdown, the closure of churches, and related “grievances.”

But if a protester, even one whose cause is just, starts smashing windows, looting stores, setting buildings on fire, throwing bricks at police officers, assaulting bystanders, or threatening the public with weapons, it’s a different story.  Instead of loving the neighbor, the rioter is stealing from, terrorizing, or physically harming the neighbor.  God does not call citizens to do such things.  This is a violation of the citizen’s vocation.  And it signals the need for the police officers’ vocation.

Do you see any other applications of the doctrine of vocation in our current troubles?  (See also my post Vocation and the Epidemic.  And see my book, God at Work:  Your Christian Vocation in All of Life.)

UPDATE:  The Minneapolis City Council, in a veto-proof majority, have announced plans to disband the city’s police force.  Other cities are also considering either defunding or eliminating the police.  They would be replaced by “mental health providers, social workers, victim advocates and other community members.”  How do you think that will work?

 

 

Photo:  Skyfox11 at English Wikipedia / Public domain

May 4, 2020

Remember Weird Al Yankovic, known for his parodies of iconic pop songs and their videos?  Creator of such masterpieces as “Eat it!”  “Like a Surgeon,” “Another One Rides the Bus,” “Amish Paradise,” “Smells Like Nirvana”?  He is still going strong.
Sam Anderson–who wrote a fantastic book about Oklahoma City–has published a profile and appreciation of the great man in the New York Times Magazine, telling about his life as a sheltered nerdy kid with no friends, how he turned to humor, his unlikely success, and his sheer artistry.  Anderson attended one of his live concerts recently and concluded, “this was the single best performance of any kind that I had ever seen in my life.”   And in an interview with Weird Al–who turns out to be a devoted family man who doesn’t drink, smoke, swear, lose his temper, or fail to talk with his fans–we are treated with a detailed account, complete with outtakes, of how he composed his rap parody “White & Nerdy.”
What a Weird Al parody did was enact a tiny revolution. It took the whole glamorous architecture of American mainstream cool — Michael Jackson’s otherworldly moves, Madonna’s sexual taboos — and extracted all of the coolness. Into that void, Weird Al inserted the least cool person in the world: himself. And by proxy, all the rest of us weirdos, along with our uncool lives. “Beat It,” a ubiquitous superhit about avoiding street violence, became “Eat It,” a nasally monologue about picky eating. (“Have a banana, have a whole bunch — it doesn’t matter what you had for lunch. Just eat it.”) “I Love Rock ’n Roll,” a churning anthem of hard living and the devil’s music, became “I Love Rocky Road,” a squawking paean to stuffing your face with ice cream. It is no accident that much of Yankovic’s music was about food — everyone ate food, every day, celebrities and nerds alike. It was the great equalizer. . . .

Michael Schur, the creator of “The Good Place” and co-creator of “Parks and Recreation,” remembers the force of Weird Al’s 1992 parody of Nirvana.

“ ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ comes out, and it’s like the perfect voice for all the simmering anger of an entire generation of kids,” Schur said. “That song is vicious and angry and aggressive but also laconic and disaffected and scary. And it was immediately a gigantic thing in American culture. Then Weird Al does ‘Smells Like Nirvana’ and completely deflates it — the importance and seriousness and angst. That’s a service he has always provided: to remind people that rock is about grittiness and authenticity and finding your voice and relating to an audience, but it’s also fundamentally absurd. Being a rock star is stupid. We as a culture are genuflecting at the altar of these rock stars, and Weird Al comes out with this crazy curly hair and an accordion, and he just blows it all into smithereens by singing about Spam.

 And as if that were not enough, the Anglican Luther-fan David Zahl at Mockingbird writes about Anderson’s article and his own appreciation for Weird Al, usefully embedding some of his videos.  In the course of his discussion, Zahl invokes the V-word:  Vocation.
Absurd as it sounds, Alfred Yankovic may constitute the final link in the holy trinity of 80s American pop culture alongside Dolly Parton and Fred Rogers. What I mean is he appears to be that rare celebrity who understands–and fulfills–his role as a spiritual calling. A vocation, if you will. Because what Anderson describes in the article is nothing short of a ministry. This is a man whose art and presence, under the auspices of pure ridiculousness, imparts grace to those who come into contact with it. And not a superficial form either.

There’s a clear link here between the unlikelihood of the messenger and the depth of the resonance, something dead serious (and good!) transpiring under the aegis of the absurd. . . .

The first inkling I got came after A Mess of Help came out. I had spoken at an event somewhere, and afterward, a middle-aged woman approached me to asked me what I thought about… Weird Al. The gleam in her eye told me it was less of a question and more of a secret handshake. If it was a test, I failed. But I heard from her a few months after the event, saying that she’d put a copy of the book in his hands at a meet-n-greet, and then asking me to pray for him, since he was on the road and far from his… church. Huh, I thought, filing that last tidbit away for a rainy day reddit investigation.

Well, Anderson’s article has officially spared me that investigation. His testimony of what Weird Al meant to him growing up–as well as what Al meant to Andy Samberg, Lin Manuel-Miranda, and Michael Schur (Parks and Rec, The Good Place)–stopped me in my tracks. And Al’s own “origin” only made matters more profound. This wasn’t that cruel subversion known as nerd-cool, nor a novel strand of seculosity. It was something far more beautiful, more akin to a ministry of grace than anything else. That the grace in question might be based in something deeper than human kindness, well, it’s enough to make this grown man feel like a kid at Spatula City.

Indeed, Weird Al’s Wikipedia article, which is also worth reading, confirms that he “identifies as a Christian.”

Longtime reader and commenter on this blog Steve Bauer, who alerted me to these articles, which for some reason made him think of me, and observed, “Maybe words like ministry and grace are a bit of a stretch, as they usually are terms that carry an explicit Christological referent for Lutherans, so perhaps we would have to find a more generalized word for ‘unfettered favor that reflects the love of God (for the weird).'”  Good point.

But still, we can see how being a comedian can be a Christian vocation, a way of loving and serving one’s neighbors.  Not just by helping the neighbors laugh, thus lightening their burdens, but also, in this case, by subverting the fashionable culture that the neighbor might otherwise take too seriously.

I close with this example:

 

Photo by Chris Favero from USA / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

March 31, 2020

The coronavirus epidemic throws the doctrine of vocation, a prevailing theme of this blog, into high relief.

True, the most wide-spread effect of the epidemic has been to put much of the entire economy on “pause,” putting lots of people out of work, forcing many of those who still have jobs to change everything by working at home, and thwarting the normal course of vocations by not letting people leave the house.

But these challenges to vocation can cause us to understand and appreciate the concept at a deeper level.  Vocation is not just about how we make our living.  It’s about how God works through human beings to care for His creation.  It’s about loving and serving our neighbors in our multiple stations of life.

COVID-19 and the Economic Vocations

To be sure, our economic employment is one facet of our vocations.  The epidemic has turned some of the ways we look at work, whether our own or that of others, upside down .

For example, the quarantine shutdowns have created a distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” workers, with the former being allowed to still work despite the quarantines and the latter being required to stay home.  Someone made the observation that many of the “good jobs” people went to college for turn out to be non-essential, whereas the lower-status blue-collar jobs turn out to be what’s really essential.

That’s an overstatement, of course, since many highly-trained professions–such as doctors, nurses, and medical researchers–are deemed “essential,” and many blue-collar workers, such as those in the restaurant industry, are not allowed to work.

But the epidemic has forced us all to appreciate the vocation of grocery store stockers, warehouse employees, food processors, farmers, truck drivers, utility crews, cleaners, and, in general, those with what Mike Rowe calls “dirty jobs” that the rest of us depend on for our very lives.

Certainly, the medical workers are heroes of the epidemic.  But these other folks have been called the “unsung heroes.”  Those people in both categories who can’t work from home are out in the epidemic where they could very well contract the virus, risking their lives–with some having already given their lives–in service to their neighbors.

High status “good jobs” are often their own reward, though they are often accompanied by generous remuneration.  Sometimes even Christians assume that vocation has to do with their own self-fulfillment, rather than serving one’s neighbor.  But jobs that are exhausting, tedious, and low-paying often serve the neighbor in more fundamental ways than do vocations held in greater esteem by the world.  Those who do “dirty jobs” exemplify the self-denial and “daily” cross-bearing of sacrifice  for others that Jesus commends (Luke 9:23).

Certain occupations may not be “essential,” but they are still valuable.  Having to work at home–teachers trying to figure out how to use distance learning software, office workers shifting their tasks and communications online–means fulfilling our duties in new ways, thus “defamiliarizing” our work.  Breaking out of the routines and having to approach our work in different ways can bring new life to a vocation.

As for those thrown out of a job completely, they are faced with the prospect of finding a new economic vocation.  The Wall Street Journal has published an article saying that the epidemic has become a catalyst for a massive global reallocation of labor, with workers leaving epidemic-ravaged industries in favor of the booming hiring in those “essential” services.

COVID-19 and the Church Vocations

Significantly, in most jurisdictions, pastors are classified as “essential.”  Corporate worship services might be forbidden along with other public gatherings and nursing home visits may be prohibited, but pastors can be out and about in otherwise deserted streets to go to the church to work out online services and carry out their ministry in creative ways.

Churches are hit hard by the quarantines.  We need to worship in the real presence of other Christians.  Meeting together online or giving pastoral care over the phone is not the same.  But not being able to makes us crave it all the more.

Those with church work vocations–those who are “called” to the ministry of the Gospel–are laboring under great challenges.  Those of us with lay vocations need to remember to continue to pay our tithes and offerings, even in the absence of an offering plate!

This enforced isolation is also an opportunity for spiritual growth.  How many times have we told ourselves that we just don’t have time to read the Bible or that we are too busy to spend time in prayer?  Well,  you have time now.

COVID-19 and the Family Vocations

Our most fundamental vocations are in the family–as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters.

The family, it has long been said, is an institution with serious problems, to the detriment of both the individuals involved and society itself.  With both parents working, children are often left to fend for themselves, which often does not go well.  Fathers in particular often spend little time with their children.  Meanwhile, husbands and wives often have little time for each other, resulting in weak and troubled marriages.

We’re just too busy!  We have to work!  The kids are all involved with their school and are always out with their friends!  We don’t have time!

Well, we aren’t so busy now.  For many of us, at least, we don’t have to go to work.  School has been cancelled.  No one can go out with their friends.  We have time.

This could be the occasion for recovering our vocations in the family.  That is, for loving and serving our spouses, children, and parents.

COVID-19 and the Vocations of Citizenship

Politics, even in an election year, has been all but driven out of the headlines.  Our nation was sharply polarized, even pulled apart, politically.  Now, with the coronavirus threatening everyone, we are all in this together.

Governments themselves had been reduced to just political theater.  But now, facing an immediate threat to the lives of Americans and an economic shutdown, government leaders are being called upon to exercise their vocation of loving and serving their citizens by protecting their lives and livelihood.  Many of them have been taking forceful action to do so.  This is true not only on the national level, but also with state and local governments.

Politics remains, of course, and some of our politicians are playing the usual games.  And the virus is raising further political issues about the cost of bailouts, the prudence of shutting down the economy, the danger of violating the rights of citizens in an effort to keep them healthy, what the priorities should be, etc., etc.

We are seeing a new emphasis on the common good, though there remain many disputes about what that entails and how to promote it.

These issues call on the vocations of our government officials, but also the vocations of us citizens.  We too must sort out these questions as we decide on what policies we should favor and who we should vote for.

The vocational question for citizens is the same as for all of the other vocations that we hold:  How should we love and serve our neighbors during the epidemic?

In that light, our duties as citizens would include obeying our lawful officials in the measures they require of us–that is, observing quarantines, following social distancing rules, avoiding large gatherings, etc.–doing our best not to infect our fellow citizens, and extending help to the best of our ability according to our own vocations to those who are infected.

 

 

Photo credit:   Dustin Barnes, left, and Kim Barnes, co-owners of a Great Falls cleaning company, U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston [public domain]

November 28, 2019

On Thanksgiving we give thanks to God for all of our blessings.  We express gratitude for our material belongings, for our family, for our country.  Before the feast, we thank God for this food and the hands that prepared it.  That is to say, Thanksgiving is about vocation.

One of the most important teachings of the doctrine of vocation is that God works through human beings.  He distributes His gifts by means of ordinary people carrying out their vocations in the family, the workplace, the church, and the community:  giving daily bread by means of farmers and bakers; creating new life by means of mothers and fathers; protecting us by means of police, soldiers, and the legal system; healing us by means of medical professionals; giving us the benefits of technology by means of scientists, engineers, inventors, and factory workers; making works of beauty and meaning by means of artists; proclaiming His Word by means of pastors; etc., etc.  And just as God blesses us through the people who do so much for us, He blesses others through us.  When we love and serve our neighbors, which is the purpose of every vocation, God works through us to bless others.

Now consider this text from Luther, who develops this idea, and notice its relevance to Thanksgiving.  From the Large Catechism, one of the definitive confessional documents of Lutheranism, in the explanation of the First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (my bolds):

26] For even though otherwise we experience much good from men, still whatever we receive by His command or arrangement is all received from God. For our parents, and all rulers, and every one besides with respect to his neighbor, have received from God the command that they should do us all manner of good, so that we receive these blessings not from them, but, through them, from God. For creatures are only the hands, channels, and means whereby God gives all things, as He gives to the mother breasts and milk to offer to her child, and corn and all manner of produce from the earth for nourishment, none of which blessings could be produced by any creature of itself.  (LC, First Commandment, Paragraph 26)

These are great quotes about vocation:

“Whatever we receive by His command or arrangement is all received from God.”

“We receive these blessings not from them, but, through them, from God.”

“Creatures are only the hands, channels, and means whereby God gives all things.”

Thus, at Thanksgiving we are grateful for our parents, rulers, corn, “all manner of produce,” and on and on, and, while expressing our gratitude to the people who have blessed us in the work of their callings.  I love what Kevin D. Williamson said about this:

As you cut into that turkey today, remember that somebody did the hard and dirty work of raising it, butchering it, packing it, driving the truck that brought it to your town, stocking the store shelves — and the very difficult work of figuring out how to get all that done, from domesticating turkeys to fueling that truck, a long unbroken line of human effort and ingenuity stretching back to the first guy who figured out how to chip a piece of stone a certain way to make it more useful.

And, in turn, our gratitude should go back further, to the God who has worked through all of these folks–giving them their skills, ingenuity, and opportunities–as “channels” of His love.

That Luther quote also reminds us that Christianity has a high view of creation; that is, physical reality.  The entire universe has been created by our God.  It is not an illusion, as in Buddhism; or a web of deception spun by a malign goddess, as in Hinduism; or a meaningless absurdity as in existentialism.  Rather, the creation is good, indeed, very good: And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).  Furthermore, the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate in this creation, becoming a physical human being, who physically died and physically rose again.  And God is not a distant deity looking down on the world from afar off, as in some religions; rather, He is intimately involved in His creation, feeding the fowls of the air, clothing the lilies of the field, and giving human beings what they need (Matthew 6).

And yet some Christian theologies, while agreeing with all of that, have managed to downplay the value of physical reality.  Mysticism, subjectivity, neo-Platonism, dualism, and the influence of heresies such as Gnosticism have resulted in hyperspiritual versions of Christianity, in which the “spiritual realm” is seen as the true locus of religion, with the “material realm” being the source of all that is bad, something to escape from or separate ourselves from.

Lutheran theology is distinctive in the way it affirms the spiritual significance of physical reality.  As Luther says in the passage from the Large Catechism, God uses His “creatures”–that is, His physical creation–to give His gifts.  Thus we have the Lutheran emphasis on the Sacraments, on water and bread and wine as “channels and means” for the Gospel.  Also the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, which sees God as already ruling in the physical and social worlds.  And, of course, in the Lutheran understanding of vocation.

Another connection of Thanksgiving to vocation is that this holiday has become a time for family, which is the most foundational of our vocations, where husbands and wives, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, uncles and aunts and cousins can meet together to love and serve each other.

 

Photo:  Thanksgiving dinner at Jerry and Yvonne Snyder’s by Loren Kerns, via Flickr, Creative Commons License

 

 

 

September 24, 2019

Concordia Publishing House has launched a free new digital magazine, as of this time last year,  entitled Lutheran Life. Previous issues, available at the archive, were on living the Christian life, reading the Bible, building one’s faith, and Christian community.  The latest issue is all about vocation, and it’s an excellent resource for individuals wanting to understand their callings and for pastors wanting to teach this transformative doctrine to their congregation.

So many treatments reduce “vocation” to the secular definition of that word, namely, how we make a living.  In doing so, they generate principles about how to serve God in the workplace, but they neglect our vocations in the family, the church, and the state.  They also tend to distort the purpose of all vocations, often suggesting that our callings are all about our self-fulfillment rather than loving and serving our neighbors.

This Lutheran Life issue–with the description “how you are called by God in all aspects of your life”–does not make those mistakes.  Rather, in a mere 15 pages, we have a rich, comprehensive treatment of the topic.

I love this brief explanation of what vocation is in the introductory article:

Considering how we can love our neighbor is the basis for the term vocation.  Vocation, or calling, is doing the work God has put in front of us to do for the benefit of our neighbor in every station and place we find ourselves throughout our lives.

The article on “How Do I Find My Vocations?” answers that question not with a self-assessment inventory but by inviting readers to consider who their neighbors are.  It even has a fill-in chart, in which readers think about the four categories of vocation–I like the succinct titles of “home,” “church,” “work,” and “world.”  Readers then are asked to write down the actual names of the neighbors they have in each category.  Readers are then asked to fill in answers to the question “how can I serve him or her?”  That is how you can find your vocations, or, what amounts to the same thing, become aware of the vocations you already have and your duties to the neighbors your callings have brought into your life (your spouse, your children, your customers, your fellow church members, your fellow citizens, etc.).

Then follow articles on the family vocation (“It Starts at Home”), church vocation (“Many parts, One Body”), work vocation (“Caring for Co-Workers”), and citizenship vocation (“Citizen & Saint”).

And lest we make that other misconception about vocation that reduces the teaching to a work ethic and that has produced Christian workaholics, the issue ends with an article on not working (“Rest, Reset, Connect”).  This applies the principle behind the Bible’s teachings about the Sabbath, that we need rest and leisure, which are also part of our various callings.

Lutheran Life has an attractive design with lots of graphics and is suitable for downloading and printing.  (You can sign up for a notification when a new quarterly issue comes out by going here.)

This would make for a good Bible study, Christian education class, and confirmation curriculum, as would the other issues of Lutheran Life that treat other topics.

 

Lutheran Life cover, Concordia Publishing House.   Used by permission.

 

September 2, 2019

Happy Labor Day, a holiday in which we should celebrate and reflect on our vocations.  Remember that the theology of vocation has to do with all of the tasks, relationships, and offices that God calls us to.  Not just our “work,” but also our families (our marriages, being a parent, being a child to our parents, being part of our extended family), our citizenship (in our communities, country, and culture), and our churches (being a member of our congregation, being a part of the Body of Christ throughout the world and throughout time, being a baptized child of God).

I commend to you for your Labor Day meditation a sermon preached by that great theologian of vocation, Martin Luther.  It’s about the Sermon on the Mount, with a wonderful reflection on the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and how they too serve God.  God takes care of them, and He takes care of us, including by means of the vocations that He calls us to.

The birds do have their labors, but what they do not have is anxiety.  Nor should we be anxious, as if God will not take care of us.  And yet, as Luther shows, there is also an anxiety that is good:  “the anxious care of love.”

From Martin Luther, Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, text: Matthew 6:24-34.  Church Postils [The Sermons of Martin Luther, trans. John Nicholas Lenker, Vol. 5]:

God gives us the wool, that he grows on the sheep; but it is not at once cloth, we must labor and make it into cloth; when it is cloth, it does not at once become a coat, the tailor must first work with the cloth before it is a coat; and so God does with all things, he cares for us, but we must toil and work. We have plenty examples of this before our eyes, and God relates especially two here that should really make us blush with shame, namely, those of the birds and the lilies in the field. Pointing to the birds he says: “Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them.”

As if the Lord would say: You have never yet seen a bird with a sickle, with which it harvested and gathered into barns; yea, the birds do not labor like we; and still they are nourished. By this the Lord does not however teach that we are to be idle; but he tries by this example to take all anxiety from us. For a bird cannot do the work of a farmer as we do; yet, it is not free from labor, but it does the work for which it was created, namely, it bears its young, feeds them and sings to our Lord God a little song for the privilege of doing this. Had God imposed more labor upon it, then it would have done more. Early in the morning it rises, sits upon a twig and sings a song it has learned, while it knows not where to obtain its food, and yet it is not worried as to where to get its breakfast. Later, when it is hungry, it flies away and seeks a grain of corn, where God stored one away for it, of which it never thought while singing, when it had cause enough to be anxious about its food. Ay, shame on you now, that the little birds are more pious and believing than you; they are happy and sing with joy and know not whether they have anything to eat. . . .

Behold the flowers of the field how they are adorned and clothed, neither do they anything to that end; they neither spin nor work, yet they are beautifully clothed.

By this illustration the Lord again does not wish to have us cease to sew and work, but we should labor, spin and sew, and not be overanxious and worry. . . .Thank you, flowers, you, who are to be devoured by the cows! God has exalted you very highly, that you become our masters and teachers. . . .

The flower stands there that we should see it, it strikes us and says: If thou hadst the adornment of the whole world even then thou wouldst not be equal to me, who stand here, and am not the least worried whence this adornment comes to me. I do not however concern myself about that, here I stand alone and do nothing and although thou art beautifully adorned, thou art still sickly and servest impotent mammon; I however am fresh and beautiful and serve the true and righteous God.

In the sermon, Luther also discusses the difference between faith (which is internal) and love (which is external).  He says that while we should not have anxiety in our faith towards God, as the examples of the birds and the flowers teach us, it is quite appropriate to have anxiety in our love for our neighbors, which is the purpose of vocation.  That is, in our concern for others.  It is fitting for parents to worry about their children, or citizens to be anxious about their country, or workers to be fretful about their customers, or parishioners to be in anguish about their fellow Christians in need.

Our life and a Christian character consist of two parts, of faith and of love. The first points us to God, the other to our neighbor. The first, namely faith, is not visible, God alone sees that; the other is visible, and is love, that we are to manifest to our neighbor. Now the anxiety that springs from love is commanded, but that which accompanies faith is forbidden. If I believe that I have a God, then I cannot be anxious about my welfare; for if I know that God cares for me as a father for his child, why should I fear? Why need I to be anxious, I simply say: Art thou my Father, then I know that no evil will befall me, as Psalm 16:8 says: “I have set Jehovah always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” Thus he has all things in his hand; therefore I shall want nothing, he will care for me. If I rush ahead and try to care for myself, that is always contrary to faith; therefore God forbids this kind of anxiety. But it is his pleasure to maintain the anxious care of love, that we may help others, and share our possessions and gifts with them. Am I a ruler, I am to care for my subjects; am I a housefather, I must take care of the members of my family, and so forth, according as each one has received his gifts from God. God cares for all, and his is the care that pertains to faith. We are also to be interested in one another and this is the care of love, namely, when something is given to me, that I be diligent so that others may also receive it.

 

HT:  Jackie

Image by Cock-Robin from Pixabay 


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