For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
– Ephesians 2:8-10 (TNIV)
God does not need our good works. Our neighbor does. Strictly speaking, we do not ever “serve God.” He always serves us, and through us, he serves our neighbors. God always works through means. In the spiritual kingdom, he graciously provides salvation in Christ through the means of Word and Sacrament. In the earthly realm, he works through human beings fulfilling their vocations.
This, in a nutshell, is one of the most important contributions to Christian theology that Martin Luther and his heirs have given to the church — the doctrine of vocation.
In the future, we will explore this further, but on this “Labor Day” in the United States, when we honor workers and their contributions to our lives and society, I offer the following quote from Gene Edward Veith for your meditation.
When I go into a restaurant, the waitress who brings me my meal, the cook in the back who prepared it, the delivery men, the wholesalers, the workers in the food-processing factories, the butchers, the farmers, the ranchers, and everyone else in the economic food chain are all being used by God to “give me this day my daily bread.”
This is the doctrine of vocation. God works through people, in their ordinary stations of life to which He has called them, to care for His creation. In this way, He cares for everyone — Christian and non-Christian — whom He has given life.
Luther puts it even more strongly: Vocations are “masks of God.” On the surface, we see an ordinary human face — our mother, the doctor, the teacher, the waitress, our pastor — but, beneath the appearances, God is ministering to us through them. God is hidden in human vocations.
The other side of the coin is that God is hidden in us. When we live out our callings — as spouses, parents, children, employers, employees, citizens, and the rest — God is working through us. Even when we do not realize it, when we fulfill our callings, we too are masks of God.
– Gene Edward Leith, “The Masks of God”
For Further Reading
A full set of links to Veith’s articles on vocation, which he wrote for The Lutheran Witness in 2001, may be found at Justin Taylor’s website here.
I also recommend Veith’s book, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Focal Point Series)