Now all thank God
with heart, mouth and hands;
He does great things
for us and all our purposes;
He for us from our mother’s womb
and childish steps
countless great good
has done and still continues to do.
• • •
Sermon: Title (1 Thessalonians 4.9-12)
Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly towards outsiders and be dependent on no one. .
• • •
One of the teachings of Martin Luther that led me to practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition is the doctrine of VOCATION. Luther emphasized that one of the most important ways God works in the world is through human beings as they fulfill their daily, ordinary callings in the world.
In Luther’s day, people made a distinction between ordinary work and religious work. If you were a priest or a monk or a nun, you had a higher vocation that was of more merit before God. If you were a farmer, a shopkeeper, a housewife, or tradesperson, you had a lesser calling and were not as close to God as his religious servants. And you were dependent on them to help you gain acceptance with God.
Luther, on the other hand, abolished these distinctions. He made the point that the works we do in fulfilling our callings are designed to serve our neighbors, not to earn us any particular place of merit before God. And all vocations, all callings are necessary and important. As Gene Veith writes:
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.
This is why the Apostle Paul could encourage the Thessalonians to live quiet and peaceful lives, to focus on taking care of their own affairs, and to work with their hands, doing what God had called them to do. This, Paul said, is how they would truly bring God’s love to others around them.
Take, for example, this piece of paper I hold in my hand. This is the sermon I wrote for today. But I had lots of help in producing this sermon. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how much help I had!
We could start almost anywhere in the story of this sermon, but let’s start with a tree. In some forest, a tree grew. One day, a crew came to cut this tree down. I assume they wore the appropriate clothes and hard hats and gloves for their work. Someone designed their clothing, someone manufactured their clothing, someone sold their clothing. On the other end, someone earned the money to purchase their gear and some train or truck or plane likely transported it and a delivery person delivered it so they could have it.
They probably took trucks and some other vehicles to go into the woods to cut down that tree. Somebody designed those vehicles, manufactured them, sold them. Someone in their lumber company had the job of buying vehicles and there were people who made sure all the correct paperwork was done, the money exchanged, the vehicles delivered. Workers in the company maintained those machines. Those vehicles ran on fuel that was part of large supply chain that began with people discovering oil, extracting it from the ground, refining it into fuel, sending it to a distributor, and getting it into the trucks themselves.
That lumber crew had tools to cut down this tree. They too were designed, manufactured, marketed, sold and bought, maintained and fueled up so that the team could cut down the tree.
So they cut down the tree. Then it had to go to the lumber yard and ultimately to the paper plant. If you stop and think about it, there were dozens, maybe hundreds, probably thousands of people who made that possible. Then, after the paper was processed, it was bundled and sold to distributors who marketed it and sold it to buyers who worked for other vendors. Planes, ships, trains, and trucks may have been involved in getting that paper order to the store where it would be sold to the public.
The store itself doesn’t run itself! It has owners, managers, clerks, warehouse and stock people, people who keep the books and take the money to the bank, and a corporation that oversees each individual store. All of them are necessary to the operation of that store.
One day I went to that store to buy a ream of paper. I dressed myself in clothes that came to me from a huge supply chain of people doing their jobs. I got into a car that likewise came to me from a long and complex process of people working, fueled by folks in the petroleum industry doing their jobs. I drove on roads that road crews built and maintained, stopping at stop lights and following signs that have been designed and put in place to get me to the store safely. Maybe I stopped at the bank. There’s a whole other system filled with people doing their work. Maybe I drove through MacDonalds and got a drink on the way. Another entire supply chain of people fulfilling their vocations.
I arrived at the store and went in and bought the paper. I took it home. Then I began to write my sermon. I researched it using books that came through a complex system of authors, publishers, editors, book manufacturers, warehouses, transportation systems, stores and online dealers, and delivery services.
I type my sermon on the computer. Oh my goodness, the computer connects me to a web of systems and workers and infrastructure that is beyond my wildest dream. I finish my sermon. I print it out on my printer, which is yet another piece of equipment that was designed, manufactured, marketed, and sold by others. I just put a new ink cartridge in it, which required another entire system of people.
I take my sermon off the printer. I drive to church. Do I have to tell you how many people did work to make that possible? To make this place possible? And here I am. I hold in my hand the end product. One single piece of paper on which my sermon has been typed.
How many people are responsible for helping put this sermon on this one piece of paper? Do you see how much we need each other in this world? Do you see how God uses this wondrous web of people fulfilling their vocations to bring his love to the world?
Everywhere I go and everything I do depends upon a wondrous web of people who are fulfilling their vocations, from lumber crew to office store clerk to the person who made the key that opens the door of the church. They mask the common grace and goodness of God, who keeps this world turning and holding together and functioning with life and strength and skill. He does his work through our hands. By virtue of that wondrous web, and the Spirit who animates it and keeps it operating, here is my sermon for this morning.
Next week, we’ll do it all over again.
Until then, let us live quiet lives, mind our own affairs, and do our daily work well and with God’s strength. In this way, we’ll be part of the wondrous web of humanity that brings God’s love and peace to the world. Amen.