Suppose Jesus asked you to sweep a floor. Would you do it? What kind of job would you do on that floor? A sloppy job? A really good job? Why? Suppose Jesus asked you to take out the garbage. Would you do it? Would you be grumpy or happy when you did it? Either way, why?
You may recall that at the end of The Small Catechism, Martin Luther tacked on what he called “The Table of Duties.” For husbands and wives, parents and children, pastors and parishioners, labor and management he set down the Bible passages that apply to each. At the end of the table of duties he put down the little poem: “Let each his lesson learn with care and all the household well shall fare.”
Coming out of a church that exalted holy orders and man-made works, Luther instead emphasized the sacredness of each Christian’s vocation or calling in life, sacred not because God shouts at us from heaven to be secretary, farmer or doctor, but sacred because all that a Christian does is done for Christ and to Christ. Luther maintained that the greatest work of faith a mother could do was to care for her children, that the best way a child could show his love for God was to obey his parents, that the best way for a laborer to let his light shine for Christ was to do the best job he could do.
Luther got this notion from the Bible, from the sermons of John the Baptist and Jesus and from the writings of St. Paul. Paul told the early Christians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Colossians 3:23-24).
“Whatever you do…” This covers a lot of territory. Many in Paul’s day, like the people of Luther’s day and many in our own day, figured there must be something more glamorous to do for God than the simple tasks of everyday life. False teachers then and now forever put down the simple gospel of pardon which Paul preached as too simple, not enough. They also promised people a fancier Christian life, doing things God never told them to do. It’s kind of like a child who wants to do everything but the one job his parents have asked him to do, or a worker who wants to do everyone else’s job instead of the job his boss has hired him to do.
There’s that old story of the British architect, Sir Christopher Wren, who designed many famous buildings – such as St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. He came across three men who were all doing exactly the same thing – pounding with their big hammers at a building site. He asked the first man what he was doing. The grumpy fellow answered: “I’m pounding rocks!” He asked the second man what he was doing. He said in sort of dull way: “I’m making a living.” He asked the third man what he was doing. The man looked up with a huge and happy smile and said: “I’m building a cathedral!”
It doesn’t matter what you are doing, but for whom you are doing it.