In the United States, today is Labor Day. A day given aside presumably to honor those who work, even though like most summer holidays it is mostly used to recreate, grill, and watch sports. Well, that’s the American way, we don’t take all that much seriously.
But Luther, the great theologian of vocation is an apt source for the day, so here are a couple of extracts from him on the day, courtesy of Gene Veith.
If you are a manual laborer, you find that the Bible has been put into your workshop, into your hand, into your heart. It teaches and preaches how you should treat your neighbor. Just look at your tools—at your needle or thimble, your beer barrel, your goods, your scales or yardstick or measure—and you will read this statement inscribed on them. Everywhere you look, it stares at you. Nothing that you handle every day is so tiny that it does not continually tell you this, if you will only listen. . . .All this is continually crying out to you: “Friend, use me in your relations with your neighbor just as you would want your neighbor to use his property in his relations with you.”
Martin Luther, “Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount” (Luther’s Works 21:237)
Interestingly, as an electrical worker, my main supplier of hand tools is M. Klein and Sons. It got its start because he was a blacksmith and a Western Union lineman came in to get his pliers repaired, so Klein forged a replacement half for him – a couple weeks later he came back to get the other half, now broken replaced. Thus started one of the legends of American quality, to the point that by the time my dad started work in the 1920s those pliers were (and are) simply referred to as Kleins. The apropos point here is that one of the phrases that Klein’s publicizes for hand tool safety is,
“Take care of your tools, or they will take care of you”
How much more appropriate is that to us in our relations with our neighbors, and how much more important.
Although the Christian is thus free from all works, he ought in this liberty to empty himself, take upon himself the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in human form, and to serve, help, and in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with him. This he should do freely, having regard for nothing but divine approval. He ought to think: . . . . “I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me.”[i]. . .Just as our neighbor is in need and lacks that in which we abound, so we were in need before God and lacked his mercy. Hence, as our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians. . . .We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. .He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God and in his love.”[i]
Martin Luther, Freedom of the Christian, LW 31: 366-67, 371.
Well, we’ve seen that put into practice the last fortnight in Texas, haven’t we? One thing that struck me in reading an article by a British woman who got caught in Houston was how amazed she was by such things as this…
The hotel manager, a Syrian Christian, said we stood only a 50/50 chance of getting to the airport as most of the roads had been closed during the night due to flooding. He told me I must trust God’s will. The freedom to mention God and pray without being mocked was comforting.
How remarkable it seemed to this flyover American to be amazed at this. It just the way we do business, especially when things go wrong. It is perhaps why the US is what it is.
Truly did Dame Julian say,
“all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”