In Search of Quotes
by William A. Decker, editor (March / April 2004 • Volume 20 • Number 2)
“A significant and often overlooked way that we serve God is in our everyday tasks. Martin Luther understood this when he wrote, ‘The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays — not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.’"
This fine quote that illustrates the goal of the ministries given to Christian lay men and women has made the rounds. A colleague shared this quote with me, reporting that she had seen this same quote on a number of web sites. One source she shared gave acknowledgment that the quote came from Our Daily Bread which published it on September 5, 1994. It was the devotional used to mark the observance of Labor Day that year.
I knew this quote would come in very handy as a means to introduce this current issue’s emphasis on how our ministries in higher education are helping our young people integrate their faith with their future work — the role of vocation. But I also knew that Partners’ audience of rostered leaders would want to know just where this quote was found.
So I began my search and soon began to realize that some Luther quotes, as we have received them, are sometimes not very easy to locate in the exact way that we have received them.
I couldn’t find it, or better, I haven’t yet found it. Perhaps you who are reading this may be able to help me.
But it is not as if the gist of the quote doesn’t come directly from the heart of this teacher and preacher of the faith. Quotes like it abound from Luther’s pen. A reader of his Works recognizes that this great Reformer, called to the struggle of teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in his day, also saw God calling all Christians who too were taking part in the daily struggles of life, using their gifts and skills to the best of their abilities, in order to serve God and neighbor.
One place where Luther underscores this is in his 1520 treatise To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. Temporal authorities, not only the churchly authorities, have been called by God to a “work and office,” writes Luther.
But he quickly adds that a “cobbler, a smith, a peasant — each has the work and office of his (sic) trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops. Further, everyone must benefit and serve every other by means of his own work or office so that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, just as all the members of the body serve one another (1 Cor. 12: 14-26)” (Martin Luther, Three Treatises from the American edition of Luther’s Works, “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation” [Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1970], p.15).
Our “offices” and “stations” — our vocations — are God-given and play a vital role in God’s world. Two of our main features, one written by a campus minister in Wisconsin, the other by a faculty member at California Lutheran University, provide a couple of examples that show how our ministries at institutions of higher learning are continuing to teach this to our young people in this generation. Note too the Lilly Foundation’s support of vocation in many institutions of faith throughout the U.S., including eight ELCA colleges and universities (p. 33).
This was a radical idea in Luther’s time. For people of faith today, I wonder if its radicality is not just as great. Housekeepers who sweep floors clean, shoemakers who make quality shoes, governors who wisely administer, scientists who explore God’s visible creation, and pastors and rostered lay ministers who use their God-given skills to teach and preach the life and work of the crucified, resurrected Lord of Life all have a place and role and purpose in the world which God has made and loves through the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.
William A. Decker is editor of Lutheran Partners magazine, Chicago, Illinois