Saturday morning the alarm clock went off. Translation: It was a healthy bit after 8:00 and the kids were fighting about who was in who’s space while they watched TV. I wasn’t amused. Our three-year-old came in to inform us that she had blown her nose. The four-year-old was upset because the six-year-old was breathing on her. The six-year-old came in to order pancakes for breakfast. Frankly, I don’t even remember how many times a kid came in to inform us that he or she was, “Starving,” and needed breakfast. In my opinion, Saturday morning is the worst time of the week to be a parent.
As I dragged myself out of bed, I have to confess that I was calculating the hours until they would be tucked back in bed and peace would again prevail. I like peace, and my house so often feels like a scene out of Project Mayhem, “So many people are moving inside, the house moves.”
Bedtime finally came. The kids were safely and soundly in bed, and I began my typical Saturday night pre-preaching routine. I read through my sermon manuscript on Matthew 5:13-20. My sermon focused mostly on Jesus statements, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” But one statement of Jesus kept hounding me. “[L]et your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
A quick exegetical note: Most English translations do us no favors here. “Let” is not the command. Jesus is not saying, “[You] allow your light to shine,” or to put it negatively, “[You] do not hinder your light from shining.” Nope. The command is shine, and Jesus isn’t even addressing you. Jesus speaks a command to “the light of you.” Jesus commands the light, your light, to shine. We know that light obeys God. This was a major point in my sermon.
However, I was still unsettled at Jesus’ words, “that they may see your good works.” What good works? Jesus leaves the door wide open. He doesn’t rattle off a list of specific good works to do. That would make it easy to go down the list of good works, and check them off one by one. “Got that one done. God has been glorified.” But Jesus doesn’t set limits on what kinds of works are good either. Every conceivable runway of your life is clear for good works to land.
You can find good works just waiting to be done all around you. In fact, Luther goes so far as to say that everything you come into contact with preaches a sermon to you. Commenting on Matthew 7:12, “So whatever you wish that others would do for you, do also to them,” Luther writes:
To take a crude example again: 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. Indeed, there is no shortage of preaching. You have as many preachers as you have transactions, goods, tools, and other equipment in your house and home. 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.” In this way, you see, this teaching would be inscribed everywhere we look, and engraved upon our entire life, if we only had ears willing to hear it and eyes willing to see it. (AE 21 p. 237)
That particular Saturday, I had many preachers: kids that needed food, little teeth that needed to be brushed, dirty diapers that needed to be changed, a mailman who needed a safe ice-free path to my mailbox, and a congregation who needed me to be ready to deliver the Gospel.
I didn’t do most of it with a pure heart. Aw, who am I kidding, I did it allbegrudgingly. Yet, the beautiful thing is that, my neighbors (kids, wife, and mailman) were still served. God still worked through me as His whining, complaining slave. Even more beautiful than that was the fact that I received God’s grace and forgiveness for my selfishness in the Divine Service the next day.
I won’t do better next time. It won’t get easier to serve my kids with a happy heart. But God is always there, forgiving me and providing my neighbor through me and my various vocations.
And God is using you through your vocations as well. God serves your neighbor through you. He is glorified through your good works. And He is lavishing forgiveness on you precisely because your attitude, well, it stinks.
Associate Editor’s Note: With this post we welcome Pastor Sam Wellumson to the regular writing crew here at BJS. Here is a little more about Pr. Wellumson:
Rev. Sam Wellumson is pastor at Christ the King Free Lutheran Church of East Grand Forks, MN. He completed his undergraduate degree at University of Northwestern St. Paul, MN and his M.Div. from the Association Free Lutheran Theological Seminary in Plymouth, MN. Sam also currently serves as the Vice-chair for the AFLC’s Board of Publications & Parish Education. Sam and his wife, Sarah, have four children.