Monday, August 30, 2010

The Gift of Work

Liturgy, from the Greek leiturgia, has an interesting history and meaning.  In secular usage, the leiturgia were like taxes or a response owed by those who enjoyed the privilege of wealth and property.  In this way we arrive as the customary English translation, service.  In secular usage, the leiturgia was a response to privilege bestowed.

In religious parlance, liturgy has been used to refer to a specific order of worship or to a classic outline of this order (the Mass form) or to the idea that the people of God render service (leiturgia) to him as their work.  The emphasis upon the work of the people was emphasized by the twentieth century liturgical movement.  While the emphasis or nuance of this word has been bantered about, it remains a service that responds to what God has done and does not initiate a work to seek His approval or favor.  In response to what God has done, His people render to Him the service of faith, praise, thanksgiving, and good works.  You may choose to put the accent on the people and their work but it is impossible to ignore that this is in response to God's work.

Lutherans have typically called the liturgy the Divine Service (Gottesdienst).  In LSB the name of the rites for the Eucharist is the Divine Service, in various settings.  For us as Christians, God's service to us is always concrete and never simply an idea or a feeling.  It begins with the concrete of a Virgin who carried in her womb the Son of God in our flesh and blood.  It continues with the concrete of suffering and death that is the Passion of this incarnate Lord, pursued to redeem a lost and condemned creation and restore to the Father the people of His own creation.  It is concrete in the Word of God that speaks with His living voice to call, gather, and enlighten His people, bestowing upon them the Spirit who teaches faith.  It is concrete in the splash of water with the Word that has the power to kill and give new life, connect to the cross and empty tomb, and clothe with righteousness those stained with sin.  It is concrete in the voice of absolution that speaks to those without merit or worth, "I forgive you."  It is concrete in the bread that gives the flesh of Christ with the taste of wheat and in the wine which gives the blood of Christ with the taste of the grape.  God's service to us is concrete and real, tied to person, fact, and event.  It does what it promises and accomplish what it purposes.

In the same way our work of response is not ethereal or aesthetic but real and concrete.  It is real in the faith that is born of the Spirit's work through Word and Sacrament and the AMEN of faith to all that God has worked for us and our salvation.  It is real in the songs of praise and thanksgiving that respond to the grace bestowed and Lord come to us in flesh and blood.  It is real in the offering of self, returned to Him to whom we belong as the perfect fruit of His gift of freedom, and of all the things that we call our own but are merely ours to manage in His name (money, time, gift, talent, etc.).  It is real in the mercy shown to the stranger, the hungry, the wounded, the outcast, the imprisoned, and the lonely.  It is real in the acts of compassion and kindness returned to the Lord by way of the poor, the needy, and the helpless.  It is real in the relationships that become the domain of our baptismal vocation -- from husband to wife and wife to husband, parent to child and child to parent, neighbor to neighbor, employer to employee and employee to employer...

Work is a gift from God in which we mirror His own work in creation as we care for all that He has made.  Work is a gift from God in which we respond to His goodness and grace and return to Him that which is His due and that which already belongs to Him.  Work is a gift from God that is liturgical, vocational, and relational -- not in the least of which is the work of witness by which we tell of His goodness and grace to those around us.  Liturgy is the work of the people, yes, but a work made possible only because of God's initiative and work that endures only because it is to His glory and from a heart of grateful faith.


Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

This is the exact opposite of the seeker-friendly idea that routine is awful. I've heard so many sermons about "having your best life" that include the idea that the day-to-day humdrum of the average believer's work is deadly I think I'll well, you know, hurl.

To think of our daily vocation as liturgy makes perfect sense. God serves us Sunday in the Divine Service, and we serve our neighbor the whole week long.

Thanks, by the way for the gospel included in so many of your posts!

Anonymous said...

Lutherans have typically called the liturgy the Divine Service (Gottesdienst).

Interestingly, Catholics in Germany also use the term Gottesdienst.