his famed image of Martin Luther (1483–1546) is from the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553). Through their personal friendship, Cranach was Luther’s unofficial “portraitist.” While serving in Wittenberg, Cranach produced paintings, woodcuts, and engravings, both sacred and secular. He utilized his God-given gifts both to create art for the sake of beauty and also to further his Protestant faith.
A Lutheran understanding of vocation (calling) recognizes that “serving God” is not simply for professional church workers. By God’s design, we are part of the priesthood of all believers: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may declare the exellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 1:9).
So we don’t have to serve God through professional church work (though it is a pretty good gig). But wherever God has called you, you can be sure that God is working through you. Luther said in his Large Catechism: “Although much that is good comes to us from human beings, nevertheless, anything received according to His command and ordinance in fact comes from God. Our parents and all authorities—as well as everyone who is a neighbor—have received the command to do us all kinds of good. So we receive our blessings not from them, but from God through them.” Luther says elsewhere, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.”
We are called to love and serve our neighbors.
There are certain spheres into which God calls us and gives us neighbors to love. Generally speaking, we have callings as a Worker, in a Family, as a Citizen, and in the Church. (Gene Edward Veith, Jr. has a fantastic book called God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life that really unpacks this.)
For the purposes of this post, I’d like to reflect on one aspect of what it means to be called as Worker. To serve God in your work does not mean you do “Christian work.” There’s another Luther quote that says something to the effect of, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
St. Paul says it like this in Colossians 3, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord.” Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are free. Our lives are not lived out of fear of God’s wrath, nor do we have to exhaust ourselves trying to earn His good pleasure. In Jesus, the Father looks at you and says, “You are my child, with whom I am well pleased.”
And this Gospel frees us to love and serve our neighbors, whom God has entrusted to us. Galatians 5 says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
In our various vocations, God gives us neighbors to love. A Christian shoemaker makes quality shoes. A Christian garbage man picks up trash. A Christian heart-surgeon administers the best care possible. All of these people are offering faithful service to God by loving those people whom God has called them to love. There’s not a “Christian” way to pick up trash, but a Christian garbage man picks up trash to the glory of God and for the good of his neighbor.
At the same time, some people are specifically called by God to serve Him and love their neighbor through vocations that explicitly connect to the Scriptures. Pastors do this when they preach. Moms do this when they pray with their children. Neighbors do this when they share the message of Christ over the fence. And artists do this when they bring the biblical narrative to life.
Let me be very clear here. An artist who is a Christian does not have to create “Christian” art in order to serve God. A baptized believer might sculpt pottery that has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus, and this is still a good and God-pleasing task as it loves and serves thier neighbor. All expressions of creativity, to some extent, reflect the character of the Great Creator. Also, a non-Christian artist is perfectly capable of wonderfully capturing truths and images from Scripture.
Historically speaking, a great deal of art has been sacred art. Much of the art that we have inherited from our forerunners in the faith purposefully depicts scenes from our faith.
Vast amounts of the world’s fine art are pieces of sacred art: they captures a scene or truth from Scripture. But this is never vacuous. Just as our God took on flesh “in the fullness of time,” so artists utilize their God-given creativity and vocation in the context of their time.
I believe much is to be gained by spending some of our time reflecting on some of their work. To that end, let me tell you about a new offering that you can be a part of. I don’t have a clever name for it yet, but here’s what we’re going to do:
- Elisa Wolcott (an art-history student) and I will lead groups of 10-12 people at the Joslyn Art Museum on various Thursday nights, from 6:30 to 8:00
- Each evening will focus on one particular piece of art
- For 10 minutes, we’ll focus on the art itself: composition, medium, colors, the life and style of the artist, etc.
- For 10 minutes, we’ll focus on the cultural context in which it was created: what was going on in the world and church that might inform our understanding of this piece?
- For 10 minutes, we’ll focus on the Scripture and theology that is the basis for the work. This final component will not be “preachy.” You’ll be able to bring a non-Christian friend without them feeling uncomfortable or any pressure. It might go along the lines of, “This is John the Baptist. In the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist did X, Y, and Z and here’s why that matters in the narrative of his book.”
- After those 30 minutes or so with the artwork, we’ll head downstairs to the café area for some discussion and reflection. (I said above it goes from 6:30 to 8:00, but in reality we’re expecting to be finished by 7:30.)
It’s free, but space is very limited (10 to 12 people each time). We might offer it monthly, twice a month, or every other month. We’ll see. Our first evening will be Thursday, June 18th. We’ll meet in the lobby of Joslyn at 6:30PM. But for the sake of being good patrons, we have to cap the group at 12 (which means you have to let me know if you’re coming).
If you’re interested in being one of the 12 people that first night, or if you’d like to be in the loop for more information about future evenings, please email Lara Ray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, God has given you many neighbors to love and the freedom in Christ to love them freely. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).
Blog post by Pastor Dan Weber
Pastor of Missional Living
Pastor Dan grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and has since lived in Virginia, California, Oklahoma, and Idaho before coming here to Omaha. His wife Charlotte and he have three children, Alexis, Micah, and Titus who keep them very busy. Learn More