I know that many of you aren’t in the habit of using the Small Catechism on a regular basis. I want to encourage you to take up that habit in your household, along with regular reading of the Scriptures and prayer. The weekly Green Sheet provides opportunity to do this.
But even those who are opening up the Small Catechism regularly are likely not reviewing the portion called the Table of Duties. Here, Martin Luther outlines an often-overlooked, yet very important, teaching of Scripture. It’s often termed vocation, but it could easily be described as a picture of the Christian life.
Pull out your Small Catechism, open it to page 30 or so (check the Table of Contents if necessary) and notice how Luther has taken various portions of Scripture and put them under various headings. Each of these headings has to do with a particular role that you might serve in life. Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers begins the section; then What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors. Next comes Of Civil Government and Of Citizens. Then, Husbands, Wives, Parents, Children, Workers, Employers, Youth, Widows, and finally Everyone. Every person on the planet will find guidance for their lives in several of these sections.
Notice that every one of these sections is ultimately summed up by the Everyone section that comes last. In our various roles in life, God’s will is always that everyone would serve their neighbor in love, both directly (as the Commandments instruct) and indirectly (in constant prayer for everyone).
It is a very good thing to be diligent in our study of the Small Catechism’s Six Chief Parts (Ten Commandments through the Sacrament of the Altar). It is also very good to regularly review the Table of Duties, both in its entirety and just those sections which apply to our particular roles in life. This is how God teaches us to exercise our faith. I urge you to cultivate this habit in your life and household. The Lord will bless your effort.
One particular outlet for us to exercise our faith is by serving our brothers and sisters in Christ in this congregation; this service is done by praying for them, visiting them, cooking meals for them, coming to their aid in times of need, etc. All these are the quiet, often-hidden good works that delight our Father in heaven. But there are more visible ways that your service is needed.
We have many tasks around the congregation that need to be done. We have a need for members of the congregation to serve on various Boards, helping to ensure that the various operations of the congregation are carried out. We have work days when you can come and clean, repair, and do many other odd jobs that come around seasonally. We have an Altar Guild, who help prepare the Chancel and Altar for the Divine Service every week. We have sick and homebound members who could use regular visits from members of the congregation. We have a need for musicians who sing or play instruments to contribute to the congregation’s sung proclamation in the Divine Service. And the list goes on.
Your lives, dear brothers and sisters, are a gift from the Lord. He has given you all things. He has given you time, money, talents, skills, all to benefit your neighbor. Everything – and I do mean everything – that we have is a gift from the Lord. None of it is intended for us to serve ourselves with.
When God the Father called you by His Holy Spirit to believe in His forgiveness of your sins in Christ Jesus, He also called you to serve Him by joyfully serving your neighbor. This is what Paul is getting at when he writes that you are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Ephesians 2:10)
In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul writes this: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (vv. 6-8)
We often think of these words as having to do with giving money. And in part, they do, insofar as part of your faithful service is financially supporting the pastor and congregation you have joined yourself to. But this is actually teaching us something much more profound: God desires that the sacrifice of our entire lives would be one of joy, flowing out of the gift of the Gospel. Jesus Christ has graciously bestowed on us His gift of forgiveness! From this knowledge, the Christian rejoices to no longer worry about himself and instead can devote his entire life to caring for his neighbor.
Dear Christians, I pray that we can learn to sow bountifully. As the Lord provides abundantly for us, let’s likewise turn and care abundantly for our neighbor and congregation. Please joyfully come to the Divine Service, ready to sing the wonderful promises of God to your neighbor. Please joyfully ask “what can I do to serve my congregation?” If you need ideas, don’t hesitate to ask me. If you replace light bulbs, do so with joy. If you prepare the Communion, do so with joy and without complaint. If you teach Sunday School, do so rejoicing! May our lives be full of the joy which only our Lord can grant, through His precious gift of forgiveness in Christ Jesus!