December 5, 2020

For Labor Day: Gene Veith on Vocation


The Harvest, Pissarro

In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that God give us our daily bread, which He does. He does so not directly as with the manna to the Israelites, but through the work of farmers, truck drivers, bakers, retailers, and many more. In fact, He gives us our daily bread through the functioning of the whole accompanying economic system — employers and employees, banks and investors, the transportation infrastructure and technological means of production — each part of which is interdependent and necessary, if we are going to eat. Each part of this economic food chain is a vocation, through which God works to distribute His gifts.

God heals the sick. While He can and sometimes does do so directly, in a spectacular unmediated miracle, in the normal course of things God heals through the work of doctors, nurses, and other medical vocations. God protects us from evil. This He does by means of the vocation of police officers, attorneys, judges — also through the military vocations. God teaches through teachers, orders society through governments, proclaims the Gospel through pastors.

The Gleaners, Pissarro (detail)

The Gleaners, Pissarro (detail)

Luther pointed out that God could have decided to populate the earth by creating each individual and each generation separately, from the dust. Instead, He invented families. God ordained that new life come into the world — and be cared for and raised into adulthood — through the work of a man and a woman who com together into a family. Husband, wife, father, mother are vocations through which God extends His creation and exercises His love.

All of this simply demonstrates that, in His earthly kingdom, just as in His spiritual kingdom, God bestows His gifts through means. God ordained that human beings be bound together in love, in relationships and communities existing in a state of interdependence. In this context, God is providentially at work caring for His people, each of whom contributes according to his or her God-given talents, gifts, opportunities, and stations. Each thereby becomes what Luther terms a “mask of God”:

All our work in the field, in the garden, in the city, in the home, in struggle, in government — to what does it all amount before God except child’s play, by means of which God is pleased to give his gifts in the field, at home, and everywhere? These are the masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things. (Luther, Exposition of Psalm 147)

• Gene Edward Veith, Jr.
The Spirituality of the Cross


  1. Amen.

    God uses His earthen vessels (us, and everything other created thing) to get His gifts to the righteous…and the wicked alike.

  2. strange how God calls people to Himself
    . . . often, He makes use of something important to them within their own lives, even using the way they have made a living

    “He called the wise men by a star, the fishermen by their art of fishing. ”
    (St John Chrysostom)

  3. “The Spirituality of the Cross” was one of those rare books that literally changed my direction. I could so relate to Veith’s spiritual journey and his well thought out decision about where to finally put down roots and why.

  4. He provides SOME of us with our daily bread, but many suffer in hunger and starve, He delivers SOME of us from evil, while many are set upon by monsters and tortured, killed or oppressed. He heals SOME of us while millions suffer from various forms of disease, disability and injuries. Sadly, only SOME of us have both father and mother while many are abandoned to die alone or live on the streets to fend for themselves. Others suffer from abusive parents or other family members without relief.

    The world is a broken, fallen place and we have to ask ourselves, those who have been blessed with God’s providence, what can WE do to extend God’s provident hand to others. How can WE become a blessing to those that are without.

    I don’t really mean to be a downer this morning, but the talk about plenty and God’s blessings just triggered these thought in my mind.

    • Luther would also agree with this, and was active in trying to relieve the sufferings of the poor.

      • Charles Simpson’s mode of ministry was, “each one, save one and each one, serve one”. There is such a myriad of needs in the church today, not just the poor. I think that one of.the biggest failings of Evangelism today is that it takes a “nuclear bomb style of ministry” where programs are instituted to reach all the pool, or all the moms, or all the seniors, or all the teens, etc. But what about the one single mom who just needs someone to watch their 5 year old for 3 hours a day? She doesn’t need the “mother of all daycare programs”. There just needs to be the one family to serve her. Individuals serving individuals, families serving families, serving and loving one another, doing the one anothers. Sorry to preach, but for me, this is the big issue for me in the body of Christ

        • Mike, sorry to get off topic, kinda. I have lots of family coming over and I know lots of people will be alone on this holiday and it was on my heart

        • In terms of today’s topic, the church should be supporting people in their daily vocations more than pulling them away from those vocations to do “church work.”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The “nuclear bomb style of ministry” exists to give doublepluswarmfeelies to those Doing The Ministry — “SEE HOW MUCH WE’RE DOING FOR YOU!”

          I live in Cali, and Sacramento has the secular version of this honed to a fine art.

        • Oldprophet, I know what you mean. In order to seemingly fulfill the obligation to serve the poor and needy the church tends to support big ministries that salve the conscience more than they help the poor in their own midst.

          My church lies on the south end of Camp Pendleton and there are Marine families in our church who are in need of help. But they are so used to being in need that they do not even recognize it. It is up to the local assembly to be cognizant of the situation and to step up to help.

          Also, there are seniors on fixed incomes (LOW fixed incomes!) who are also in need of assistance of one kind or another, but go wanting.

          And what of the younger poor, or families who find themselves in situations, even temporary situations, that could be relieved with a little help?

          Has the local assemblies focused so much on the larger issues of need that they neglect the ones in their midst? Are those larger programs blessed just because they exist when the micro needs of its own body are neglected? Too often I hear “Well, they brought this on themselves and we don’t want to enable their dysfunction”. Do we have examples of Jesus speaking like that? Or the Apostles? Or even the early church?

          Compassion begins at home and then branches out to the surrounding landscape. The scriptural injunction “If a man doesn’t provide for his own household he is worse than an infidel” needs to be reflected on.

    • +1, oscar.

      Also, some of us are “blessed” because others are not. For instance: the migrant workers who pick the fruit and vegetables that provide the profusion of abundant produce in our supermarkets do so for next to no money and no benefits under horrible working conditions that often aren’t regulated and that provide no job security or hope of improvement. If they were paid and treated well, we would pay far more at the supermarket than we do, and which of us would not complain bitterly if we had do that, even if we were reminded that these workers in the garden are God doing his work behind a mask?

      • I mean, those Pissarro paintings are lovely, but what does the scene look like in many of the fields where laborers work today, earning their bit of bread by the sweat of their brows and wondering if it will be enough for tomorrow?

        And when we eat so well because they labor for so little, is what we receive merely a blessing, or does it also contain within it the bread of affliction that is the wages of all injustice?

        Remember those who labor this day, and especially those who perform their labors under the burdens of injustice and inequity.

        • In this light, we thank God for those whose vocation it is to address inequality and injustice, and pray that God will use them and raise up more people to work for improvement in working conditions and for structural changes that will make things better for all who work.

          • CP, I always say “Work is just THAT, WORK. If it weren’t so it would be called FUN!” But work is sometimes a burden, and for those tasked with making things better for others it is a burden of love as well as work. God Bless them all!

        • Robert, that painting may appear idyllic, but the real situation most likely would be that the workers were harvesting on an estate owned by a rich person, one who was also their landlord to whom they gave most of their wages in rent.

          But art doesn’t often reflect reality but, rather emotion, impressions and imagination.

          • oscar, Yes, however bad thing are now for laborers, they were no better, and sometimes much worse, a hundred years ago. One has only to Read George Orwell’s harrowing account in The Road to Wigan Pier of the lives of coal miners in Britain in the early twentieth century to get a taste of how bad it could be.

            I would argue, though, that the best art does express reality, by way of emotions, impressions and imagination.

    • Desert Storm Libertarian says

      So true Oscar…There doesn’t seem to be much fairness in the way time, talents, and treasures are distributed among humanity these days. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount seems too incredibly difficult and humanly impossible to put into practice in our 24-hour a day earthly existence. What can we do, in real time, to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves?

    • He provides enough for us ALL. We have the capability to see that ALL get food and water and medical care. But we are so often just concerned with our ‘own’, that we will not leave our comfort zones to seek the needy.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Do you include yourself among those who “will not leave our comfort zones to seek the needy”?

        If not, you’re no different than those wagging fingers in Sacramento lecturing us Lowborn to “conserve, conserve, conserve” instead of actually doing something to fix the problem.

        • HUG, I call it Excramento, not Sacramento. But only us Cali people would understand.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I’m just old enough to remember the Nifty Fifties. And I see the one-eighty contrast between the Can-Do Optimism of Post-WW2 and the Helpless ANGST ANGST ANGST of today (Pre-WW3?)

            If we had problems like Global Warming or Cali’s big drought in the Fifties, the response would be “How Do We Fix It?” Granted, some of the Fixes might be pretty dumb (this was the period of Project Plowshare/using nukes for large-scale blasting), but they’d be doing SOMETHING, trying SOMETHING.

            But now? Pass out the Hair Shirts and Spiked Whips — We Must MORTIFY Ourselves for our SINS Against THE PLAAAAAANET! Gargle that lye alongside St Rose of Lima (or more likely, force the Lowborn to gargle that lye in Mortification for Our Sins.) Marinating (and Masturbating) in that Oh-So-Delicious ANGST ANGST ANGST! Why build desalinization plants (instead of a Burret Train from Nowhere to Nowhere) when we can wag our fingers at the Lowborn and lecture them to Conserve, Conserve, Conserve! After all, We’re All Passengers on Our One Little Spaceship Earth (cue Zero-Sum Game; since there’s Only So Much to go around, the only way to get more for Me is to take it away from You).

          • Oscar says…it correctly!

            Stools are the chief export of the political class in Excramento. (and not the kind you use to milk a cow)

          • I’d never heard of Operation Plowshare or Project Plowshare before. Amazing! Another example of better living through science and technology. Sheesh! What were these guys smoking?

          • It’s a good thing those geniuses who came up with Operation Plowshare never got their hands on Vonnegut’s Ice-nine.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            You can say one thing about those guys:
            They did NOT think small.

        • Of course!

          I know what I am.

      • STEVE,
        I think God places those who need our help in our path along the way . . . it’s just that sometimes they are not the people we imagine them to be

        there exists a strange paradox where, in helping another, it gets turned around and we may find that, in caring for another, we have become the ones strengthened . . . this is very noticeable when working among people challenged by Down Syndrome as anyone who has spent time with these gentle and loving souls can affirm

        • He sure does.

          But think of all the times we had a chance to help someone, but didn’t.

          Think of how much we value our comfort and security over the needs of others.

          • one of the benefits of the Lenten season is that, for a time, we may live more simply with less than we are used to having, and it teaches us how people must live who have no choice . . . if nothing more, living ‘like the poor’ brings us down to a place of ‘thanksgiving’ for the abundance in our lives, which we normally take for granted, may God forgive us . . .

            self-denial as a religious exercise is, of course, a pale imitation of the day-in and day-out existence of the poor, who have no choice in the matter but to live with little,
            and yet that time spent before Easter is like cleansing ourselves of unneeded excess, and of relishing our ‘little portion’ with greater gratitude to God . . .

          • It’s a good focus during Lent.

            But it doesn’t hurt to think about these things all the time.

            Sort of knocks us off our high horses a bit. That seems to be our main problem…that we think too highly of ourselves …and another is that we live in so much fear, that we just pinch out our generosity, so that our main stash will remain intact.

            And yes, Virginia…I’m as guilty as the next guy. Maybe more so.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

        This is actually scientifically true. The major problem throughout human history has not been abundance, but distribution. The OT was very concerned with distributive justice; unfortunately, many American evangelicals look at the entire concept as anathema.

        • Is that because when we need a Joseph for distributive justice that we seem to end up with some version of a Mao?

        • The fist grasps so tightly that others cannot have the excess. Even the ideas of Communism were perverted by that grasping hand so that its own people were oppressed by the philosophy. In other words, only God can solve the problem, but we have to try within our own sphere of influence without thinking too grandly.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

            without thinking too grandly. Yeah, the idea that there is some perfect or even superior socio-economic system which can somehow undo man’s sinful nature is a pipe dream. And actually, the OT is a great example – despite having a justice system instituted by Yahweh himself, they basically failed, if we are to believe the prophets. But I think you are right – we can all work within our own sphere of influence to love mercy and to do justly, and to walk humbly with God.

          • The problem with redistribution is that it almost always requires appropriation via coercion first, and once the appropriation has occurred, a host of irresistible temptations materialize.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

            The problem with redistribution is that it almost always requires appropriation via coercion first
            One way to mitigate this is to ensure that distribution in the first place is more equitable; this reduces the need for redistribution. Of course, since we are all selfish sinners, some form of coercion is always necessary, whether it be the IRS or Quantrill’s Raiders.

  5. I find this interesting today.

    On Memorial Day, I posted about how one of our responsibilities in honoring our war dead is to work for peace so others will not have to suffer their fate. I received a lot of flak for that, as if it were somehow dishonoring to those who gave their lives to question the system and political maneuverings that put them in harm’s way in the first place.

    Yet today, on Labor Day, many of you are taking essentially the same approach regarding matters of injustice in the workplace.

    I wonder why this issue does not raise hackles the way the Memorial Day post did?

    • I don’ know. I didn’t know your blog existed last Memorial Day. But even if I had, your question is really provocative

    • Vietnam Veterans fought a war now generally regarded as useless other than maintaining the military/ industrial complex. They were subjected to poison, torture, maiming, and horrific stress. Then when they came back home, we the people they were ostensibly fighting to protect abused them, left them to the decline of unemployment, physical disability, mental dysfunction, drug and alcohol abuse, and homelessness.

      What they did accomplish was to finally, way too late, raise awareness that this was disgraceful national behavior. We now recognize post traumatic stress disorder as real, we grudgingly acknowledge that poisoning the earth and our own soldiers is wrong, and it is now most politically incorrect to dishonor in any way those who fight under the direction of our elected leaders, even by implication, even if you think the war they wage is wrong and useless.

      It also has become so politically incorrect to disrespect the poor and oppressed that not even hard-core Republicans get away with it. We may be involved in yet another seemingly interminable, meaningless war. but veterans now get a standing ovation. I guess that’s progress of sorts. Different holidays, different PC.

    • Maybe it’s because in mentioning peace as an alternative we have in some way dishonored the memory of our war dead. And any question raised at all lowers the totality of the sacrifice. The true cost of my beans and tomatoes seems so much more benign.

  6. When I was young I moved to a really depressed area being a railroad town it was in decline. I remember sitting on the floor watching a one channel rolling black and white round TV screen and buying 3 loaves of day old bread for a dollar and 3 dozen medium eggs for a dollar. There was no work and very little room for success. The verse that always went through my mind was the one I take care of the birds in the sky and they have no want why would I not take care of you. Of course I didn’t get that right but that is how it went through my mind. Even in the poorest of times this was always there. I had learned this when I was little and it had never left. It was the one thing that I always held on to. I trusted this and I found it to be true. People within the town took advantage that there was no work so we got hired to do things very cheap because they knew we would. We would dig straight down holes by hand 10 to 12 feet deep because we were cheaper than a back hoe. We would do anything and to tell you the truth I was grateful for the chance. I remember the blocks of cheese and all the grilled cheese sandwiches. Boy they tasted good. I worked hard and got chances because of it. There were good people along the way. Most of the places I lived in were torn down or burned but none remain today. I didn’t live life the way I was suppose to being so young 18 and leaving home. One thing I always held on to was God loves me and it was always no matter what. I often would think to myself if I ever get my thinking right we can have a relationship. 30 years of very hard work most of the time 7 days a week later I came to a bottom where He met me and I realized I could never get my thinking right without Him and a relationship. Needless to say the last 6 years have been amazing and beyond my dreams. Well beyond anything I could have ever conceived. I live in almost a 5000 sq ft home that He directed me to with a soft voice only made possible by the clearing of the way to have it. A home that I drove by for years thinking it is the most beautiful home I have ever seen. I don’t consider it mine. I consider it His and I want to take care of it for the next person He allows to live here. I thank Him for it and He knows I love Him the same as whether I live here or somewhere else. I wish more would think of things this way. I realize the businessman that took advantage of me and I had a problem with is also the man with gifts I do not possess. I realize that the man sweeping the floors is just as important as the business man. I know that a man who loves God and is so good at business feels the responsibility towards the man sweeping the floors and vica versa. My prayer this Labor day is that we recognize truth in who He says we are and encourage all to go as far as they can with their giftings so we all can have enjoyment in the fruit. Not one of us is indispensable.