Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the historic one-year lectionary.
Our Psalm reading for this week is Psalm 146. A lot of Christians will say they are interested in “doing the Lord’s work.” It isn’t always clear what they mean by that. Are they planning to pursue ordained pastoral ministry? Are they planning to join with a parachurch organization that tries to bring Christian ministry to groups outside traditional church bodies? Are they engaging in some sort of social activism coated with a veneer of Christianity?
The Lutheran concept of vocation deals with this challenge. Put very briefly, a Lutheran view of vocation says that God has given us our work to do, and that as we do it we are bringing honor to God, being used as his instruments in the world.
Back to Psalm 146. Let’s see how it tests this view of vocation. In verses 7 and following, it’s either the blessed person or the Lord who does all these listed activities. I’m going to suggest it is the Lord doing them, but frequently using the blessed person as his instrument.
Want to do God’s work? In verse 7, execute justice for the oppressed, feed the hungry, and set prisoners free. Do we have the opportunity to help people who are downtrodden, poor, hungry, and in bondage to bad thinking or the evil actions of others? Or, for that matter, can we ease the life of our fellow humans who are in the prison of this fallen world? Perhaps we can lighten their load of troubles. Doing it in the name of the Lord, and because we trust in God, we are doing God’s work.
What about verse 8? Opening the eyes of the blind, lifting up those bowed down, and loving the righteous? While I don’t think this verse is particularly talking about physical aid, it could be used to advocate the Christian practice of opthalmology or orthopedics. Those are certainly good and valuable ways of caring for people. Yet I think this is meant in more of a metaphoric manner. We open blind eyes by helping them see in the light of the Gospel. We raise up those who are bent over struggling to carry their burdens in this world. And we do it especially among the righteous. Yes, Christians need their eyes open too. And, as one fellow pastor pointed out to me every so poetically one morning, bearing the cross is tiring, and some days we can really feel the splinters in our shoulders.
How about verse 9? Here the Psalmist is clearly speaking of the Lord doing the work. But again, as before, we can participate in the work of the Lord. He watches over people who are traveling or displaced, the sojourners. We also, when we find people who are away from their support networks, can provide care and compassion. God upholds the widow and the fatherless. Sometimes he does it through us. In fact, normally he does it through his people. Whether through marriage and adoption or through friendship, we participate in the Lord’s work of taking care of widows and orphans.
All this works together for the good of the world. The last line of verse 9 says that God brings the way of the wicked to ruin. He does it by bringing good into the world. So in the end God is the one who is magnified. He is the exalted one. If we want to do the work of the Lord, we simply need to follow him and care for what He’s given us to do. This is vocation. This is Christian ministry.
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