Dear Friends of Second Church,
Knocking around my Facebook feed yesterday was a quotation, supposedly from Martin Luther: “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.”
I’d never heard that one, but it struck a chord with me, and I reposted it.
It didn’t take long for my friend, Tim, a professor of theology in Boston (and a Lutheran pastor), to inform me that, sadly, the quotation is of dubious attribution to Luther.
Now, you may not know it, but Luther said a lot of other really memorable things. In fact, if you go on the Internet, you can probably track down an eyebrow-raising, NSFW (but carefully footnoted) list of actual insults that appear in Luther’s collected works. (Take it from me: Luther would have loved Twitter.)
That said, Tim assured me that while the quotation I’d found was probably too good to be true, it was still a good approximation of Luther’s actual theology of work.
But even so, he felt very strongly that it wasn’t–isn’t–right to tell people Luther said it.
So consider yourselves told.
Because more to the point, whoever did say it was right on the money, as far as I’m concerned.
In my own line of work, of course, I get to talk about faith a lot—mine and maybe even yours, for starters.
In preaching, imagining almost anyone’s faith is considered fair game, and almost anything can turn into an object lesson coming to a sermon near you.
We preachers have our reasons–actually, most of them good. For if you believe, as I do, that God is active in the world all the time, and that the message of the God’s love and forgiveness is not just good news, but urgent news…well, you spend a lot of time agonizing over how to get the word out about that, and properly so.
It’s important to talk about faith.
Yet even I would have to agree that the most powerful forms of witness to faith might well be found elsewhere. It might just be found in acts such as making good shoes, rather than in taking every opportunity to work in a little witnessing wherever we can, say, by being the shoemaker who tacks little crosses on those shoes, or by providing a free sermon with each purchase of a new pair. It’s really our lives that are the best and most persuasive sermons of all. Just ask our children.
I’m saddened that so many people have those stories of being trapped on a plane next to a self-appointed missionary. Or of going to the dog park only to have a stranger start quoting Scripture—then go home to find out that the stranger has managed to track down their email and send word that she’s worried for them because they don’t attend a “Bible-based” church. (Which actually happens.)
It isn’t just that such approaches rarely work, although that’s true.
Experiences like those can actually make it harder for so many to hear the voice of God—whatever such a person’s intentions, their voices, their agendas, their obvious baggage crowds God right out.
By contrast, the most faithful people I know are irresistible in a very different kind of way. Something about them seems to radiate from within, and they seem to act and speak from that place. It seems to touch almost everything they touch. They don’t need to work things around to God-talk—their lives just have a holiness to them to which words can scarcely do justice. That’s what it is to have your heart warmed by God.
How do we become those people?
I think a lot about that, too. One thing I can say for sure is that it takes a lot of practice. Church, and prayer, and reading Scripture, are part of it, of course.
But part of it comes down to making good shoes, and making them one pair at a time.
If someone asks, be sure to tell them Luther told you so.
See you in church.