By Jeremy Riley
Growing up in church, I often had an issue figuring out the dividing line between the secular and the sacred. There were the good things – the God things – and then there was the chaff. The chaff, as it was so brusquely called, was everything else. I never quite got if chaff included the mundane, if it covered the oil changes and flossing of the teeth, but it certainly covered any art form outside of the Christian realm and covered everything that did not directly impact saving souls.
I grew up in my formative years with an understanding that pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers were often at the vanguard of the Kingdom of God; however, now, I’m not quite so sure. I have come to find out that those on the forefront of the Kingdom are those who engage in service to others and in the sharing of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah.
There once was a scribe who came up to Jesus with an important question along this line. He asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered him, “‘The most important is, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind and with all your strengths.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
As the scribe learned from the Messiah, there is no divide between the secular and the sacred in God’s Kingdom. Our prayers and daily actions alike matter to God, and what we do in life for others have immense importance in the Kingdom. As Martin Luther once suggested, God does not need our good works, but our neighbor sure does!
Extending a cup of coffee to that homeless man you pass on the way to work is just as godly as rightly preaching God’s Word. Providing excellent service at a restaurant or selling an expertly handcrafted item at a fair is just as glorious in God’s eyes as praying intently for a loved one. Wiping the perpetually running nose of a toddler is as beautiful as the glorious works of Bach or Handel. To be more direct, to follow Jesus means loving God and loving others in both secular and sacred times.
For Luther, the good works we perform must not be directed towards God; instead they must be directed to our neighbor. If we bring in the parable of “The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we see that providing for our neighbor is less about providing for those we like and more about caring for everyone, even those who might look, speak, act, and think differently. The author of the book of Hebrews also reminded the reader that those who demonstrated hospitality to strangers have also entertained angels without even knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). We just don’t know whom we are serving out in the world! Hospitality and service is at the core of the Christian faith, even towards those whom we might not associate with on a daily basis.
With the exceptions of individuals like Walter White in “Breaking Bad” or Lady Macbeth, our daily work can be an instrumental source of serving others. Our brain and brawn can both bring glory to God. There is dignity found in the checkout attendant at the grocery store, in the medical records department of a clinic, and on the construction site of the newest apartment complex in town. We serve others by making an excellent product or service and providing it at a fair price. We love others in our work and in our words.
God calls us to share the good news of Jesus and serve others, even in the home, office, roadways, and public square. If we seek to love God and love others, this will require us to be present in the secular and sacred. For it is in those times that the Holy Spirit moves in formative ways, because He meets us through the extended hand bearing a cold cup of water and in the receiving the cup at the altar.
Jeremy Riley is a native southern Californian with a love of books, baseball, tacos, and running. He is a grant writer and communications lead for a local medical foundation in Santa Maria, CA, and holds an MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. Along with Kristen, his wife, and his two children, they worship at Lutheran Church of our Savior.