Luther's understanding of vocation as expressed in hymns:
God Who Made Earth and Heaven
A Morning Hour
Lesson Two: Vocation
After justification, the Christian doctrine of vocation engaged Luther and his followers because they saw how it followed from justification. Luther saw that justification made Christian vocation possible, as a natural consequence of justification. The medieval church used the word vocation to describe the life of the clergy or other religious: one "made" a vocation by committing him or herself to a life of prayer and service, work and worship. Luther's teaching that all Christians had a calling in this world -- and that none was superior to another -- liberated people from the notion they could only serve God by shunning the pleasures and responsibilities of family and secular work. In fact, it was through the faithful work of people in the society that God kept life functioning smoothly in the society. Honest laborers who are frugal with the common good, who see to the welfare of others, are God's way of ruling with what Luther called "the left hand." All Christians are to pray they will be able to serve God faithfully by serving the neighbor. God's forgiveness and free gift of justification made it possible for us to serve the neighbor, thus the hymns that we use to begin the day.
God Who Made the Earth and Heaven
This hymn by Heinrich Albert is one of the classic morning hymns. It became one of the most beloved hymns in the canon of German hymns. It begins by putting our vocation in the right relationship with God, the creator, and the one who brings morning and evening and rules not only creation, but our daily lives.
Like Gerhardt, Albert (1604-1651) lived through the Thirty Years War. He wrote both music and texts, and was a member of a literary club which included some of the finest German poets of his day. He used nature imagery in his hymns, and enjoyed the gifts of God in this world, aware always of how suddenly life could be taken away. His hymns, he said, tried to speak of the unchanging or constant, in a changing and inconstant world. The awareness of how suddenly death could strike made poets like Albert also aware of the beauties of God's gifts to us.
1) Discuss each stanza and describe its progress from the creation to its final prayer.
2) Why does thanksgiving come before the prayer to be "led" by God in one's daily life?
3) Where does true freedom come from?
4) Compare the final stanza with Luther's Morning Prayer, LBW p. l63. How are the images and attitudes similar?
5) What is the connection between creation and stewardship of it in the text?
A Morning Hour
This hymn is by one of Denmark's most well known hymn writers, Pastor Lisbeth Smedegaard Andersen. Notice that she also uses the convention of Lutheran Morning Prayer with a contemporary set of images and concerns. (It appears in a collection: Danish Hymns for Morning and Evening, Sange til Morgen og Aften Edition Wilhelm Hansen: Copenhagen, 2004).
Smedegaard Andersen is known for her use of the Danish natural world in her hymns. This is also very like the earlier hymns, although one can sense this hymn is contemporary to our time by the images and landscape in it.
1) Why do you think images of nature are traditionally included in hymns about our vocation to serve the neighbor?
2) How does the time of the year and the geography figure into the rest of the hymn?
3) Can you relate to her feelings about nature even though you may not live in a climate with very different seasons?
4) How does her hymn make you feel about your own calling? Does it help you start the day in the proper frame of mind?
Hymns of Stewards: Leader's Guide
Lesson One: First Commandment
Lesson Three: Giving
Gracia M. Grindal is professor of Rhetoric at Luther Seminary.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.