God’s Work, Our… Hands?

Arbeit Macht Frei [Work makes {you} free]. These words were found at the entrance gates to Nazi concentration camps in Europe during WWII. They were meant to instill a false sense of hope for the Jewish people brought to the camps – if you worked hard while there, you could earn your freedom. We all know how that turned out…

After Jesus ascension, the early church began to get the idea that by working to live according to the Law of Moses, you could earn your way into God’s favor (righteousness). The Apostle Paul writes his letter to the church in Galatia reminding them righteousness does not come by works, but that freedom comes through faith by what they have heard. That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul reiterates that through the work of the Holy Spirit, freedom is only found when in faith we trust in God’s promises received in baptism and through hearing His Word.

We too struggle with works verses faith today. In recent years, the ELCA has utilized the mantra of “God’s Work. Our Hands.” This slogan encourages the social gospel, faith comes by what we do. In fact, our culture even demands it. As we send graduates out into the world, we tell them their success is measured by what they accomplish – what they do. Running on the hamster wheel of life, seeking freedom through wealth, title, status. What we are really accomplishing is  not freedom, but an early death. Freedom is never found in this cycle because it continues to demand more and more from you. This is success and it is never enough. While we are called to serve our neighbor, serving will never be freedom for you. Serving those you love is never freeing for you. It is the demand of the law.

If we lean into this Galatians chapter 3 text and hear what St. Paul is teaching, we too will turn from ourselves and what we do to chase freedom. We will turn to the work of the Holy Spirit, to God’s proper work. “God’s Work. Our Ears!” Freedom is found through the ear, not through a strong back and calloused hands. Freedom only comes most fully in faith, and faith comes by what is heard; God’s Word of promise made in Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God! Amen.