by Mark Einspahr
My favorite line in a Clint Eastwood movie is, “There are two kinds of people in this world, those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.”
My personal take on the line is this: There are two kinds of people in this world—those who are called to “higher things” and those who are called to move tables.
I move tables.
I really don’t know when that started. I have always moved tables. From my earliest memories of being involved with any Lutheran church I have ever been in, I have always moved tables.
Being a table-mover early in life seems to be a lot like being a lineman in football early in school: Once a lineman, always a lineman. So once a table-mover, always a table-mover. I think this theory also applies to being a shepherd in a Nativity play: Once a shepherd, always a shepherd.
Being a table-mover was not helped by the fact that I married a Lutheran schoolteacher. (Subconsciously it may be what drew me to one.) Granted, it is not like I went into it blind. My grandfather was a principal, my mom taught. Many of my cousins are teachers. I knew what I was getting into.
“Could you get your husband to move some tables for us before the play?”
“If he’s coming back to pick you up, could he take down the chairs?”
It’s okay. It really is. It’s just that sometimes us table-movers want a little applause. You know, a pat on the back, a little limelight.
That, while it may be the reward we seek, is also the problem.
I think it was Dr. Gene Veith who said, “God does not need your good works; your good works are for your neighbor.” In a nutshell, it is the table-mover’s worst enemy: works-righteousness.
“Look what I did.” . . . “See how hard I worked to set this up.” . . . “Nothing around here would get done if I wasn’t here.”
God can surely see how hard I work around here, why can’t the rest of you?
Even worse are us professional table-movers, the lifelong pros. We can even fake not wanting to be recognized for our work: “Ah, don’t worry about it.” “Hey, it’s not a big deal.” Deep down, though, we want our kudos, and on top of that, we think we deserve them.
Most of us table-movers know that our good works won’t get us to heaven. We know works-righteousness is wrong theology. However, knowing poor theology doesn’t make you immune to it. We are sinful human creatures, we table-movers. We need grace and forgiveness, and we can’t get it by moving tables for our own good, or for anyone else’s, for that matter.
I believe table-movers can trace their rich history back to the time of Christ. Martha—yes, the famous Martha of Mary and—I suspect she was a table-mover. Everyone knows the usual point of the story—to choose what is really important for your life. I like to think there is another. You see, I think the original table-mover was not mad at Mary so much as she was angry at Christ for not recognizing all the work she was doing for Him. (Her “good work” was being ignored.) “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40 NIV). That sounds like a professional table-mover if I have ever heard one.
Table-movers really don’t want any help. That would cause two problems. First, they would not have as much to complain about. Second, they would have to share any limelight they got. We table-movers seem to get jealous when the “Called to Higher Things” people get all the glory. We have to remember that earthly glory does not get us right with God. Repentance and belief in what God has done for us though Christ is what makes us right with God.
So now, all of us table-movers in the world, let’s stand up. Let’s look at ourselves carefully in the mirror and put away that poor theology of needing thanks for our good works. Let’s remember that our good works are for our neighbor, not us. Our works should show the world that they are a response to the love God has for us, not a cry for God to love us.
I have been moving tables for a long time now, and for most of that time probably for the wrong reasons. I think I am beginning to understand now when Dr. Veith talks about our works being for our neighbor and our vocation reflecting our faith. More and more, I have been thinking about the seminary. I am not sure they need an old table-mover like me.
For now, though, it is enough to know that table moving may just be what God and my brothers and sisters in the church need from me.