Last Saturday night I had the opportunity to attend a UTEP Miners men’s basketball game for the first time. I got tickets from a member of the congregation, and so Andrew and I went and watched the Miners defeat Rice University 66-43.
Three years ago, just days after making the decision to come to El Paso, Sara and I sat down to watch a movie that had come in the mail from Blockbuster (like Netflix). Neither of us had heard of the movie before, only knowing that it was about college basketball. We were surprised to see “Texas Western College – El Paso TX” on the opening screen. The movie was “Glory Road” about the 1966 NCAA championship basketball team.
Miner basketball (and other sports) is a fairly big deal in El Paso. It’s a pretty large city—nearly 700,000—but has no big league professional sports teams. If I needed a reason to take in more UTEP Athletics, I think I found it—of all places—on my bookshelf.
Many of you know that I have lots of books. I have dozens of books on my shelves that I have never read. I have a shelf that is just translations of the Bible, several shelves of grammars and lexicons and dictionaries. Of course, Luther’s Works takes up a few shelves and then there are my Luther biographies. I had read most of them, but for years I have had one volume that I never read, but always thought it sounded interesting. I don’t even remember where I got it. It is a book on Luther’s life, in German. Half of the book’s cover is torn off, and hand-written on the binding is “Luthers Leben—Mathesius.”
Until this past week, I didn’t realize that this Mathesius is the Johann Mathesius who was the pastor in Joachimstal. Joachimstal is the Bohemian town which was the subject of the book “Singing the Gospel” by Christopher Boyd Brown, which I read this fall. This is quite an interesting and enlightening book about Lutheran hymnody, especially in the home, and how the singing of hymns among Lutherans kept the Reformation alive.
“Luthers Leben” appears to be a series of sermons which Mathesius preached on the life of Luther—which is interesting, considering that Mathesius was just twenty years younger than Luther. I presume that much of it is drawn from content which he heard Luther speak at the dinner table in Wittenberg (Mathesius is one of those who recorded what we know as Luther’s “Table Talk”) On the opening pages there is a drawing of Luther, followed by this drawing of Mathesius. It’s a similar image to the one in Brown’s book. But do you notice what Mathesius has in his hand? In his right hand he has a book—that makes sense. But in his left hand? A miner’s pick.
Joachimstal was a mining town. “The silver recovered by the Joachimstal miners was minted into the standard silver coin of sixteenth-century Germany, the Joachimstaler or simply Thaler, whose name lives on in the modern dollar” (Brown, p. 26). Because so much of the town was involved in mining, the people sang songs and even hymns that referred to mining. Pastors like Mathesius referred to mining in their sermons. And Mathesius may have even had a personal interest in the mining as a mineralogist. But certainly he never had to carry a pick and work in the mines. So why is he pictured with it?
I suspect that it simply identifies him with the people he served. I’ve remarked before about how much of a privilege it is to serve people in such a way that I am allowed into their lives at its most critical moments. As a servant of Christ, the pastor carries the business and affairs of the people he’s called to serve on his own heart. And when he serves among them, with time he begins to understand more and more the cares and concerns of his flock—even if he never actually steps foot into the mines.
So as I do this work—which is essentially no different than Mathesius’ work in the 1500’s—I figure if that pastor can be called a Miner, so can I.