Sunday, April 24, 2005

The doctrine of vocation

As I've been doing recently, the rather long post that follows is my sermon from today, April 24th. Read on to hear about the Lutheran doctrine of vocation.

In today’s sermon I want to depart from tradition just a little bit. Typically in the Lutheran church we’d hear a sermon based upon one of the three lectionary readings for the day, a sermon that would tie in with the appropriate season of the church year. But in our church service today we have an illustration that is too good to pass up. So, instead of preaching on a specific text, I’d like to take the opportunity to speak on a specific doctrine. I’d like to speak today about the doctrine of vocation.
The catalyst for why I’m thinking about vocation today sits before you. Today in church, our fine organist Ron Linkswiler is embellishing the worship service with three Organ Exaltations. With his abilities as a musician and his position as the church’s organist, Ron is offering us something special. Not for himself or his ego, and not because we all are so deserving of it, but because it is one way in which Ron can serve us through his God-given vocation as a church musician. What I’d like for you to do today is consider how you can serve your neighbor through your vocation.
“Vocation” . . . that’s a word we need to stop and define. Typically in our culture today, when someone wants to know what your vocation is, they want to know what it is you do for a living. We have vocational-technical schools that teach a trade or a skill, and we think of that sort of thing as a vocation. But that’s not the way I mean it now. The theological sense of the word “vocation” is really very broad. “Vocation” embodies not only what you do for a living, but touches all the facets of your life.
Each of us is unique. Our lives have very different situations. None of us have identical vocations. For example: In my lifetime I’ve been an “employee.” God placed me into a company where it was my responsibility to provide technical support for my fellow employees. If I didn’t do my humble work of support, they couldn’t do their work, either. My vocation as “employee” demanded that I serve not only my employer but also my fellow employees by providing the best support I could.
But I am also father to Kaleigh, Zachary, Nicholas, Luke, Shawnae, Caleb, and Gabriel (did I get all them?). None of you can claim that responsibility—it is mine to bear. God has placed me in the vocation of “father” to these children, and that vocation demands that I serve them by sheltering them, clothing them, feeding them, and raising them in a Christian home.
But I am more than just “father,” I am also—today, at least—preacher. God has placed me in this pulpit, and for today at least the responsibility of preaching is mine to bear. God has placed me in the vocation of “preacher”, and that vocation demands that I serve you by proclaiming God’s message to you.
Three different roles in my life . . . three different vocations. They are unique and specific to my life, and in each of them I have a responsibility to serve those whom God has placed around me.
The first key to understanding vocation is understanding the unique places where God has put you, so let’s just work that out for a minute. Let’s start with the easy stuff—What do you do for a living? Are you the top dog? Are you the low man on the totem pole? Are you somewhere in between?
--Is there any way in which you have been given the official capacity to serve someone?
--Are you a mother or a father? Are you somebody’s child?
--Are you a Sunday School teacher?
--Are you a Bible study leader?
--Are you somebody’s friend?

Take all those and kind of add them up . . . you’ll see that God has placed you in not just one but several circles of influence. Places where you have responsibility to others . . . but more than that, places where you can be of specific service to others. That’s of what vocation is: places where God has put you so that you can be of service to others.
So, the first key to understanding vocation is understanding the unique places where God has put you. The second key is understanding what it is to serve.
We can understand true service by thinking of an experience that is common to all of us: eating in a restaurant. Think of two people: the best waiter or waitress you’ve ever had . . . and the worst. What’s the difference between the two?

I think the difference between the two is that the one made it obvious to you that he or she wanted you to have the best experience possible at that restaurant. That waiter, that waitress, they went above and beyond to ensure that you were served well. They give you the impression that they would want that even if they weren’t working there for a living. A bad waiter just makes it obvious that he’s there to collect a paycheck, and that you are nothing more than a means (or maybe even an obstacle) to that end.
When we serve in our vocation, it is the same thing. Our service is to be always directed completely and totally towards the one we are serving. You understand? When you are in service to your neighbor, it is wrong to keep casting one eye back over your shoulder and say, “Are you watching now God, did I do a good thing God, huh? Huh? Huh?” NO!! We don’t serve our neighbor in order to curry favor with God, but because our neighbor needs our service! We don’t serve our neighbors so that we can offer them as some sort of good work to God, but we serve our neighbors so that we can become God’s work to them.
Who gets the credit—the hammer or the carpenter? In the same way, our God-given vocation isn’t done to bring accolades upon ourselves, but it is done in order that God may work in another’s life. We are simply the tool.
I’ve mentioned two parts of vocation: knowing the unique places where God has put you and understanding what it is to serve. Those can be difficult to understand at times, but the third part of vocation is easy. The third part of vocation is why.
Why serve others? Because God first used others to serve you. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you are in this church today it is because God made you someone else’s vocation. God used someone in your life—a father, a friend, a relative—God used someone in your life to serve your needs. Maybe those needs were physical, maybe they were spiritual, maybe financial, maybe relational . . . but God used someone to serve those needs. God used those people to serve you.
That’s what God Himself does, you know? God—the almighty, all-powerful God over all—God serves you. Before you could even ask for help, God was on the case . . . serving you by sending His Son . . . dying your death . . . forgiving your sin. Nothing else mattered to God except for your desperate need for life with Him. In Jesus Christ, God made you His vocation.
Think about that for a minute . . . in Jesus Christ, God made you His vocation. You were so special to God that He offered His services to you, knowing full well how great the cost would be to Himself. And yet He served you in a way that was specific to your needs . . . giving His only Son so that you, and your family, and your friends could have everlasting life with Him. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? That in Jesus Christ God would become our Servant.

. . . and there you have the written portion of the sermon. I finished by tying it all together--the three parts of vocation being 1) knowing where God has placed you, 2) understanding what it means to serve, and 3)the reason why we serve . . . because God first served us.

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