“Callings” – Matthew 5:13-16
Pentecost 20 – October 22, 2017
- Calling… phone numbers
Being a former math teacher and a numbers guy, I have always had an interest in telephone numbers. NO, I did not read the telephone book for fun. But I did find it easy to remember phone numbers. Growing up decades ago, our home number was JO8-1212. Then it changed to 543-3935. Pretty easy ones. After we got married, our home numbers were: 228-2280 and 633-5678 and 247-6939. Now our number is 604-460-7160, or as I like to say, 60-44-60-71-60.
When I accepted a call to be the pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Winnipeg, it didn’t take me long to realize that the church had an interesting phone number, too. I still remember it. It was 632-6911. I even included it in a sermon one year on Confirmation Sunday. I encouraged the young people who were professing their faith to call 6326-911 if and when there was a spiritual emergency in their lives. 911 is that memorable number to call for police, ambulance or fire emergencies, and in that case also when they needed a pastor.
When a friend or loved one is injured or seriously ill, we turn to prayer, offering up desperate pleas to God for health and healing. Yet we may not really expect angels to descend for a miracle. We don’t imagine rays of heavenly light will appear and surround the patient. Instead, while we are praying we may also be dialing 9-1-1. We depend on paramedics, doctors and nurses to help and save our ill or injured loved one, and it is right that we should turn to them for help.
- God “hiding” in our callings / vocations
We know that God hears our prayers and that he is working through the first responders and medical personnel. We know, too, that God can intervene in astonishing and unexpected ways and he may, according to his will, do exactly that. If he does, when he does, we offer songs and prayers of praise for his mercy. But even without a miraculous healing, through the eyes and hands of those medical personnel, God is present and working in miraculous ways. He is, as it were, “hiding” behind such people, working through their acquired knowledge and experience and skills to help and heal. When you consider how much we have learned about the human body and what procedures are conducted to bring about improved health – things like open heart surgery, hip replacement, face transplant, or cold surgery hypothermia for long and intense operations – we must truly acknowledge God’s mercy in medical research and breakthroughs that have extended life and health.
We say that these rescue and medical workers have a “calling” in life. This is their vocation in life, to help and heal and save. Think about what those health care professionals had to deal with in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. It is what they – Christian and non-Christian alike – feel called to do. They are not alone in having a calling, a vocation. You have a calling, a vocation, too. In fact, you have many of them and those callings may change over time. You may immediately think of your career, whatever that may be – construction worker, teacher, doctor, banker, homemaker, administrative assistant, office manager and any other work at which you are employed. It is true that such work is a vocation, a calling. And God “hides” in your calling, working in you and through you to serve others by your skills, your passions, your experience and expertise. But you have other callings too.
Those other callings or vocations involve every relationship that you have. You may be a father, mother, husband, wife, parent, son, daughter, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew, niece, student teacher, employee, or employer – the list goes on. You are very likely many of these things, and God “hides” in you to bless others in every one of those relationships. You wear a lot of hats!
- Your “calling” as a child of God
You do have one “hat” that is the foundation for all the others. Actually, it’s not a hat… it’s more properly called a “crown.” Remember what Peter said in our second reading today: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” Royal… that means you wear a crown, visible only to eyes of faith, as a son or daughter of the King of kings. This crown of glory and life is yours as a baptized child of God, who has called you out of the sinful, secular darkness of this world into his wonderful light, into the kingdom of his Son, and he has summoned you into a life of love and service to others. You are called to let your light shine before others, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to declare God’s praises, to love God with all of your heart and soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. This is your chief calling, your most important vocation – named from the Latin word vocare, which means to call. Within that chief calling as a baptized child of God, you live out your many other vocations – the paid one and the relationship ones.
Your vocations in some cases will remain the same; others may change. You may be a husband or wife, and later become a father or mother as well. You may be a child of your parents, and in time become a brother or sister too. You may be a teacher and at the same time attend school as a student yourself. In all of these continuous and changing roles, you constantly live as a son or daughter of the King and share his love in the world. In every place and relationship where your life as a citizen of heaven touches or intersects your life as a citizen in this world – at each of those places – whenever and wherever those dual citizenships intersect, that is where you find your calling.
- Luther on “callings”
Martin Luther, whose work we celebrate this month, had many vocations too, callings that changed his life and ours as well. He was a son of Hans and Margaret Luther and a baptized child of God. He was an obedient son, who first set out to study law, a calling that pleased his father. Later, during a thunderstorm and fearing for his life, Martin determined that a different calling was needed and he became an Augustinian monk. Believing himself called to the solitary life of being a monk, he hoped by his work and study and prayer to find a merciful God who would forgive his sins so that he could be sure of his eternal salvation.
While living in the monastery, Martin was sent to the study of the Bible so that he would be able to lecture at the university. In time he became a doctor of biblical studies – a calling of lifelong importance for him as a teacher of the church and a professor at the university. Later Luther would marry and take on the callings of husband to Katie and father to their six children. One of his most important callings was that of pastor, as he proclaimed in simple, caring language the good news of God’s free forgiveness in Jesus Christ, bringing comfort and hope to the people of Wittenberg whom he served and who were being spiritually oppressed by the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church of his day. Martin Luther’s callings would carry him into areas of love and service and into areas of conflict and suffering – like the various times that he had to stand up to the challenges of those political and religious leaders, at the threat of his very life, all for the sake of the Gospel.
- The intersection of heaven and earth
In the same way, our callings may carry us to places of love and service, and to places of conflict and suffering. Our callings are the places where our heavenly citizenship and our earthly citizenship intersect, sometimes unsuspectingly. While we are living out our earthly relationships or roles, spiritual conversations and events and implications play out. Last week, as I was travelling to our church convention, I engaged in a spiritual conversation with the woman who was sitting beside me on the plane. God arranged that meeting with a woman who was my age, who grew up about 3 or 4 km. away from where I did, and who was going to visit her aging and ailing mother. As we talked we discovered that we were both followers of Jesus, and we encouraged one another amid the challenges of life. But sometimes those God-appointed meetings and conversations lead us to someone who does not follow Christ or who is openly antagonistic to Jesus. Those are no less opportunities to live out our vocation as a child of God.
- Our Lord’s calling
As at any good intersection – if viewed from above – a cross is formed. Such an intersection of heaven and earth, such a cross of suffering, marks the vocation of our Lord Jesus. He was sent from heaven to earth to take onto himself the burden of our sins on his cross. Jesus took onto himself the sin and guilt of every failed calling of ours… our failures in being a husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter and all the rest of our relationships. He took on himself our failure to love and serve our neighbor as ourselves, and our failure to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind. He took into his own body the sins we commit in our work vocations – whether it’s laziness or work-a-holism, stealing, cheating, plagiarism, or failure to work as a team. He carried that sin and guilt to the cross and there suffered in our place the penalty of death that we earned for ourselves. That was our Lord’s calling, his vocation and it truly did intersect heaven and earth. He rose from the dead, never to die again, and he assures us that that too is our calling, our present and future calling. Through Baptism we share in his death and resurrection, raised up now, today, to walk in newness of life. One day we will be raised up from our graves, as he was, to live in his presence forever.
For now, our calling as baptized children of God may follow the path of the cross. The cross-shaped intersection of our dual citizenships may bring suffering into our lives too, as we live as God’s holy people on this earth. In our various vocations we may at times be called to take up the burdens of others, of our family members, friends or co-workers. Our calling as sons and daughters of the King of kings may mean that we must endure the suffering of persecution. At such times we pray that we will have the strength to remain steadfast in our faith and in our calling as baptized children of God.
In every vocation you have and will have, you are called to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? What do you desire for yourself, for your own life – health, employment, peace and safety for your family, eternal salvation? To love your neighbour as yourself is to desire those same things for your neighbor – be it friend, family or stranger. You desire for your neighbor what you desire for yourself. That is your calling, your vocation… to let your light shine, to glorify God who is “hiding” in you, who is at work in you, behind you, through you, caring for others and carrying out his astonishing works of love and service – all so that, seeing those works of love and service, and hearing that they originate in him, those neighbours, too, would be led to praise and thank him for His mercy and grace. The apostle Paul praises the God who has called us to himself in Christ and sends us out into the world in his service: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”