Ecclesiastes 9:7-10: Vocation

How did we find ourselves in such an unsatisfying and uncivil place?  From our perspective of only a few decades, we realize the most basic of civilities are slinking away.  Too many people drive like jerks and yell at others for being too slow.  One person cries out against intolerance but is intolerant toward those who disagree with him.  Within our lifetimes, we turned into an offending and offended people. 

Into this fray, Jesus’ words still stand, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27-28).  So, the teachings of Christ are countercultural, as Jesus teaches in the four Gospels.  An effective antidote against the “me” epidemic of our age is to “love the Lord your God with your entire heart, soul, and mind” (Matthew 22:37).

All well and wondrous.  Still, how can we bring the abstractness of this command into the concrete reality of daily life?  Let’s consider how others can experience our love for God as we live each day.  First, God must call us to faith by the Gospel, which is nothing other than a call to baptism.  How can we say this? 

Only because Jesus declares, “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).  Though we arrive as citizens of the world, baptism births us into another kingdom—God’s.  Only someone whom the Spirit makes alive in Jesus can love God (as He defines this) and, in response, serve his neighbor. 

Built upon our identity in Christ, we Christians function inside two kingdoms.  So, the water’s washing with the Word becomes the link and borderland between the territory of this fallen world and God’s heavenly kingdom.  How we serve echoes who God says we are more than what we may discover ourselves doing. 

So, vocation is a life of mercy lived out, for Christ takes what you do and turns it into something pleasing to God.  Once pleased, God turns everything around, making your words and works shine with mercy on another. 

Your vocation becomes, not so much about you, but what God chooses to do through you!  In your roles and taskings, God reveals His love, as people need.  Now, every vocation, acceptable based on God’s Word and motivated by love, is as delightful to Jesus’ Father as any other. 

Some vocations, you may select yourself, such as deciding to be a doctor, lawyer, farmer, or a truck driver.  Nevertheless, God does play a part, by the attributes, passions, and opportunities He provides to you.  Other vocations become yours without any choice you make.  Each enters this world as either a son or daughter.  A prince will serve as king, decided before his birth.  An illness or disability may limit what you can do, narrowing down your possible choices of service. 

Most of what we do, however, is a combination of circumstance and decision.  Either way, you can be content wherever you are since God allows so many ways to serve.  By helping another, you carry out your vocational tasks.  So what if they appear insignificant?  These are the blessed works Your Father prepared for you, for you to walk in them.  How so?  In the regular, everyday undertakings of life.

No Christian is without a vocation, often serving in several.  A husband, mother, child, and citizen are all vocations.  Several of these may describe you, as you live under God’s kingship in His earthly and spiritual kingdoms.  In these areas, in your activities, you assist others, which also helps explain why, in part, you are here in the world.

Some of what you do is outside Christ’s Church; some are inside.  No matter, for everything we do is to display who we are in the Father’s Son, with our every action honoring the God of our salvation (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:17). 

The righteousness originating from your labors doesn’t please God.  Now, this frees you, though this truth may appear counterintuitive.  No longer should you wonder if what you do is sinless enough to satisfy God.  In His Son, you are.

Now you can risk and be bold because your everlasting life doesn’t stand or fall on how well you do something.  So, you can venture out on paths unknown, leaving your excuses behind, striving to succeed at something never attempted before. 

Baptized, you live in two different kingdoms, the Church and the world.  With a foot in each, you breathe, live, and work in both.  So, take up your tasks in our Lord’s Church, but also support your community and world. 

Well, what if you only become involved in your neighborhood and nation?  Now you isolate yourself away from where God promises to save and sustain us.  Few are now are lighting the lamps, meant to blaze out like a beacon, beckoning all to receive Christ.  Likewise, you can hide away, refusing to be God’s agent in the secular realm.  Now, you deny others the benefits of your abilities in your town or city. 

Reflect on how God meets your needs.  To arrange for your eternity, Jesus came to do what you cannot.  In your place, He became the perfect One, to give you what only He supplies.  Here, He does this through the preached Word and in His body and blood.

Does God also provide for your daily bread?  Yes, through His often-unseen hands working in creation.  Despite our tainted leanings shaping what we do, God still works through all for your benefit.  So, food fills your belly and drink quenches your thirst. 

In two, separate kingdoms, you live.  Within both, you receive God’s care.  Does this not describe why you should serve and participate in both? 

The German word beruf, something akin to a “calling,” came to Luther’s mind as he translated the Bible into his mother tongue.  A verse from the Old Testament book of Sirach refused to let Luther rest.  “Stand by your agreement, attend to your duties, and grow old in your work….  trust in the Lord and continue in your task” (Sirach 11:20-21).  To this day, Lutherans understand everything we do in our areas of life as “callings.”

Think of a young girl and her first vocation—her calling to be a daughter.  In this reality, she is to thrive and mature, trusting she is the child of her parents.  To live in the vocation of “daughter” means she must believe her mom and dad’s claim on her is real, which makes her a family member and daughter.  Only because of her standing as their daughter, can she live out her vocation as a daughter.  Grounded in who she is, she uses her time and capabilities to contribute to her family. 

Whatever the daughter does in the home is secondary, a result of first belonging to a particular family.  At every point, what she does depends on who she is.  Do you think what she does somehow changes her into becoming a daughter?  No, her parents’ love and commitment are what determined her status, long ago. 

Of course, she should trust her father and mother and be sure of their love.  From this confidence, which is a form of faith, faithfulness can now flow.  Otherwise, she will never be secure, always unsure if she is their true daughter. 

So, is this also true for God’s family?  Yes!  Your place and position as His child are His doing.  Every deed you do in His family first flows from who you are.  How you live your life is an expression of your belief, convinced of who you are in God’s household. 

So, what should you be doing?  Each person in a family should seek to strengthen its well-being.  The liberating Gospel light shines forth, not to do nothing, but to strive in what you can, and should, do. 

Delve into the mystery of your individuality.  Every individual, including you, is different in some way from everyone else, including identical twins.  No two people—or snowflakes, leaves, or anything God makes—are exactly identical.  So, God gives you unique talents, which you should understand as gifts from Him.  From birth, your temperament also began to assert itself, with various interests, likes, and dislikes. 

Of course, your sinful nature is in the mix of this, but this doesn’t mean you can’t climb into the mud pit of God’s creation.  To do this right, however, involves finding your vocation—a joining of your God-given aptitudes and personality, valuing both in how you serve.

Nothing you do will be an exact, flawless fit, for we live in an imperfect world.  So, search for a well-made match, where your interests, aptitude, and abilities align.  For when this happens, enthusiasm, not drudgery, permeates your efforts.  Soon, you find those small, sparkling moments of joy, as you endeavor in this place and time. 

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps,” wrote Solomon in his wisdom (Proverbs 16:9).  The “both” and the “and.” Though you may choose, God is still working, accomplishing His will.  So, contemplate how you can serve but do so, confident Your Lord is acting in your life and calling you for His purposes.

How is God at work in our lives?  Through means.  For our eternal life, He becomes present to us here, in His House through Absolution, the pastor’s sermon, and in the Supper.  From outside yourself, God descends to give you His graces.

In this God-formed pattern, a call may come your way to fulfill a role in our Savior’s Church.  The voice of another may summon you to use your skills to benefit this sacred House.  Don’t demand God to come, where He doesn’t promise He will, in some secret sign or inner voice.  Expect Him to operate, following His self-chosen pattern, approaching outside of yourself, in Word and Sacrament and the people in your life. 

Ponder how best to respond—because you are a member of this household.  In Jesus, faith working through love always matters (Galatians 5:6).  Amen.