SUN AUG 3 SERMON ON ACTS 13
Do you like your job?
I do not know when it first occurred to me, but nonetheless, my mind was certain that my career choice as a naval officer was not the path on which I should or needed to continue. I told myself I was not wired to spend so much time apart from my wife and young family, having just spent two of our first three years of marriage away out at sea. They said, “Join the navy and see the world,” which I did, but my desire was that if I ever had the opportunity to see more of it, it would be hand in hand with my wife, and not from the deck of a steel-grey warship.
I was pretty good at what I did, but got disillusioned along the way, the stress tying my stomach in knots, doubling me over, my heart lonely, the mistress of the sea a poor substitute for the blessings of wife and family back at home. I was ready for a new adventure that better honored the relationships that mattered most to me. I wasn’t unhappy with my navy life because God wanted me to be unhappy. I was unhappy because in my mind the cost did not outweigh the benefits.
And so I wrestled with the notion of what I was supposed to be, if it was not what I already was. This presumes, of course, that there was an actual answer to the question – that I was supposed to be something.
Have you ever found yourself asking was this what I was meant to be doing? What I am supposed to be? All the while figuring that God was mucking about in things and trying to coax you into something new.
We heard this morning: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
We don’t know much about Barnabas, but certainly Paul’s previous occupation, a Pharisee newly charged with arresting Christians was now off the table. And then he and Barnabas understood God’s calling to a new occupation: to be evangelists to be sent off to share the good news and assist in developing believers into new faith communities; a rather exciting and challenging occupation, certainly.
But what if the answer to the question “What I am supposed to be” refuses to restrain itself to thoughts about our occupation? What if our vocation is more than merely our occupation? What if God calls us to define our life by more than our job? What if God’s plans for us are not some mystery for us to discover, but rather they concern living this life more deeply, more lovingly; emptying ourselves so completely that Christ would fill us until Christ became our all in all?
Paul encounters Jesus on the Road and his life is forever changed, his former occupation left there in the dust, no two weeks’ notice, no unemployment, no What Color is My Parachute, Paul just starts living out his new life in Christ. Paul describes that life this way in the 3rd chapter of Philippians:
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him….
Empty so that he could be filled, not with worry about what he was supposed to do, but with Christ, which was enough.
In time, Paul trusted, that his new occupation would unfold, and so it does, all the while Paul living out his vocation of knowing Christ and allowing Christ to be honored and made known in all that he says and does.
Do you remember when you received your vocation? When did God call you in and through Christ Jesus into this vocation in which we all share?
We can fret so much about what we should be doing, yet our true vocation is with us now, right here. And this vocation does not acknowledge retirement as an allowed option. Age, health, economic status, marriage, divorce, children, any of these things may cause our occupation to undergo change, but our vocation is constant, God’s call endures. And we should take that call to vocation seriously.
Our occupation is our job, but our vocation is our life. Just as Paul and Barnabas were set apart for a call to a new occupation in preaching and teaching and raising up new communities of faith, Paul reminds us again and again by being a living example that our true vocation will never be limited by our occupation. Our vocation, to which all of us have been called in our baptism, and in which we all share is simply this: To live out our love for God by loving the neighbor, especially those most vulnerable, most at risk, the most broken. Occupations, born of gifts, passions, opportunities and expertise are one thing, true and good, and God can and does work in them and through them, and thus they are not unimportant; however, our shared vocation in the world, lived out through our relationships, the routine everyday living of life with others, it is there we do the lion’s share of making Christ known. It is in and through those relationships that we best embody Christ’s love most fully.
Our faith is not an idle thing and our call to our vocation is a call to die, to die to ourselves in order to live for Christ, to empty ourselves so that Christ might fill us and be our all in all. Does anyone think that such a vocation as this comes without cost? Without change in one’s life? Without sacrifice? Without the power of the Holy Spirit engaging us, renewing us, leading us. And let us always remember: This vocation of ours is holy and life-giving work.