Tag Archives: vocation

Boomers & Stickers

That title is a reference to Wendell Berry. A rough translation: Boomers = people who go where ever the opportunity is greatest regardless of the mess they leave behind. Stickers = people who stay in one place because the community is greater than the individual. As with all dualities it is immediately true and false at the same time. Berry’s deeper point I have taken to be that the rules of American society have become too tilted toward Boomers. Even if you were a sticker, the price is individually too high. But a society of all boomers lacks the social capital and cohesion to exist for any length of time.

There are a lot of Christians who have resonated with Wendell Berry. My guess is that many have read him on “place” and sticking and heard echoes of “running the race” and seen his virtues of “place” in the community called the church, which in most Americans experience is a local thing. Yes, in episcopal churches there are far away hierarchies, but even in the Roman Catholic Church in America, the religion of daily life is played out in the local parish. Nobody fears the coming of the inquisition. Coming from a Lutheran standpoint, and I would say Confessional Lutheran based on the Treatise of the Power and Primacy of the Pope (TPPP), that local nature of the church is a correct understanding. The church is found where the word is preached and the sacraments administered correctly. The entire church is present in that local congregation, or maybe said better that congregation is the church in that place. Anything “above” or outside of the congregation is not church although we might call it that. The church above or outside of the congregation is fine, but we should recognize it for what it is – de jure humano – a human construct. The reformers where fine with the Pope so long as he would admit his office was by human law.

Alan Jacobs questions if this resonance is misplaced or even reconcilable with Christianity. His primary evidence is Jesus and Paul who were clearly not “stickers” but in Paul’s case traveled “to the ends of the earth”. To make place a primary commitment is as Berry does is a form of idolatry.

I’d agree with Jacobs in so far as I think Berry’s place is a secularized form of the church. Christians who read Berry and make an equation of church and place are making a jump that Berry doesn’t. But Christians who make that jump are reading the deeper truth that Berry can’t or won’t make. The church is a place. The church is the proleptic or out of time appearance of the Kingdom of God in this dying age. In so far as the Christian is a sticker to the place of the Kingdom, the virtues of place in Berry are applicable. The deepest of those virtues in my understanding is simple the ability to stop coveting the greener grass on the other side of the fence and to recognize our vocations where we are. Some are called to be apostles which would mean a bunch of travel. But wherever they go they are still in the place of the Kingdom living out their vocation. They did not leave because of covetousness but because of call. And to do so is not to leave at all. Likewise the pastor called to the same place for a lifetime, or the layman who works quietly in the vineyard where they have been placed, are also living out their vocations. The world would say to them -“Boom, you are not getting the most out of life, you must go elsewhere.” The church and God instead would say no. There is honor and fulfillment in living your life in place, “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)” Berry’s form of place is idolatry because his place is literally a physical place in this dying world. But Berry, unlike many other forms of secularism, is sanctifiable with a better understanding of place. The Christian’s home is not here, but the Kingdom. And that Kingdom is in every place. One can go and never leave. Likewise one can never leave, but have everywhere in the communion of saints.

Follow your passion?

NPR had a short segment on a question that was sent to Tyler Cowen (Marginal Revolution). The hook was for those upcoming graduates who are lucky enough not to get sucked into the maw of this economy, what should they pursue if they didn’t really have “a passion”? And Dr. Cowen expressed some inability to answer it describing it:

The fact that Max and other young college graduates can even entertain this question — “What is my passion?” — is a new conundrum, and still a luxury not everybody enjoys. Yet, Tyler recently told me, it is “a central question of our time.”

So what’s the best, most rational answer for Max? It seems like economics could help; after all, it’s about costs and benefits and modeling complicated decisions.

But, Tyler says, “it was a truly difficult, tough question to make any progress on.”

For Christians St. Paul has a simple answer. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, which is deeply rooted in the summary of the 10 commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. What are you called to do, even when you don’t feel a call? Love God and love your neighbor. What does loving your neighbor look like?

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Now given the difference between the 1st century and the 21st century, the working with your hands might not be a directly possible. I don’t think that St. Paul was saying everyone should be making tents or plumbing. What that meant was do something that was not just being idle. Work is important in itself. One of the large idols of the day is that there are only specific roles that are “meaningful”. That is a false and destructive idol as people idle away waiting for meaningful work. No, serving your neighbor, a proper thing to follow, consists in living quietly, minding your own affairs and doing something that allows you to walk properly before outsiders. How boring! How suburban! But there it is, the bedrock of Christian calling, rooted in the 10 commandments.

Hearing Voices

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Text: John 10:22-30
Full Sermon Draft

The world is full of voices. In the past week we’ve heard from some of the more gruesome. What Jesus says in the text today is “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” He also says bluntly that those who don’t believe (because they haven’t accepted/heard the testimony) are not his sheep.

What the Gospel according to John sets up is the duality of voices. The voice of Christ is the call to life, and the call to life is the call to repentance and a life transformed by the Spirit. All the other voices, whatever their form, are voices of the world leading to death, voices breathing threats and murder. And there is no blending of these voices, just a division. Either we follow the voice of the shepherd, or we follow other voices. Either we believe, and nothing will snatch us out of the Father’s hand, or we join the voices contra Christ. There is no middle ground. And if this week has done anything it has shown the foolishness of dialog with those voices of the world. Voices not based in the life of Christ yield bad fruit.

The Word of God in the Desert or Preparing the Way

Text: Luke 3:1-14
Full Draft of Sermon

The proclamation of John the Baptist in Luke is catechetical, a big word for it teaches. Being Lutheran one of our stock catechism questions is: What does this mean? Luther asks it all the time and then explains it. The crowds and people who come to John the Baptist ask: “What do we do?” And John answers them. We usually summarize the Baptist under the phrase “prepare the way”. And that is a great phrase, but we need to answer the what. What does preparation look like. Gracefully God has answered through John (and through the apostles).

What does preparation look like? This sermon goes through three things:
1) Come away for a time from normal life to be baptized – come out to the desert
2) Undergo that baptism, renew the Spirit through repentance, renew your allegiance not to the world but to God’s purpose
3) Return to your normal lives, return to the world, but having accepted the challenge to live those lives of repentance…to live as citizens of the Kingdom that is coming, to live as the true Children of Abraham

Within that last one is what is sorely missing in our society, people who truly carry out their vocations or callings. We care not at a loss for labor. We are at a loss for vocations in the Lutheran sense. It is not just priests or monks and nuns who have a sacred calling. Fathers, Mothers, citizens, rulers, employers, employees…the list goes one. We all have multiple vocations. Preparing the way includes living our calling and not just trying to drain them of life.

And all of that, because we fail so miserably, leads us back to the desert…to hear the Word…to be renewed. Not of ourselves, but in repentance and by the Spirit.

A Widow & a Scribe – Vocation and Providence

Biblical Text: Mark 12:38-44
Full Draft of Sermon

We collected the pledge cards this week. Believe it or not, that was planned before actually looking at the text. If I had looked at the texts first, I’m pretty sure I would have said, “can’t do it that week”.

There is a really crisp and clear direct application that feels just a little too easy. You could say, like Jesus did, look at the widow and go and do likewise. But to me the widow is not where most of us Americans are at. We are not that poor. We are not forced by circumstances to completely trust on the providence of God. Most Americans are more than likely in the scribal position.

So here I concentrated on scribe a little bit more trying to illuminate the vocational problems and the problems with providence. The law in both cases is clear and comes from the larger context. At the start of the larger section the text comes from Jesus answers what the most important commandments are – love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. The first is reliance upon providence and the second is carried out in our various vocations. What the scribe was doing, what we do so well, is instead of using our vocations for our neighbor, we use them to avoid or deny providence. The good news is that none of us have the vocation of messiah. That is Jesus alone. So we are still called to reliance upon providence and vocations of service to our neighbor, but when we fail Jesus is our salvation and our righteousness, because he did not fail.

On a grading note, that above paragraph is a better summary than is probably in the sermon itself. The spirit of the staircase rules this week. As I left the pulpit certain things became clearer. But the Amen had already been said.

The Good Shepherd – Reflection on Vocation in Our Lives

Biblical Text: John 10:11-18
Full Sermon Text

The jumping off point for this sermon was Jesus’ statements on being the good shepherd. The way John writes about it, in modern terminology, Jesus is defining his job requirements. If you want to be the Good Shepherd this is what is required: intimate knowledge of the sheep and laying down your life for them. And Jesus truly is the Good, in all its philosophical meaning (closer to model), Shepherd. And Jesus fulfilled and continues to fulfill that vocation: Cross, Sending of the Spirit, Sacraments. He knows his people so intimately that his Spirit resides in them. He gave up his life for them and continues to supply his body and blood. All the eternally important stuff, the defeat of Satan, the world and even our sinful nature has been accomplished by the Goodness of Christ.

What does that mean for us? Well, we also have been called to a variety of vocations: Son, daughter, husband, wife, employer, employee, elder, trustee, councilman, maybe even banker and politician. Being in Christ we are called to be a good one. In the Lutheran tradition, vocation is a large concept. We all have our vocations. What is in front of us is our vocation. And it is rooted in how our Lord carried his vocation. Our life flows from the Christology, it flows from Christ himself.

A Remembrance

Oct 9th was my brother’s birthday. It’s actually been two years since he passed away. The actual date of his death is never the one that hits me. It’s the birthday. I think I remember more picking up the phone that first Oct 9th and dialing his number to wish him happy birthday and hearing ‘this number has been disconnected’ and going ‘oh, that’s right’ and putting the phone back in the cradle thinking ‘of course, you only drove his car into work this morning.’

One of the great stories I was told by one of his co-workers was about moving a data-center. Having worked in the business that phrase is something of an oxymoron. You don’t move data-centers. You build data centers. You move the traffic from the old to the new. You decommission the old. There are just too many things that would never make the transition. Aaron worked for a government security agency. I can only imagine why they were moving a data center. It must have needed to be done. Of all the crap jobs, moving all those boxes and wires would place somewhere high up the crap pile. And that was what the boss said. “I have no idea how this is going to happen.” So he asked Aaron to do it. That was the only name that popped into his head. And he did it. In the process he found a couple of crossed wires. He wrote them up in his report. The boss stared dumb-founded at that fact. A moved data-center should have been full of them. This one had two wires better.

So the next time you are tempted to say, ‘good enough for government work’. It isn’t. Find the two wires.

Even if the system is ok, if you know it could be better, find the two wires. Hell most of us live our lives embedded in systems that are metaphorically missing doors. If someone tries to sell you on the glories of the system – such a great hood ornament – while excusing the missing doors, don’t accept it. Find the wires. Ask for the doors. And if you have the responsibility, it’s being done on your watch, especially you, find the wires.

If you are asked to do a crap job, do it with excellence. If you are just asked to do your job, do it in a way that you find the wires. Don’t settle for having the title – the great hood ornament – and driving a car without doors and hiding crossed wires. Life is too short to live with crossed wires.

So, to the best of the Brown brothers, that is all I have to say about that.

A question of authority – 1 Sam 13:5-18

Text: 1 Sam 13:5-18

Being king is a big job. Saul just never seemed up to the task. His dad, a wealthy land owner, had tasked him with the donkeys and apparently wasn’t too concerned if he went missing for quite a few days. At his corronation they have to dig him out from hidding amongst the baggage (1 Sam 10:22-23). Right after the corronation people are already uncertain (1 Sam 10:27). The kingdom must be renewed shortly after the first battle (1 Sam 11:14). The prophet Samuel tells Israel – you made a mistake, but now you are stuck with it (1 Sam 12:19). And in the first real military test the Israelites are running (1 Same 13:6-7). Poor Saul had been told to wait for Samuel (the adult guidance?) for the pre-battle offerings, but Samuel took his time and Saul for once takes charge. What is the response? Not your responsibility – that will be the end of your kingdom (1 Sam 13:13-14). Saul never really seemed to understand his role. He ran and hid when courage was required, and he usurped the authority when it wasn’t his.

Are we not often like that? I think the phrase is “the grass is always greener on the other side”. We are given vocations and the living out of those vocations (job, family roles, church roles, political positions, etc.) is a call to justice and truth, a call to recognize and act on the correct and appropriate authority. Instead, we too often seek to run from those roles because they are hard. They require us sometimes to wait on God. They require us to act outside of our comfort and have faith that God works in our weakness. Jesus is our great example of living out his vocation. Jesus was the messiah, the son of God. Part of that vocation was the suffering servant – being perfectly obeidient to the Father’s will. Jesus lived out his vocation all the way through the cross. Because of that – uniquely – Jesus deserves and has been given all authority. We can’t do that, but Jesus did it for us. That cross covers our errors.