Christ Lutheran Community Church
June 16, 2019 Worship Sermon - "Vocation in Christ"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21, Psalm 16, Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62
Today is a full day here at Christ Lutheran Church. It’s Fathers Day, of course, so we will spend some time during the service blessing those who are called to the vocation of fatherhood. It’s also graduation Sunday, when we take the opportunity to recognize those who have completed a period of study. For some people, graduation marks the beginning of a new vocation, or perhaps it marks the beginning of a period of discernment with the hope of discovering one’s vocation. Coincidently, Janet Corpus is completing a four-week series on vocation – what it means to be called. So, with all this talk of vocation today, how appropriate that this is one of the themes in our scripture readings this morning.
In our reading from the book of Kings, God tells the prophet Elijah to call a plowman named Elisha to be a prophet over Israel. A prophet is someone whose vocation is to speak for God. It’s quite a hazardous vocation because very often prophets are called to speak against powerful people who are using their power inappropriately. If you’re looking for a vocation that will help you to get rich quick, you should think twice about becoming a prophet. Actually, no one chooses to be a prophet. God does the choosing, usually against the wishes of the one being chosen. Which explains why, when Elijah goes to call Elisha, he must sneak up on him. Elisha is plowing the fields and Elijah runs up behind him and throws his mantle over him. The mantle was a symbol of his vocation as a prophet, kind of like a badge is a symbol of the vocation of a police officer. Elisha is taken by surprise by this gesture, so one can’t blame him for wanting to say goodbye to his family. Nevertheless, Elisha not only accepts the mantle; he does something very daring. He slaughters his yoke of oxen and boils the meat using the wood from the plow he has broken up. So, there’s no turning back. If things don’t work out for him as a prophet, he can’t go back to being a plowman.
Usually, if one is starting a new career, it’s helpful to have a backup plan, just in case. But having a backup plan can be problematic if it gives one an excuse for avoiding the challenges one faces as one pursues one’s vocation. When we want to start something new, it’s tempting to give up and go back to doing what we already know how to do. That’s a good way to get stuck in a life that really isn’t your vocation. Sometimes, burning one’s bridges – or in Elisha’s case, one’s plow – makes sense if one wants to be sure that one won’t go back to a life that one is called to leave.
Baptism burns a number of bridges. When we were baptized into Jesus Christ, we were crucified with him. We died to everything that stands in our way of following God’s call. We can try to go back to being the people we were before we were joined to Christ. But that would mean living an inauthentic life.
I had been baptized for fifteen years before I fully understood the truth of this. It happened at an Easter Vigil when I was thirty years old. Since the Easter Vigil is a celebration of resurrection, it’s a time when people are baptized and when those who are already baptized affirm their baptism. As I stood at the font that Easter, the truth that I had died and risen with Christ sunk in. I realized that since I had died with Christ, I had nothing to fear. The only death that mattered had already happened. Nothing more could hurt me, at least not in an ultimate sense.
With this realization deep in my heart, I went home from church and the following week I quit my job at the bank where I had been working for over ten years. Banking was an okay job. It was clean work and it paid the bills. But it wasn’t my vocation. I had no passion for the work and with each passing year I felt like my life was slipping away. Nevertheless, I had continued in banking because it was comfortable, and I really didn’t know what else to do with my life. But now that I didn’t have to worry about starving to death – I had already died with Christ – I realized I was free to try something new. I quit my job and spent the following five months at a Lutheran retreat center in Washington State, chopping vegetables and discerning what to do next with my life. This retreat center – Holden Village – is a place where a lot of people go when their lives are in transition, which makes it a good place for discernment. We prayed together, talked with each other about our lives, and listened together for God’s voice leading us forward.
Joined to Christ in baptism, you are free. That’s what Paul is talking about in our reading from Galatians. You were called to freedom. Now that you don’t have to do anything, what are you going to do with your life? You could go out and become a Mafia hitman. But really? Is that what you want to do with the precious life that God has given you? Go out and cause tremendous suffering among God’s beloved children? Isn’t that kind of job really a form of slavery, slavery to the fear that leads people to a life of violence? No, if you think being a mafia hitman is the right life for you, maybe you should spend a little more time meditating on your baptism and what Christ has freed you from.
Now that Christ has freed us from worrying about our own survival, we can follow God’s call to live a true and authentic life. God’s call is to bear good fruit, to be a blessing to others, to free others from the shackles of fear and create instead a world that is permeated with love. Sometimes following God’s call might lead us to rethink the forty hours a week we spend at our jobs. But really, our jobs are just a small part of the life to which God calls us. We live out God’s call 24 hours a day, in every encounter where we bless others as God in Christ has blessed us.
Christ Lutheran Community Church