Sermons

Amos 7:7-15 - Ephesians 1:3-14 - Mark 6:14-29

 Blessed and called

If I asked you, “What is your vocation? What has God called you to do in your life,” what would you say? I’m not talking about your job, necessarily, nor am I asking only about what you do here at church. I’m talking about who you are, what gifts you have been blessed with, and how God is calling you to offer yourself and your gifts for the life of the world.

What is your vocation? What has God called you to do in your life? Do you even think you have a vocation? The answer to that question is, if you are human, you have a vocation, even if you do not entirely know what it is.

Amos has a vocation, although his idea of what it was changed in the course of his life. He starts out taking care of animals and plants. He is an ordinary man, at least to hear him tell the story – when he tells the priest Amaziah that he is a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees, he is basically saying that he does what a whole lot of other people do, that he has not trained to be a prophet, and that he is nothing special. Amos switches careers in mid-life, it seems – he reinvents himself, or rather, God reinvents him, gives him a new purpose, which is to proclaim to the most powerful people in Israel God’s word of justice and care for the poor. I get the feeling sometimes that Amos is playing it a bit by ear – he doesn’t really know what is coming next, but he knows that someone needs to speak up about the mess the world is in, and if not him, then who?

John the Baptist has a vocation, too. Like Amos and the other prophets of Israel, John saw injustice and oppression and called people to repentance. We don’t really know what John did before heading out to the Judean desert to preach and baptize, but we do know that when John did decide to follow his calling, he gave his whole self to it, no holds barred. He didn’t hold back, and so his vocation landed him in prison. He told King Herod things he didn’t want to hear, and John suffered the consequences.

These men have fairly dramatic stories of vocation, of calling, and so it’s often difficult to imagine that we, too, have a calling. But we do – each and every one of us. It may seem less dramatic and thus less significant than the calling of Amos and John, but it is not. Your calling – and you do have one – is as sacred and profound as that of any prophet or priest or monarch. You may not find yourself preaching before kings; you may not be put in prison because of your calling; but you have a sacred calling. I am sure of it.

For some people, their vocation or calling coincides with what they do for a living. Your vocation may be part of what you do as a teacher, or nurse, or owner of a business, or maintenance worker or cook. But it may also be that your vocation, the work that God has called you to do, is something different than what earns you money. Either way, you still have this vocation.

How do we know what our vocation is? How did Amos and John know? How did Jesus know? The biblical stories make it seem as if the voice came clearly from heaven, but I suspect it was not that simple for any of those people – even for Jesus. The voice of God that speaks to us about what we are called to do in this world is often hard to hear, and often not very clear. The more we practice listening to it, the better we get at hearing it, but it takes time, and effort.

There are two anchors, I think, for our calling in life, two things that help us to discern where God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do. The Christian author Frederick Buechner has said this about our vocation: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Two poles, two anchors: your deep gladness, and the world’s deep hunger. Something is your calling when it meets not only your own desires but the needs of the world.

What is your deepest gladness? I’m not talking about fleeting happiness or superficial pleasure. There’s a difference between pleasure, which is temporary and doesn’t go very deep, and deep gladness or joy, which flows from the center of who you are, what you truly love and what you are good at. Pleasure is about me and feeling good; keeping the endorphins and the adrenaline levels up. Gladness and joy are about relationship, meaning, and purpose, even when life is a struggle.

What is your deepest gladness? Only you can say. You may not know what it is yet. But as you survey your life – what you do, what gives your life meaning and purpose – those moments of deep joy will give you an insight into that gladness.

The second anchor of your vocation has to do with the world’s deep hunger. It is not enough when we are talking about our call from God to think only about what makes us glad – it has to do also with what will bring healing and wholeness to the world around us. So part of discerning our vocation, as individuals and as a parish community, has to do with paying attention to where the world is hungry, or thirsty, or struggling – not just with physical needs but with emotional and social and spiritual needs as well. Something is your calling when it aligns you not only with what you love, but also with the love and justice of God. Your calling acts like that plumbline in Amos – showing when you are aligned with God’s purposes and when you are not.

Discovering our vocation is a lifelong process – it is always changing and developing. You may discover it early in your life, and you may discover it much later. Your vocation may change shape as you get older, or God may call you to a completely different path along the way. Something happened in Amos’s life to make him realize that he needed to make a change. Something happened to make him leave his ordinary life behind and follow a different path that put him more directly in line with God’s dream of justice and peace in Israel.

This may happen to you – it may happen to any of us – even to this parish. What gives us joy, what the world needs, and what God envisions for us, is a living, growing, evolving pattern. Often it is a moving target, which means that it may never be completely settled. But the joy is in living out our calling, as it is growing and changing.

One final note about our vocation, as individuals and as a community. Something is your vocation if it keeps making more of you, if it helps you to grow.[i]If it challenges you to be more connected to yourself, to others, to God, and if it asks you to stretch your spiritual and emotional and ethical muscles, it is your vocation, your calling. Following your calling is challenging, but it is how God converts us, transforms us into better disciples. Our calling makes more of us, because our calling is rooted in blessing, as the author of the letter to the Ephesians reminds us. Our calling is rooted in who we are, those who are beloved and blessed and destined for adoption as God’s children through Jesus Christ.

Do you have a vocation, a calling from God? Of course you do, because, as the letter to the Ephesians reminds us all, you have been marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of God’s glory (Ephesians 1:13-14). Of course you have a vocation, because you have been chosen by God to be one with Christ and to be transformed everyday into someone more and more like Christ, which is to say, more and more like the person God created you to be.

Blessed be God, who has blessed us so richly and called us to be a blessing to the world.

[i] See Gail Godwin’s novel, Father Melancholy’s Daughter, for this description of vocation.

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