Sermon January 29: What Do You Do?

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Faith United Methodist Church

January 29, 2017

Third Sunday after Epiphany

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Isaiah 9:1-4, Matthew 4:12-23

Prayer of Illumination (Unison):

God of love, we hear your call to follow. May we see that the foolishness of your word is more powerful than the wisdom of this world. May we lay aside our differences for the sake of the gospel. Your realm of light and life has drawn near; we hear your word of truth. Turn our hearts toward you and give us the wisdom to walk in your ways. Amen.

And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Sermon:                               What Do You Do?  

Last week, in our “Who Are You?” series we talked about knowing our names. And I teased you about wearing your nametags. Are there more nametags on this morning? But the truth is we can know someone’s name without really knowing anything about who they are. God, on the other hand, knows our names, and knows all about us, even before we are born. Using sticky nametags we considered how we would want to be known as followers of Jesus. The nametags I saw had a great variety of descriptive names. Hello my name is Patience. Hello my name is Acceptance. Hello my name is Loving Kindness. Hello my name is Helpful.

The second thing we often ask when getting to know someone, after asking their name, is, “What do you do?” The assumption is that by finding out what someone does to make a living, or to pass the hours in a day, we will learn something essential about that person. While that is sometimes true, I question that general assumption. The jobs that we do don’t necessarily reflect our passion. Sometimes we’ve just got to pay the bills. I have a friend whose e-mail address is worktoplay. And many people, for a variety of reasons ~ including caretaking, disability, retirement ~ don’t hold a traditional job.

Then there are those who may not want to disclose their day job, concerned about the preconceived notions that will spring up upon saying, “I’m a garbage man,” “I’m a lawyer”, “I’m a pastor.” In social situations when I tell folks that I am a pastor I predictably hear excuses for absences from church and apologies for whatever spicy language they may have used in my presence. For this very reason a pastor acquaintance of mine does not disclose his profession when asked. Instead he says, ““I’m an executive in a non-profit and I work in the department of quality assurance.”

In our Gospel lesson this morning we heard about four men who had a particular day job. They were fishermen. But Jesus had a career change in mind for them. The Scripture tells us that Andrew and Simon were casting their nets when Jesus called, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” A little further up the shore James and John were working with their father, Zebedee, when Jesus spotted them. The Scripture tells us, “…he called them. Immediately they left their boat and their father, and followed him.”

This seems quite amazing to me. Practically speaking, these fishermen had little reason to leave their current life for a life of the unknown. They had steady jobs and family ties. Fishing wasn’t an easy job but it was a necessary job and, no doubt, brought in a regular paycheck. And I can imagine that Andrew and Simon, James and John had quite a bit of their identity tied up in being fishermen. They had made certain investments, in the form of nets and boats. The sea had become a familiar place to them. To leave would be to give up all that. James and John even had a stake in the family enterprise, working with their father, Zebedee.   Why should they uproot their lives with a simple invitation of “Follow me”? 

Maybe they uprooted their lives because they understood that vocation is more about who you are than what you do. The word vocation can be understood in a couple of different ways. Vocation can refer to one’s trade or profession. And, in a larger sense, it can refer to a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life. Frederick Buechner describes vocation as the intersection of these two things.   He writes, “Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a person is called to by God…. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done.” This work might be the work for which you draw a paycheck, or it might not. It might be what you do after you punch out from your nine-to-five job. Your vocation might be what you do at church, or as a hospice volunteer, or as a mentor through Big Brother’s Big Sisters.

As a pastor I get a paid for doing work that God calls me to do. It is not always an easy job and I don’t always do it well. And sometimes I wish I could go to work at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble ~ to be surrounded by interesting books and warm coffee all day. But I know in my heart that this is work that I would do ~ that I would need to do ~ even if I didn’t get paid for it. Sure, I’d have to earn a paycheck doing something else, but pastor is my vocation.

I know this because, when I was in seminary, I tried to figure out how to fulfill my pastoral vocation without actually being a pastor. I considered careers in pastoral counseling, social work, teaching and several other professions, but God continually led me back to being a church pastor. I had concerns about being a pastor. I didn’t like the idea of moving every few years. I worried that I would not be able to find a spouse who would support my vocation and follow me where God (and the Bishop) sent. As an introvert, I thought my quiet nature wouldn’t be a good match for the pastoral role. Looking back, I don’t think that my concerns were unfounded. I do think that God knew better than I and I am thankful that, ultimately, I listened to God. As Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Going back to the Scripture, I find it interesting that in verse 17, which describes the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus borrows a word from his cousin, John the Baptist.   “Repent.” When we hear the word ‘repent’ today we tend to think of the street preachers who warn us that the end is near. But ‘repent’ doesn’t have to be a scary word. It reminds us of our need to reflect, to take stock of our lives, and to change direction when necessary. It reminds us that we are not stuck in a certain way of thinking or a certain way of being. It tells us that change is possible. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Change the way you are living your life, because a great thing is happening and I want you to be part of it.  Those first disciples repented. They changed everything ~ their careers, their outlook, even their places of residence ~ so they could be part of what Jesus was doing in the world. And they found their deepest gladness partnered with Jesus in doing amazing things. They found their vocation.

So where does your deepest gladness meet the worlds deepest hunger? When someone asks, “What do you do?” how will you answer? What are you ready to change or reorient in order to embrace your vocation?  

God calls each of us by name to a special purpose. As a seminarian I eventually repented of trying to out-smart God, of thinking I knew best. And I found my deepest gladness. Preacher, Kate Huey, quotes John Buchanan saying, “…God calls…all of us to walk into the future without knowing exactly where we are headed, to let go of old securities and certainties and trust the God who promises to be with us wherever we go.” When we claim our vocation we are freed from the expectations others may place upon us. When asked, “What do you do?” we can answer from the heart. I do what God has called me to do, what brings me joy and what brings good to the world. I follow the one who says, “Follow me….” Amen.