Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Vocation and Faith

I once read an old ditty that went something like,

The businessman went to church,
He never missed a Sunday.
The businessman went to Hell,
For what he did on Monday.

How often is there a disconnect between our faith and our job? I would normally have pointed to the Enlightenment that produced the privatization of our faith, removing it from the public sphere, at least explicitly. However, I came across a section of Luther’s sermons on John (Luther’s Works, vol 24, ed. Pelikan, Oswald, Lehmann, Concordia Publishing), that speaks to issues of vocation and being a Christian that would seem to imply that there might have been something similar going on back then. I think Luther’s sermon can say something to us today.

In his sermon on John 15:5, Luther roots his discussion of whether or not one’s vocation is pleasing to the Lord in a discussion of baptism. He writes:

Therefore he who wants to be helped out of such doubt should be intent solely on coming out of himself and all his works into Christ and on learning to know how we come to grace through Him, are pleasing to God, and thus through faith are grafted into Him as branches. Then he can say: “I know, praise God, that unfortunately I am a poor and unworthy man and have deserved nothing but hell and wrath before God; but I also know that God is gracious to me for the sake of Christ the Lord, who suffered and died for my sin. And since I am in Christ and am cleansed by Him, God takes pleasure in my life and works, which proceed from such faith, and regards them as good fruit.”

Thus I can speak differently about my vocation and my activities from the way a heathen, a Turk, or an unbelieving saint can speak; for I am not only a prince or the head of a household, a man or a woman, who administers an office or vocation as the others also do; but I am also baptized and washed with the blood of Christ. This has nothing to do with my station or calling in life. For Baptism does not make me a prince, a subject, a husband, or anyone else; but it does make me a Christian. Furthermore, I also have the Word, which tells me that Christ died and rose again for me. This same Word makes no one a priest, a monk, a master, a servant, etc.; but it does create a heart that receives God’s grace and is cleansed by faith. This is what it means to be and remain in Christ. Then they may preach to me what they please; I adhere to the fact that I am baptized, not to my life and my vocation but to the Man called Jesus Christ.

Our sense of worth is not derived from our vocation, notice. Rather it comes out of being baptized. This baptism brings us into a particular way of life. At the end of the quote, Luther says, “I adhere to the fact that I am baptized, not to my life and my vocation but to the Man called Jesus Christ.” Baptism is the chief vocational foundation, because it unites us with Jesus Christ. We must not think that every vocation then is equal, or perhaps more precisely, not every way we can earn money to sustain ourselves can properly be called a vocation.

By rooting our primary allegiance to Jesus, there must then be certain jobs that are out. There are some ways of earning income that are impossible to remain faithful while doing. Our baptismal life is a free pass for us to do what we please. And just because we might be in a proper vocation does not mean that we cannot fall into sin carrying out our duties.

However, when we are faithful in carrying out whatever duties we have, then we may know that we please God. When we carry out fair buying and selling practices as a merchant, God is pleased. The temptations to cheat, steal and gouge competitors and customers is great. Formation in the faith is necessary so that one learns to trust God in all things, including one’s vocation.

Because our identities are rooted in our baptism, as folks who are united with Christ, our vocations then become good works that flow out of our identity as Christians. Because we approach our vocations as faithful children of God, we are sanctified. Wherever we occupy ourselves with the Word, and practice discipleship, God sanctifies us. Our very vocations become arenas for the formation of a Christian holy people, become the testing ground where our faith is exercised and Christian virtue is practiced. In that way then, our vocations become treasures for us in heaven, as Luther writes again,

Wherever there is such faith and assurance of grace in Christ, you can also confidently conclude with regard to your vocation and works that these are pleasing to God and are good and true Christian fruits. Furthermore,such temporal and physical works as governing a land and people, managing a house, rearing and teaching children, serving, toiling, etc., also develop into fruit that endures unto life everlasting.. Thus the holy patriarch Abraham and our holy ancestress Sarah will be commended and praised on Judgment Day for their marital life. Although the married estate will come to an end and will be no more, as will all the life and activity of this world, yet this holy Sarah and others with her, will receive their little crowns because they were pious spouses and mothers, not by reason of their works per se -- for these had to cease -- but because they did these works in faith. In like manner, the works of all Christians are performed to God’s everlasting pleasure; they will not be despised, as will those of non-Christians, but will have their eternal reward also in yonder life, because they are works done in Christ and grow from the Vine.
Our vocations are places where we live out our faith, and by them we are sanctified, becoming more and more like Christ. God is always pleased to see these fruits of faithful labor. Living out our faith is not always easy, in fact it requires death, death to the old ways. In our new life however, we are transformed into the image of Christ.

Grace and Peace,

Friday, August 26, 2005

A New Screwtape Letter?

In his column published today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tony Norman brings to light correspondence between Pat Robertson and Lord Stinkblossom.

Norman raises the issues that are all too apparent. If only Norman would have remembered that to break Commandment 2-10 was to transgress the very first one as well. Nothing like a double dip!

Robertson's call to assasinate (and let's be honest... that was Robertson's intent) is a vicious hypocrisy and a terrible obstacle to the Gospel. When Christians call for the murder of anyone, it is a terrible witness to the good news of God in Christ Jesus.

Some may state that a pre-emptive assasination would be allowed if it saved life in the long run. If that is true, only a genuine authority of the state should call for it. Rather than call for a murder, why doesn't he marshall the forces that he does have at hand. Why doesn't Robertson call for his Christian Coalition to pray for Chavez? Why doesn't he call for some bold missionaries to enter Venezuela and preach the gospel?

Well, maybe that's not the best solution... after this outburst, I am almost convinced that Robertson couldn't identify the Gospel if it saved his soul.

Grace & Peace,


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Brother Roger's Funeral

The following piece was in the NY Times...

For those who do not know, Brother Roger was the head of a distinctive monastic community in France, known as Taize. Taize is an ecumenical community made up of Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Reformed members. The community is probably best known for its style of worship which involves the many-fold repetition of short musical pieces that are most commonly verses of Scripture. The community gathers a wide variety of people from all over the world.

As the article states, Brother Roger was murdered in the middle of an evening worship service.

We continue to pray: Eternal rest, grant him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him.

Grace and Peace,
August 24, 2005

At His Funeral, Brother Roger Has an Ecumenical Dream Fulfilled

TAIZÉ, France, Aug. 23 - Brother Roger Schutz pursued many ecumenical dreams in his long life, but in death one of them came true: At a Eucharistic service celebrated Tuesday by a Roman Catholic cardinal for Brother Roger, a Swiss Protestant, communion wafers were given to the faithful indiscriminately, regardless of denomination.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Vatican's council for the unity of Christians, who celebrated the Mass, said in a homily, "Yes, the springtime of ecumenism has flowered on the hill of Taizé." Beyond religious divisions, Brother Roger also abhorred the division between rich and poor. "Every form of injustice or neglect made him very sad," Cardinal Kasper said.

Brother Roger's community and friends, including President Horst Köhler of Germany and the retired archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger, attended the liturgy in the vast wooden monastery church at Taizé, while thousands more followed it on a huge screen in fields outside the church.

Brother Roger was 90 when he was stabbed to death by a Romanian woman, Luminita Solcan, 36, during an evening service in the church one week ago. His successor, the Rev. Alois Leser, a Roman Catholic priest from Germany, prayed for forgiveness: "With Christ on the cross we say to you, Father, forgive her, she does not know what she did."

The gathering here in the hills of eastern France under leaden, showery skies reflected the spirit, and also the popularity, of Brother Roger, the son of a Swiss Calvinist pastor, who first gathered followers here in 1940. The monastic community here encompasses about 90 members from 20 or so countries and virtually every Christian denomination. Four Roman Catholic priests from among the members celebrated the funeral Mass with Cardinal Kasper.

Brother Roger's simple wooden coffin, a wooden icon lying upon it, was carried into the church by brothers. It was followed by a group of Romanian children who had been visiting the community when Brother Roger was killed.

Brother Roger founded Taizé as a monastic order only a 10-minute drive from Cluny, the site of Europe's largest and best-known monastic abbey before its destruction during the French Revolution. In the 1970's, Taizé developed into a pilgrimage site where people from different countries and faiths gathered annually at Easter. Many returned, in sadness, on Tuesday. Holding candles, they followed his coffin in procession to the Taizé cemetery.

Petra Simmert, a schoolteacher from southern Germany, came with her husband and two children. She is Protestant, he Catholic; one child is Catholic, the other Protestant. "We're an ecumenical family," she said, with a laugh. Watching the funeral of Pope John Paul II on television, they saw Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, give communion to Brother Roger, even though he was not Catholic. "That struck us," she said.