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,

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