“Vocation: Calling, Resistance, Assurance, Blessing”
Adapted from a sermon from January 30, 2022
Vocation is a fancy Latin word that means calling. What’s your vocation? What’s your calling?
It used to be in the Middle Ages that only priests and monks and nuns had “vocations” because they occupied themselves full-time with religious and “holy” activities. But then Luther and Calvin and all the other Reformers came along and said, “Wait a sec – God doesn’t only just like religious-types of lifestyles; God whispers vocations and callings to every human heart, and honours the offerings of all kinds of occupations and activities. You could have a vocation of hospitality as a householder, or a calling of generosity as a businessman, or a gift of love as a craftsperson, or… almost anything!” The Reformation recognized that God called people of faith throughout the Bible to all kinds of roles and activities. Noah was given the gift of single-mindedness and obedience. Moses’ passion for justice was given the task of freeing God’s people from slavery. Deborah’s clarity of vision enabled her leadership in a time of distress. Hannah had devotion. Samuel had courage. Ruth had a calling of love and loyalty. You could go on and on through the story of scripture. Paul, himself called out as an apostle to the Gentiles, wrote to the Corinthians that every member of the body of Christ has a unique gift to contribute to the functioning of the body. The Reformers renewed Paul’s insight after hundreds of years of religious vocations being held up as superior to others.
It’s too bad that in later generations of Protestants we have tended to restrict the meaning of “vocation” again to just pastors, going back to the Medieval view. The world is ahead of us in this regard. Today you can find the word vocation in manuals on leadership and on the topic list of motivational speakers anywhere you turn. That’s a good thing! They recognize what God’s people have known since forever: that God speaks uniquely to each and every human being and gives unique gifts to be used in celebration and service. Everyone has a vocation. What’s yours? What’s ours together as people of Hope?
In Jeremiah 1:4-10 the prophet tells the story of his call by God. And there was a pattern in his experience of call that we can find elsewhere in scripture, maybe even in our own experiences of being called. The pattern is this: Call, Resistance, Assurance, Blessing.
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
God says to Jeremiah that he was uniquely shaped from even before he was born for a special purpose in the world. God had a plan. God knew and consecrated Jeremiah. The calling was lovingly shaped into his very being.
As God knew and consecrated Jeremiah, so God knows and has consecrated you. We sometimes think of vocations as something outward and visible in the world, something we do like a job or profession. And certainly vocation manifests that way, but before it shows up as actions in the world it is expressed inwardly, as a unique point of view, passion of the heart, or way of being in the world. Vocation is the way you have been lovingly formed by God from even before you were born.
Before a vocation takes shape as an occupation it is a quality of your character, and a gift of the Spirit. Maybe you love to give to others. Maybe you are able to make space for people and show attentiveness to them. Maybe you’ve always had a clarity and strength of purpose. There are as many gifts and combinations of gifts as there are people in the world. In what unique way are you formed? What is your calling?
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak,
for I am only a boy.”
Sometimes when we discern what our vocation is—when we have clearly felt what that thing is that give us passion, spark, energy, and joy—we draw back. Because we recognize that this calling is powerful. It has implications for how we live our lives. It might lead us in directions that are scary to follow, or unconventional, or will lead us into confrontation or trouble with others.
So we start to make excuses and find reasons not to act on the calling that is ours. Jeremiah said, “God, I know you’ve given me this ability to see the ways that the world is wrong and a fire to speak up and tell the truth about the way things are. And I can see how my consecration as a prophet is going to get me in big trouble with powerful people. I just can’t do it. I can’t exercise this calling because A) I just don’t have any ability to honey-coat my words—I can’t speak; and B) I’m way too young; no one will take me seriously.”
Don’t you recognize this response? Do we not do it too?
“God, I know you’ve given me this generous and caring heart, but in my line of work you have to be tough and strong; you can’t show your feelings or everyone will take advantage of you. I can’t be that person.”
“God, I know you’ve created me to have insight and originality, but if I speak up for these things the world will laugh. It’s so unconventional and I’d lose standing and respect.”
Our reasons for keeping our light hidden under a bushel are as unique and numerous as our callings themselves.
But wherever there are doubts, God give reassurance. Whether it’s Moses or Ruth or David or Jeremiah or you or I, when we express our hesitations and fears, God always gives assurance. Jeremiah reports:
But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”
God’s word to Jeremiah, part of the call, is: Do not be afraid; I am with you.
And so it is with us. Whatever our doubts or fears about living fully into our callings, God will always meet us with the word of assurance: Do not be afraid; I am with you. There is something about expressing our vocation that will be so fulfilling, meaningful, and joyful to us, that whatever the other consequences in the world might be, they will not matter.
And that’s not to say that there won’t be serious consequences. You might lose your job. You might become estranged from your family. You might suffer alienation from a world that just doesn’t understand. This is what the Lutheran Study Bible says about Jeremiah’s life: Most of his listeners thought he was a heretic. Some people thought he was insane. His friends and family stayed away. Religious leaders called for his death. But he endured all of the persecution and rejection. He could endure because he knew he was faithful to his calling. Beneath his fears, doubts, and whatever the world threw at him there was a calm certainty that he was the right person for the right place at the right time.
Do not be afraid of fulfilling your call, says the Lord. I am with you.
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
Not only does God offer ASSURANCE to those who express their fears and their doubts, but God also offers a BLESSING. Moses receives his staff and a companion. Jonah gets relief from the heat under a tree that grows for him. Elijah is fed by ravens in the wilderness. Ruth receives the loving relationships of husband and children. Jeremiah feels God’s presence and sees a vision: Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth.
When you exercise your vocation, not only do you have the secure sense that you are the right person for the right place at the right time, no matter what the world may think, but there is a way in which blessing will arise in your life. Because the exercise of our vocation is its own reward, fulfillment, pleasure, and blessing.
Vocation begins as an inward passion and unique way of being in the world. Before it manifests externally in any activity, job, or career it is a quality of one’s being. But eventually it does manifest as an activity in the world. Some are lucky to be able to fulfill their vocations in the context of their jobs, and that is a wonderful thing, but others have hobbies, volunteer involvements, or lifestyles that give expression to their vocations. In whatever way we fulfill our callings, there is a way in which that fulfillment becomes a blessing to us. God is in this, we feel, and this is true.
For Christians, Jesus is the one whose calling is the original and foundation of all our vocations. In him our own vocations find focus and meaning. And he himself experienced the same pattern of CALL, RESISTANCE, ASSURANCE, and BLESSING in his discernment of vocation.
In the River Jordan Jesus heard the voice from the heavens naming him the Beloved Child; this fundamental CALL was the spring from which all his actions flowed. Immediately after the baptism he was driven to the wilderness by the Spirit, where he experienced the RESISTANCE of doubt and temptation. Here, though, he also received ASSURANCE and BLESSING as the angels waited on him. After returning from the wilderness, when Jesus spoke to the synagogue at Nazareth by reading from the book of Isaiah. Through the prophet’s words he articulated his CALL as a mission—what would become his job, career, and action in the world: to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.It was a shockingly large mission, disturbingly upsetting to convention. Jesus even sharpened the point in his follow up discussion after the sermon, saying that he came to offer these things, not just to Israel, the “in group,” but to all people. At first they tried to contain his message with a condescending “That’s our boy!” but when he wouldn’t be contained they tried to hurl him off a cliff. Such things can be the world’s response to the authentic expression of our vocations. But they couldn’t supress Jesus. He went on to offer healing and hope and forgiveness and reconciliation to a world lost in sin and suffering. He confronted the powers and principalities. And he lost his life. But God gave it back to him again, overflowing and abundant, and eternal, for all the world to share.
We who are followers of Jesus and his Way find the fulfillment and focus of all our vocations in him. Offered to him, our calls become part of his, offered back to the world as light and life.
What is your call? What is your vocation? May you be granted discernment, courage, and joy in its fulfillment.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash