Monday, September 25, 2006

True Vocation

The following is the text of the homily I gave at chapel this morning. It was my first one.

We tend to think of vocation as the job we want or the career we have. We often, upon meeting people for the first time, ask "what do you do?". Our identity may may be so entwined in what we do for a living that if we suddenly were not able to perform our job, we would feel lost, uncertain of who we are. And there are others of us who may have no idea what we want to do with our lives in this respect. People often change jobs four or five times during their lives. I myself have had numerous jobs–a waitress, a legal assistant, and a church secretary, among others.

Yet we each have a vocation that runs deeper than and supercedes all of that, and that is our vocation as Christians. It is this, the calling of Jesus, that is our primary vocation, and everything else comes second.

What is this calling? It is a call that echos to us from the very beginning. We all know the story well from our days in children's Sunday School: God created a beautiful perfect Garden of Eden, yet after Adam and Eve sinned, all humankind then lived in a less than perfect world where the inclination to sin often wins out over the inclination to do as God asks.

At first thought, it may seem that all is hopeless–what can be done to change the world? It's too big of a problem. Yet God had something in mind all along to rectify this situation, and it began with a single person.

In Genesis 12, we hear God call to Abram, saying to him: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those that bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:1-4, NRSV).

In a world filled with idolatry, God chooses one man to follow Him, to start fresh and in which to begin something that will eventually bless the entire world. It's not a quick process. The many descendants promised to Abram take a very long time in coming. Abram even doubts it could happen: he believes he is too old (Genesis 17:17). But eventually he does have a son, Isaac, whose son Jacob becomes the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. They grow exceedingly numerous and maybe start to lose focus a bit. But later on, the prophet Isaiah reminds them of their vocation: they are God's servant whom God has given as "a light to the nations" (Isaiah 42:6). Their vocation, as individuals and collectively as a community, is to light the way to God, to show all people everywhere who the one true God is. They are to show people the life that He gives, the love that He has. Yet they fall short. Over and over again, we read how God's people turn their backs on Him and follow after other gods. They are not living out their calling. They are not being true to their vocation as a light to the rest of the world.

And so, after a time, someone comes to renew God's calling to be a light. Jesus says "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). He decides that he will fulfill Israel's vocation. He is the one who is stepping up to lead people to knowing God. He is the one who is going to make an impact on the world and be the embodiment of what God told his ancestor Abram so many generations before. The vocation of bringing God to the world has come to the surface again.

And just as God told Abram that he would multiply him, Jesus also cannot do this alone. In the well-known Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

Jesus calls his followers to be lights, just as he is a light. It may take different forms for different people, but is spread throughout all of our jobs and careers. A teacher, a nurse, a mechanic, a physicist, an artist, a custodian, a student...these are all secondary callings that can give a disciple of Jesus the opportunity to live out their primary vocation as a light to the rest of the world. We can even see Biblical examples of this. Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila were tentmakers by trade. Jesus himself most likely was a carpenter, trained by his carpenter father.

So the question we must ask ourselves is "am I letting my light shine?" We can do this in so many different ways. Was I short with someone or did I have patience with him? Did I decline to join in the gossip or did I speak freely? Did I eat lunch with the shy person sitting alone or did I join my big group of friends? Am I harboring anger towards a friend or am I trying to reconcile with him? Did I take the time to smile and say hi to the person in the hallway or did I hurry on my way? Am I loving to all people, including my enemies?

These are many small, yet not necessarily easy, ways in which we can let our light shine. But by doing so, we are fulfilling our vocation as Christians, our vocation to bring God's glory and light to the world. It is something we do not have to wait to do until we get an education or a promotion or a raise. It is something we can do right now. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:31, "whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God". If we recognize this as our vocation, we can help fulfill that promise given long ago to Abraham that the entire world will be blessed; we can join together as God's servant, bringing His light to the world. We do this both individually and collectively with other Christians. Our individual light will shine only a certain distance, but combined with many others, it can be as bright as the sun.

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