Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Sermon on Vocation

Wednesday after Easter 5
May 25, 2011

The Lord be with you

It was suggested that my sermon this past Sunday (May 22, 2011) should be made available to a wider range of people than just those who were in the worship service. I have, therefore, decided to post it here. The topic of the message is Vocation. While the text below is not exactly what I said in the pulpit, it is pretty close. I’ve included some graphics, just so it will be a little bit easier on the eye.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cantate)

Lections: Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

Text: Acts 6:2-3

Sermon: “What Is Your Job Description?”

Acts 6:2-3 2And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”

I once read a story about two brothers. Mike, the older, was a few years ahead of his younger brother Harry. They were raised in a good Christian home. Baptized as babies, they attended Sunday school, and, when they were old enough, Catechism class. Both of them, when they were confirmed, told their mother that they were committed to serving the Lord. They were dedicating their lives to Jesus, 24-7. Mom was thrilled. She would have two pastors in the family.

Each boy remained active in their church throughout high-school, becoming leaders in their youth group and assisting in worship services. Mike, after graduating high school, went to college and then the seminary, entering the Holy Ministry. Mom was practically bursting with pride the day he was ordained. Her first born son has kept his promise and was entering full-time service to the Lord as a pastor.

Harry, while he was in high school, got a job at a local gas station owned by Rick. Now I need to digress just a bit. This story takes place in the early 1960’s. Back then gas stations were called “service stations.” When you drove your car into a service station, an attendant came out and pumped your gas for you, cleaned the windows of your car, checked your car’s oil, and so forth. They also had a garage where they could work on cars. At your corner service station you could get everything from new tires to a rebuilt engine. Many people, maybe most, took their cars to service stations to be repaired, not car dealerships.

Anyways, when Harry graduated from high school, he didn’t go on to college. Instead he continued to work for Rick at the service station. To say his mother was disappointed would be an understatement. She had dreamed of having two pastors, two full-time servants of the Lord, in her family. Harry, she felt, had reneged on the promise he had made when he was confirmed. However she kept her disappointment to herself. As far as Harry goes, he continued to attend worship services, remained active in the church as a layman, and work at Rick’s service station.

One day Harry’s mother dropped by the station to meet her son and go out to lunch. Harry was just finishing up working on a car so mom waited. While in the small office/waiting room that such service stations always had, a customer came in to pick-up his car. As Rick was beginning to ring-up the customer, he stopped. Looking at the bill he said,

“I’m sorry, Mr Smith. There seems to be an error on your bill. Let me call in Harry. He is the one who actually did the work.”

In came Harry. Rick said, “Harry, I noticed that you were working late last night on Mr. Smith’s car, but I don’t see the hours on his bill. How late did you work?”

“Yes, I did work late,” Harry responded. “I was here until about 10:00. However I didn’t put the hours down because I was fixing a mistake I’d made earlier on the car. If I hadn’t made the mistake, I wouldn’t have had to stay late. I figured I would do the work on my time so I wouldn’t have to add the hours.”

Rick excused Harry. After Harry left the room Rick said to both Harry’s mother and Mr. Smith, “That Harry is not only my best mechanic but also the best Christian I’ve ever met. For him, his faith is not just words, or a Sunday morning thing, but it is how he lives every day. You know, I’ve started attending church services again, and it’s because of Harry. It is because, in him and how he lives, I can see Christ. He doesn’t preach at me, at least not with words. His life, and an occasional word, gets the message of the importance of Jesus to him through loud and clear.”

That day Harry’s mother learned that there is more than one way to be in full-time service to the Lord. Harry, just like his older brother Mike, was living his life dedicated to Jesus, 24-7.

This idea, that we are called to live for the Lord in whatever place the Lord has put us, is covered under the general topic of Vocation and is reflected in our lesson from Acts.

The Church, right from the beginning, took the words of Jesus about caring for the poor seriously. The Apostles’, like good over-achieving ministers, were trying to take care of everything, including the Church’s charitable activities. But the Apostles were spread too thin and problems began to develop. So the Church appointed seven men to take care of the charitable work and called them deacons.

These men were not Apostles. We might call them today “administrators” because they were in charge of administering the church’s aid. They were not called to be preachers, though Stephen apparently was a gifted speaker. In fact Stephen’s life and witness were so powerful that he got the attention of the Jewish leaders. The layman Stephen became the first martyr of the Church. This administrator, this layman, lived for the Lord 24-7.

Just because he didn’t have a vocation as a pastor did not mean that he didn’t have a vocation from the Lord. Just because he wasn’t writing sermons, preparing Bible studies, and spending hours in prayer for the members of the congregation, did not mean that he couldn’t serve the Lord 24-7. Like Harry, the deacons served in the vocation the Lord gave them.

Each person here today also has a vocation from the Lord. In fact, you have more than one vocation. A vocation is a job or roll that we have. So, as soon as you are born, you have a God-given vocation as a child of your parents. Other very common vocations include brother and sister, neighbor and friend, student, employee and employer, citizen, spouse, parent, and so on.

Because such vocations are so common, we might easily overlook them. “Sure,” people might think, “the pastor has a vocation from the Lord, as do missionaries, seminary professors, parochial school teachers, and the like, but not me. I’m only a car mechanic.” Some might broaden their view to include all school teachers, doctors, nurses, and other helping positions and still think, “I’ve no calling from the Lord. I’m just ten years old, or I only work as a maintenance man, or I run a retail store,” or whatever. “The Lord hasn’t called me.” Such thinking is not biblical.

While in our text Stephen and the other deacons were appointed to a new role, a new vocation, that does not mean that they had no vocations before becoming deacons. In deed, it was the testimony of their very lives as they lived out their vocations that commended them to the congregation and led to their new vocation as deacons.

Jesus once said, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10). The men appointed as deacons had been faithful in their earlier vocations and so it was believed they would be faithful as deacons. In a parable Jesus once told, a master, who represents God, said to his servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). Again the idea is to be faithful with what you have now, in your current vocations. Such faithfulness leads to greater responsibilities in the kingdom. To use a metaphor from the 60’s, we are called to bloom where God has planted us.

How are we to live in our vocations? What does God desire from us? The general answer is to live in faith towards God and Christian love with all. However, due to our fallen nature, it is easy to get confused about just what that means. So I’d like everyone to turn to page 328 of their hymnal (the Lutheran Service Book). Go ahead, I’ll wait. …

Here we see the Table of Duties found in Luther’s Small Catechism. There is real guidance for many vocations in this list. Luther has scriptures appropriate for pastors and parishioners, husbands and wives, parents and children, governments and citizens, employees and employers, and so on. If you have a vocation that is not covered in this list, and there are lots, Luther even has listed at the end some general passages for everyone.

As baptized children of God, living in the power of his grace, his forgiveness, we serve the Lord 24-7 through our God given vocations. He has placed us in them that we may serve him and others. You do have a calling from God. You do have God-given jobs. You don’t have to choose between serving God or your job, or your family, or your country, and so on. You serve God in these rolls, and you can serve 24-7. Amen.

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