One day I was leading a Bible study and we started talking about occupations. Everyone in this study was retired but we still talked about how their previous employment was viewed by God. “I was just a housewife,” said one participant, “my life didn’t have much impact in God’s kingdom.” “I was an engineer for NASA and then United Parcel Service. I don’t think I had much impact on God’s kingdom either.” Finally, one dear lady looked at me and said, “Pastor, it’s clear to me that you’ve got the most important, the most godly job of all. Anything we did in our lives pales in comparison to what you do.” It was a sentiment that I heard often from this group, but one that didn’t consider the whole counsel of God.
What does it mean to live a “godly life”? Most of us probably think that our godliness is measured by worship attendance. Or that godliness is measured by how often one reads the Scriptures, prays, or gives time and money to the Church. Is this how it works? Does this mean that God only cares how we spend an hour or two each week or few moments every day? Can we just do our “God stuff” at the right time and then move on with the rest of our day without a second thought to what we read, heard, or prayed? The simple answer is “no.” What we believe and confess on Sunday should have an impact on how we deal with the world the rest of the days of the week. What we read daily in our Bibles should travel with us into our kitchens, offices, and classrooms.
The Reformation recovered three major themes from the Scriptures and spread them throughout Protestantism: justification by faith, the authority of Scripture, and the doctrine of vocation. You’re probably familiar with the first two but may have trouble understanding the third.
“Vocation” today simply means “job.” We have “vocational schools” or “vocational classes” in high schools and community colleges that are designed to help people move directly to the workforce, classes like industrial arts, automotive repair, or electrical trade are prime examples. But vocation is so much more than that; vocation comes from the Latin word for “calling.” A vocation was never meant to be just a job; vocation was meant to describe a life that is fully integrated, meaningful, and filled with purpose. Vocation described a life that was permeated by God’s Word, where a Christian understood God’s gift of baptism, marriage, parenthood, and citizenship. Reformation catechisms and sermons are filled with advice and guidance about these things. Luther and his colleagues had much to say about how our identity as a baptized child of God affects our roles as fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, employees and employers, and subjects and rulers.
This doctrine of vocation shows Christians how to live out their faith in the world. It’s about God’s presence in the world and how He works through human beings for His purposes. For Christians, vocation discloses the spirituality of everyday life.
I’ve been talking to you for years about getting the Gospel message out of our church building and into the community. Recovering the idea of vocation is a simple way for us to show our faith without having to say a word. Simply trying to live as God would have us live will shine brightly in this dark world, as Jesus promises. “…let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Those “good works” don’t have to always prayers, praises, or offerings. They can be as simple as being a diligent employee, a supportive grandparent, or a helpful classmate.
How do we do this?
Check back next month and I’ll tell you more about it.
Pastor Tom Vanderbilt