Vocation... Refreshing!

Worship, Bible Study, Sunday School, etc… are ways that parishioners are fed from the Word and Sacraments.  Once fed, or we could say… blessed, they are then positioned to bless their neighbor through their vocation[1].  The doctrine and understanding of Vocation tends to be a lost idea in much of Christianity today.  However, it is a very simple, refreshing and simplistic concept.  Gene Edward Veith writes on this subject saying:
God healed me. I wasn’t feeling well, so I went to the doctor. The nurse ran some tests; the lab technicians identified the problem; the doctor wrote me a prescription; I had it filled by the pharmacist. In no time, I was a lot better. It was God who healed me, and He did it through the medical vocations.

God gave me my daily bread. He did it through the farmer who grew the grain, the truck driver who hauled it, the bakers at the factory, the stockers at the grocery store and the lady at the checkout counter. It was God who fed me—just as I prayed in the Lord’s Prayer—and He did it through the vocations of ordinary people just doing their jobs.

God talked to me. The pastor read God’s Word. In the sermon, he drew out of the Bible God’s Law, which cut me to the quick. Then he proclaimed the Gospel of how Christ has done everything for my salvation. When I confessed my sins, God, through His Word as delivered by the pastor, told me I was forgiven.

This is the doctrine of vocation. The term literally means “calling.”

According to Luther, every Christian is called to particular offices and tasks, through which God Himself works to govern and care for His created order. God teaches through teachers; He protects us through the vocations of police officers firefighters, soldiers and government officials; He brings beauty through artists; He proclaims His Word and administers His Sacraments through pastors.

Medieval Catholicism taught that only priests, nuns and those in other church-work professions have a vocation, a calling from God. The Reformation taught that all Christians have callings from God, including those who work in the so-called secular sphere.

Reformed Christians also believe in the doctrine of vocation, but their emphasis tends to be on “Law”: what the Christian should do as a distinctly Christian parent, business person, artist or tradesman. The Lutheran emphasis is characteristically on “Gospel”: what God does through our human callings.

Lutherans emphasize how God works through means: In His spiritual kingdom, He works through the Word and Sacraments as means of grace. In His earthly kingdom, He works through the natural order and through human vocations. Just as we receive God’s manifold blessings through other people, God works through us to bless others. Though our relationship to God is based totally on His grace, to which we can add nothing of our own, our relationship to our neighbors does call for good works. The doctrine of vocation has to do with our duties to love and serve our neighbors.

Of course, in a fallen world, we also sin in our vocations. We do not use our vocations to the fullest to serve our neighbors, as God intends. We misuse our gifts, act outside our callings, and struggle to carry out our responsibilities. In Luther’s terms, we bear our cross in our vocations. The doctrine of vocation amounts to a comprehensive theology of the Christian life.

Luther identified four types of callings that every Christian has: As a member of the church, as a member of a family, as someone who works, and as a citizen of a community. The Small Catechism includes a “Table of Duties,” which consists of Scriptural direction for the various vocations.

As one reads the “Table of Duties,” it is evident that one person can hold a number of different vocations at once. A man might be both a husband and a father, a master (to his employees) and a servant (to his boss). He is subject to the governing authorities and, possibly, a leader in his church. In each case, God’s Word gives direction for how we should live out our callings. The Small Catechism also addresses vocation in the section on “The Office of the Keys,” in the questions dealing with what sins we should confess. We are told to “Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife or worker?” The Second Table of the Commandments—from “Honor your father and your mother” to the injunctions to respect your neighbor’s property and relationships—all have to do with vocation. With the doctrine of vocation, everyday life is transfigured. We realize that the way to serve God is not by some extraordinary act of mystical devotion, but by serving our neighbors in the daily circumstances of life—in our families, our jobs, our church and our involvement in the community.

With the doctrine of vocation, ordinary relationships, the 9-lo-5 routine, taking care of the kids, the work-a-day world—the way we spend most hours of the day—become charged with the presence of God [2]

            As you can see, this is a relatively simple idea and to be honest, very refreshing.  Therefore, assimilation happens as people are assimilated into a position of receptivity; receiving and being blessed from God through the vessel, the church, so that one might be a blessing to others (i.e. spouse, children, co-workers, etc…) through their vocation. 

[1] In thinking about the Doctrine of Vocation I often think of a quote from Martin Luther.  He once said something to this effect, “God doesn’t need our good works, our neighbor does.”
[2] Gene Edward Veith, GOD AT WORK ~Every Christian has a particular calling from God (July, 2001 issue of The Lutheran Witness)