God At Work Through Human Beings (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Text:  Ephesians 2:8-10

I have been so very blessed this past year by God.  In fact, did you know that God healed my back this past year?  It is true, I have had some really painful back spasms these last several years and God healed my back.  Furthermore, God has spoken to me hundreds of times this past year.  God has spoken to me audibly about my sin and about His forgiveness.  God has also fed me by giving me food.  He has given me shelter and He has given me clothes to wear.  Finally, God has protected me this past year.  He has kept me safe and free from harm.

Now you may be wondering if I am crazy and/or how God did all these wonderful things.  To answer your curiosity, I may not be the most sane pastor in the world J, but God seriously did all this for me.  He did all these previous things for me through people’s various vocations. 

When I went to my doctor at Sidney Health Center I was referred to a physical therapists.  Through several sessions with my physical therapists, my back was stretched and I was given exercises to reduce pain.  The doctors and physical therapists helped my back get better.  But it was still God who healed me.  God did this through the medical vocation.

Throughout this past year God has spoken to me through various sermons from pastors and the leaders of this church as they share the Word.  God speaks through the vocation of pastors.

God also has fed me.  He has provided food for me through the vocation of our farmers.  The farmers plant the grains, harvest the fields, and raise cattle.  Yes, the farmers produce food for me, but it is still God who feeds me.  He does this through the vocation of farming. 

Finally, God has protected me and my family.  Our police officers and sheriff’s department are constantly making arrests for criminal activity.  They are working to keep our society in order, to keep things calm and to keep things from chaos.  Through the calling of our government officials, God is granting us protection, order and justice. 

Now you may have not thought about things in this manner before, however, what I have just shared is what is called the doctrine of ‘vocation.’  The word vocation essentially means, “calling.”  God in His providence has called each and every one of us to an area where we can service our neighbor with good works.  Martin Luther once said that our vocations are ‘masks of God.’  God works through mankind to provide for and care for His creation.  God protects through the mask of police officers; He cares for children through the mask of parents; He cares for the church through the mask of called pastors; etc…

During Medieval Catholicism it was taught that only priests, nuns and those in other church-work professions had a vocation, a calling from God. However, the Reformation and Scriptures teach us that all Christians have callings from God, including those who work in the so-called secular sphere.  In other words, our callings from God are many times not grandiose or hyper-spiritual callings.  Rather, our callings are many times in the 9-5 basic routine of life.  What this means is that God calls some to be pastors, some to be evangelists, some to be parents, some to be policemen, some to be farmers and so forth.  God calls us to our vocations so that He might take care of His creation.   This means that we are called into our vocations to serve our neighbor with good works.

Now, speaking of good works, our text from today shows us that our relationship to God has nothing to do with our works.  Nothing!  However, our relationship to our neighbor has everything to do about works.  I have heard it said before that God doesn’t need our works, but our neighbor does.  Therefore, as we contemplate our verses from Ephesians we see that we are saved by the sheer grace of God and that we contribute absolutely nothing to our salvation.  In the words of Gene Edward Veith, “We come to God as sinners, not as doers of good works.”  However, what about works?  Ephesians shows us that we are saved by Grace, that our relationship to God is based on the work of Christ on our behalf.   But Ephesians goes on to say that we are God’s masterpiece, we are His workmanship in Christ Jesus.  V. 10 says that we were created in Christ Jesus for good works, good works that were prepared in advance for us to walk in.  We don’t do good works to become a Christian, we do good works because we are Christians.  In other words, because of who we are, we have been created in Christ with the purpose of walking in good works that God has prepared in advance for us. 

Let me flesh all this out with a story from two weeks ago.  I received an email from Kim Halvorson saying, “Pastor Matt, we are shorthanded with help with MOPPETS.  Can you help with the kids?”  In Kim’s email she was asking me, calling me, to walk in good works.  I didn’t conjure up these good works rather I was being called to these good works.  I was being called to help in a ministry of this church that I technically oversee as a pastor.  Well, here is what happened.  Confession time!  Due to my sinful, self-centered nature, I didn’t respond to her email, personally hoping that she would find someone else.  The next day I came into the church and was met by Kim and she said, “Pastor Matt, did you get my email.”  To this I thought, “Ugg, there is no way out of this.”  So I responded, “Yes, I did. I will be right down.”  Now, keep in mind that this was something that I was called to, something that I could simply walk in, something that was a part of my vocation, but my attitude was lousy.  Well, long story short, I went downstairs and watched a bunch of 3 year olds, cleaned snotty noses and fed them morning snacks.  All along, my attitude was pathetic.  After forty minutes I went into the youth room where Leif Halvorson was teaching the Bible lesson.  As I sat in the Youth Room and watched the kids singing, “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus,” and as I listened to Leif telling them about Jesus’ shed blood, I was hit with my own selfishness and that I was sinning against my calling as a pastor.  As I listened to Leif teach these kids, I was struck by the reality that these kids were little sponges, soaking up the Gospel and I was hardened by my sinful callous heart.  Thus, I repented of my sin and then with the kids heard the Gospel myself.  To serve them was good, it was a part of my vocation as a pastor, and it was all prepared in advance for me to walk in. 

What I want you to learn about my story is two things.  You and I are not the source of good works.  My story illustrates what our text shows us and that is that God is the source of all good works.   Good works spring forth from God.  Secondly, how do these good works relate to our vocation?  It is through our vocations, our callings in this life that we mainly walk in these good works that have been prepared in advance for us.  I was called to serve the children.  This was a good work that was prepared in advance for me.  Furthermore, it is a good work that was within and in-line with my calling as a pastor.

What this means for you is that God through His sovereignty and through the events of your life forms, shapes and calls you to your particular vocation.  God has created you with specific gifts, has placed you in a particular place, and called you to a vocation.  In other words, as Christians we have the promise that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  What this means is that our vocations come about from the outside, from opportunities and circumstances around us that are orchestrated by God’s sovereignty.  Loosely stated, “We don’t choose our vocations, they choose us.”  As we will see in the weeks to come, you and I each have several vocations that we are called to, several different hats that we wear.  Briefly, let me explain.  As Americans, we are called to be citizens who pay taxes, follow laws, vote, and contribute in our communities.  We are also called to our jobs where we work to produce goods and services for others at a fair price.  We are called to our jobs to obtain money for our families.  As members of family we are called to be parents of our children, to be care takers of our parents and grandparents, to be faithful brothers and sisters.  Finally, as a Christian you are called to a church family where you are called to hear the Gospel and serve those in your Christian Family in Jesus name. 

Our text from Ephesians and our understanding of vocation shows us that God not only enables us to do good works, but he gives us the opportunity to serve our neighbor with good works in our callings (i.e., vocations).  It really is all a tremendous gift.  We are ‘called’ to simply walk in good works that have been prepared in advance for us!  Now, keep in mind that these opportunities for service will also vary according to your station in life and according to the flavor of your vocation.  Certain callings/vocations will call for different works than others.  Police officers walk in good works as they apply the force of the Law towards criminals.  Mothers walk in their vocation as they apply love, correction and compassion to their young ones.  Police officers use methods in their calling that would be inappropriate for a mother to use in her calling.  They are different callings, both just and both necessary, but with different implementations.

As we conclude our thoughts on vocation, we can affirm that through our vocations we may end up washing dishes for our family, going on a business trip for our boss, driving the kids to a basketball game as a mother, helping with Vacation Bible School as a member of the church—this is the realm that our vocations call us, this everyday routine is the realm where good works have been prepared in advance for us to walk in. The everyday routine is where we have been called to be faithful, where our faith bears fruit in love and where God is glorified. 

My friends, even though the doctrine of vocation has to do with our callings of human work to serve our neighbor, we can never forget that this is about God’s work and how God works through our lives.  God is at work in our lives, calling us to our vocations as parents, children, farmers, ranchers, bankers, homemakers, oil workers, students, citizens, church members, secretaries, administrators, pastors, teachers, and so forth.  He is at working calling us into our vocations so that we can simply walk in the good works that He has prepared in advance for us, works that get to be our way of life as redeemed, forgiven and called Christians.  Amen.

Note: This sermon is highly indebted to Gene Edward Veith Jr.'s book, "God At Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life."