Monday, January 28, 2013

Christ in My Every Day

Sunday I had the privilege to speak at the church where I grew up – where I was baptized and confirmed and learned to love worship.  I like to write based on scripture, so my starting point was the readings for the day.  The Gospel was Luke 4:14-21 and the Epistle reading was 1 Corinthians12:12-31.

I’ve linked the readings if you’d like to give them a read.  I like to write about how scripture connects to everyday stuff.  It seems to me it’s important for us to understand where we fit into the big scheme of things.  Here's some of what I gleaned from Sunday's passages.

Picture this:  Jesus is in the synagogue and he stands to read.  This was normal, especially for someone who had earned the respect that Jesus had.  He was eligible to read the scripture.  So he opens the scroll, finds his place, and begins to read from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

(By the way, it was totally normal for the teacher to be seated while teaching.  I always think that part seems weird.)

So he sits down and verifies what some had to be wondering.  He says – I’m the guy.  I’m the guy here to bring good news, to proclaim freedom and to release the oppressed.  This is it.  Liberty from sin comes thru me!

Pretty cool.  Huge deal.  But I tell you what, usually when I read this passage and he talks about the poor and the prisoners and the blind, I think of – well - the poor, the prisoners, and the blind.

But is that who he was talking about?  No.  Of course not.  He’s talking about all of us.  He’s talking about the financially wealthy, and the financially struggling.  He’s talking about clean records, he talking about felons.  He’s talking about the imperfect bodies we all have.

We are the prisoners – trapped in our sinful behaviors.  We are the blind, blind to the important things in life – blinded by our selfish desires and our pride.  We are the poor.  Without the love that Jesus brings into our lives, we have nothing.

So Jesus is the liberty we need desperately.  And that is established here.  Praise the Lord!  Great passage!

Shows over!  Have a great day, everybody!

Well, you can leave it there if you want.  We’ve been baptized in this spirit and we do have the liberty from sin that we so desperately need!  It’s a joyful thing, when you really face your guilt and your sins and put them on the cross.  We can come clean with Christ everyday and trust that He cleanses us and… and then what?

Until you really apply this stuff to the life you’re living, it’s just something we talk about at church once a week.

I’m not here with a “faith by works” message.  But I would like to share with you something that I think is almost as exciting as the freedom that Christ announces in Nazareth.  It’s called The Body of Christ.

There are a lot of aspects of the Body of Christ and I’m sure you are quite aware of many of them.  Today in our reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about the differing roles of the people in the church.  The church in Corinth seemed to be having some trouble.  They were elevating those who had certain jobs and considering those jobs more important than others in the church who might just have “regular” jobs.  So Paul goes to great lengths to explain that a body is made up of all these different units and all those units have to work together to function as one body.  This metaphor is clearly about the body of Christ and how it works.

Martin Luther explained this aspect of our lives with what he called The Doctrine of Vocation.  We tend to think of vocation as a job we go to, but Luther uses the word in an expanded way.  Our vocation is our calling – what we do in our lives.  With the talents and skills and positions that we are given, we have a vocation.

What is your job?  The place you occupy in the present - that needs your attention now.  God has you here TODAY because he has a job for you here TODAY.  This is your vocation.  Parent.  Spouse.   Student.  Truck driver.  Stay-at-home-mom. Whatever you are doing these days.  We hopefully have goals for the future too, and those should not be ignored.  But God has you in a job today, for a reason.

So that's a big deal to me.  Because it gives a lot of meaning to changing diapers and wiping noses.  And it means that the missionaries and pastors aren't the only ones doing "God's work."  I am too.  

See, the bottom line with this vocation stuff from Luther is that it helps us to put into practice what God commands us to do.  We can’t keep the law perfectly, so Jesus took the punishment for that.  But he still sums up how we should live our lives by commanding us to do 2 things:

Love your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind;
And love your neighbor as yourself.

This sounds fabulous.
And really intimidating.  
Certainly, we don’t uphold it as we should.  

But Luther’s idea about vocation can help us to see how the world is set up so that we can serve God and one another as God has asked us to.

We were created, whether we like it or not, to be a part of a community.  Some of us enjoy community more than others, make it more a part of our lives than others do.  That’s fine.  Community can be found in many places, whether it’s within our families, at the Lions Club, or at work.

How we see ourselves in the midst of these communities is the key.  The way Luther lays this out has literally changed my life and the way I see myself and others.  I love it.  I first read about this in-depth in a book about Lutheranism called The Spirituality of the Cross by Gene Edward Veith,Jr.

So Luther describes our occupations as being the 'masks of God.'  Things like parents, and farmers, and people in sales, and secretaries, and management of the factory up town, and moms and dads – "God is working thru those jobs to provide what we need."  Remember, God is not a distant God.  He is very involved.  Veith cites Acts 17:28 and Matthew 10:29 then explains it this way:
"God governs and is intimately involved in everything that He has made, that is, everything that exists" (92).

So these jobs people have are a way that God provides.  He "gives us our daily bread" through the economic system that exists here; He "heals the sick" with nurses and doctors and science; He "protects us from evil" with police officers, judges, and the military men and women that serve; He teaches us, he orders society, he creates beauty – thru people.

Which means that we depend on others.

And that in turn means, others depend on us too.  Other people are blessed through us and our daily lives,
and furthermore, when others serve us in some way, they are doing God’s work too.

This is community!  Veith points out
– “God ordained that human beings be bound together in love, in relationships, and in community existing in a state of interdependence (93).

Luther says it this way – “God bestows all that is good on us, but… you must work and lend yourself as a means and a mask to God.”

So what is your vocation?  The doctrine of vocation is built on the idea that we all have a calling of some kind.  This calling is based on skills and talents that we have.  As Paul says, some of us are teachers, some of us are administrators, some of us are healers.  We have to look at ourselves honestly and recognize what gifts God has given us (and sometimes what gifts he has NOT given us).  Oh, one more thing, remember that your calling is always in accordance with God’s Word.  No one is called to be a drug dealer.  Within your vocation you are to follow God’s intentions for that vocation - the ways in which we are to live for the good of others and ourselves.

Ok, so Luther lays this out in 4 orders that help us to understand the extent of our vocation.

1.             God calls us to play a role in families. As a husband.  A wife.  A daughter.  A brother. Providing for our families in some way.  And serving each other within the family structure.

2.            He calls us to be citizens.  Active and useful citizens.

Notice those 2 things can apply to everyone – not just believers.

3.            He calls us to be part of the church.  When we are baptized we become part of the “communion of saints.”

4.            Lastly God calls us to be part of The Common Order of Christian Love. And this calling is sort of an umbrella concept over all others.  Here is how he explains it…

“Above these three estates and orders – family, citizenship, the church – is the common order of Christian love, by which we minister not only to those of these 3 orders but in general to everyone who is in need, as when we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, etc forgive enemies, pray for all men on earth, suffer all kinds of evil in our earthly life, etc…"

Basically – it is to love and serve our neighbors.

As Gustaf Wingren wrote in his book Luther on Vocation (catchy title, huh?) 
“God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.”

Our neighbors.  Hmmm. I don't see them much.  (I live out in the country so there are big fields and dirt roads between me and my neighbors).  But, once again, I'm taking the scripture too literally.  

If I consider who lives near me, I can see my husband, my daughters, and my 2 year old son who is usually jumping off of the furniture in the living room.  

And of course there are the people we work with, the woman from whom you get your morning coffee, acquaintances at the post office, your parents or kids who call to check in, and close friends.  

"Just as God is hidden in our vocations, Christ is hidden in our neighbor" (101).

How we treat each other - even within families; 
how we do our jobs; 
how we serve one another and allow others to serve us.  
These are all aspects of our calling by God.  Christ gives us freedom from sin and the worst of ourselves.  But then he inspires us to look inside and find the best of ourselves and do something with it.  

What has God called you to do today?

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