On Vocation, Part 3

[Vocation] comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what is is truly about…Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.      ~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Having just returned from my synod’s annual candidacy retreat, vocation and call were pushed to the front of my mind. Also, it was Advent and I was surrounded by the example of Mary and her willingness and openness to accept without understanding the call of God. A call that meant at best a very difficult time for her in her culture or which at worst could mean her death. She gave her assent without really understanding the HOW – it’s a mystery. I, unlike Mary, am not good at this mystery stuff – I want to have the how and why clearly defined prior to taking a step in any direction.

One of the pastor’s at the retreat brought up the following conundrum: “I love words. I often read passages in books, even sermons, which state the things of God much better than I ever could. Why should I preach with my words when I could just read the eloquent words of others.” Why indeed?

I’ve always thought that my patron saint should be Jonah. (Of course, there are two problems with this line of thinking. First, Lutherans definitely don’t have patron saints. Second, Jonah was/is no saint – not even beautified come to think of it.) Jonah who received his call to the people of Nineveh, decided against said call and promptly headed off in the opposite direction to Tarshish. Now there’s a saint I can relate to – out and out defiance! Of course, there was that whole business of the storm, the fish and being unceremoniously vomited up on the shore that eventually made Jonah, grudgingly, willing to head off to Nineveh. Contrasted with Mary’s willingness to accept God’s plan for her as recorded in Luke, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38, NRSV) there is a world of difference!

Or consider Isaiah, who when he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” responded, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8, NRSV No argument, just a simple: I’m here – I’ll do it.

Of course, there is always Moses to look to as an example, right? Yes, here again I find a kindred spirit. God comes to Moses in the burning bush with a call. Moses, unlike Jonah, doesn’t show out and out defiance. No, he just spends most of the next chapter in Exodus arguing with God about his unsuitability for the task and asking wonderful questions like, “What if no one listens to me?”

what if… what if… what if…

Finally, Moses pulls out the big guns with God and reminds God that he has “never been eloquent” and thus is unfit for this task! Surely he’s got God now. God, of course, is not dissuaded and promises to help Moses speak.

Moses finally, literally quits beating around the bush and, says, “Oh Lord, please send someone else to do it.” You gotta love this guy, who in the face of the miraculous manifestation of God in the burning bush, argues and works every angle possible to have his call placed on someone else! God gets mad, but does relent somewhat, by saying that Moses and Aaron will team up for this task. Amazing chutzpah that Moses!

Would that there were more Mary and Isaiah in me and less Jonah and Moses!

There are calls in life that we can’t run away from nor argue our way out of. We all have been gifted and called in accord to our gifts and abilities. In fact, look at the call of Jeremiah:

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, “I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” 9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. (Jer 1: 4-9, NRSV)

Jeremiah’s vocation (call to ministry) was consecrated before his birth! Jeremiah does argue slightly with God reminding God that he is not an adult, but I think as he is a youth we can overlook this, don’t you?

Jeremiah’s call applies equally to each of us, ordained or not. We are all being called by God to fulfill a vocation that is uniquely ours to fulfill and one that we can’t escape (remember Jonah!) no matter which direction we run.

Let’s pick back up with Jeremiah. He has been faithful to the call that he has received with negative results:

7 O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. (Jer 20:7-10, NRSV)

Well, look at that! Jeremiah took up his call and delivered the Lord’s message as instructed and, low and behold, people did not listen nor change. In fact, they made fun of Jeremiah! What’s wrong with this picture!?

So Jeremiah, makes a very logical decision, “I don’t like how the message is being received. I believe I will just keep my mouth shut!”

Sensible man.

But much to his dismay, Jeremiah finds it exhausting to not speak the message, and in fact, finds that he must continue to speak the words of the Lord irregardless of the negative personal consequences.

You see your call and vocation is most likely tied to that thing which you can’t not do. It is such a core part of who you are that to inhibit its expression would do you physical and emotional harm.

So back to the question posed by the pastor at the retreat. Yes, others may articulate the things of God in the most beautiful of ways, but our job is to find our voice and speak the message we have received from God trusting God with the results.

Amen and amen.

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