"VOCATION" - Psalm 145:1-13; Luke 10:1-11

A Sermon by Alex W. Evans, Pastor

Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Texts: Psalm 145:1-13; Luke 10:1-11


            David Brooks writes a regular and thoughtful column for the NY Times. David Brooks also writes good books - books that have inspired me and many across the land. Brooks has become, not just a distinguished writer, but an important voice that keeps calling us to our better selves, to higher community values, to be our best as people and as a nation.

            In David Brooks’ most recent book, Second Mountain, he addresses an important and familiar topic for him: what is it that gives meaning and purpose, depth and value to life? That is a worthwhile pursuit. In Second Mountain, Brooks explores the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose:

-          commitment to a spouse and family

-          commitment to a vocation

-          commitment to a philosophy or faith tradition

-          commitment to a community.

Brooks argues that our personal fulfillment depends on how well we choose and execute these four commitments. When we choose and execute these commitments well, life moves from self-centered to other-centered, from mostly acquiring possessions and status to discovering real purpose, from striving for singular success to a life of compassion and service that impacts those around us, but also connects us to global issues in the world.

The book – Second Mountain – wants to help us all live more meaningful lives. But it is also a commentary about our culture – our culture celebrates freedom, as we have done this weekend; our culture also tells us to be our true selves, that is all about the individual. Yet, Brooks keeps saying that the better way is to root ourselves in the neighborhood, bind ourselves to others by social solidarity and love, and put wholesome commitments at the center of our lives.

We have heard this before . . . . . but we all need to be called back to it time and again.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus appeared on the scene. He came to teach and heal and show the way to life – real life as God intends: good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. As Jesus moves on the scene, a leper is healed. A paralyzed man gets up and walks. Tax collectors – so focused on their money and mission – walk away from the tax booth and follow Jesus. And Jesus’ teachings get noticed and remembered. He says: “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you; if anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; . . . do to others as you would have them do to you; . . . . if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. . . . Be kind and merciful, just as your Father is kind and merciful. . . . Do not judge. . . . Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Jesus does and says all of that in the first few chapters of Luke.

Jesus’ message is so much about our commitments – rooting ourselves in the neighborhood, connecting ourselves to others, building social solidarity through love, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, and aligning our lives with the promised reign of God.

Then we find this wonderful passage – Luke 10:1-11:

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Our sermon word today is VOCATION. We have a fresh opportunity this Sunday to think about our lives – about our commitments – about rooting our lives in the neighborhood, connecting ourselves to others, building social solidarity through compassion and care, and aligning our lives with the promised reign of God.

Today we celebrate the faith, commitments, and joyful baptisms of two special, impressive young women – Aniyah and Lucy. Their presence, their statements of faith (read to the Session), their baptisms confirm that their lives – held first and foremost by God, covered so well by God’s love - intend to go a certain way – following Jesus. They affirm their commitment today to live in the ways of Jesus – growing in faith, striving to trust God, seeking to love God and love neighbor, spreading God’s kindness, forgiveness and peace. And their commitments are not just for themselves and by themselves, on their own; they link their lives with us and others – and we promise to pray for and encourage them, just as we do for each other; for we all seek to live life following and serving, trusting and promoting the peace and light of Jesus.

This is about our commitment to VOCATION.

VOCATION is not what kind of job we have, but how we do all the jobs we have. VOCATION is not about what kind of career we choose, but how we move through that career – connecting to others, spreading love and peace. VOCATION reminds us that life is not about ego and success, but about serving and helping.

In speaking about the importance of VOCATION, David Brooks reminds us of the story of Victor Frankl. (I trust you know this name.) Frankl found himself a prisoner in 4 different Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He realized there that the career questions – what do I want from life? What should I do with my life? What can I do to make myself happy? – none of those were the proper questions. He was a prisoner, in deplorable conditions, surrounded by death and despair.

 Frankl realized the real question is, “What is life asking of me?” He said, “it didn’t really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” Frankl realized in the Nazi concentration camp, “we needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct.” We always have a VOCATION – and it is in answering the questions – what is my responsibility here? What is there yet for me to do now? (See D. Brooks, Second Mountain, p. 91)

In talking about the importance of a commitment to VOCATION, David Brooks reminds us that VOCATION is rooted in the concept of “Call.” God calls us and encourages us in how we live. We have work to do with God – work that is bigger than our jobs, beyond our families, and far deeper than our personal pursuits. God CALLS and expects us to align our lives with God’s purposes. How we live matters. With every day, every season, every challenge, we want to ask – what is my responsibility here? What is God asking me to do?

And the Greek word for “call” – kaleo – is very close to the Greek word for “beauty” – kalon. (p. 96) Our hearts gravitate toward beauty – we are drawn to beautiful sunsets, beautiful pieces of art, beautiful moments of love, beautiful acts of kindness. Beauty incites from us a desire to explore something – painting, music, nature, traveling, whatever - and then to live within it. “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart,” Vincent van Gogh wrote, in the middle of a life obsessed with beauty.

Similarly, when we have a sense of VOCATION – commitments not just to success, but to serving, not just to self but to relationships, not just to a career but to the beauty along with way, not just to personal things but to the community, we move closer to more meaningful lives. Beauty and call – VOCATION - draw us into more meaningful life. When we have a sense of VOCATION – that our lives are linked to God’s promised reign – and our lives are always about loving, forgiving, spreading kindness and peace, caring about creation, knowing that we are part of God’s purposes – we move closer to wholeness, to the eternal life that God wants for all.

I want to lift up what is really wonderful – even beautiful - in this passage of Jesus sending out the 70.

Jesus didn’t say “go and tell people how to live” – like, “you have to give up this and take on this” – Christians are often so focused on that – yet he DID NOT say that!

He also did not send them out with a set of beliefs – “ask people to agree to these things.” Christians can too often be obsessed with belief. He DID NOT say that.

He did not send out the 70 urging people in how to vote, or what to eat or what to wear!

Jesus just sent them out – “Go!”  He said, “Go and share peace.” Go and enjoy fellowship – eating and drinking with people. He invited the 70 to go and meet people where they were. He said “Go,” and “cure the sick” . . . . and “tell them that the Kingdom of heaven is near.”

It is all about peace and compassion and care and the nearness of the Kingdom.

Peace, . . . and compassion, . . . and care . . . . and the nearness of the Kingdom of God. What if that was the focus of our daily lives? Peace, compassion, care, and the nearness of the Kingdom of God – if that was the singular message of our lives – how would it change our relationships? What if that was the focus for our legislature gathering at the Capital this? What is that was at the heart of our political posturing? What if that could be the main message at the southern border? How would it alter our community life? How would it improve our demeanor? How would it alter our society?

Jesus says – just go, and embody peace – and share peace – enjoy fellowship with others - and cure the sick – and let people know . . .  the nearness of the Kingdom of God. Imagine!

We still go to work, tend to our chores, pay our bills, work on important projects – but our lives are about . . . our VOCATION is . . . . . . . spreading peace, compassion, care and the nearness of the Kingdom of God!! Wow!

What we are really always working on is a kind of inner transformation. It does not happen quickly. It is a long process – we might not even notice it day by day – but the journey of faith, of following Jesus, of seeking to go and keep going, spreading peace, compassion, care, and living into the nearness of the Kingdom, is really a long inner transformation. It allows us to see life differently – not about self but about others, not about personal gain but serving, not about climbing but about caring, not about status but about real meaning and purpose.

Cynthia Bourgeault writes that the Kingdom of heaven is not a place you go to; . . . . it is a place you come from. It is a transformed way of looking at the world, which comes about when you move deeply into God and God moves deeply into us. (See D. Brooks, Second Mountain, p. 251) That is what VOCATION is about.

When we realize we indeed come from the Kingdom of heaven, then we live with a powerful sense of VOCATION – our lives have a purpose related to God’s purposes. We seek to live spreading peace, compassion, care, and the nearness of the Kingdom of heaven. That is what Jesus said – “go and do.”

Today we celebrate at the Lord’s Table – bread and cup. This is food from the Kingdom of heaven. We are fed here so we can live lives out there – spreading peace, compassion, care, and the nearness of God.

May it be so for you, for me, for all of us, . . .  today, . . . .tomorrow, . . . .forever. AMEN.

Prayer of Commitment: Lord, make us instruments of your peace; we seek to follow Jesus. Amen

Alex W. Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on July 7, 2019. This is a rough manuscript.