Powers and Principalities
Duration:19 mins 22 secs

This morning is my eleventh and last sermon in our fall theme, “Treasures of Grace: Living the Reformation,” as we mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. This coming Tuesday, October 31st is not just Halloween, it is Reformation Day, the official day of anniversary and next Sunday, the Reverend Dr. John Kuykendall from Davidson College will conclude our series and commemoration. I am so looking forward to his visit and the word he will bring to us both during worship and in his evening program.

Each Sunday during this commemoration I have attempted to lift up a theme or theological ideal which grows from our Reformation roots as we remember that we are a people of grace, completely dependent upon God’s love for us. This grace is a treasure known in our history which inspires us, for we know that God is not finished with us, with the church, or with this world yet, so we earnestly seek to live the Reformation.

So today we once again seek to build upon much of what we have learned so we turn to the doctrine of vocation. The Reformers wanted to be sure that not just monks, nuns, and priests had a vocation, but that God calls all of us to ministry. So, what is God calling us as individuals and as the church to be and to do? Our text comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans, this week in chapter 12, verses 1-8. Let us hear this word of God.

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

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

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

God works in mysterious and wonderful ways. For if we as Presbyterians are going to talk about vocation, we need to begin with baptism. When I first plotted out this series I did not know that we would celebrate Austin’s baptism today, but God brought these things together for us this morning.

So, I want to ask you to pull out the baptism insert in your bulletin. Open it up to the first inside page inside and find the questions I asked Amy and Brad as Austin’s parents. Some of you might have heard those questions for the first time today. However, if you worship with us regularly you might recognize that we ask the three middle questions not only whenever we have a baptism, but also when our youth complete confirmation and when we receive new members. Because these are important faith questions, I want to touch on each of them for a minute:

First, “Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?” That question asks if you recognize there are things working against God’s plans and purposes in this world, and if so, do you turn away from them?

Second, if you are going to turn away from evil and sin, you need to turn to something else, so “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?” As we have seen time and time again in this series, Jesus is our only hope and we are saved by grace through faith.

Finally, and this is one I really want to lift up for you today, “Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love?” Essentially, if Jesus is going to be your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love, will this faith make some difference in the way in which you live your life? Will your faith have an impact on your life?

That last question is the question of vocation. What does God want us to do after we say that we believe? What is God’s plan and expectation for you and me?

For generations Presbyterians have turned to the words of Frederick Buechner to answer such questions about vocation. Buechner writes this:
Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, "to call," and means the work a person is called to by God.
There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest.
By and large a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to, is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you've presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you've missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you're bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren't helping your patients much either.
Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to, is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.
Yes, your vocation is the place where your deep gladness or passion or joy meets the world’s deep hunger and need. It is a powerful image. Perhaps you have heard it before. Presbyterian pastors love to share it. It is likely that you have heard me offer it up as guidance before.

And yet as wonderful as the image Buechner provides us, as my friend Jill Duffield, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, recently pointed out, it is a heavy burden to discern the intersection of our deep joy and the world’s deep need. Those are big questions and rarely do people have the luxury of such high-minded searching.

So come with me for just a minute to think about this. Our passion meeting the world’s hunger. It would be amazing if we had access to that kind of intersection every minute of every day. So when those moments of connection do come, we should rejoice and celebrate! And yet, while I do not want to make assumptions about your life, I know that my life contains numerous moments every day that have nothing to with either my passions or with the world’s hungers. For example, I ate breakfast this morning. It met my hunger, but I’m not sure my cheerios and granola had anything to do with the world’s deep hungers. And yet it needed to be done.

And then on my way to church this morning I had to stop and get gas for my car. Not my passion. Not the world’s deep need. And yet, it had to be done.

I arrived at the church office and I waited for my computer to boot up and turn on. It always takes about 30 seconds longer than I think it should, a fact that has nothing to do with the computer, but is due entirely to my impatience to get started with work or email or a final read through the sermon. Waiting on the computer to turn on is not my passion and I’m not sure it met any particular need in the world at all. But it needed to be done.

All that before 8 AM in the morning. All those regular ordinary moments, all those things which had to be done. Not related to my greatest joys or the world’s deepest hungers. So, do those moments somehow fall outside the call of God? Are they apart from our vocation or not related to the things God wants us to do?

Yes, as grand a vision as Fredrick Buechner’s description of vocation might be, it does seem to limit God’s call to the noble moments of life. Again, I don’t want to speak for you, but while I rejoice in those grand and noble moments, I find that most of my life is pretty regular and ordinary. Yes, most of my life is doing the things that need to be done.

If we look back at our text from Romans today, it seems to me that Paul’s “therefore this is what you should do” covers both the ordinary and the extraordinary moments. In response to God amazing grace which he has just spent 11 chapters sharing with us, Paul says:

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice is not a one time, mountain top kind of endeavor. No, it is life - and living is an every day, every minute, every second entrusting ourselves to God, putting God first, seeking what is good and acceptable and perfect. Being a living sacrifice means resisting the temptation to give our lives to the world’s demands and lack of standards. It means uniting with Christ so that we can stand up for truth and love and reconciliation. It comes from renewing of our minds and being transformed from the inside out. It is to serve the Lord with our hearts, our minds, our hands, and our feet whether we are at work in our career or not.

That is what I prayed for Austin after I baptized him this morning. You can see it in that insert: “Defend, O Lord, your servant Austin with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours forever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until he comes to your everlasting kingdom.” We didn’t pray for him to someday be able to articulately and accurately describe and name his personal passions. We didn’t pray for him to have insight to understand and be able to solve the world’s deepest needs. No, we prayed that he would daily increase in the Holy Spirit, that he would be transformed a little every day to be more like Christ, until he comes to Christ’s everlasting kingdom.

Jill Duffield puts it this way:

Rather than talking about “passion” and “calling” in terms of our work, we should explore the vocation that is inextricably bound to our baptism. Baptism unites us to Christ and therefore we participate in HIS work in the world, no matter how we spend our waking hours. In the words of the Heidelberg Confession, we become more and more dead to sin and live holy and blameless lives, no matter if we find our one true passion [or not] because abundant life has been given to us through Christ’s passion [emphasis added is mine].

So maybe God does care about my cheerios and granola for breakfast because the food I eat gives me energy to join in Christ’s work today. Maybe God does care about my getting gas in the car and I too should be concerned about the trips I take and the gas I use as a part of being a steward of God’s creation. Maybe God does care about what I do while I wait for my computer to boot up in the morning and perhaps I could use those few extra seconds to pray rather than complain.

Yes, my friends, in our baptism we are united with Christ and we pray that daily we might increase more and more in the Holy Spirit. For our vocation is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, whatever our passions or our work or our jobs might be.

So, when those noble moments come, rejoice and celebrate! And when you find yourself just doing what needs to be done, I hope you will rejoice then too for the waters of baptism have washed those moments with grace too. And that grace is a treasure; so live the Reformation because God is not finished with us, with this church, or with the world yet.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: