A sermon by Erwin C. Barron on Vocation
September 5, 2021
“ERRRRWIIIIIN – time to come home!”
When I was a kid, I would hear that call echoing across the neighborhood at least two or three times a week. Like many of you, I grew up before cell phones in a time when all the neighborhood kids played together on the street. My best friend Randy lived a few doors down and we were always in each other’s yards doing all sorts of nefarious things during a typical summer day. And when my mom needed me, she would stand at the back door and scream in the most piercing cry: “ERRWWWIIINN – time to come home!” I would hear it right away and usually come running, but sometimes it took a repeated call, with an even louder and more angry tone that would always do the trick!
I think of my mother calling me every time I read this story of the call of the prophet Samuel. (Most of the prophets have cool call stories. You should check them out) Samuel gets a call like my mother’s but Samuel is more obedient than I was, and I suppose God’s calling was not quite as piercing as my mom’s. But God called nonetheless, just like my mom: “SAAAAMUEEEEEL… I need you!” And Samuel responded. It was the priest Eli who was skeptical. It took him awhile to believe it was God calling, just like it often took me several calls to respond to my mother. But in the end, Samuel heard God’s call and responded, “Speak for your servant is listening.”
Does God call you and me like that? If you’re like me, I never heard God call my name quite as clearly as my mother’s call. And I’ve never been waked up in the middle of the night as Samuel was by God calling me like that. So I’m not so sure of my calling. But I grew up being told that God had a calling for me, and my parents and Sunday School teachers always told me that all I needed to do was to hear that call to decide on my career in life. Now, I eventually accepted a “call” to the ministry which is kind of a special case, I guess. But I really think that ALL of us – you, me and everyone – has a “calling.” But is that calling the job you have? Is anyone called to be data entry technician or to be one of those obnoxious marketing callers? I hope not.
So what do we mean by a “calling”? On Labor Day let us consider, what is our calling, our vocation?
Let me do a little etymology lesson with you first. The word “vocation” obviously comes from the Latin word “vocare” – to call. So when we say what is our vocation, that is a response to being called somehow to do something. I will use that word mostly in this sermon because it is the most biblical idea.
But then, we often use the word “career” to describe our jobs. That word comes from the Latin word cararia which means a kind of road or track, or maybe from carrus which means a chariot. At any rate, a career is a direction for one’s life. It is a journey or job to which we commit for a long period of travel. It’s an idea kind of going out of favor these days Not many of the current generations have long-term careers like that..
And finally, we sometimes talk about our jobs as our “occupation.” That one is obvious. This is the activity which occupies most of our time. This is probably what most of us mean when we discuss our jobs. What activity uses up most of our time, for which we get paid. It’s not necessarily glamorous or fun or even important, but it’s a necessary thing.
- So what is your job, your occupation?
My time lately seems to be occupied by sitting in front of a computer screen in meetings and reading student papers… endlessly, hour after hour over the past year.
- What is your career?
I’ve always thought of my life’s career was teaching in one form or another, with a slight side trip into the ministry, and now it’s kind of a mixture of the two. I see myself as a teacher.
- What is your vocation, your calling?
For this one, I’m not so sure. Yes, sure I accepted a so-called “call to the ministry and to serve the church.” But I also feel somewhat called to be a teacher. Those are my paying jobs. But is that all that God calls me to do? That doesn’t seem right to be so limited – Erwin the teacher, or even Erwin the pastor.
“Calling” or “vocation” is a big concept, much more complex than just our occupations or even our careers. So on this Labor Day, I want us to talk about our calling, our vocation, our work with God.
And I am convinced we all have a calling from God in our lives that we strive to live out. You will find the idea all throughout the Bible. I would even go so far as to say it is one of the primary concepts running through the Bible. We are all called to work with God.
- It begins in the Genesis creation stories. Humans are told to have dominion over the earth, and then when Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge, when they become fully human, they are told that they both must labor in childbirth and in the fields. They must work in the world. That part of the story is often read as a punishment for their disobedience. But I see it as a calling from God to labor on the earth.
- And then all the patriarchs and matriarchs and judges and kings in those stories – they are all called to serve God. In fact, all of the people of Israel are “chosen” or called by God. We are the chosen and called people.
- And every prophet, like Samuel, has a “call story” when God calls them to prophecy. The prophets all are called to praise and serve God and to call the people to do the same.
- And Mary is called to be the mother of Christ
- And Jesus calls all the disciples, one by one, to follow him.
- And Paul constantly talks about how we are all called. Listen to what he says in one of my favorite passages in Romans. He says to all of us:
All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose
Yes we are all called to a vocation by God, to “his purpose,” but that means much more than our jobs.
I have a good friend who works as an Uber driver. And we are always talking about how he sees the importance of his job. He is so much more than a driver getting people from one point to another. He really does have a calling. He is friendly and talks to everyone who gets into his car assessing whether they need quiet or a listening ear. He becomes a counselor, a comforter, a kind soul in a cruel world. And he has some amazing stories of conversations he has had on his journeys. But more important, my friend also does this for me, he listens, he comforts, and he does it for everyone in his life. Being around him always makes me feel better about myself and my life. That is indeed a profound calling.
I also have a friend who works 40 hours a week on an assembly line at the Tessla plant in Fremont. He spends long hours every day screwing parts onto an auto chassis. And he comes home exhausted every night. Nothing about his job is particularly fulfilling. He even complains to me that he almost never gets to see the completed cars he works on. Much less, can he afford to buy the Tessla he produces. So clearly, this job is NOT his calling. But I first met this guy when I was volunteering serving at a homeless meal. It turns out that this friend spends almost every weekend working in that homeless shelter. And he donates almost every extra dime he has to support that shelter. There he has made friends with so many people who do not have a regular job or paycheck as he does. And as he works with people out of luck and sees them improve their lives, he realizes that he can use his tedious job to live out a calling to care for others. His vocation is much more than auto-assembler.
We are all called by God to some sort of work for God. For many of us, that is closely related to our paying jobs. I feel lucky that in teaching and preaching, I can share God’s love in the world. But even if your occupation or career doesn’t seem like a calling, you still have one! All of us are called by God to work and to be joyful in that work.
The Ecclesiastes passage Jeannie read for you earlier is one of the most important scriptures about this, yet it is often overlooked. These verses are overshadowed by the famous passage before it – that famous “Turn, turn, turn” song about everything having a season is followed by this. Ecclesiastes is often seen as a depressing, unpleasant book about the worthlessness of life. But you know, it’s not. It’s realistic. The writers of this book acknowledge life’s pain, but make it clear that there is also joy.
And then in this passage, look what this wise biblical philosopher says about our work:
What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. … [I.E. – Many of us workers are busy in some lousy occupations]
[But, he says,] I know that there is nothing better for workers than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.
We all complain about our jobs. The work we do can be tedious and annoying. Or we can lose our jobs and have to deal with unemployment. I know I don’t like my job much when I am reading my fiftieth, poorly-written student paper about the jealousy in Othello. Yes, we have a lot of unpleasant toil in our lives. But that is NOT our calling – to be unhappy with all the work we must do! Our calling is not our occupation, it is GOD’s GIFT! God calls us to “take pleasure in all of our toil.” We must live our lives working to share the joy of life that God gives us! Did you ever know the Bible told you to “eat, drink, and be merry!”? It does! We are called to JOY!
But that leaves one last big question. Yes, we are all called to God’s work. And yes, we need to bring joy and take pleasure in that work. But we still must wonder, what is that work? Just HOW do we live out this call from God?
I cannot answer that for you. Everyone must look at your own talents and joys and find it for yourself. And even if I tried to help you with it, it would take several more sermons. But suffice it to say, the Bible does give us lots of good ideas here.
So I want to leave you with one of those places, and it’s a good one. This is how Jesus saw his own calling, and we can learn a lot from that.
When Jesus returned to his hometown and his home synagogue after beginning his work, the folks there, naturally asked him about his life, as I’m sure you’ve experienced if you travelled back to where you grew up. They wanted to know what he was doing with his life. In other words, they asked him his calling. So Jesus picked up the scripture there, turned to the prophet Isaiah and read this. He said that, like Isaiah, God has called him
- to bring good news to the poor.
- to proclaim release to the captives
- to bring recovery of sight to the blind,
- to let the oppressed go free,
- and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Wow! Can there be any better calling than that? Is there anything more joyful than that?
So, my friends, when you hear it….
ERWIN… I’m calling you.
JEANNIE, I’m calling you.
—-, I’m calling you!
Listen for the call of God in your life. Whatever your job, whatever your occupation, whatever your career, I urge us all to find our calling, our vocation in God. And then let us live out that calling proclaiming good news in all of our toil. So whether we are teachers, preachers, Uber drivers, assembly line workers, enjoying retirement, or whatever jobs we have, let us all eat and drink and enjoy the calling that God has given us.
Come labor on!