January 26, 2020 - Sermon - Rev. Mark Simone

Claiming our Vocation

          Last week our pastor, Hamilton, shared with us on the idea that God calls us and names us. He talked about the power of names and that names can be reflective of our personality.

Today we will examine how God’s call to us is not just in naming us, but also in gifting us with a special purpose. Sometimes we refer to what we do as our vocation. But vocation is more than the job we do to support ourselves. An online dictionary said, a vocation is an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which they are suited, trained, or qualified. Though now often used in non-religious contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity. The lesson of vocation is that it is part of our discipleship relationship with God. As Matthew says, God calls all of us to be fishers of people. He used what the newly called disciples did for work and showed them how they could use the nets of love, acceptance, peace and justice to make Christianity relevant to all people.

One of my personal heroes is Pope Francis, the leaders of the Catholic Church. As he unexpectedly rose to the place of becoming Pope, he was simultaneously actively involved in what he saw as his mission to the community. After he was seated as Pope, he struggled to conform to the expectations of tradition and church law in that it disrupted his personal missions.

Early on, the Swiss Guard became very concerned because the Pope would come up missing for most of the evening throughout the week. They finally put a tail on him and observed as the Pope snuck out of the Vatican, got in his small car, and drove to a soup kitchen.

The Huffington Post has this to say on Dec 2, 2013, “A knowledgeable source in Rome said that ‘Swiss guards confirmed that the pope has ventured out at night, dressed as a regular priest, to meet with homeless men and women.’ Pope Francis is known to sneak out and break bread with the homeless, sitting with them on the street and eating with them to show that they were loved.”

Francis has a very important job. He also has a vocation that he loves that defines him. His ministry to the poor shows who he really is, not who he is supposed to be as Pope. Very cool guy.

When we our called into our vocation, that part of life that we seem to be drawn to and for which we are well suited, we become freed from the bonds of what others expect of us and lay claim for that which God leads us to do.

Isaiah taught us that we first had to be released from the yoke of our burdens, that the bar across our shoulders, and the rod of the oppressor. Bondage had to be broken that we could be liberated to be all that God created us to be.

This week I watched a very unusual movie for me. In spite of there being no karate, no car chases, not aliens or monsters, and no mystery plot to solve, I decided to watch Brittany Runs a Marathon. Brittiany is a mouthy fat young woman who after a miserable doctor’s appointment, decides to take up running. She begins with one block. One long never-ending block. Over time she goes farther and ends up training for a marathon. Along the way she has to face the limiting, offensive prejudices that her friends hold for her. They love their token fat friend, Brittany, and don’t want her to quit being fat and funny. As the story unfolds and Brittany makes incredible life changing decisions, she comes face-to-face with the true fact. She is her own worst enemy and in facing that reality, she is able to do what she needs to do. She finds it’s not body type at all, but who she is in her soul.

You likely noted in both of our scripture lessons the references to light overcoming darkness. The Isaiah prophecy is read every Christmas Eve as the prophet foretells the coming of the Messiah. The light is Jesus Christ.

John 1 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Christ is named as the life that brings light to all people.

In John 8 we read, “Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

The promise is that walking in God’s light we will defeat darkness. We will realize our best selves. We will be placed on a path of wholeness, ministry and relevancy.

In my counseling I see many who are seeking light. They look through deceptive lenses of depression, anxiety, family matters, work insecurities, financial troubles, relationship issues, and much more. It is not unusual for those in pain to hunger for the immediate presence of light that will break the turmoil and erase the darkness. For so many these powerful verses about light overcoming darkness have been pointed out to them by every well-meaning believer friend. The verses have been abused to the point of platitude and uselessness. The light that we all seek is often hoped for like the light we immediately get when we throw on a light switch. Instantaneous light to eradicate the darkness that plagues.

But in my experience, it is more like the light from a dimmer switch that slowly rises in illumination over the course of pushing the dimmer. Better yet, I think the light of a sun rise is the best illustration. There is the promise of the new day, even as the early morning hours of darkness drag on. We watch for it, and then it happens. There is a tiny, incremental presence of the dawning of the new day. If you have ever camped out and been up before dawn, you know what I am talking about well. It starts slow. Dawn never rushes in but becomes apparent over time. Full light takes time yet watching for it is never wasted. Light takes over the darkness. Sometimes it is a light switch, but more often it is the face of the coming dawn,

And this is the message of claiming our vocation. Not just in our job, although you may have a job that allows you to serve others and minister, and you may feel your job and vocation dance together nicely. The difference is that your vocation will ooze from you as maple rises in the tress in the late winter. It will be a presence and, at times, a force.

Kathy and I support a mission in South Africa called Khula. Khula is a program of seeking out children who have gone missing from school. Their mission is to reintegrate primary school children in disadvantage communities who are at risk of dropping out and to work with them to successful help them return to the school system. In South Africa during the span of 2011 to 2017, 18,735 students dropped out of primary school. There is no mechanism in the school systems nationwide to seek out these children and work with them so they can return and be educated. This is the work of Khula, a Zulu word which means to grow, increase and thrive.

The founders of Khula, Erns and Daleen Labuschan, are friends that I met in 2004. At that time Daleen was active in church leadership and a youth ministry volunteer. Erns was a prominent banker in Cape Town. They both had good jobs, plenty of income and lived well. They also were very mission minded and became aware that, as Christians, their passion was helping children stay in school. They both quit their jobs, sold their gloriously lovely house, traded in two very nice cars for a single, modest used car, and tightened their belts. They started Khula and it has slowly grown and is now active in 22 schools in the Western Cape area. They live in a small rented house. They sold off many of their possessions. Yet they are filled with joy beyond measure. To date, they have successfully reintegrated almost 1000 children in primary schools, some of whom have now graduated.

There is not tight ending for this message today. There is only the request that you ponder these things. Age doesn’t matter. Finances and place in society don’t matter. You responding to the leading that God has placed in your heart and soul – that is what matters. Living in our name and nature, and then claiming our passion to bring light into the world. That is what Jesus modeled for us and that is our highest calling. Sharing love.

There is a video that makes it way around social media of a young man who gave a homeless street person $100. A camera man secretly filmed the event. The man, after he picked up his jaw from the pavement in astonishment, went into a store and bought badly needed food and supplies. After he returned to his place in the park, a partner/actor for this experiment went and sat by the homeless man and told a fabricated story of how down and out he was. The homeless guy listened in sympathy and support. After a bit, the homeless guy tells the actor to wait here and watch his stuff. He takes the shopping bags and returns to the store. Soon he returns with no bags, which means no food, or shoes or blanket, and sits with the actor. He pulls some money out of his pocket and gives it to the actor and smiles like he just won the lottery.

Or as the Message translation of Isaiah puts it,

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows— light! sunbursts of light!
You repopulated the nation, you expanded its joy.
Oh, they’re so glad in your presence! Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration, sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.
The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—

all their whips and cudgels and curses—
Is gone, done away with, a deliverance.