When I grew up, I always hated that day early in September,
when the teacher would pass out one particular school form.
The teacher always told us how important it was to fill in the blanks of this form correctly because somehow
it was tied into money for the school.
The line which gave me grief was the line which said,
I was always embarrassed by that line,
because I really didn’t know what my father did.
I knew he worked at General Electric.
I even knew his title: Contract Practices Administrator for Marketing and Planning.
But I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what it meant.
In later years I threw caution to the wind, and simply wrote, “Accountant.”
I never asked my father whether he liked being a Contract Practices Administrator for Marketing and Planning.
I think perhaps the question would have puzzled him.
It would be like asking him if he liked having blue eyes,
or liked being Norwegian.
It was a major part of who he was.
He worked for General Electric for 37 years.
It was the only job he’d had since finishing school.
It was the only company he’d ever worked for.
On this Labor Day weekend as we talk about our various vocations and how God calls and gifts us,
I wonder if my Dad saw his job as a calling…?
Martin Luther would have.
Hear the words from Luther about vocation from 1520:
“..A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another…The service of God does not consist in the performance of one or two special deeds, nor is it bound to any particular calling, but God may be served in every calling.”
From An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility, 1520, and Sermon for the Sunday after Christmas, 1522
One of Luther’s remarkable insights
was that each of us is called and no calling is higher or more important or more holy than any other.
Luther believed that God calls us into our work, whatever that work might be.
In one of Luther’s most famous remarks, he says that
God is the one who is milking the cows through the vocation of milkmaid.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer and we pray
that God give us each day our daily bread,
according to Luther, we pray that God’s work of providing food be done
through the vocations of farmers and bakers, truck drivers, and retailers.
All of these are calls from God.
When we pray for families,
we pray for God’s work to be done through the vocations of parent, grandparent, spouse, uncle, coach, and neighbor.
All of these are calls from God.
So sometimes it surprises me as a pastor when people ask me,
“When did you receive your calling…?”
because I want to ask in return, “When did you receive yours?”
Sometimes it saddens me when someone will say,
“So you finally found your true calling!”
as if my previous calls as doctor, as daughter, as soup kitchen volunteer were less than true.
In the letter to the Ephesians we hear that each of us
has been given gifts to use in service for the body of Christ.
We each have a calling.
Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have a job in which
we use our gifts and we feel like at work we are fulfilling our calling.
For those of us who experience this, we know we are blessed.
Sometimes, however, we are out of work or retired
or the jobs we have provide necessary income but don’t really use our gifts.
When this happens, our gifts are used more fully outside our jobs –
through volunteer work or at home with family or with our hobbies.
These are calls too – and no less important or less holy.
I would guess that that the latter was the case with my father.
I don’t think that when he was a little boy, my dad thought to himself,
“When I grow up I want to serve God by being a Contract Practices Administrator for Marketing and Planning.”
I think my Dad would have recognized his service to God
most easily in his various calls that came outside of work.
Some of his calls came out of his own choosing and discernment process;
others were thrust upon him.
When his father died from complications of alcoholism when he was 16, he was called to serve as the head of the family.
He was called (in the form of a draft notice) to serve in the Army during WWII.
Eventually he was called to be a husband and father.
Off and on he was called to sing in the choir, teach 8th grade Sunday School, and serve on council.
He was called to volunteer for the community Christian center.
In his 50’s he was called to be a Caregiver for his aging mother;
and in his 80’s he was called to be a Care-receiver as his own health failed.
All of these were holy calls.
Luther would say that
God was the one working through him through his vocation of older brother and soldier;
church leader and community volunteer;
caregiver and patient.
On this Labor Day weekend,
we wrestle once again with how God has called us
and where God is working through us.
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists,
some pastors and teachers….
and some accountants and some plumbers…
and some detectives and some tax collectors…
and some artists and some musicians…
and some grandfathers and some uncles…
and some truck drivers and some office administrators…
and some coaches and some scout leaders…
and some bankers and some construction workers…
and some school board members and some church council members…
and some electricians and some paralegals…
and some nurses’ aides and some writers…
and some PTO parents and some Steven Ministers…
and some caregivers and some care receivers…
…..and some even contract practice administrators in marketing and planning…
The gifts he gave were that all – all of us – would be to equip the saints for the work of ministry;
for building up the body of Christ.
In a few moments we will be invited to Affirm our Vocations.
We reflect upon how we uniquely are called to serve God
by virtue of our baptism;
and in gratitude to God, we recommit our service to others
in all that we do – at work, at home, in the community, and at school.
As Luther said,
God is served in every calling.
That is our vocation this Labor Day weekend.