Thursday, October 27, 2011

What I Would Have Said: The Vocational Life, Part Three

This is the third and final entry in a series of posts taken from a talk I wound up not giving at a men's retreat last weekend. The other two can be found below. Enjoy!

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That means that when we're at work, we're actually on mission. The life of a disciple is not removed from the context of a disciple. Where we live, move and have our being is the fertile ground in which our God has planted us, and what will emerge is what God has for us to do. A watching world, observing the discipleship lived out in its presence, will be inclined to say “Surely the presence of the Lord was in this place, and I was not aware of it.” We do our work as unto the Lord, because we seek the righteousness of the Lord, and God’s righteousness applies to the way we apply ourselves to the work given us. We relate to our coworkers (and our neighbors, and the people we encounter when we’re shopping or dining out) in ways that honor the image of God in them and that inspire them, by our words but also by how we conduct ourselves, to give glory to God. We strive, whether we’re in a worship service or in a meeting, whether we’re on session or on the golf course, to see God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And we do all this with confidence that the God who spoke to Peter in a vision and who visited the household of Cornelius when no one thought God would ever do such a scandalous thing—that God has a mission for us in whatever place we find ourselves.

That also means that our mission doesn’t end with our retirement, and we don’t cease to serve God when we’re laid off. The work of the church extends to whatever we’re doing and brings us into all kinds of odd encounters. Retirement or layoffs aren’t the termination of our identity; they are the introduction of a new context. We may be being called to a new kind of work. We may be being called to advocate for people for whom retirement or joblessness have been like a kind of death; they need the good news that only a resurrected Messiah can offer, and they need the kind of justice that is characteristic of a kingdom ruled over by a merciful, loving God. We may be called to relationships with people whom our careers have blinded us to—the neighbor we’ve never had time to get to know, the staff at the restaurant or coffee shop we frequent. We aren’t lawyers or doctors or businessmen or teachers or retirees or anything like that, any more than Peter was a fisherman. We’re disciples who practice law or medicine or who teach or have retired. We capture people with a vision of the kingdom of God, where every tear is wiped dry and every suffering brought to an end.

You can’t do that sort of thing in a church; you have to be the church and go do it wherever the Lord calls you. That’s what Peter did with Cornelius, and when the church heard about it, they couldn’t say anything other than Wow, so that’s what God is up to.

We end our day in the life of a disciple where we started, with an encouragement from Jesus to dispense with the illusions we’ve inherited and embraced, and instead pursue the path that God invites us onto, a path that is as restful as it is expectant:
Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor to your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? . . . Do not worry, then, saying “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25, 31-33)
This is the calling of a disciple. It starts with our disillusionment—when we sometimes painfully but always redemptively part with the illusions that distract us from God. It ends with our fulfillment, as we experience the joy of the Lord giving us strength, and at the time of our death when we hear the most fulfilling words we’ll ever hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of my kingdom.”

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