What is my calling from God?

October 1, 2017

Bible Text: Philippians 2:1-13 |

Last week we began a four-week sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And our Philippians reading today is one of the most extraordinary and beautiful descriptions of Jesus’ ministry and identity that you’ll find anywhere in scripture. It’s often referred to as the “Philippian hymn” because, clearly at this point in the letter, Paul switches from writing with normal prose and begins citing a poem, most likely one that was already being shared or sung in the early Christian communities.
And as a way of introducing this hymn, this poem, I’d like to suggest that Paul is describing Jesus’ ministry in terms of vocation – that is –Jesus lived his life as a faithful response to what God called him to do.
Vocation comes from the Latin word, vocare, which means “calling.” And like Jesus, God is calling all of us to fulfill our role in this world. But what does that mean? How are we supposed to know or discern what God wants us to do?
Well, like with everything that matters, we’ve got to start with God. We start by answering the question, “What is God doing in this world?” or to put it another way, “What is God’s desire for this world?” because surely our call is to align ourselves with what is God is doing. And I would say that what God desires for this world is its flourishing. So at the most basic level, what lies at the heart of all our vocations is that we are joining God for the flourishing of the world.
How does this begin? Again, it must begin with God, who is forever the Loving One, who is forever the “Gracing One,” extending (pouring, blowing) grace into our lives. It’s always happening, whether we see it or not, whether we believe it or not. It’s like the oxygen we inhale every minute of our life. Sometimes we’re conscious of our breathing. But most times it’s just happening. Like faith. Sometimes we’re aware of God’s love. But most times it’s just happening and we’re totally oblivious. But thanks be to God, our awareness (or lack therefore) has no bearing on what God already chooses to be doing. The grace of God is being breathed into us, ceaselessly. Faith is simply an awakening and a response to what God is already doing.
And if our human calling is to join in what God is doing, then one principle becomes very clear from the outset: As we receive God’s grace, we are called to extend God’s grace. Whatever particular expression our vocation takes, this must always be true: that we are stewards – conduits – of grace.
And let’s admit it: This is contrary to how we often live. We typically operate from a posture of selfishness, even in our faith. We accept God’s love as if we were the ultimate destination of that love – that God wants to bless us, redeem us, save us, bring us to heaven (call it what you will). But in any case, we think of it as arriving at and ending with us. But that simply cannot be true.
God’s grace is like water, which must always be flowing if it’s to remain alive. Think about the Dead Sea in Israel. The Jordan River keeps flowing into the Dead Sea. But because the only outlet for the water is evaporation, the sea is virtually dead and lifeless. So with us, the love of God remains a living thing in us only inasmuch as it’s passing through us to bless others. Because then – we have become like God.
To put it more crudely, unless we are sharing God’s grace with others, we’re going to get constipated by grace. And that’s just nasty.
So in discerning our vocations we can affirm this truth: it is less about me – my giftedness and my talents – and more about us, the community, in which our individual callings only make sense, only become alive, when they are being expressed for the other’s flourishing.
And it is this sense of vocation to which Paul is calling the Philippians.
Do nothing, he writes, from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3-5).
And then this where the Philippian hymn begins.
Though Christ was in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
(to be used to his own advantage)
but [Christ] emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).
Let’s stop there for a moment.
It is a basic point of the Christian faith that Christ is the image of the eternal God. If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus. Whatever else you may believe about God, it’s got to be consistent with the way God was revealed in Christ. And in Jesus’ obedience – in living out his vocation – what is it we principally discover about the nature of God in this hymn? but that God is the self-emptying one; that God is a servant; that God is humble.
It’s like we described earlier: God is always gracing this creation for its flourishing. Now God may indeed be “the ruler,” “the king,” “the Master of the Universe” (or any other metaphor we’re used to hearing), but the nature of God’s ruling or kingship is paradoxically that of the servant, the lowly one whose whole job is to see that the other is cared for.
And who knows, maybe that’s why God is so infrequently seen – for isn’t that the hallmark of a good servant? that all your needs are anticipated and prepared without your asking or your seeing? that you leave your bedroom a mess and when you come home the bed is made and the clothes laundered and returned to the closet, that the fire is already lit before you enter the room. Consider this life – each meal we eat, each breath we take, each moment of mirth – that each is the provision of our out-of-sight-servant-God who always lives to bless.
Isn’t that’s what Jesus showed us?
If we let that image settle into our reckoning, how does that change our perception of God? The angry god, the disappointed god, the just waiting to damn us god, is actually the Servant God, even to the point of death God. Well. That changes everything.
I was out walking one evening this summer while the forest fires in British Columbia were burning. Did any of you see the full moon that rose during that time? I saw it rise one night – full and round – and as I walked, watching that moon through the trees, it became for me the face of God. And what I saw was God’s eternal attentiveness to the world, making its orbit – round and round us – always watching, always mindful, always caring. It was the face of God such as I’ve been just been describing, the God of perpetual servanthood. But in no lowly, cowering way. Rather, it was the face of the deeply wise servant, of a God who has been God from before time, who knows birth and death, whose wisdom knows suffering and the role of suffering, even to death on a cross, but whose purpose through it all is grace, whose will for each of us is ultimately our flourishing. It was the face of the perfect servant.
And what Paul is telling the Philippians, he is also telling us: We know that this is what God is like because this is what Jesus is like. And God’s call to us is to live into that likeness.
And so I would say for us, that we do this by considering our blessings as God’s distinct calling of how we are to bless. What have you received – in this life, in this season, in this day? That is God’s grace to be shared.
I heard on the radio the other day about a ham radio operator in Pittsburg, who by some fluke of fiddling around on his radio, connected with another operator in Puerto Rico. And with electricity and communication networks completely cut off on the island, these two guys have begun an extraordinary service. Twice a day they talk to each other. The guy in Puerto Rico relays messages to the guy in Pittsburg, who in turn makes phone calls all over the country: your mother in San Juan is alive and well. Your brother’s family made it through. And they give messages to him, that he gives the guy in Puerto Rico, who passes them on to the family. And as I heard the story I started crying. These men are conduits of grace. These ham radio enthusiasts are suddenly revealed as ministers of the Kingdom of God, using their nerdy little hobby to break through fear and to share the love that binds these families together. They are living out their calling to bless, to be part of the flourishing of this world. And you could hear it in their voices – they were so alive, so aware of being part of something worthy.
Today begins St. John’s annual fund drive. The theme for the year is “Here I am.” It’s a quote from Isaiah when God calls him to a life of prophecy. “Here am I,” Isaiah says. “Send me.” It’s just what we’ve been talking about today. Our vocation is to live as stewards of God’s grace. What has God given you – what passions, what skills, what geeky little past times? Look around you. Listen. Pay attention. Who is it that God is calling you to bless today? Here I am. Here I am.
The fear, of course, is that we’ll be depleted or taken advantage of. And of course there is a place for rest and refreshment. But the lifestyle of faith remains, “Here I am.” Because it is only in sharing God’s servant love that we will truly know what it means to be children of God.
And here’s the beauty of it all: It was through Jesus’ obedience (the hymn continues) that
God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name (Philippians 2:9).
Jesus was exalted for his obedience, not as a reward per se, but as the fitting response to having lived his life as he was called to do. But make no mistake: He remains the servant, for that is the nature of God. But in the eyes of heaven, in the eyes of wisdom and truth, what is honorable and worthy of eternal celebration is that spirit that says, “Here I am,” and joins our servant God in bringing life to this world.

 

Thoughts on vocation inspired and informed by a presentation on vocation by Dr. John Lewis, Seminary of the Southwest.

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