For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the encourager, in encouragement; the giver, in sincerity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.Romans 12:4-8
The image of the body with many members is an image that Paul uses often in his letters to talk about the body of Christ and the multitude of different gifts God gives to each of us as members of this body. It’s an image that comes up often in our life together as church, walking together in the way of Jesus. And it speaks to a gift from God of which Lutherans have a rich understanding: vocation. This is a theme that we are especially focusing on this year at St. John’s, through our worship life, stewardship, and Christian education.
A word like “vocation” may call many different things to mind. You might immediately think of vocational schools – job-focused education for practical occupations like plumbers, mechanics, hairdressers, and so on. Or vocation might take your brain to more churchy places – it comes from the Latin word vocare, which means “call,” a word that might instead evoke a job more like mine, where people wear schmancy robes and talk about God a lot.
In truth, however, every single one of us has a vocation – usually vocations! – to which God has called us: some kind of calling toward which we are drawn and for which God has equipped us. But, to ask the Lutheran question, what exactly does this mean?
I love author and theologian Frederich Buechner’s answer to this question:
The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.Frederich Buechner, excerpt from Wishful Thinking
Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” – wow! What an extraordinary gift – we each have an important purpose, something meaningful that is ours to contribute to the world and which will bring us joy in the process. We have each been gifted and sanctified – set apart – for some particular kind of work the world needs.
And it should be noted that this can look like many things. Perhaps your vocation aligns with what you do for a living, as in the examples above; but vocations abound in many aspects of life: vocations of service and volunteering, vocations of growing things or creating with your hands, vocations of parenting or grandparenting, and so on. For Christians, the most important vocation we receive is our baptismal vocation to follow Christ in the path of discipleship – a vocation that extends not only to clergy and church professionals, but to all believers everywhere.
So I invite you to notice in your own life: where do you find your deep joy? How might God be calling you to grow deeper into your vocations, deeper in joy, for the good of the world? What deep hungers might you be uniquely equipped to address? How are you being called today?
Adapted from a reflection first published in St. John’s August 2022 newsletter.