Your Passion is Your Vocation/Sunday's Sermon

(Text:  Matthew 10:40-42)

During the time when I was growing up, my small North Carolina town boasted a single movie theater.   There were two shows each evening, at 7 and at 9, plus weekend matinees.  The theater was less than a mile and a half from my house, but for some reason we were often late to the early show, perhaps because of 6 o’clock dinner.  And so we missed the preview and the Porky Pig cartoon, and came in after the feature had already started.   

Oftentimes it was hard to follow what was happening in the movie because we’d missed the beginning, missed the part that set up the story and introduced the characters. 
Anyway, after the first showing was finished, we stayed in our seats until the theater got dark again and then started watching the movie all over again, from the beginning this time.  When things started looking familiar, someone would lean over and whisper, “This is where we came in,” and we would get up and slink out, bending over so as not to walk through the beams of the projector and irritate the other patrons.  With luck, by the time we got home, I would have had time to put the whole story back together in my head.  I hated watching movies this way!

I am remembering my childhood moviegoing experiences now as we begin the nearly six months of what we call ordinary time, the season after Pentecost, the liturgical time of Christian growth, of living out our baptismal vows in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Practically speaking, we have returned to the semi-continuous reading of the Gospel of Matthew, which is the Gospel of Year A, after having interrupted Matthew to read from the Gospel of John throughout Eastertide.

And it turns out that because Easter and thus Pentecost were so late this year, we have come back in to the story in Matthew at the tail end of Jesus’ discourse in which he authorizes and sends out disciples.  We missed all that led up to these last two verses of Jesus’ discourse that make up our reading for today.  We missed the introduction of the characters and the location of the action and the topic of the speech - just like my childhood moviegoing experiences, we came in well after the story began.

So let’s take a minute to get re-oriented.

This section of the story comes after Jesus has given the sermon on the mount and then gone about the countryside, preaching and healing, accompanied by some disciples and other followers.  As he has gone about his work in the world, Jesus sees that the world around him is full of people who are in great need.  They need healing, they need acceptance, they need teaching, they need food, they need companions, they need to feel God’s love for them. 

Jesus has compassion on the people around him, the crowds; he sees that they are drifting and needy.  He sees that they are like sheep without a shepherd.

So Jesus calls together his disciples and prepares to send them out as laborers are sent out into the harvest.  He is sending them out to continue and expand his work.  The disciples have been chosen and commissioned.  To prepare them for their work, Jesus tells them what discipleship is going to be like, that it is costly; he tells them how they will be reviled and even rejected, how they must be willing to go out without all their stuff and to trust the Spirit to help them speak and teach. He tells them that their message and their work will be countercultural.  He reminds them that God will be with them.  And finally, Jesus concludes his authorization to the disciples in these verses today by broadening the scope of discipleship to include those who came after the twelve, those who go out into communities everywhere, in every age, in the name of Christ.  Not only the disciples, but all of us are commissioned to ministry, and all of us share in the presence of Christ as we minister in his name.

So that’s where we are in the story.  Perfect timing, after Pentecost, when we enter the season of Christian growth, to be commissioned again by Jesus to minister to others - to go out and do what we can to be God’s love in the world.

The question for us today and all days is how will we be God’s love in the world?  This parish does great ministry in the community right here - with your food pantry and soup kitchen, the health clinic, and recovery center.  And for so many of us, being able to participate in these kinds of ministries through our church right here in our neighborhood is such a blessing, both to us and to our neighbors.  I hope that many of you are involved in this church's ministry in this neighborhood.

So, is that it, then? We can all pat ourselves on the back and call it a day?  What else is there to talk about?

Well, my guess is that, still, not all of you are involved in giving out that proverbial cup of cold water right now.  Maybe you don’t have time, or maybe you aren’t sure you are cut out for the soup kitchen or the clinic but you don’t know what else is out there. Maybe you're remembering Jesus' words that discipleship is costly and you are afraid.  Maybe you don’t know what your vocation is.  Maybe you don’t know that you have a vocation, since many of us have come to think that “vocation” is a technical term associated with the priesthood.

And it is about priesthood, but not simply ordained priesthood - vocation is about the priesthood of all believers.  It’s what the priesthood of all believers means.  All of us are commissioned for ministry by virtue of our baptisms.  All of us are called to minister to others in the name of Christ on behalf of God and are given the power and strength to do so through the Holy Spirit.

So the question I’m posing to you today is this: what is your vocation? What is God calling you to do in the world?

If that question scares you, hear what the wonderful writer Frederick Buechner says about vocation:  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.

You are called to do what you are passionate about.  Somebody out there needs to be the beneficiary of your passion.  But you don’t have to save the whole world - that's Jesus' job.  But Jesus says today that ministering can be as small as giving a cup of water to someone.  If giving out water is your thing, somebody out there is thirsty.

I heard a wonderful story on NPR this week about how fresh food from stores ends up in food banks to be distributed to needy people.  Some of it is cooked and served to homeless people; some of it is given to people who have their own kitchens except after paying the rent and the electric bill, they can’t afford to buy food.  And I was thinking about all the people it took to make it all work.  First, there were the people in the store who pulled the food off the shelves when it was getting close to its expiration date.  Then there were the people who volunteered at the various places where food is needed - the Salvation Army, local soup kitchens, and the like.  Then there were people who load and unload and drive trucks - to pick up food and take it somewhere.  Then there were people who cook and people who serve and people who work in the background to wash dishes or mop floors.

That made me think about a guy who buys cases of water and drives his old Toyota to the the base of the highway overpasses, the places where homeless people have their camps, and just hands out bottles of water to people - no i.d. check, no forms to fill out, no organization.  That guy doesn’t know what else to do, but he knows that people need water, so he hands it out.

Yesterday I read in the New York Times about the efforts to relocate zoo animals in Minot North Dakota where the flood waters are rising daily.  Regular people with trailers helped transport giraffes, and local farmers agreed to shelter bison and llamas and such.  They used what they had to help out in a tough situation.

And that made me think about how someone with an idea can do incredible ministry.  And also many people it can take to make a ministry work and how many ministries depend on even the small actions of someone who has a passion for something.  It depends on someone saying yes - yes to God, yes to your passion, and yes to one another.  Yes, I’ll drive your giraffe to safety.

I wonder if you’ve felt the urge to think about your own passion, your own deep gladness, to identify the thing you are really good at, the think you really love, and think about how you might make that your ministry.  How you might see that passion as your calling and begin to look about for places where you can exercise your calling.  How you might find your vocation in the world by listening out for your own passion.  

It doesn’t have to be earth shattering.  Whatever your passion is, it was given to you by God for you to share with the world.  The world needs your passion - whatever it is, big or small - like thirsty people need water.....

Most of us find ourselves in life coming into stories that have already begun but aren’t over yet. Life can be confusing to try to figure out.  It’s an intersection of God’s story and our story and the story of a world full of people who need love, who need care, who need to know their own identity as God’s own beloved.  And we have to find our place in the story, as Christ’s hands and feet.  

So, think about your passion and make your story into a story of offering that passion to a world that’s in great need of it.


Ray Barnes said…
A wonferful post Penny. You really are an inspirational thinker/writer.
No doubt that you are in the right job.(career/calling).
Thank you so much, Ray. You have no idea how much it means to me to read your comment today!
steve said…
Life really is like walking into a movie 20 minutes after it has started; we spend time wondering how it started and why we are listening to the story the the way we do... But in life you don't get to stay to the 9 oclock show to figure it all out. Life is better... If we listen deeply to what God is saying He can take us back to that time and make sense of it all; maybe salvation is really figuring out the first 20 minutes and knowing it comes from God...
Thanks, Steve. I think salvation is knowing that we are participating in life with God. Figuring things out seems to be hit or miss sometimes! Certainly life can be confusing, but knowing that God is with us is the blessing.