On my desk I have a sticky note with a few key words that guide my preaching. One of them is the word ‘meaning’. I think we’re all looking for meaning. We want our lives to mean something and we want to participate in something bigger than ourselves. We want to make a difference in something that really matters. Yet I think it’s increasingly uncommon for people to have this sense, this deep conviction that their lives mean something. This is one of the reasons that I’ve found myself drawn again to the theological concept of vocation.
Years ago I stopped using the word ‘vocation’. There were two main reasons for that. The first was that the word was (and still is) too often limited to paid employment. This glorifies careerism and marginalizes the many who work a job for the simple reason that they need to earn a living. It also leaves out those who work long hours for no pay at all. The second reason that I stopped using the word was that in Christian circles it often overshadowed the New Testament idea that our primary calling is simply to follow Jesus.
I’ve come to think that despite those risks vocation is an important concept. So I’ve decided to give the word another go. We can think of vocation as the place where our skills, experiences, and passions (those things that give us deep joy) meet some need in the world. Sometimes our vocation and our employment are almost one and the same, but that isn’t always true. Many an artist has to pay the bills in some other way. Many stay-at-home parents or care-givers are entirely unpaid. A vocation doesn’t end at retirement. That unique set of skills, experience and passion remain.
In our worship service this week we read the passage from Luke 14 where Jesus tells the crowd how costly the decision to follow him can be. One of the things this surely means is that we can’t approach our vocations as we otherwise might. The difference isn’t that we don’t want to do good work or that we don’t want our firms to make money. It isn’t that we don’t want our children to be successful. It isn’t that we don’t want to be on good terms with our neighbours. It isn’t that we don’t want to do well academically. Those are still viable goals.
The difference is that the way we live out our vocations will be salted with a foretaste of the kingdom. The theologian Amy Sherman puts it just about like that. We could also say that our vocations will be salted with a foretaste of God’s economy. Our work in the present should be carried out with the knowledge that there is a new economy coming. The life of Jesus was a sign of God’s new way of doing business. Our vocations, in the context of our unique skills, passions, and experience, are similar.
The economy of God is one where all God’s creatures, especially the vulnerable, can flourish. It is the economy of shalom, of peaceful and just flourishing. It is an economy where gift and blessing take the place of coercion. It is an economy where individuals, regardless of status and wealth, are honored and not exploited. The economy of God is one where humility is valued, where joy is present, and where strength is never separated from gentleness.
To be a follower of Jesus with a vocation means those things will show up in our work. Maybe in the coming months each of us should watch for places in our own work, paid and unpaid, where we can point to God’s economy. Yes, we want to be proficient and excellent according to current standards. But what if we watch for ways to use our influence to bring a foretaste of God’s economy to our corner of the world?