This was also the Sunday just following our Diocesan Convention here in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. So, I wanted to tell the congregation a little bit about what Bishop Ian had talked about in his Convention address. And, on top of that, I felt the need (as I always do) to talk about the Gospel for the day - even if I wasn't going to dig into Zephaniah and Thessalonians (and the fire and brimstone of the coming of the day of the Lord).
And though it may not seem like these three things are connected, there is, in fact, a common thread. And that thread is vocation. In the secular world, when we talk about vocation, it's often in reference to a particular kind of skill or work. That's why we have places called "vocational schools," a place someone goes to learn a particular craft. In the church, though, I'd suggest that this word means a little more. It's less a call to a particular kind of work - and perhaps more a call to a particular kind of life (which is inclusive of particular work). Before I was ordained, I spent a lot of time explaining to folks, and hoping that others would see and affirm what I felt was a vocation to the priesthood - a call to this particular kind of life as a priest. The other really important thing about vocation, at least as I hear the word in the context of the church, is that ultimately, one of the gifts - or one of the signs - of vocation is that Christ is made more visible; that somehow because of our willingness to submit to this call, God helps us to show Christ's love in the world.
It's important to remember that in the Episcopal Church, we believe that God has work for all Christians to do - which means that each one is called to a vocation - or several vocations. And that's important because it's not just me who is called to make Christ's love visible - in fact, it's all of us - it's just that you might be called to do that work differently than I am. You can be sure that God does call you to something particular, and that engaging in that work is intended to help others come to know Jesus. By virtue of our baptism, all Christians are called this life - a life outlined by our Baptismal Covenant - a life of following Jesus, participating in the life of the church, and respecting the dignity of every human being. We are also called to repent of our sin, return to the Lord, seek and serve Christ in all people, and hopefully someday soon - to cherish and protect the wonders of God's creation. It's quite a tall order. And, in this world that becomes increasingly individualist and faith-less, this vocation to be a Christian is, indeed, a very particular kind of life. A life that inherently calls you to very particular work - that of relationship building, justice-making, and learning to love your neighbor.
So, on Sunday, I talked a little bit about what I heard in our Bishop's address as an exciting call to discover a new vocation. As the world around us continues to change, as the needs of the communities around us continue to change, Bishop Ian asked us to let go of the past and to begin to see the wonders and challenges of the new season in which we live - a new missional era. He reminded us that we will need to be brave in this new season, that there is more change yet to come, and that God will have God's way. In all this, I hear something really exciting - a call to newness of life - a chance for us to re-imagine and re-engage what it means to be Christian today...what this particular life looks like to which God calls us. I believe, as do our Bishops, that God is still knitting us together in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut - that we are still being formed - more and more into a Body that can share Christ's love, that can offer an image of Jesus to a hurting world.
This is not unlike the way that we've discovered our vocation here at the parish in the last few years. Through our listening and praying and our exploring of the neighborhood around us, we have discovered a passion for feeding people - and in large part, I believe that's because Jesus is calling us to this work. In no uncertain terms, he tells us to love and feed our neighbors - and so we're working hard to do just that. This has become our vocation as we relate to the world outside our walls - as we try to build community, create new relationships, and feed our hungry neighbors. In all of this, I hope that what we're offering people is an image of Christ's love: Jesus who would sit and talk, Jesus who would open the door and welcome folks in, Jesus who would feed without asking questions. This is a really important part of our vocation as a parish family.
Marriage is a vocation, too. Like all vocations, this means that not everyone is going to be called to this particular way of life - and by that, I mean that there are other ways to live as a faithful Christian without being married. For those of us who are called to it, however, it is also intended to offer an image of Christ's love to the world. The married couple must learn to love each other - to forgive each other - and to bear with one another in good times and in bad. And in so doing, they offer each other a glimpse of the unfailing, overwhelming, omnipresent love of God. And, if they submit to this work, if they give themselves to one another, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they become a new creation - a new unit - capable of showing an image of God's love to the people and communities around them.
The Gospel on Sunday, the Parable of the Talents, touches on individual vocation. (You can read the parable here.) The slave who takes his talent and buries it in the ground neglects the responsibility he has been given. The other two take their talents and invest them - use them, capitalize on them. Perhaps in the process, they also invest in others - or in a particular market - so they use their investment wisely not only for themselves, but perhaps their actions have an effect on others as well. In the response of the Master, there is a stark difference. The two who invest their talent are rewarded with more responsibility. The other, who hid his talent in the ground, is cast out into the darkness - left out of community, with severed relationships, and no more access to responsibility.
I believe this passage, too, is a call to vocation. It reminds us that God has given gifts (and talents!) to each of us. These take many forms, but they include our skills, passions, intellect, abilities, wealth, relationships, and time. And we are intended to invest them in the Kingdom of Heaven - to capitalize on them, to make good use of them - to have a positive effect on others and to offer the people around us God's love. To use our gifts, to live into our vocation as Christians, to make the world around us better in the name of Jesus - so that more people might know Jesus' love. The trouble comes when we don't use these gifts in that way - when we take what we've been given and hoard it for ourselves, when we hide it in the ground out of fear, when we refuse to risk enough to use these gifts for the greater good. Because here, too, all that we have is a gift from God, intended to be used by us (Jesus' hands and feet in the world) to show people the image of Jesus.
Vocation. Corporate - as it is in the church, as we learn together about our new vocation, our new ways of showing people Jesus in this changed landscape. Relational - as it is in marriage or in any deep, faithful relationship - in which we are called to love one another and bring out the best in each other, relationships in which we have the opportunity to love each other - and out of this love - produce for the world around us an image of Jesus. And vocation is individual - by virtue of our baptism - each one of us is called to go out into the world ready to love and serve the people we meet - to tell them this great story, and ultimately, to show them the love of Jesus.
What are your vocation(s)? To what work are you called by God and because of your baptism? How does that work figure into your every day life? And how well are you living into these vocation(s)? How well are you loving your neighbors, using your talents, and showing people Jesus?