The world is a broken place in need of healing. We seek health and wholeness in our personal lives, in our bodies, in our relationships. We all want to move from dis-ease into a life of wellness and God wants that for us too! During Lent this year, we are focusing on how we can find such health and wholeness in all aspects of our lives. Using the Wellness Wheel as our guide, and trusting that our baptism is at the core of all healing, we will pursue health of body, mind and spirit in various areas of life. This first week we are grateful to have special guest Sparky Lok sharing regarding vocational wellness.
We all have a calling — a vocation — to follow Christ’s example by living a life of meaning, purpose and service to our neighbor. Our vocations make up our life’s work and passions — they are the everyday roles through which God calls us to help make this world a better place. Those who are well vocationally are faithful stewards of their talents and abilities, and find opportunities to build and use them.
In secular terms, vocation could be defined simply as our job or main occupation; the way we bring home the bacon. In schools and colleges we talk about “vocational training” as the kind that gets you gainful employment. But in Christian life, that vocation is no less than our calling from God. It is that meaningful thing that we know, in the depths of our being, that we are especially gifted by God with the ability to do and that will help build God’s kingdom on Earth. The two main questions I’ve wrestled with are:
How does each of us discern what that personal calling is?
How we should act when, with God’s help, that discernment comes?
The Bible holds up lots of examples of how holy people sought, recognized and acted upon their callings to say a very big YES. The story of the boy Samuel in the temple holds up an example of how the mind and attitude of a trusting child reacts to a call from God, simply saying without deliberation “here I am”; “speak Lord, I am listening”. For those of us who feel a call to Christian education, the example of old Eli, with all his flaws and baggage, shows how a holy mentor, an elder in the faith, can be so important in helping such a youth to recognize and respond to a call from God.
There is another character in Samuel’s story who reminds us of the often undervalued vocation of holy parenthood….Parents, of faith, nurturing their families/children into living their calling. Samuel’s mother Hannah had been barren all her adult life, but she nevertheless feels a calling, a vocation for motherhood. She prays to the Lord and ultimately her prayers are answered; she conceives and bears a son, Samuel, named she says in 1 Samuel 1 because “I have asked him of the Lord.” Later she pledges that “I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there forever.”
We can read Hannah’s prayer of joy and thanks for the gift of her first son:
“My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies because I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” -1 Samuel 2:1-2
To me, this joyful prayer sounds remarkably like another very young parent-to-be, who, when she learned of the special child she would bear proclaims, like young Samuel,
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” -Luke 1:38
Later on, in answer to her cousin Elizabeth’s salutation, Mary, like old Hannah almost millennium earlier, sings a song of praise that’s so striking in its similarity.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Answer with your feet
If poetry and song aren’t your strong suits, you can also say “Yes” to a vocation with your feet. Jesus’ other parent, the silent old carpenter, Joseph, the man of not few but of no words, answers his angels not with song, but with forbearance and with action (Matthew 1:18-24).
Later on, as Herod the psychopath, resolves to kill the baby Jesus by any means necessary, good and faithful Joseph once again answers an angel’s warning with action and, again, without words (Matthew 2:13-15).
The fishermen and the tax collector in our Gospel readings also answered Jesus call with their feet. Saying not a word but dropping their nets and setting aside their ledgers to follow Him.
Small Acts Matter
Are we all to drop our nets, so to speak, and forsake our families and all else that’s familiar as the disciples did? There are certainly some examples of high calling and ultimate sacrifice in our life and times. Dr. Martin Luther King answered his call to lead a non-violent movement, even revolution, for justice and civil rights in a thoroughly Christian way, ultimately and willingly paying the ultimate price for his vocation. I’m now reading a biography of theologian and Lutheran pastor Detrich Bonhoffer, and there too was a holy vocation, a life of devotion, and ultimate sacrifice. Bonhoffer, keenly aware of the Cost of Discipleship (the title of one of his great books), went willingly to his execution in a Nazi prison scant weeks before the collapse of that evil regime at the end of the second World War.
Are we all called to vocations and sacrifices like these? I do not believe so. A few will answer a call to a life of ministry or mission in the Church, and a few will lead a life of complete devotion, to the exclusion of all else, and extreme sacrifice. It is truly wonderful when this happens, but I think that a Christian can easily fall into frustration and guilt if they believe that is the only standard that’s acceptable to God. No…I think that if we only let it, if we only acknowledge that our abilities are gifts from God, our faith as Christians can enlighten and ennoble the work that each of us does from day to day, here within the Church for sure, but also out there in the wider world, transforming what would otherwise be mere jobs, housework or child care into holy vocations, done to the glory of God.
Recently, Pastor Sue distributed a figure called the Circle of Wellness or the Wholeness Wheel. Around the edge of this circle are arranged the many aspects of life in which we strive for Wellness. These are essentially the same as are highlighted by secular “Wellness Programs”, and the pursuit of those is truly laudable. But what changes everything for us here is what’s at the center of this circle- our Baptism as Christians. it’s that God has claimed us as His children. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Because of this, work that would otherwise ordinary, can become a true vocation in the Lord, one that bears witness to Him whenever we do it, whatever it may be, in God’s name. These days, the smallest acts of Christian love kindness and concern can transform a home or a workplace into something far better than what they were, even something extraordinary.
May each of us go about our daily work or avocation recognizing the special light that our lives as baptized Christians can bring to them, and when that is done, let us each recognize the result, which is a holy calling, a holy vocation. Amen.
Sparky Lok has been a member of Saint Luke since 1996. He teaches the 6th Grade Sunday School class, and is a member of the Mutual Ministry and Pastoral Sabbatical Planning Teams. You may also find him helping out as a Stephen Minister, at Feast Incarnate, or as a worship assistant on Sunday mornings.