Epiphany 3A: Occupation & Vocation – What is a call?

Readings

  • Isaiah 9:1-4
  • Psalm 27:1,4-9
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
  • Matthew 4:12-23

You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translations, here.

Sermon

I love a call story.

There’s a bit of a formula to them that I find endearing.

Oftentimes, we get to know a person at a particular time in their lives.  Then, that person is called in some way to some specific task – most likely, something completely different from what they were doing before.  And, in doing that new task, the person discovers passion, or purpose, or a wellbeing, or wholeness.

At least that’s the ideal story.

I think I was probably in elementary school when I first learned about one’s call – or, this sense of divine purpose if you will.  The Bible has many stories of people who are going about the journeys of their lives and are suddenly thrust onto a new path as God calls them into a new adventure with a new purpose.  In Sunday school, I learned that God often calls people into what they will do with their lives.

In high school, I learned that one’s calling is about balancing in one’s interests and dreams with one’s talents, abilities, and aptitudes.  This idea I had as a nine-year-old that I has a calling to become a marine biologist met up with the realities of my 15-year-old inability to pass a biology exam or memorize large swaths of detailed information.

The other thing I learned in high school that one’s calling is often tied to what one did with the rest of their working life – an occupation, or career.  And that was where you found satisfaction with life.  “If you do what you love, you will be happy in loving what you do,” or something like that.

Turns out, occupation and a call from God are not always the same thing.  Our careers and our vocations are not necessarily the same thing.

The confirmation class and I were learning about that very thing this week.

We spoke about when they were little and what they wanted to be when they grew up.  We also talked about if that had changed or if they still wanted to be and do that same thing.  You have some very clever and ambitious young people in your midst!

I shared about how I spent years pursuing my passion for the fine arts, firmly settled into the idea that I was destined to be an artist and a teacher.  And, how God’s call resulted in a number of vocations and a career of a different sort.  We spent some time talking about the difference between one’s career and one’s many vocations in life.

Perhaps it’s because of my own story, but I have made it a habit to learn about the many and various ways the people around me have discovered God calling out to them and setting them on the path of particular vocations.  I have found that pastors are good for these kinds of stories, likely because we’ve been trained to talk about it.  But, with each story, I am always pleased to learn that we are a varied people with varied stories.  Those different stories serve to remind me that God calls people to be light-bearers in all sorts of places: as they are, from where they are, being who they are.[1]

I think it’s timely in this season of Epiphany, the season of light, to think about how God calls us and inspires vocation in each and every one of us.

From the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the writer has taken deliberate steps to tie the history of the Israelites, the course of Jesus’ life together, God’s promise and God’s call all together.  It’s in the very first chapter of Matthew that we get this lineage line from Abraham to Jesus – this litany of people that God has called throughout the ages.  So too, in today’s reading from Matthew we get a little bit more of this connection through time.  This time, in a bit of geography.

The ancient regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, mentioned alongside the more modern Capernaum and Nazareth functions just like that litany of names.  This time it’s about people living in a time of darkness.  More specifically, the darkness of conquest, occupation, and oppression.  But, it’s something readers of Matthew might have some direct experience with.  Not Assyria, but Rome.

The words of Isaiah are a call for hope – light will come along the way of the Jordan and the Galilee.  The gospel of Matthew uses those words to remind us “that the story continues, and that God’s ancient promises as the great prophet Isaiah expressed them are true: light breaks forth in the most unlikely of places, in the midst of the most unlikely people (and for them, too), and shines even today in the ministry and faithfulness of communities gathered in Jesus’ name.”[2]

Which brings us to the calling of the fishermen.

There are two call stories, the one of Andrew and Simon Peter, and the one of James and John.

Jesus happens to be walking along the coast, and spies two fishermen, throwing nets into the sea.  He calls out to them, and right away they follow.  Jesus activity here seems suspiciously like the activity of a fisherman.  Throw a line and see what happens.  Jesus gets a couple of bites.  Then Jesus sees James and John in a boat with their father.  Jesus called out to them and he gets a couple more bites.

Sometimes God’s call completely changes our life’s plans and takes a dramatic turn, showing us a different set of vocation possibilities.[3]  Sometimes God’s call uproots us from the communities that have shaped who we are and the communities that we have grown most comfortable with and puts us into the midst of new communities to show us additional possibilities to whom we can be.  Always, God’s call, at its core, is about hearing God’s word within us, all around us, and following where God leads. That is the essence of being a disciple.

“For these first disciples it will be a difficult road, and despite their initial obedience to Jesus’ call, in the coming days they will often fail both to understand and to obey him. They will sleep through his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, they will flee when he is arrested, and Peter will deny that he even knows Jesus.  Yet, on the other side of their failure, Jesus’ message will reach them…They will run away, but Jesus will not give up on them. He will call them to repent, to turn around and go back to the place where it all began.”[4]  However these disciples might fail, Jesus will call out to them to follow again and again.

From anglers on the Galilean coast, to a questioner under a tree, to a tax collector loved by no one, to a woman sitting at a well in the heat of the sun – through all the rest of these disciples who hear God calling, Jesus continues to call.  They are to be bearers of light in all the world, in all that they do, and in who they are.

Which brings us back to our calls and vocations.  “We ourselves are those most unlikely of people, the mostly unexpected sources of help and hope, and good news for the world even in the most troubling times.”[5] And, we will hear more about what this looks like over the next couple of weeks.

For now, my hope is that when you to hear about the call stories of Andrew and Simon Peter, and James and John, may you also hear the gospel of Matthew telling us this:

Even as God’s Word came into the world and dwelt among us as Jesus Christ,

and even as Jesus called the Apostles to their particular vocations and ministries,

and even as he announced the good news, and healed the sick, and taught the many how to be and do and live,

and even as the light of God grew in the midst of all this,

the vocation of ‘Light of the world’ does not fall only on the shoulders of Jesus.

We are all called to the vocation of light-bearer, shining in the midst of all forms of darkness.  Through baptism, we become members of the body of Christ.  God’s word and God’s light goes wherever we go.  And we are to be bearers of light in all the world, in all that they do, and in who they are.  We are called to go, and do likewise.

Let us pray,

Holy One, you continue to renew this world with your promises.  You continue to scatter the fears that binds us and set us free to live as your children.  Give us ears to hear your call, eyes to see the variety of vocations you call us into, and hearts filled with courage that we may joyfully turn and follow you into new adventures of faithful service, led by the light that shines from each of us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


Sermon Illustrations

  1. Mark Davis. “The Reason of Following.”  Left Behind and Loving It: January 15, 2017.
  2. Janet Hunt. “Following Jesus: That For Which We Are Made.”  Dancing with the Word: January 15, 2017.
  3. Judith Jones. “Commentary on Matthew 4:12-23: January 26, 2014.”  Preach This Week: Gospel.  Working Preacher.org
  4. Karoline Lewis. “Mapping God’s Promises.”  Dear Working Preacher: January 15, 2017.  Working Preacher.org
  5. David Lose. “Epiphany 3A: Being Before Doing.”  Dear Partner in Preaching: January 17, 2017.  …in the Meantime
  6. Kathryn Matthews. “A Call to Follow.”  Sermon Seeds January 22, 2017.  United Church of Christ.
  7. Audrey West. “Commentary on Matthew 4:12-23: January 27, 2008.” Preach This Week: Gospel.  Working Preacher.org

This week’s image is entitled, “The Calling of St Peter and St Andrew,” a seventeenth century painting by Pietro de Cortona.  You can learn more about the painting here, and the artist here.  The image is public domain and borrowed from Wikimedia Commons.  It has been modified and adapted for the purposes of this blog.


[1] Audrey West.  “Commentary on Matthew 4:12-23:.” Preach This Week: Gospel.  Working Preacher.org

[2] Kathryn Matthews.  “A Call to Follow.”  Sermon Seeds January 22, 2017.  United Church of Christ.

[3] Judith Jones.  “Commentary on Matthew 4:12-23: January 26, 2014.”  Preach This Week: Gospel.  Working Preacher.org

[4] Judith Jones.  “Commentary on Matthew 4:12-23: January 26, 2014.”  Preach This Week: Gospel.  Working Preacher.org

[5] Kathryn Matthews.  “A Call to Follow.”  Sermon Seeds January 22, 2017.  United Church of Christ.

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