Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bethany Bullet - September 23, 2014

There is a quote that is widely ascribed to Martin Luther that says, “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.”  Whether Luther ever said that or not, doesn’t really matter, because the sentiment is true; we don’t have to import a Christian message into the places God has called us to work, because all vocations have a divine calling and God is already there as we work, for Him.  

Last week in worship Pastor Kevin Kritzer laid the foundation for our Parish Theme for this year of ‘God At Work.’  He reminded us that we see God at Work:

FOR us in Christ to grant forgiveness
IN us through the Holy Spirit to create faith
THROUGH us in the world to facilitate His presence

Today, I want to start with our New Testament lesson from Ephesians chapter 4. Paul begins, I, a prisoner in the Lord, encourage you to live the kind of life which proves that God has called you. Be humble and gentle in every way. Be patient with each other and lovingly accept each other.”  (Ephesians 4:1-2)

Before we go any further, let’s remember…We are saved only by the grace of God, and we contribute absolutely nothing of our own actions to the work of Christ.  In that mysterious exchange upon the cross, Jesus bore all our sins, received all of the punishment that we deserve, and gave to us all of His righteousness.  We come to God as sinners, not as doers of good works, and what we receive from Him is pure, free, and unconditional forgiveness.

I’m sure you have heard the familiar words of St. Paul from earlier in his letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

God doesn’t need (and in fact cannot use) our good works.  Though our relationship with God has nothing to do with our works, good or bad, and is indeed, totally God’s work, but Paul continues, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10).

By virtue of our creation, our purpose in life is to do good works, which God Himself “prepared” for us to do.  We are God’s workmanship, which means that God is at work in us and through us to do the work He intends.  God might not need them, but they are still important.

Often times, when we think of God at Work, we think in mystical terms, as an otherworldly magical power, not something so close to home.  God works in mysterious ways, not in ordinary ways, we think.  If He is going to heal us, we expect something spectacular—a miraculous rising from the wheelchair or hospital bed, something that doctors cannot explain.

Sometimes this happens, but the usual way He heals us is more mundane, though none-the-less wonderful as He works through the hands of doctors and nurses, medications and procedures.

If He is going to talk to us, we want a giant billboard along the freeway, a booming voice from heaven, writing in the sky, or at least an inner voice, if not a mystical vision.

The fact that He uses a book…mere ink on paper…much less a preacher, whom we know is no different from us, can seem like a letdown.

The truth is – God does indeed work in all things.  I think in our modern world we have lost the notion that God works through means, through the stuff, locations, and vocations of life. 

For countless generations it was assumed and accepted that God causes it to rain.  Then the scientists of the Enlightenment presented data about air pressure, relative humidity, and cold fronts.  That, they say, is what causes it to rain; we don’t need God to explain it. But knowing the chemical and metrological process involved by no means diminishes the fact that it is still God who makes it rain.  He is the one who designed, created, and sustains all of these natural processes.  He works through means. 

Water and Word, bread and wine, these are the means by which God works in the spiritual kingdom, but He is by no means bound here.  Yes God’s grace, the message of His love and forgiveness in Christ comes to people through the sacraments which are tangible manifestations of the Gospel.  He works through means.

God also works through means in the earthly kingdom.  God works through the natural laws built into creation.  He rules the nations, including those who don’t know Him by means of His moral law and He works in the so-called secular world by means of vocation. That is, He institutes families, work, and organized societies, giving human beings particular parts to play in His vast design.  He works through means.

We find God at work in us hidden in the vocations of His dearly loved children.  God’s fatherhood looms behind human fathers, and the marriage relationship is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

God is at Work as He provides for our needs.  He uses civil magistrates to protect us.  He uses parents to take care of us and spouses and families to bless us. 

Luther goes so far to say that vocation is a mask of God.  That is, God hides Himself in the workplace, the family, the church, and seemingly in secular society. 
To realize that the seemingly mundane activities that take up most of our lives—going to work, taking the kids to soccer practice, picking up a few things at the store, going to church—are hiding places for God can be a revelation in itself.  It makes the mundane, divine.

Most people seek God in mystical experiences, spectacular miracles, and extraordinary acts.  To find God in vocation brings Him, literally down to earth, make us see how close He really is to us, and transfigures everyday life. 

The work that God does through us, the good works of life, are not meant for God, but for our neighbor.  Look at those around you. You are literally surrounded by God at Work.  As God works through us we are God’s representatives no matter where we have been called in life. 

If you have been called to the boardroom, you do so by God to work for Him.  If you have been called to the classroom, or cubicle, the construction site, or the community center, you do so by God, to do His work. All vocations are divine by nature, instituted by God and how God works through you each and every day.

God is hidden in vocation, that is true, but in some ways it is also true that God is hidden in our neighbor.
Christ is hidden in our neighbors and all those in need.  Sometimes our neighbors may not seem all that loveable, but Jesus loved them and died for them. How could we not love them?

The farmer and the others who feed the hungry are feeding Christ. The mother dressing her baby is clothing Christ.  The nursing home attendant who meets the needs of the resident is taking care of Christ.  When we serve our neighbor, we are serving God.

You might be saying, what about me?  I’m not working any more, where is my vocation?  What about my family member who is home bound or being cared for by others?

Many of you know that my mother was in full time residential care for 19 years.  Suffering from an undiagnosed neurological disorder, she could no longer care for herself. 

Earlier this year when Rev. Dr. James Lamb from Lutherans for Life was here for life Sunday he said something most amazing. He said (and I am paraphrasing) that when he talks to those who are home bound, or relegated to residential or convalescent care he tells them that they have the privilege to be Jesus to others and he reminds them of Jesus words in Matthew 25, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

What comforting words! My mom’s 19 year tenure in nursing homes was not a waste, it was not punitive, or the act of an unloving God, but an extension of my mother’s ministry on earth. For years her vocation was that of a classroom teacher where she cared for the students in her classroom, later her vocation was that as mother as she cared for her children, but that was not the end of her ministry or her vocation.  She continued to be Jesus to those who took care of her, who fed her, bathed her, and took care of her needs, and in the end, when she finally entered paradise, she heard the wonderful words of the Savior, “Well done, good a faithful servant.” So today I have renewed hope and a changed perspective on service to the Savior and the idea of vocation. May I be blessed to be Jesus to others for as long as my mother.

There will be moments in life where your actions are not the actions of Christ, where you will not be working for God but working for your own selfish ambitions having given in to the temptations of Satan.  When that time comes, and it will, remember that God was at work for you in Christ.  He calls you by name, invites you into his presence here in His house and He hears your confession.  He worked a miracle on the cross and through the open tomb and announces that as far as the East is from the West, so far has he removed your sin from you. 

That is why we come back again and again to this place, because we know that God is at work through means.  In this place there is forgiveness, nourishment and refreshment that will strengthen you to be God at Work, wherever God has called you. 

So let’s end where we began, with Paul’s encouraging words to the Ephesians, I, a prisoner in the Lord, encourage you to live the kind of life which proves that God has called you. Be humble and gentle in every way. Be patient with each other and lovingly accept each other.”  (Ephesians 4:1-2)
Let us pray…

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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