Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Doctrine of Vocation

The doctrine of vocation puts these things in their proper order. Our efforts are always in view of who we are in Christ, forgiven and saved ones, who share their God-given gifts with their neighbor....

That one sentence pulled from a very good Lutheran Witness article (check the widgit) is as powerful a sentence as I have read on the baptismal vocation that belongs to us as Christians.  The article was written about so called "Tiger Moms" and the great issues facing parents today (as always).  In the end the author challenges moms to teach as highest priority this sense of vocation and calling in which order shapes us and directs us -- an order not born of legalistic demand but of the new birth of baptism and our identity in Christ.  Who we are in Christ as the forgiven and redeemed, sinners and saints, is where our self-esteem is born, where our lives get their direction, and where discover our purpose and place in this great big world.

Sadly, we frame too much in legalistic terms -- forbidden and commanded -- when we should be seeing our lives in very different terms -- vocation and calling.  We do not "choose" this vocation but it is gifted to us before we even understand or appreciate its grace and blessing.  The vocation chooses us and our whole lives are lived in response to this chosen-ness.  Piety is not the exchange of one set of rules for another but the freedom for that which was impossible to us before Christ set us free.  As part of the fruit of our redemption, we find our place then within God's creation, we learn to be reconciled to our place as creators whose gift and calling it is to serve the God who served us in Christ.  Sin is not merely the breaking of a rule or law God set down but the idolatry which claims God's place for ourselves and therefore casts aside what is good and right and true to pursue what is right in our own eyes.  Redemption then is being restored to our place before God and within His created order AND the gift of place and standing in that new creation borne of Jesus' death and resurrection.  For now and for all eternity we learn contentment and peace in the place that God has prepared for us.

When parents impart this to their children, they give them a rich and blessed gift, indeed.  If we give them all the right things, care for their mortal bodies, see them achieve success on the athletic field or in the academic arena, and bestow upon them every techno toy that can be hand, we will still fail them as parents.  For the most important calling of parents is to impart to their children a sense of who they are and what they are to be and do -- a baptismal identity and vocation that serves them not merely for a moment but for all eternity.  This is the greatest measure of parental success and achievement.  True enough that no one can guarantee that the child will remain on this path but at least if they depart from it, they will know what they have and be able to return to it.  Ultimately, this is the place of life long repentance and faith -- the daily restoration to us of our identity and vocation as the children of God by baptism and faith.  What sin takes from us, what we surrender to our whims of desire and will, and all that temptation does to cause us to fall, these are restored to us when confession and absolution reclaims us by grace.

In the end it is not simply the vocation of father and mother which imparts this sense of identity and vocation to our children.  It is the very purpose and reason for the church's educational and catechetical ministry.  Unlike those who would see these as directed to individual confession (are you saved?), it is our goal to help the baptized seen themselves in the context of the Church.  It for this identity that we are placed within the family of God, that we share the common calling of the baptized to worship, prayer, witness, mercy and service, and that we participate in the liturgical life which is both source and summit of our individual lives and piety.  Ours is not some solitary "me and Jesus" role in the world but a sense of our place within the order of God's creation and within the community of the redeemed.  Who we are and what we do is not simply personal or individual but in common with the rest of the saints on earth and the vocation that is shared by all those who are baptized into Christ's death and resurrection.

In the end this both moves us to the font, pulpit, and table and moves us from the font, pulpit, and table and into the world as the servants of Christ whose witness is not simply words but the actions of love, mercy, and compassion that extend to our neighbors what God has given to us in Christ.

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