Pastor Joe Skogmo
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN
Epiphany 3 | 01.26.2020 | Matthew 4:12-23
An important detail about the sequence of events in the life of Jesus is revealed in today’s gospel.
That important detail is this: in every one of the gospels, Jesus is baptized shortly before he begins his Galilean ministry, and from there he does not begin that ministry without doing one thing first—he calls disciples.
This is profoundly meaningful. This means…that Jesus does not do God’s work alone.
Jesus does God’s work with and through God’s people. This means, as followers of Jesus, all of us, each of you, are called to join Jesus in his work in the world.
We have a word for being called to join Jesus in his work. That word is ‘vocation.’ Vocation is a major word in Lutheran theology. For Luther, the concept of vocation was central to understanding the meaning in each of our lives.
By grace and not by our own works, we have all been redeemed by the love of God in Christ Jesus. This means we do not need to spend our energy inward trying to save ourselves – we do not need to be constantly spending energy riddled with guilt to make ourselves right or holy, or making ourselves acceptable to God. Christ’s love is sufficient in making us forever acceptable!
So, instead, we are called to spend that energy out in the world in our daily lives, in vocation – in the call to respond to God’s grace by joining Jesus in his loving work for the world each and every day.
Now, with that said, as I think about Jesus calling these disciples in the Gospel of John (which for the records, stands as an affirmation of the grace I just talked about: these people hadn’t done anything yet; they didn’t even know Jesus well, and Jesus loved them and called them any way!)…and as we contemplate vocation, I can’t help but wonder if any of you share a common misunderstanding of vocation.
I wonder this, because all too often people are misled to believe or assume that vocation is reserved for a select few and that ‘God’s work’ is not their calling. In other words, it is a common misunderstanding that vocation and doing God’s work is something only clergy do, that only pastors, church staff, or bishops do.
For instance, people have said things to me about being a pastor that imply just that. When I was in seminary preparing to become a pastor:
“Oh, you’re going to do God’s work!”
“Joe is going to school to be a holy man!”
And when I became a pastor:
“Nice to see you’ve become a man of God.”
“We love that you took the call to do God’s work.”
These were and are all really well intentioned things that people were saying about the pastorate…but they’re grounded in a narrow view of Jesus’ calling people to lives of discipleship. They seem to imply that ‘God’s work’ is reserved for those who enter the ministry.
But the biblical fact is that Jesus did not only choose to work with rabbis and prophets, but as we see here – through ordinary everyday people, like random fishermen on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18). So, I want to dispel the myth that ‘God’s work’ is only done by clergy, by pastors and bishops.
And to do that, I am going to rely on Martin Luther and the Apostle Paul.
Luther spent much of his life trying to dispel the myth that God’s work is performed only by priests and bishops. In fact, he even spent much of his life dispelling the myth that God’s work is only done within church walls.
Luther did so, particularly, in a 1520 landmark writing titled, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. In this work Luther emphasized a biblical idea called ‘the priesthood of all believers.’ In unpacking this idea, Luther argued that leaders in the church are not any more special or sacred, or responsible for God’s work than any of God’s children; in fact, he maintained, each and every one of us “are all priests.” And “if we are all priests,” says Luther, “it is the duty of every Christian to espouse the cause of faith.” In that tradition, it is also written in a core Lutheran document that the pastoral life is “no more” a sacred calling “than the life of a farmer or an artisan.”
From the Bible to Luther, and the Lutheran tradition, there is an expansive view of who is responsible for God’s work. That view is this: every single person is empowered by the Holy Spirit with gifts to take ownership over the movement of church and its place in God’s mission. You are not people who just attend church; you are the church, in your everyday lives. Not just pastors, all of you are called to God’s work. All of you have sacred vocations through which God does God’s work in the world. God’s work. Our Hands. Right?
As one of my favorite professors and good friends, Rolf Jacobson says, ‘God’s people don’t have a mission. God’s mission has God’s people.’ God’s mission has each and every one of our vocations. We are each called to God’s work in our homes, our relationships, our citizenship, our careers, in our daily life.
This is why the Apostle Paul urged his Corinthian congregation 2,000 years ago to remember that —“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” (1 Cor. 12:7).
In other words, make no mistake about it, you are all priests – from your home, to the streets, to the grocery store, to your relationships, to your jobs, to your gifts and talents – you are all priests helping enact God’s love in the world and doing God’s work in your daily life.
Don’t believe me? Think about what you do on a daily basis. Think about how the domino effect of what you do every day from purchasing something, calling someone, interacting with people in everyday scenarios, and engaging your daily duties at your job – the amount of people that rely on you and are effected by you are more than you can imagine. Much of what you do daily combines to affect and serve the neighbor and make the world go ’round.
God gives you each gifts of the Holy Spirit – things you’re good at. God calls each of you to join Jesus and have Jesus work through you to enact love in the world, called daily in your various priesthoods – the priesthoods of industry, engineering, cleaning houses, the priesthoods of business, construction, sewing, accounting, parenting, teaching, banking, farming, nursing, music, and the priesthoods of being a good friend, uncle, or aunt, or spouse.
As a pastor, I am not a holy man. Called by God, as God’s beloved, we are all God’s holy people, through whom God’s work is done in the serving and loving of our neighbor.
Blessings to each of you priests as you are sent into your holy priesthoods to do God’s work this week with all that God gives you. Amen.