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Sunday message: The gift that lies in having a vocation

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Sixth Sunday of Epiphany – February 10, 2019

Scripture readings:

Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 138, Luke 5:1-11

So often we end up in situations where we aren’t sure which comes first, the chicken or the egg, by way of speaking. Say for instance, a young person goes off, leaves home, family and everything that is precious to them, to study for a career. As an example, does being accepted in a program to train for law come first, or is it the aptitude that counts?

The thing is that, a number of years later, they might apply to article at a lawyer’s firm, after incurring many thousands of dollars of debt. The young person wants to earn a living, but has very little experience and has to prove her- or himself. Is this person really suitable for being a lawyer?

Young people get subjected to a whole lot of pressure before they can make their mark in life. The young people don’t always know exactly what they want to become upon finishing high school. Many need to take a “gap-year” or two before they decide what they want to do.

The biggest question we often ask ourselves when we start out with life, is: “What am I good at?” “I like working with people, therefore…” or, “I’m good with words, so naturally…” Looking at career paths to take, it can easily happen that we confuse that with our vocation as Christians.

The most interesting part about vocation, however, is that — according to our Luke reading — it’s not about the things we are good at. 

Vocation, Christian vocation, doesn’t come from inside, from what you need or desire, or what you want. Vocation may actually be the other way round. It is what God wants from you. This is the way God shapes you as part of God’s way of redeeming you. The talents God gives you at birth are nothing compared to the gift of vocation. Just look at Jesus’ disciples. They were very mediocre and untalented. But they made a difference. Vocation is not an inclination within, awaiting discovery by searching around in the deeper recesses of our ego, or a means of getting what we want out of life. As Jesus succinctly says, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit.”

In a similar way, back in the 1980s when the Alberta economy was booming with oil revenues, people came from depressed parts of Canada. This could be likened to the unsuccessful fishermen, at the places where they had lived. They moved here for a better life, because many of them had some form of calling, a vocation, to come this way. One day, in a fit of rage, the premier at that time, Ralph Klein, called these “migrants”  “eastern bums and creeps.”

Decades later these people have stayed, as they sensed a vocation. They have contributed to the growth of the province, which despite recent challenges, remains an economic powerhouse in Canada. This has been possible because of all these “bums and creeps” brought their various trades and vocations to Alberta.

The wealth of Alberta is because depressed people, like poor fishermen in the boat with Christ worked together to haul the catch onto their boats. They have helped make life better for all. In many cases Jesus had chosen them that they might go from where they were and bear fruit for Him. 

After a frustrating night of failed fishing, Jesus’ disciples say, “We’ve been out here all night and have caught nothing.” 1.) Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, in deeper water. They obey. When the nets are pulled in, they are bursting with a miraculous catch of fish.

Simon Peter blurts out, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter is clearly overcome with awe by the majesty, the glory of Christ. Luke says that James and John were amazed, too.

Jesus doesn’t go away from Peter. Rather, Jesus says to confessed sinner Peter, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” Not leaving Peter in his awe and fear, not saying one word in response to Simon’s confession of sin, Jesus enlists Peter to join with Him in his work of outreach to the whole world. Then Luke says, “As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.”

A miraculous catch of fish is followed by the bigger miracle — “miracle” is what we call God not abiding by our silly rules — God calling sinful Simon to be a disciple. For some, this vocation story is a corrective of our misconceptions about Christian vocation. Maybe you’ve heard that Jesus’ summons is based upon his assessment of your gifts, his insight into your hidden talents. 

Not at all! Like Simon, you and I are just sinners, sometimes failures at our day jobs, sometimes overwhelmed by the glory of Jesus. And Jesus’ call comes only to people like us. His call is not based on our potential or our merits but on his grace. His call to us is his undeserved, unearned gift to us.

As Jesus said, “You did not choose me; I chose you.” Why? “So that you could go and produce fruit.” So that we could produce good works for him. So that we could bring in a miraculous catch of disciples. Simon didn’t make himself a disciple by his decision or his clear-sighted assessment of his gifts. He is made a disciple by the work of Christ. “It is God who hath made us and not we ourselves.” And Simon, James, and John leave everything and follow Jesus. 

God has some form of discipleship in mind for everybody; therefore, everyone can expect vocation, that peculiar way God uses you as God’s own creation in God’s salvation of the world. One of the happiest aspects of my happy pastoral life is watching the ways in which God calls — some to write letters seeking freedom for those seeking amnesty, others to do time on the church’s Board of Managers, to empty the bedpans of those in need, to set a good table for the hungry, even to be a public school teacher and a Christian at the same time. 

There are many such people who take care of the mundane necessities purely because they are called, they have this gift of a vocation. They know where they are heading. God has called each one of us.

1.) Much of the inspiration for this message came from William H. Willimon’s study by the title “The gift of vocation” published on ministrymatters.com (subscription required)


Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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