(Some background: For the first six months of the year, BLC will focus on the preaching theme, “Upwards and Outwards“. Also, this sermon is based on this week’s liturgical readings: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 and Mark 1:29-39)
Sermon summary by Leigh:
If I were to ask you, “What is your deepest gladness?” What would your answer be? Now, hold that thought.
I am told to be more like Jesus and, based on today’s gospel lesson, I don’t think I’ve lived out a life of being a radical, subversive full-time preacher with a penchant for healing, hanging out with people on the fringes, and dying on the cross at the age of 33.
Yet, as a Christian, it is an undeniable truth that we are called to be like Jesus. Put another way, our journey as Christians – literally, “little Christs” – is a call upwards: towards becoming more and more like Jesus, even today.
Not only that, our call is a call outwards as well – having encountered Jesus, we feel compelled – as Paul did in his letter to the Corinthians – to preach the good news. What does “do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings” mean for you, in practice, today?
This week, I went to the Big Bad Wolf Fire Sale and fortuitously picked up a book by Timothy Keller, called “Every Good Endeavor“. I liked what it had to say about integrating faith and work:
“I’d learned that I was supposed to be changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and therefore be “used by God” in my relationship with others, and maybe even be distinctive in the way I [worked]. Nice concepts, but what did they look like in practice?
One CEO would share that he kept a Bible on his desk and that occasionally someone in the company would ask about it. Another prayed and the company thrived. Many viewed their corporate jobs primarily as a means to make lots of money to give away to charities and organizations they cared about. When I asked pastors and business-people how their faith related to their work, they often answered that a Christian’s primary, if not sole, mission in the workplace was to evangelize those with whom they worked. But most businesspeople would quickly add that evangelism was not one of their gifts. And none of these approaches addressed the issue of how Christians’ faith should affect the way they worked.
Living out my faith in my work seemed relegated to small symbolic gestures, to self-righteous abstinence from certain behaviors, and to political alignments on the top cultural and legal issues of the day.”
Keller then draws on the work of Robert Bellah, a sociologist, who highlighted the need for “…a re-appropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement,” before going on to explain:
“The Latin word vocare – to call – is at the root of our common word ‘vocation.’… A job is a vocation only if someone else calls you to do it and you do it for them rather than for yourself. And so our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests.
To be a Christian in business, then, means much more than just being honest or not sleeping with your coworkers. It even means more than personal evangelism or holding a Bible study at the office. Rather, it means thinking out the implications of the gospel worldview and God’s purposes for your whole work life – and for the [area] under your influence.
So, if we are called to be like Christ (our upward call) and to impact the world around us just like He did (our outward call) – we need to reconsider the fact that our work is more than just a job; it is a vocation. So where, or how, then are we called?
This brings me to this quote by Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Because God has made us the way we are and is continually at work in our lives, we can recognize that our deep gladness – the things that truly give us our deepest joy and sense of fulfillment – are part of His work in us. This includes our sense of fulfillment at work – consider the examples of Eric Liddell, John Coltrane, as well as other members of our faith community.
Integrating our “deep gladness” with the “deep hungers” of the world around us, thus, is where God has called us to. So, where is the deep hunger of the world around you?
And yet, as always, there is good news: God’s call does not take you where His grace does not cover you. Our Isaiah passage is remarkable because of the juxtaposition it offers between the great power of God as Creator and Lord of the Universe, and with the amazing fact that all that power is bequeathed to us:
Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
How this comes together for me stems from God’s call on my life, which I received when I was 16. Since then, I have gone on a lifelong pursuit of that calling – to be an evangelist, to help Good News get told through the power of marketing and communications.
And, so, the challenge now before us is this: Where has God called us to today?
An exercise to help us figure that out was to use the following graph – where, on one side, we list down what we think is our deepest gladness, and, on the other side, we list down where we think God is at work in the hurts of the world around us. Then, we take a good look at where the two meet and see where God brings the two together.
For a final thought, I leave this for consideration:
Think of that cliché that nobody ever gets to the end of their life and wishes they spent more time in the office. It makes good sense, of course, to a point. But here’s a more interesting perspective: At the end of your life, will you wish that you had plunged more of your time, passion, and skills into work environments and work products that helped people to give and receive more love?
Can you see a way to answer “yes” to this question from your current career trajectory?
My sermon slides are available here: