Sunday, August 08, 2010

vocation & community

I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about vocation. My career history has been varied – like most. Some pretty good jobs and some that were, as my buddy Nate likes to say, Soul Sucking. It’s not always tied to money. I spent about four months – a few years back – writing story treatments for a local film company. I woke up every morning with this weird, youthful enthusiasm – could not WAIT to get to work. I felt whole, happy, in my element… I got paid very little - certainly not enough to support my family. And when the project was over, I took another job making double what the writing job paid, and I was miserable. Looked forward to every day with dread. It wasn’t about the money.

Ironically, it’s not always about the nature of the work. In my last position, I spent 3 years as a sales and marketing manager for a medical supply company. I have no passion for medical supplies. We sold clunky, unattractive, therapeutic shoes – not exactly a thing to get passionate about. And… I hate sales. I really do. But guess what? I absolutely LOVED the job. About two years in Kim commented, “you know… you don’t hate your job”.

I said, “yeeeaaahhh…?”

She said, “You’ve always hated your job. We’ve been married for over twenty years and you have never gone more than a day or two without complaining – until now. I can’t remember the last time I heard you gripe about your job”

It was a revelatory moment. Why? Why did I not hate my job? It was not a dream job. It was not a field where I had a great passion. So why?

I figured it out pretty quickly. It was the environment… It was the people I worked with. It was… you guys have heard me speak – you knew this was coming… it was the community.

When that job fell apart last December… when we all lost out jobs… I missed the paycheck. I missed the benefits. But I’ll eventually find those again. The loss that I grieve is the community. I wonder if that will be as likely to come again.

Vocation is action. Vocation is task. But vocation becomes burden and obligation without community. Community breathes life into these tasks; into our calling. Unpleasant jobs are made less so when we share them with folks we care about. Maybe that’s what we really mean buy “misery loves company”. I can do anything… as long as I don’t have to do it alone.

Even the things we love, the things that stir our passions… even these things take on new life in community.

“the life I love is makin’ music with my friends” ~willie nelson

I get that. I have played alone and I enjoy it. But when I get to play with other musicians, the experience deepens. And when those other musicians are friends – people I care about and who care about me… that’s when the moment becomes transcendent.

Let me ask a question. How many of you like your jobs? Not deliriously happy. Just “Like” or at least not “Hate”?

Now… think back to when you were… say… 16 – 18. How many of you are doing NOW what you expected to be doing when you were 16, 17, 18 years old?

Yeah… me either. I was gonna be a rock star.

Vocation is sometimes living out your dreams. Usually, it’s just getting done what needs doing. But community shares the load. It makes it lighter. It takes away a bit of the pressure. It gives us the means to celebrate our victories and to mourn our defeats.

Jesus believed this. If anyone was ever capable of fulfilling his vocation alone it was Jesus. He did not need affirmation or pats on the back. He didn’t need advice or consent. But he needed a community. He needed to work out his vocation with a community of friends. Not just co-workers… friends.

When he began his ministry; it did not take long for him to start gathering guys like Peter, John, Andrew… even Judas. No question that Jesus came to do something only He could do. His vocation – his calling was His alone. But as He lived out this vocation, he shared it with a community of friends. With his buddies. I wonder if, on a long and exhausting day, those 12 guys made the load a bit lighter. I wonder if the weight of Jesus calling was sometimes too much – and if those friends made the unbearable a little more bearable. And I wonder if the only comfort he found, as he hung on the beams of his Roman cross, was the face of his best and closest friend John.

“Jesus does not fulfill his vocation in action only but also in passion. He doesn't just fulfill his vocation by doing the things the Father sent him to do, but also by letting things be done to him that the Father allows to be done to him, by receiving other people's initiatives.”
~ Henri Nouwen, “From Action to Passion”

In Gethsemane, the scripture tells us that Jesus was “handed over”. Not just by Judas but, in a sense, by God himself. In the hours that followed, Jesus vocation changed from action to passion. From an active moving forward to a much more difficult waiting. He was now in the hands, not of his friends, but of those who hated him. He submitted himself to be handed over to their will – and – to the will of the father.

Our vocation, our calling, is action but it is also, sometimes, waiting. When we lose a job, we wait. When we lose a loved one, we wait. When our plans and hopes seem lost and the path we had chosen is blocked, we wait. But we do not wait alone.

“the waiting is the hardest part” ~Tom Petty

When I lost my mother – the worst thing was being alone. When I lost my job, I could not stand to be home alone. When we wait, no matter what we are waiting for, we need a community to wait WITH.

I love the story of Job because, if you read it correctly, it is amazing how little has changed over the centuries. Job was in bad shape. He had lost everything. When he was at his lowest, his community stepped in. And just like good church folk, they spent the next several chapters trying to figure out how Job’s agony was, in fact, Job’s fault. “Let me tell you, Brother Job, what you did to cause the death of your wife and children…”

Job’s friends were not content to wait with Job. They missed this idea completely. They did not get that vocation is not always action – sometimes it is simply waiting. It is simply passion. They simply tried to rush the process. They figured they could hurry God along by unearthing the unknown sin in Job’s heart. And these friends, in the end, did nothing to comfort Job or to share his burden. Instead they added heavier weight to the already unbearable burden he carried.

Our vocation – our calling – is to be and do what Christ was and did. To remake the earth – to be agents of his now and coming kingdom. This work begins in our own hearts and spreads thorough out every part of the world that we touch.

“Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons and daughters of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity. ...To work out our own identity in God, which the Bible calls "working out our salvation," is a labour that requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many tears. It demands close attention to reality at every moment and great fidelity to God as He reveals Himself, obscurely, in the mystery of each new situation.”
~ Thomas Merton. “New Seeds of Contemplation”

We “participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others”. We continue his vocation. We announce his kingdom to the world... we build his kingdom in the world... and we celebrate his kingdom... and all of these things we do together. In community. In a family.
We work and we wait. We move with action and we wait in passion. We follow our call to work and to be still. We labour and sacrifice and anguish and risk and weep. We follow him by being like him. We call others into our work. We join others in their work. We share our passions with those who love us and we support the passions of those we love.

If we see our call as his call... if our vocation is His vocation... then we will carry our call as he carried his. We will labour and sacrifice and risk and weep... together.

His kingdom come...

Saturday, August 07, 2010

the body broken

John 1:11 (New International Version)

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

John 1:9-11 (The Message)

The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet… the world didn't even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn't want him.

Sometimes, in our effort to tell the gospel story, we miss completely the historic reality of the man Jesus. We overlook his humanity and in the process, miss much of the heart of his story; and ultimately, of our own story.

The narrative of scripture follows a certain rhythm or pattern. We see the story embodied in the people of Israel – called God’s chosen people. The pattern of the story is familiar and it seems to repeat itself – for dramatic effect. Creation – fall – exile. This pattern begins in the creation story and continues throughout Israel’s history. Along the way, prophet’s came to warn Israel to repent and turn back to her creator. Many of the prophets were rejected, even killed. Inevitably, the fall would come and Israel would again see her people taken into exile, or captivity, or slavery.

Into this history steps the man Jesus. Maybe Israel’s last prophet. Again, he warns the people of God’s coming wrath and calls the nation to repent. But this story is different. Jesus is not only the messenger – he is actually the message.

The 1st century Jew placed their whole identity in two primary places. Torah and Temple. Yahweh spoke through Torah and he dwelt in the temple. Jesus’ message was radical in so many ways but especially surrounding these two touchstones of the Jewish identity. Jesus’ gospel, the message he preached, was that his father was calling Israel to a new way of being Israel. Israel used Torah and Temple to isolate and separate themselves from the pagan – gentile world. Jesus called Israel to be a light TO the world. He believed that the father intended to save the WORLD… the whole world… THROUGH his people, through Israel. And, in preaching this radical call, he challenged the very heart of 1st century Judaism. He took on the role of Torah and Temple… he became what these institutions had symbolized throughout Israel’s history.

In the beginning was the word, and word was with God and the word WAS God. ~john 1:1

John’s gospel opens with these radical words. Even today, we hear the phrase “the word” and we think of the bible. Jesus - and his disciple John - turned this idea over and said that the scripture was a symbol of the ACTUAL word. Not the written word of ink and paper – but the essence of God himself. Jesus was the word of God. He fulfilled the role and function of the scripture – of Torah.

Jesus also angered the Jewish establishment by daring to make himself equal to or greater than their greatest visible symbol – the temple. They believed that God dwelt in the temple that it contained his presence. But what if… and this is a bit off point… what if, as N.T. Wright suggests, the physical temple was not God’s best dwelling place? What if, when God told King David that he (David) would not build the temple but that it would be built instead by David’s son… What if (and again, I take this idea from Wright) what if Gods reference was not to Solomon but to the ultimate SON OF DAVID… the Christ himself? What if the true temple, the true dwelling place of God was the person, the Man Jesus!

This is a whole other sermon… in fact it is a whole bunch of sermons and maybe several large books with big, smart-guy, words. There is so much here and the implications are so vast – but – I want to look only at one important implication.

This message was ultimately more than the average 1st century Jew could bear. It was enough to enrage the leaders of the Jewish people both political (Herod) and religious (Caiaphas and the priests). It is politically correct to lay the blame of the crucifixion at the feet of Rome – and the Roman government was certainly responsible for the cruelty of the final act. But it was, without question, the movers and shakers in Israel that pushed the story to its horrible climax. It was not, ultimately, the foreigner or the pagan who killed this last prophet of Israel… It was Israel herself.

There is more to the story… most of us know it. Christ was brutally executed. On the third day he rose again. He spent the days that followed preparing His remaining disciples to continue to expand the Kingdom he came to announce – he gave them the authority to act in his place. To be his hands and his feet. His wounded hands and feet… To be his body. His broken body.

Even the most surface exploration of the church’s history gives more than adequate signposts that point us to our many wounds and our deep brokenness. There are moments in our collective history that puzzle us and moments that bring shame and humiliation. The torture and execution of so called heretics. The wars fought and blood shed over different interpretations of scripture. The church’s so called biblical defense of slavery. We look back and we cringe at the things done in the name of God.

But we are his body… his broken body.

We are challenged throughout the New Testament to join with Christ in his suffering. To take up his cross and to be crucified with him.

We are his wounded hands and feet.

And as his body, we are called to do what he did – to be what he was – to deliver the message of his kingdom to a world in exile.
WE are the temple – his spirit dwells not in a building but in us.
WE are his word – he speaks his good news in and through us.
And we are despised, beaten, wounded, damaged.

But like him, our wounds are not inflicted by others… but by those within our family.

John 1:11 (New International Version)
11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

We hear a lot… we TALK a lot about the church being under persecution – under attack. We talk about a nation founded on the idea of religious freedom. But we should remember to ask: who were the oppressors in this story? The religious freedom our founders sought was not from pagans or atheists or evolutionists or abortionists. The founders sought to be free from the oppression of OTHER Christians.

All the touchstones – the popular proofs of the dark side of our faith – Crusades, Genocide, Religious War, Imperialism, Oppression, Inquisition – All wounds and bruises inflicted upon HIS body by his own family.

We are his broken body. We are his wounded hands and feet.

We bring his message to the world. A message not of exclusion or separation but a message of redemption and reconciliation. A message of a God who dwells, not in a hidden inner chamber to be approached only by the most holy – but a God who dwells in the broken and bruised body of Christ – a god who dwells in the Church.

The church is not who she should be – and yet He is here.

The church is broken – and yet He is here.

The church is filled with pride and wickedness – and yet He is here.

The world around us may be evil. There are, and have always been those who hate and mock God and his people. But repentance, HE says, begins in his own house – in his temple – in his body – in us.

Our wounds seldom come from those outside – sadly we rarely get close enough for them to hurt us. Instead, our deepest and ugliest wounds are those we inflict upon ourselves. We wound his body when being right becomes more important than mercy; when behavior modification becomes our mission rather than justice for the poor and oppressed; when punishment and retribution become more important than forgiveness and redemption.
We wound his body when we reject HIS kingdom in favor of one that suits us better.

We are his broken body… we are his wounded hands and feet.

And if history teaches us anything… we may suffer death as we follow him…

The story does not end at the cross or in the tomb. Not his story, and not ours.

The man Jesus rose again. His body bore the scars of his wounding but he defeated death and lives still. The man Jesus is alive.

We are his broken body – but we will experience this same resurrection. We are his wounded hands and feet but we will rise, and live, and be beautiful again.

His kingdom is and is to come. His body – his church – is now but she is not what she will be. She is bruised and wounded but she will not always bear these scars in shame. She will be glorified in resurrection. She will be the same and yet much more.

The father saw Jesus as he was in each moment but he knew him for what he had been and would be in eternity. Christ endured the cross for the beauty set before him.

We are that beauty and we bear our own wounds in hope of the beauty and glory to come.

The church is badly broken… but she is treasured. She is Lovely.

She is beautiful.