Hello, Vocation. How Are You Today?

fter an encouraging set of conversations with Marc Kolden and Dirk Lange (nerd squeal), I finally caught the cold that's been going around here for a while. As I'm on the mend, I thought it time to being piecing together vocation and worship, the task Kolden sees as the most daunting theological element of my argument. This post will look particularly to vocation, as a setup for the next post on worship.

Promises First

Kolden and Wingren have both shown that vocation beings after the promises of God in Jesus have claimed an individual through the Holy Spirit. This may seem obvious, but how we remember these promises and enact their claim on us seems to move the gospel's claim to the human activity of baptism, the outward symbol of God's action. The baptism with water, however, is not that baptism that "matters." Instead, it is the baptism of the Spirit--the baptism we humans don't control--that makes the difference in any individual's life. This was made clear in the rite for the burial of the dead in the Lutheran Book of Worship, one of the helpful formative, practical, primary theologies lost in the transition to Evangelical Lutheran Worship... but that's a different issue.

It is only possible for an individual to live for a neighbor through the movement of the Holy Spirit claiming the individual through the gospel. The gospel pulls us away from being turned in on ourselves. The gospel breaks open the buffered self to see that we have neighbors. The gospel turns us away from the meaningless quest for self-meaning to see that meaning is given to both my neighbor and myself in the relationship we have because of God's promises in Jesus. Thus, vocation only makes sense within the set of relationships any individual has with God and with her or his neighbor. The promises of God free us for actions that help the neighbor rather than actions that serve the individual.

Who Is My Neighbor?

his question moved Jesus to tell what we now know as the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). The usual take away is that the Samaritan was the neighbor to the injured man because he helped him, but that's a flat reading of the parable. Elert gets into this substantially. My point will be more direct: we also need to read this parable the other way around. The Samaritan helped the injured man because the Samaritan saw the man as neighbor. This claim comes from the dialogue before the parable which names the two relationships that matter--the relationships we have with God and with each other (Luke 10:25-28).

If you were in need of help and two who could help you said they would pray for you (being more generous than the parable), vocation is ignored because the second relational set is ignored. Or as I noted when reading Wingren, praying for help before earthly assistance is used up is hatred of God's creation. This is why the Samaritan becomes the positive example--through his actions he participated with God in creating a trustworthy world.


Here then is the point of vocation: participation in God's ongoing activity of creating a trustworthy world. (Said for Lutheran geeks, vocation is the first use of the law!) Love God with all that you are and love your neighbor with all that you are. This is not an either-or dichotomy, but a both/and experience of the other as we are freed by the Holy Spirit to attend to our neighbor's needs because our neighbor is part of God's creation.

If you're in a place to be able to assist those who suffer because of acts of terror, then by all means do--as many have. The Spirit calls us into vocation hen acts of terror create fear and suffering so that God's continuing creation may be seen as trustworthy. If what you have to offer for earthly assistance is used up, then pray (more on this in the next post). But if you have some way to act, then act.

There is so much fear and terror in the world because the foe is active and prowling about. So much, in fact, that no individual can act in every occasion. But when your neighbor--the other--suffers, then respond through your deeds for the sake of that particular neighbor, that particular other.