“Vocation to Serve” 09.06.2015 Sermon

Mark 7:24-37 • September 6, 2015

Click here to view a video recording of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Believe it or not, Labor Day is not a High Holy Festival Day in the global Christian church. It’s not something that is celebrated throughout the world. And after all, what we do every day for our work or with our friends and family has nothing to do with what we do when we are inside of a church building, right? Many of you might even be familiar with the ancient saying “what happens in church, stays in church.”

But just as Jesus always does, Jesus shows up and shows us something completely different. In my own journey as a steward of God and a disciple of Jesus, I believe more and more deeply every day that what you and I do in our daily life can never be separated from who we are as children of God – especially if we are actually living out our lives as people who claim to be followers of the risen savior Jesus.

So, the first question that I’ve wondered this week is…what do you do? Are you a teacher? Or a father? Or a lawyer? Or a friend? Or a banker? Or a retired office manager? Or a student? Or a fast-food cook?

And the second question I’ve wondered this week is…why do you do what you do? Do you work 60 hours a week at your job so you can live in a big house, drive a fancy car, own vacation property – things that help you remember just how great you are? In other words, is the intention of your labor ONLY about serving yourself – my needs, my wants, my desires?

If we look to Jesus, which is something that we probably should do once in a while, the way we answer questions like that shift dramatically when Jesus is part of the answer. You see, when Jesus is part of the things that we do, we will see these things not just as something that we are forced to do in order to make our rent or mortgage payment. And when Jesus is part of the why we do the things that we do, we will see that why we do the things we do is because we are called by God to do them. Many theologians call this vocation.

You and I are called by God into vocation. Vocation lived out daily as teachers, students, mothers, retirees. And there is not one of us sitting in this room today who is called by God into only one vocation. All of us live out multiple vocations each and every day.

Brothers and sisters, first of all, if we believe that we are called by God into vocations, then at the very core of our life together in Christ – we cannot live one way during the week and another way when we step into a church building.

And secondly, if we take seriously the example that Jesus places before us today – our vocations are never focused on our own selfish interests. Our vocations always call us to serve. And serving is not always going to mean what we think it means. We will be called upon to serve people who may not be sitting next to us in the pew. And, are you ready for this…you and I may even be called upon to serve someone who is different than us. Jesus demonstrates this in our gospel reading by healing a Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. A gentile woman. An outsider. Someone who is different in every way, shape, and form from Jesus’ inner circle of followers.

It is such a tremendous blessing that Good Shepherd was invited to join thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ this weekend with the Order for Confession & Forgiveness that began our worship today. We began with the words “Gracious God, we thank you for making one human family of all the peoples of the earth and for creating all the wonderful diversity of cultures.” In all of the vocations that you and I are called to serve, isn’t it amazing that we get to serve God’s creation in all of its beauty and diversity?

I don’t know if you were paying attention yet in worship, but I hope you enjoyed the cell phone video that was played as we gathered. I know the video quality is bad, but that’s not what’s important or what I hoped you’d pay attention to – the song that was being sung and the woman singing it is what I was hoping you’d notice.

It was a hymn made famous by Mahalia Jackson and sung here by Mary Harris Gurley at a worship service I participated in in July at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Ms. Gurley, is now well into her 90’s. She is a lifelong member of Ebenezer. She witnessed the birth of the civil rights movement unfold right outside her front porch. She was invited by Coretta Scott King to sing at the funeral worship of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because she was one of the favorite singers of the King family.

The words Ms. Gurley sang were, “If I can help somebody as I travel along. If I can help somebody in word or a song. If I can bring a little beauty to a world gone wrong. If I can spread the Lord’s message as the master calls, then my living shall not be in vain.”

On July 21, 2015, my sister in Christ Mary Harris Gurley reminded me of the importance of vocation in our life together in Christ. A reminder that vocation is never a call to serve only me. And in the seventh chapter of the gospel of Mark, I believe that Jesus is once again reminding us what all our vocations are about, to serve.

The 7th chapter of the gospel of Saint Mark is a turning point so to speak in Jesus’ ministry and mission. Not just a turning point toward the cross, but a turning point in why and even who Jesus came to save. In Mark 7, we see clearly that God did not send Jesus only to save an inner circle of disciples or rich people in the temple. We see clearly that God did not send Jesus to serve God’s self, but to serve all of God’s children. Yes, Jesus came for the disciples and for the children of Israel. But Jesus also came for a Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. And for you. And for me.

I was so thankful that Pastor Pam took us back to the waters of baptism last week at the end of her sermon. I’m thankful for that reminder, because it is there that we are renewed each day in the vocations that God’s call us to serve. As one theologian offered this week, “The waters of baptism wash away all distinctions. Like streams breaking forth in the desert, these waters surprise us with mercy in unexpected places. These waters open our eyes, unstop our ears, and loose our tongues to see, hear, and speak God’s partiality for the poor, the weak, and the outcast. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, the Spirit fills us with faith – a faith active in showing mercy that knows no limits.”

I don’t know, maybe we should start seeing Labor Day more like a high holy day of the Christian church after-all. You and I have been called into vocations that are active and alive in the world today. Vocations from God that have no limits to the ways in which we can give and grow and serve. Brothers and sisters in Christ, may you be blessed as you live out the vocations that God is calling you to live out each day of this week and may others be blessed by your service. Thanks be to God. Amen.


About Bishop Craig Schweitzer

The Rev. Craig Schweitzer, of Bismarck, was elected as bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod on July 17, 2020, in the first-ever digital Synod Assembly. A historic event, Schweitzer is the first bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to be elected in an online assembly. Bishop Craig Schweitzer began serving the Western North Dakota Synod-ELCA on September 1, 2020. He has always seen himself as an easy-going person who seeks to daily discover anew how God is present in his life and the world in which he lives and serves. Prior to service in the Office of Bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod, Bishop Craig served at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck, ND as Music and Worship Minister (lay staff from 2002-2010), Associate Pastor (2010-2014), and Senior Pastor (2014-2020). Beyond his service in the church, he has an eclectic background that is a diverse collection of musical, educational, and business experiences ranging from live concert production and promotion to recording studios and live performance to music education. Throughout all of his professional and personal experiences, the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Rome have been a guiding light that has kept him grounded in whatever work God was calling him into – “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7) Bishop Craig is a graduate of the University of Mary in Bismarck with a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education and a Master of Science in Strategic Leadership. He also holds a certificate degree in Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA. He was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament on September 16, 2010. Outside of his life as Bishop, Bishop Craig enjoys reading, all music, a little golf, a cold beverage with friends, and intentional times of quiet. And, of course, spending time with his wife Wendy and their adult twin daughters Ilia and Taegan. View all posts by Bishop Craig Schweitzer

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