Transfiguring Vocation

Today let’s talk about the nature of call.

When people use the word Vocation, you can practically hear the capital “V.”

There is an all-too-persistent notion in the church the vocation is strictly the realm of the ordained clergy.

That is not true! Why do people think that?

For one thing, it’s the legacy of a clericalism that created and reinforced a false specialness in the clergy and placed them above lay people.

I also suspect that for some folks, denying they have vocation can be a helpful way to escape discerning it.

When we do think about vocation as applying to all people, another trap we fall into is elevating it into some sweeping destiny that encompasses one’s whole life.

It’s a similar phenomenon to the One True Love™ school of thought in which there is One Perfect Person for you who will Make All Your Dreams Come True and you will live Happily Ever After. (This is a damaging and limiting paradigm for so many reasons, but that’s another sermon.)

So when we elevate vocation into a Sweeping Destiny of answering God’s call in a noble, heroic, world-saving way, a task that will remain constant and unchanging for an entire lifetime, we’re setting ourselves up for a lot of problems.

First of all, it ignores the potential for vocation to change and evolve over time.

What you are called to do at eighteen may not be the same thing you’re called to do at eighty.

In fact, in the vast majority of cases, it probably shouldn’t be or we need to start asking if you have really opened yourself up to growth over the last six decades.

Next, the Sweeping Destiny model of vocation puts a heck of a lot of pressure on the individual to get it right.

You’d better make sure you don’t have a headache or aren’t too caught up in speculating on your favorite TV show’s plot on the day you commit to your Vocation.

What if you get it wrong? What if you choose the wrong path? Will the Earth crash into the sun?

And not only do you have to choose rightly, you have to act perfectly in the execution of the vocation.

Because if you fail at doing it, maybe you failed in discerning it, and again, we’re back at the Earth crashing into the sun.

Sometimes we act as though it might.

The consistent problem with this approach to vocation is that it takes us further from freedom and deeper into the prison of our need for security, control, and approval.

The Sweeping Destiny/One True Love approach to vocation can only create people—lay or ordained—ethically trapped on a path that often devolves into a job with tasks.

That does not create transformed people.

In fact, it often creates burned-out, bitter people who are phoning it in at whatever “vocation” seemed so noble and beautiful five or ten or fifty years ago.

(That doesn’t mean that every minute of living out vocation is sunshine and roses or it isn’t real. But when duty devolves into dread, something is wrong.)

So what can we say definitively about vocation?

I think we can say that we actually all have the same vocation at heart which is in fact a sweeping destiny, and that is not a destiny to do anything, but a destiny to be something.

And what we are to be are people—individually and collectively—radically free to receive and respond to the transforming nature of God’s love.

Your overall vocation is to be a part of the Incarnation.

And in the course of that life-long vocation, you will find lots of little vocations.

Some of them may feel and be pretty big, like taking a job at a non-profit, getting ordained, or adopting a child.

But there are so many little vocations calling out to us from everyday life that we treat as simply choices between what we like and don’t like, rather than opportunities to be true to our transforming inner nature.

My vocation yesterday morning was to answer a phone call from a grieving friend rather than let it go to voicemail.

Your vocation this fall may be to sign up next week at Welcoming Sunday for a ministry you’ve never considered before.

Someone else’s vocation right now might be to go to an AA meeting and start getting honest about the fact that maybe the drinking has gotten out of control.

You might have a vocation to tend to your marriage more attentively, or ask questions about how you will serve God in retirement, or something as simple and beautiful as a vocation to take more delight in how God reveals Godself in the people and the world around you.

Life adds up to a series of vocations, an ongoing music of God calling your name out of the circumstances of your everyday life.

God speaks out of our grief and our impatience and our joy and our energy and says, “Here—here is a chance to choose.”

And sometimes that choice can feel overwhelming, or difficult to make, or simply wearying with the effort to act out of our higher selves.

But that is precisely why we must tend always and with unrelenting attention our vocation of being.

If you answer the call to be a radically free child of God, treating the chains of circumstance as completely irrelevant to your ability to welcome Love, your vocations of doing will become clear.

Paying attention to our being vocation also helps us with another pitfall of our doing vocations: mixed motives.

I can say with 100% authority at my current place of spiritual growth that I got ordained eight years ago 50% wanting to serve God and God’s Church, and 50% wanting to Be Special.

I’ve got a collar now! And a title! People will think I know stuff about God!

I get to have “The Reverend” on my business card, and people will say about me, “How noble, she’s giving her life to the Church!”

Sigh. Well, honestly, that’s okay.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the very real fact that many of our vocational aspirations have a big dose of ego motivation within them as long as our awareness of it grows over time.

I don’t think we’ll ever completely escape mixed motives this side of glory, but I do know God’s work in us can slowly liberate us from anything, even this foundational ego control.

I do believe I was truly called to be a priest even with that 50/50 split of God-serving and self-serving motives.

But in answering my true vocation of being transformed by love, I am called for that split to (God willing) shift to 75/25 every now and then.

I am called to more and more freedom from the need for the perks and status symbols that I couldn’t admit at least partially motivated me to start with.

Even though we treat vocation like a straitjacket or a jail sentence, congratulating ourselves on giving up all other options to do this good or noble thing, as I said above, I really feel that our deeper vocation is to a radical freedom.

This freedom echoes God’s freedom, and allows our discipleship to begin afresh and take new directions at any moment.

The needs of those around us shift and evolve moment to moment—why should our ability to respond to those needs be locked into rigid parameters that ossify over long years of assuming we figured out God’s will a long time ago?

The vocation of love creates two freedoms: the freedom to respond in real time, and the freedom from our customary self-limitations and ego control mechanisms.

We can be open to how our call may be different from year to year, day to day, and hour to hour, and we can reach beyond our habits of fear and self-interest that keep us locked up in habitual responses and patterns.

Both freedoms can help us enter the dance with God rather than acting like our feet are nailed to the floor.

Freedom in vocation–the ability to answer the call of God with lightness and joy—is fundamentally possible through God’s transforming work in our lives.

Peter, James and John saw Jesus transformed and transfigured before them in our gospel story today.

They saw Jesus in his heavenly fullness, the Cosmic Christ who is the Alpha and the Omega.

Why did Jesus choose to show himself to them in this way?

It seems so grand, so spectacular, so distant from the familiar Jesus in the gospels, the earthy teacher and healer who smears mud on people’s eyes, feeds people bread and fish, and drinks wine at weddings.

Consider the Transfiguration in terms of vocation. Jesus was ready to enter the final stage of his work on earth, work that would lead to his death on the Cross and the Resurrection.

Peter, James and John were his most trusted disciples among the twelve, and although he wanted to bring all of them along with him as he made his final journey, he had a special agenda for these three.

He knew they would all fall away, but he also knew they would return after he rose from the dead.

And the Transfiguration, this sight of Jesus in his full glory, was intended for a very specific purpose.

He was trying to give them a glimpse of the end of the story.

He was planting a vocational seed.

Peter, James, and John were destined to do great work in the Church after the Ascension.

They would become founders and leaders, teachers and preachers, whom we owe to this very day for their courage and vision.

But now, at this moment in the story, they have no idea of what is to come—neither the trials nor the triumphs.

They do not know that they will betray and abandon Jesus to his death, and they do not know that they will be transformed by his Resurrection and empowered at Pentecost to begin his Church.

This moment is part of Jesus’ call to them. It is part of the seeding of their vocation.

Because after Jesus’ ascension, they will look back in mingled awe and despair over the last three years, all their sufferings and failures, and all the amazing teaching and radiant love Jesus had showered upon them.

Jesus knew that they would look back at this moment, the mountaintop experience of Transfiguration.

And they would know then what they could not know now—that the Transfiguration was not really about Jesus being transformed, but about Peter, James and John being transformed.

Remember that Peter, James and John were not transformed and transfigured before they started doing the work of God and building the Church.

They were transformed and transfigured by the work itself.

As they tried and failed and tried again, as they did the slow, painstaking and demanding work of building Christian community, the tribulations and the triumphs changed them over time.

They began as simple fishermen, and even as disciples of Jesus, we can see in this story that they had a long way to go in their understanding.

But seeing Jesus transformed before them was part of what gave them faith that his presence within them would lead to their own transformation.

They said yes to Jesus’ call to build his Church, and by the end of their journey, when they were reunited with God, they were as changed and shining with love as Jesus was atop the mountain that day.

So we see that our choices in ministry are about much more than our own fears about juggling schedules or whether or not we can get along with our fellow parishioners in this or that ministry project.

Our vocations of doing come out of our foundational vocation of being, and that vocation is to be transformed in the love of God until our very souls shine like the sun.

There are choices about vocation every year, every month, every day, and every moment.

A big choice in vocation awaits us this week, as we pray and discern how we are called to serve at St. Francis in the next year. Welcoming Sunday is next week and the sign-up sheets come out. It’s time to fish or cut bait.

But this is about far more than just some sign-up sheets. It’s about your sacred work in the Beloved Community.

So take some time this week to really pray about this, reflect on it, discuss it with your family and fellow parishioners.

How and where do you see the transfigured form of Jesus before you in the work of the church?

Is it outreach? Christian Formation? Music? The liturgy? All of the above?

If your work comes out of the depths of God’s call to you to be transformed into love itself, you will always find renewal and joy even among the inevitable hard times in ministry.

And our vocational work matters for far more than just ourselves as individuals.

We are part of the transfiguration of the very Body of Christ itself.

And so God’s words that Peter quotes in our epistle today become true of us: “This is my Child, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”



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