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September 4th, 2014
The way we conceive of our respective vocations rarely takes into account the truth of the gospel. That was the premise for our effort to merge those two domains of thinking last Sunday. Jesus, through His being broken, gives us an unbreakable promise that we belong to God through “nothing more” than faith in Him. By a conscious regard for that promise we think of our work (and fulfill it) not as what determines our worth but which reflects our worth as confirmed to us by the righteous death of the Son of God.
Or think of it this way. When it comes to your work, you can either follow a Jewish Messiah or get caught between two Greek myths. Too clever? Let’s see.
Icarus was the son of Daedalus who crafted wings made of wax, and warned his son of flying neither too high to the sun nor too low to the sea. The tale takes the predictably tragic turn when Icarus dismisses his father’s warning. You know how the myth ends: Icarus ascends so high that the wings melt in the sun’s heat, sending him plunging fatally into the sea.
The tale means the listener to grapple with the human predilection to hubris: the inflated view of oneself that submits to nothing but one’s own ambition.
Left to ourselves we can make our work like Icarus thought of his wings. When work becomes answerable to no one or nothing else; when we brook no encouragement to rest; when we begin to treat the work as our reason for being, our meaning, our very worth–we’ve turned our work into wings with a hubris that fits us for a fall. Stanley Hauerwas (whom we’ve quoted before) explains our penchant for this version of hubris, most noticeable in our unwillingness to rest (HT: Mbird):
We neither expect nor even want a gift to be given, so inured are we to accomplishing and achieving and possessing. . . . The reality of restlessness in our contemporary society is obvious and epidemic. The identification of that restlessness perhaps goes back to the categories of Martin Luther concerning “faith and works,” with the accent on “works” indicating a need to produce, perform, and qualify for the goodness of God.
Vocation without reference to the “upward call”(Phil 3:14) places a heat and weight upon our work it cannot bear. That’s one greek myth to which we’re liable. Sisyphus is the other.
Sisyphus was a king, but for his deceitfulness was consigned by the gods to roll a large stone up a tall hill, only to see it fall back down each time he reached the top. The myth epitomizes the experience of despair arising from an impossibly reached goal.
In whatever labor you’re engaged in, there will always be a bigger fish—always someone with more wisdom, more credentials, more reputation, more skill. While music wasn’t my vocation it was for me a strong avocation. My senior year of high school I’d “ascended” to drum line captain of the band. But rude was the awakening upon my arrival in Austin for freshman year of college when I struggled even to make the cut for the Longhorn Band; the skills of other players far overshadowed my own.
Traversing in circles with those of greater aptitudes can offer a healthy context in which one burnishes one’s own skills. But unless one loves the skill for its own sake and rests in an identity not tied to one’s prowess, the atmosphere is rife with potential for despair. Unconsciously can our a/vocations become means to glory-seeking. When they do, rather than enrich us or others they become toxic. Arthur Brooks had this to say recently of peers in the highest echelons of their respective professions
I work in Washington, right in the middle of intensely public political battles. Bar none, the unhappiest people I have ever met are those most dedicated to their own self-aggrandizement — the pundits, the TV loudmouths, the media know-it-alls. They build themselves up and promote their images, but feel awful most of the time…
If you make your labor the measure of your worth, you consign yourself to a kind of Sisyphean despair as you discover that you’ll never get that rock up that hill. There will always be someone at the top of that hill, maybe even smiling at your inferior position, because there will most likely always be someone who does it better.
Jesus Christ didn’t come to suppress whatever love we have for our labors. He came instead to make sure we didn’t turn them into what would ultimately delude or disappoint us.
This Sunday we’ll pick up where we left off in our series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The fact that Paul has thus far into his letter been no incarnation of meek and mild testifies to the gravity of what occasions him to write. Their application of the gospel isn’t as much his concern (yet) as their conception of its essence. He speaks with a vehemence like that of a attending surgeon overlooking a resident–warning how some of the subtlest errors can cause the most calamitous effects. The fledgling churches were drifting a direction diametrically opposed to the heart of what Jesus lived, died, and was raised for. And Paul means to set that record straight, no matter what it costs him.
So far we’ve argued that a Christian fights, not for the favor of God, but for a faithfulness to God that’s born of a favor already won. Two weeks ago we identified the fields upon which that battle for faithfulness is fought. Sunday we’ll look at chapter 2:1-10 where Paul continues his autobiographical recap as a case for the authority of the message he brought and of his mandate to bring it. In so doing I think he’s explaining how this fight for the right campaign deeply depends on everyone fighting together as a unified front.
We’ll consider aspects of that unity both articulated and demonstrated by Paul. In the end we’ll try to see why there may be some truth to an indubitably controversial comment Flannery O’Connor once made (HT: Tish Harrison-Warren)
I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the church endurable is that it is the body of Christ and that on this we are fed.
She is fractured and fractious, but where the Church lives by Grace, hope remains. We come to the Table this Sunday to feed on the Body and Blood. May our renewed pursuit of unity begin with the Meal that both humbles and holds us all.
Two more Community Groups plan to form this October which we apprised you of a few weeks back. More details have emerged (like times and locations) which you can find at our Community Groups page. Have a look, check your schedule, and then sign up with Karla Pollock. Childcare will be available for the morning group.
If you haven’t been around CtK too long you may not know our community supports several home missionaries whom you sit next to and drink coffee with each Sunday. Together they represent a wide array of skills and regions in which they’ve applied them. They also have stories to tell of what they do and where. Starting next Sunday (9/14) you’ll begin hearing from each of them on occasion during a portion of our 2nd hour Q&A time. Our conceptions of the church tend to be either too provincial or, if we think about world outreach at all, without much sophistication. Hearing these stories will serve to change that.
Among the needs you might pray for, consider these, too:
- for the family of journalist Steven Sotloff
- for the wisdom of our government in its responses to terror and strife
- for our prospective officer candidates as they undertake the next phase of training this fall
- for our Community Groups that have recently or will soon form(ed)–and for new Facilitators to step forward
- for FBC and our neighboring churches
If we’re to grow in unity as a local body and the Church Universal, something will have to govern us all–something we need more of, even in our disputes over doctrine and praxis. Like this, from our new favorite band: