3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, when I was going to school I had a full time job during the summer and I was often in a truck driving and as you know, your music interests have a way of changing over time and at this time I was really interested in classic rock. So in southeastern Wisconsin there was a station that I listened to almost all the time, well they had this tradition that on Friday evenings at 5 pm and I’d often still be working and driving somewhere in my truck, but they always played the song by the Kings called “Switchin’ to Glide” that has this phrase in it, “Nothing matters but the weekend.” And I’m sure that they played that song because at 5 pm most people were getting off of work for the weekend and “switchin’ to glide.” But if you think about it, there’s actually quite a few songs that talk about getting done with work, isn’t there? “Working for the weekend” “Hard working man” “It’s five o’clock somewhere” “forty-hour week.” And the list could go on. There seems to be a theme for many people in America that work is a necessary evil in our world that you have to put up with in order to make money so that you can do the things that you really want to do anyway. And then finally someday, hopefully, you can retire so that you can live the way that you always wanted to live. It seems that many people “live for the weekend.”
But how does God want us to view our vocations in life? How does God want us to think about the callings that we have in life? How does God want us to view the work that we do as employers or employees, as husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, students, etc? God has some glorious good news for us to shape the way we view working and the way we view serving Him with our lives.
In our text this morning we’re focusing on one aspect of work. In fact, we’re focusing on the work that God calls certain people with certain gifts to do. We’re told here about a certain church in Antioch. Antioch was located way to the north of Israel in Syria. And this church in Antioch in a way became a hub for missionary activity. They sent off missionaries to share the gospel in places where they couldn’t all go. And this is the first time that we see that happen.
In this church, this congregation, we have all kinds of different people, some of them are mentioned here by name: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. This is just a sample list of the Christians at this congregation, but notice something, they’re all different. Saul had been a ruthless persecutor of the church, Manaen had been brought up with Herod- this is the same evil Herod who ended up murdering John the Baptist, there’s Lucius and all we know is that he’s from Cyrene, which is a city in the territory west of Egypt. What brought all these people together? What did all these people from different backgrounds have in common? They had a shared faith in Jesus, they were children of God, heirs together of eternal life.
The same is true today of every congregation of believers. People with widely different talents, interests, backgrounds, but God brings them together through faith to work together for the common good of sharing the gospel with more people that more people may come to know their Savior.
But while they were worshipping and fasting, the Holy Spirit, probably through one of them who was a prophet, said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So, they placed their hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them off to do work in another place.
Many of you are well aware that at this time I have 3 calls to serve in different places in God’s kingdom. I have a call to continue to serve the Lord here in Bemidji at St. Mark’s, I also have a call to consider serving the Lord at St. Luke’s in Oakfield, WI, and I have a call to consider serving the Lord at Good Shepherd in Cheyenne, WY. In each case, the Holy Spirit was involved, just like he was here in our text, to work through God’s people to give me these calls and to consider serving Jesus in each of these places. It’s a call from God through His people and He allows me to decide where I can best serve using my gifts at this time. In Acts, God, the Holy Spirit, through His people called Paul and Barnabas to proclaim the Word of God in other places.
But the truth is, we all have callings in this life, we all have different vocations. God has given each of us different talents and abilities that we get to use to God’s glory and for the benefit of people. One of those callings is being a called servant of God in the public ministry. I love being a pastor. The Lord has so given me the talents, abilities, and desire to be a pastor. I love teaching, preaching, administering the sacraments as a called servant in your name and on your behalf. I love the fact that studying God’s Word and sharing it with others is my full time job. It’s a humbling and awesome thing. So, I would say to any young man, if the Lord has so constructed you, and you have a desire to serve as a pastor, seriously consider it – I couldn’t dream of doing anything else. Mr. Bitter and Mrs. Holderbecker also have the talents, abilities, and desire to serve in the public teaching ministry, they get to share God’s Word to all the students in our school. So, I would say, if you have those talents and interests consider being a called servant in the teaching ministry.
But as awesome and rewarding as the called public ministry is, it’s not the only way you can serve the Lord. The truth is, each one of you is in the full-time ministry of the Lord and whatever your calling is at this time in your life it’s not any less pleasing to God than those who are pastors and teachers. In whatever calling or situation you are in, you are serving the Lord. Martin Luther once put it this way, “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays – not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
While serving the Lord in the public ministry is incredible, it’s not for everyone and that’s fine! In fact, that’s a good thing. God doesn’t want every person to be a pastor or every person to be a teacher, God doesn’t want every person to be an architect or a carpenter or a custodian. God has given to people different gifts, different interests, different ambitions, different passions -that’s a good thing!
But in each of our unique situations we have a general call from God. If you have a job, you are called by God to be a faithful worker, a faithful employee, to faithfully use the gifts, abilities, talents, skills that God has given to you for His glory and for the good of other people. If you’re a parent, you have a calling from God to be a father or a mother. If you are married, you have a calling to be a faithful husband or wife. If you are friend, you have a calling to be a faithful friend. If you have siblings, you’re to be a faithful sibling. If a leader in the church, to be a faithful leader. The Christian doctor who carefully does a surgery glorifies God because he performs a good surgery, not because he leaves a tract about his church. A mother serves the Lord as she changes her child’s dirty diaper. A cook serves the Lord by making good food.
Many in our world are “working for the weekend,” just waiting to do what they really want to do. But as Christians, that’s not us. Do we find fulfillment in the station or calling in life where we are? Your job, whatever it may be, is an opportunity to serve God as you faithfully do your job. There’s a story about someone who lived in the 2nd Century after Jesus’ earthly ministry and he talks about how the plows made by Joseph and Jesus in the carpenter’s shop were still in use, that would have been well over 100 years. Those must have been very well-made plows. Whatever calling you have, whatever job you have, whatever station in life you are in, serve the Lord in it by doing it to the best of your ability and know that God is pleased with your service to him.
Why so? Because that same Jesus faithfully did every job that he was called to do. He faithfully and perfectly served God in everything, he faithfully and perfectly served God by doing everything that God expected of us, and he faithfully and perfectly completed His calling of dying on the cross to pay for all of your imperfections, all your sins, all your failings. Jesus’ blood so fully covers us that it cleanses all that we do. So that means you are a full-time minister of God. In all you do, work at it as if you were doing it for Jesus, serve others, and know that Jesus is well-pleased with your service done for His glory, no matter what job, occupation, or calling you have. Amen.