Even secularists today are talking about the importance of having a sense of “calling”; that is, a sense of vocation (a Latinate word that means, simply, “calling”). Many secularist treatments seem to be oblivious to the fact that this is a theological concept and that, strictly speaking, you cannot have a “calling” apart from Someone who “calls” you. Nevertheless, this interest in vocation is a good sign, demonstrating that churches would do well to recover and to teach the doctrine of vocation, which is a subject of urgent interest to people today, both inside and outside the church.
Furthermore, the doctrine of vocation teaches that while non-believers do not know the Caller–so that their work is not the fruit of their faith, as it can be for Christians–God nevertheless does work through non-believers as well.
You have probably heard about John Chau, the 26-year-old who was dropped off at Sentinel Island, home of one of the most isolated tribes on earth, so that he could tell the inhabitants about Jesus. They responded by shooting him with arrows, killing him on the beach. Some Christians are hailing him as a martyr. Some secularists are condemning both him and missionaries in general of being “colonialists.”
Thanksgiving is the one national holiday that has an explicitly religious meaning. George Washington got the holiday started “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.”
Thankfulness is an acknowledgment of dependence. In that, it is like faith.
The English word “thank” is related to the word for “think.” Part of the observance of Thanksgiving should be thinking about our blessings, which leads naturally to thanking.
The doctrine of vocation has been catching on. There is now something called the “Faith and Work movement,” with think tanks, publications, and programs designed to show Christians the connection between the two. (The founder of at least one of these think tanks told me that my book on vocation, God at Work, was the catalyst for his interest in the subject, which I appreciated.) But this movement may have drifted away from the specific insights that the great theologian of vocation–Martin Luther–has to offer.
Geoffrey Owens is a Shakespearean actor, but he is best known for his role on The Cosby Show back in the 1980s, playing the boyfriend of one of the Huxtable daughters and later her husband. But lately he has been working as a cashier at a Trader Joe’s grocery store in New Jersey.
Someone took pictures of him at his cash register, and the London tabloid The Daily Mail ran with it. The writer of the article thought it was hilarious that this former star had fallen so far as to work in a grocery store, his name, once up in lights, now on a company name tag. Then Fox News piled on with a story of its own.
Happy Labor Day, a secular holiday which we here at the Cranach Institute are trying to co-opt as a Christian holiday to celebrate the doctrine of Vocation! (Did any of you hear that connection made at church yesterday?)
And what better way to celebrate this holiday than to hear from Martin Luther, the great theologian of Vocation. Here he underscores how we are not saved by our works and yet how good works are part of the Christian life after all.
He then expounds the purpose of all of our vocations (whether in the workplace, our families, our congregations, and our country): to love and serve not ourselves but our neighbors (our customers, our spouse and children, our fellow-Christians, our fellow-citizens).