Pastoral ponderings . . .
What does following Christ look like today? It used to be that “having a calling” exclusively meant becoming a priest. Before the Reformation, it was thought that holy work was only done by monks, nuns, and priests. Surely their work for the Church must bring them closer to God than the mundane work of cobblers, farmers, or parents in the home. But Luther called out that thinking. He said it isn’t the work we do that brings us holiness, or good favor with God. Good works don’t earn merit in heaven, he said. God’s grace does that work for us. God’ loving work in Christ frees us from the need to prove ourselves worthy of heaven.
Luther said in essence, “God doesn’t need our work, but our neighbor does.” For Luther, everything we do in our daily lives for the well-being of our families, neighbors, community and world is a vocation: a calling from God. He said the work we do, the mundane daily tasks that help others are the “masks of God” -- behind each of them, is our loving and providing Creator. Each of us, in the things we do for others, becomes the presence of God for that person. William James, an American philosopher in the 19th century said it well: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. Because it does.”
The dignity of all work, was something my dad always reminded me of. “All work is honorable”, he’d say – usually when he was trying to motivate me to pick up the dog poop in the back yard! “A half job is no job at all!” Caring for our pets is not all warm fuzzies! We have to provide them with a clean, safe, healthy environment where they can thrive and be happy. That’s holy work! That’s a vocation in daily life!
Here’s another one that comes to mind: shoveling snow off the sidewalk. Removing snow and ice where others, particularly our elders might walk, protects the health and well-being of our neighbor. More holy work! The everyday, mundane thankless chores that we’re either paid to do, or not, for the sake of our family, friends, neighbors, pets, and world, become the “masks of God” we wear in the world. It’s vocation. Holy work.
It seems to me that following Christ involves being part of a vision. A vision of a society that puts people ahead of profit. A society that puts the welfare of our planet ahead of the profits we take from Mother Earth. I think this is holy work, too. To me, this is answering a call that we people of faith describe as God’s calling to our hearts and minds: a call to self-sacrifice; a call to voluntary self-limitation for the Earth herself. I think that’s a holy calling from God’s Spirit.
“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks John’s disciples. “Come and see” he says to them. Come and see the vision I have for the world; for the beloved community. That vision inspired so many public servants in American history: John Lewis, Elijah Cummings, Dr. King, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman; people of faith who saw a vision of what a better community, a beloved community should be; and signed up for holy work.
The calling to follow Christ’s vision can come at unexpected times, and places. Sometimes it comes when a person is just too tired to do anything else but sit down. That was Ms Rosa Parks’ experience.
She grew up in Alabama. Both of her grandparents were slaves and taught her the vision of Christ that all people are created equal and free. She said she witnessed her grandfather stand on the front porch with a shotgun while the Ku Klux Klan marched down their street. She knew in that moment how dangerous the vision of Christ, and following it, could be.
Rosa Parks was a seamstress at a Montgomery department store when the bus driver asked her to give up her seat for a white passenger. She said, she wasn’t physically tired that day – just tired of giving in. And Ms Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat. The day of her court trial, December 5th 1955, the Montgomery NAACP organized a bus boycott. Nearly 40,000 people walked to work that day – some as far as 20 miles. That same day, a young local Baptist minister named Martin Luther King was nominated to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association in its efforts to create racial equality in the city, and work for real change.
The bus boycott lasted over a year. In that year, black churches were burned, and Coretta and Dr King’s house was bombed, and burned down. On November 13, 1956 the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional. The Montgomery Bus Boycott one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation in history. Because Rosa Parks had a calling from God. She decided one day, that enough was enough. The vision of equality her grandparents taught her to see; the vision of Christ’s beloved community called out to her. And she did not give up her seat. She sat with dignity. Her sitting was holy work. It was her vocation from God, in that moment. A calling to do the work of social change, for her neighbors’ well-being, as herself.
And that was all it took. Something as mundane, and simple as that. Just sitting unmoved, dignified, brave, and undaunted, was the Mask of God that Ms. Parks wore that day. She went to jail for her holy work that day. But her dignity was her community’s dignity. And her vocation in that moment, inspired the holy work of a city, and a nation.
I think we have holy work waiting to be done in Utah. For almost 20 years, the Utah legislature has been trying to raise the sales tax on food. Raise the tax on the one thing fixed income households can’t do without. Households that already have too many days before the next paycheck. And now, along with permanently disabling the way Education has been historically funded in the State, the legislature and the governor have found a way to raise the tax on food, outside of the usual legislative session.
Every single year for the past 10 years I’ve been serving at Mount Tabor, the Coalition of Religious Communities at Crossroads Urban Center has joined with other anti-poverty groups in the state and pushed back the efforts to raise the sales tax on food. But now the governor has signed it into law. And the only recourse for those who share the vision of Christ who said “As you have done for the least of these who are my siblings, you have done so for me” the only recourse is citizen action. Join the effort of the beloved community to force a public vote on the 2019 Tax law. As Dr. King once said, “The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.” To me that means the justice, and peace, of the beloved community is coming. As we say in worship, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
Let’s be part of that holy work. What do you say? -- Pr. David