What does life look like post graduation from graduate school? I am about to find out!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Light Up the World

Folks, here is the text of the sermon that I preached today at my internship congregation. It was my first time preaching there and it went really well! Got lots of positive feedback and really felt like the congregation enjoyed it immensely. My Scripture text was Romans 12: 4-8

Today is Christian Vocation Sunday. It’s also Labor Day Weekend. Combined, these two days are days when we honor and celebrate the act of working. The Presbyterian Church (USA) clarifies the word vocation by defining it as the idea that God has given each of us gifts and that we are therefore called to use those gifts in a way that pleases and serves God and others. Our vocation is the way in which we respond to the many gifts God has given us; how we live our life.
That seems to tie in well with our Scripture passage today. We hear Paul say the following words, “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” What does this mean, though, for our modern-day context? What it refers to is the idea that we each have something to offer the world. Educational reformer John Dewey once said, “To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness.” Therefore, it behooves us all to discover what it is that we are called to do with our lives. For some of us, it may be cooking. For others, it may be working in the financial sector. For others, it may be raising children. All of these, if they fit our gifts, our interests and our abilities are good, life-giving work and can be considered our Christian vocation and even, dare I say it, our ministry.
I define ministry as anything you enjoy doing that also brings joy to others and that means that if you enjoy cooking and it brings joy to others, then that is your ministry. I happen to enjoy watching movies and reviewing them and that, to me, is ministry. If you enjoy teaching children or youth, that’s your ministry. Anything can be a ministry. Anything that fits our gifts and talents and interests. I think Paul would agree with me there. We may all have different gifts but we all use these different gifts in unison to glorify and honor God, the one who gave us these gifts.
So, what does this mean for our lives together as Christians? It means that we are all members of the same body of Christ. We may each have different gifts or even different ministries but no one is outside of the body of Christ even if their gifts or ministries might not be “acceptable” in our eyes. We each bring something different to the table. We each bring something of ourselves to the table. What we contribute may in some cases seem insignificant or small or relatively unimportant but it all is important to God and it is all acceptable to God. The work we do matters. The work we do is important even if society would sometimes like us to believe otherwise. The images we see on television and in magazines is that some careers are better or more important than others and therefore those people deserve more attention or more importance or more money or more status. We emphasize just how much more important a CEO is than a maid or how a Senator is just too busy to handle something mundane like housework or raising children.
Yet, that’s not actually the case at all. In the eyes of God, there is no difference between a CEO or a maid; a Senator or a housewife. Each contributes a different but just as important gift to the Christian community. In the same way that eyes contribute something different to the body than the feet do but each is just as important to the makeup of the body, so it is with what we do with our vocations. Yes, a Senator and a housewife have radically different jobs with different responsibilities, benefits, pay grades and statuses but ultimately they both contribute in their own way to the larger Christian community and without both their contributions, the community looks and feels different.
This is why it is of paramount importance for us to honor and respect each other’s work. It makes no difference if one is a waitress or a banker or even the President of the United States, our work is important and useful and good because it honors and serves God. This is why it becomes absolutely vital for us to appreciate all the many ways that we each contribute to the body of Christ. So, on this Labor Day weekend while some of us rest from our labors, let’s remember those who don’t get Labor Day off. Let’s respect those who work in jobs that we might consider beneath us. Let’s appreciate the hard work of those who don’t get any appreciation from society. I worked in retail for two years before coming to seminary. I worked every Labor Day, every Christmas and every Thanksgiving. It was hard, monotonous and sometimes boring work. The hardest part about it, though, was the lack of appreciation that I would receive from customers. I got plenty of complaints (and even a few profanity-laced tirades) but almost no compliments. It made me very aware of just how little we appreciate that particular sector of our society. We are just as likely not to tip our waitress who brings us our food as we are to ignore the janitor who cleans our bathrooms. In many cases, we don’t even see these people unless there is a problem. We are all too eager to complain if the bathroom is not clean enough or if our food is served cold but how often are we willing to take the time to compliment someone on their superb job cleaning the bathroom or their excellent handling of our complicated beverage order? My point is is that too often, we forget to acknowledge the work that others do for us. We forget to see them as part of the body of Christ. Instead, we complain and gripe at them because they dared to forget to put non-fat milk in our triple latte. Nothing’s worse than getting the wrong coffee at Starbucks, am I right?!
I think I would be remiss here if I did not at least acknowledge in some way the historic event that occurred fifty years ago this week. On August 28, 1963, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech in which he someday dreamed of a world in which we would not judge others by “the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Many may not realize that his now-famous and well-known speech was actually the culmination of what was titled the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The marchers were protesting a system of economic inequality that was keeping the poor oppressed and preventing them from lifting themselves out of poverty. At the time, the national unemployment rate was 5 percent. Sadly, that number has actually gone up to 7.7 percent. For African Americans, the unemployment rate is nearly 16 percent and for Hispanics, 10 percent. Then, the federal minimum wage was 1.25 per hour. Today, it is 7.25 per hour meaning that the minimum wage has only gone up 6 dollars in 50 years. There is absolutely no reason why a woman working 40 hours a week at her job shouldn’t be able to provide the basic necessities for herself and her children. It is unconscionable that the McDonald’s Corporation, a company worth billions, asks its employees to create a budget for themselves that doesn’t allow for child care, gasoline, groceries or clothing. Meanwhile, corporate CEOs continue to rake in millions and are able to afford to buy that second house in Maui that their kids have been begging them for. Does anyone else see the irony in this?
This is happening because we have forgotten to see each other and the work we do as valuable and important. We have forgotten to see each other as part of the body of Christ. We have forgotten to see ourselves as the body of Christ. We have lifted up and made important some people while denigrating and fundamentally denying the importance of other people. We have forgotten to let our light shine but instead hide it under a bushel because we don’t see what we do as important. We are the ones working the minimum wage jobs. We are the ones working every single weekend and holiday. We are the ones who have to work two jobs just to pay rent and buy groceries. We are the ones who, at the end of the day, are tired and worn out and exhausted and are then told that we are lazy and don’t deserve to have the same privileges as others.
I say to you that we need to start writing a new story. We need to start writing a story in which we all are equal in each other’s eyes. A story in which we see each other as part of the body of Christ. A story in which a CEO is no more nor no less important than a housekeeper. A story in which we let our own lights shine because then other peoples’ lights will shine as well. In her book, A Return to Love, author Marianne Williamson provides one of the most profound and most-quoted lines about this very concept. She writes, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Therefore, I say to you, go and let your light shine. Go and remember to see each other as part of the body of Christ. We all have different gifts but all our gifts are equal and important to our community of faith. Remember that, always. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Instead, let it shine and brighten other people’s lives so that they may in turn do the same. Go and liberate each other from your fears. Light up the world. We already have too much darkness out there. Let’s, instead, be the light.
(Sung) “This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”