The Called Life
Holy Trinity Sunday
June 4, 2017
Today is the second of three Sundays to explore Luther’s theology of Christian vocation. What if anything, does it help us understand about how we live out our Christian calling in the workplace? Let’s start by looking at the front cover of your worship folder.
This is Trinity Sunday —as in the Holy Trinity. Trinity is not a word you will find in the Bible. The Trinity is not a teaching of Jesus. Yet Trinity is the name for God in which we baptize. Since the early fourth century, it has been the Church’s name for God. The name says something essential about who God is.
About 100 years before Martin Luther published his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, also known as the 95 theses, the Russian artist and iconographer Andrei Rublev painted the famous image you see today called “The Trinity.” Inspired by the story of Abraham entertaining the three angels who visited Abraham and Sarah as they camped beside the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-8), the icon depicts the Holy One in the form of Three eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves.
The Father, in the foreground on the left, is wearing a golden robe, depicting for Rublev perfection, fullness, and wholeness. In the middle, Jesus wears a blue robe over a brown shirt. They are the colors of earth, sky, and water. His hand resting on the table makes a two finger gesture to tell us he has put spirit and matter, divinity and humanity together within himself —and for us! On the right, the Holy Spirit is dressed in green. “Hildegard of Bingen, the German Benedictine abbess, musical composer, writer, philosopher, mystic and overall visionary, living three centuries before Rublev, called the Spirit’s endless fertility and fecundity veriditas —a quality of divine aliveness that makes everything blossom and bloom in endless shades of green.” Likewise Rublev chose green to represent the divine photosynthesis that grows deep within us transforming the light of God’s grace into itself. (Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance)
Notice, the hand of the Holy Spirit is pointing toward the open and fourth place at the table!—for you! As magnificent as the fellowship among Father, Son and Holy Spirit is—there’s something missing. The Three are circling around a shared table, and if you look on the front of the table there appears to be a little rectangular hole painted there. Most people pass right over it, but art historians say that the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps a mirror glued to the front of the table! Standing before this icon, peering into the divine life existing in, with, and under the entire universe, Rublev intended us to see the reflected image of ourselves!
This image is our starting point today. The Holy Trinity where we begin to find answers about our Christian calling in the workplace and anyplace, because this is where we find our true self—living in community and communion inside the circle of the divine life of God. Here at Immanuel, we repeat the same mantra in the statement of our mission to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace.
Dwelling in Christ, quickly dispels two fallacies about our vocation that persist today. The first being the our vocation is synonymous with whatever we do to make a living. Luther’s understanding of vocation is much broader. It includes whatever we do to advance the cause of God’s grace. Because we abide in Christ, we strive to do our work well and with fairness. We
have concern and compassion for colleagues, employees, employers, clients, and customers. We find more delight in serving than demanding. Mindful of any opportunity to glorify God we invite others to find a seat at the heavenly banquet table beside us. We evangelize not to conquer others but to share the gift of grace by which God has set us free and made us all part of one life in God. This is our Christian vocation whether at home or at work or really, any place we find ourselves. Our vocation may change depending upon opportunities and circumstances, but it the aim always the same —to love and serve others as we have been loved and served and to invite all people into community with us in God.
The second fallacy Luther’s theology of vocation demolishes is a misunderstanding about the gospel that has persisted and even thrived among people of faith for centuries right up to today. It is sometimes called called “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” It sounds abstract but I think you’ll all recognize the idea. It boils down to the belief that God will reward good people with heaven and send bad people to hell. Also, the main object of faith is to enable you to feel good about yourself. And finally, God is “out there” somewhere, but not very involved in daily life.”
Just about every point of this perspective contradicts Luther’s understanding of vocation. We see in Rublev’s image of The Trinity, God’s grace does not divide the world up into “good” and “bad” people. Rather, all have fallen short of God’s glory and depend solely on God’s mercy. Further, the point of religion is not to make you feel good about yourself. That turns faith into something that is basically self-serving. The point of religion is to love God (something enabled by God) and serve the neighbor. The view that God is simply indifferent and aloof from creation and human affairs is a vast distance from Luther’s belief that God “daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life.” And it certainly is in dramatic tension with the teaching that, in Christ, God has entered deeply into human flesh and human experience.” (Mark D. Tranvik. “Martin Luther and the Called Life.”)
We do God’s work with our hands. God uses our callings to tend to the needs of the world. Bread does not happen without the work of the farmer, miller, baker, and merchant. Luther says that people function as God’s “masks” to accomplish God’s will on earth. It is God at work in vocation. We are God’s instruments. God is not absent, but hidden behind the various gift and talents of the laborers.
God is One in Three. Face-to-face-to-face we enter into community, mystery, Love for the other and the other’s love for us, when we enter into relationship with God through faith. This divine life shatters the sins of empire, opens our eyes to hate and racism, and teaches us how to forgive and be reconciled. This transformation becomes our joy, our vocation and our work and our mission.
So rise, shine you people. See how God sends the powers of evil realing. God brings us freedom, light and life and healing. All men and women who by guilt are driven now are forgiven. Tell how the Spirit calls from every nation God’s new creation. (ELW # 665, Rise, Shine you People!)