Through the lenses of Scripture, liturgy, and The Use of the Means of Grace, our author looks at ways to celebrate our baptismal vocation in worship and to equip the baptized in "giving thanks and praise to God and bearing God's creative and redeeming word to the entire world."
"We welcome you into the Body of Christ and into the mission we share," the congregation droned. "Join us in giving thanks and praise to God," they read without inflection, "and bearing God's creative and redeeming word to all the world."1 The words may have changed with ELW, but the sentiment had not. The congregation sounded like unenthusiastic confirmands (not) saying the creed. "Why can't we just clap?" the pastor was asked periodically. "Because baptism is our shared vocation," she would answer. The pastor might as well have been speaking koine Greek.
We say that "giving thanks and praise to God and bearing God's creative and redeeming word to all the world" is, in Lutheran parlance, our baptismal vocation. Joined to Christ's death and resurrection in the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit calls and empowers us to share in Christ's priestly ministry. Jesus is our high priest (Hebrews 9:11) and we are Christ's priestly people (1 Peter 2:9). According to The Use of the Means of Grace, "Christians profess baptismal faith as they engage in discipleship in the world. God calls Christians to use their various vocations and ministries to witness to the Gospel of Christ wherever they serve or work."2
God's Word and the church help us discover ways to carry out our calling.
- The Use of the Means of Grace
Every aspect of our life — including our roles as parents, spouses, children, family members, teachers, students, neighbors, citizens, employers, employees, volunteers, and friends — belongs to God and is a way Christians proclaim and bear witness to Christ through loving service in the world. Occupations and callings are not higher or lower, better or worse, or more or less connected to God's work of reconciliation. All work is a calling from God and an opportunity to serve. Paul says, "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
Faith and Daily Life
The Use of the Means of Grace teaches that "God's Word and the church help us to discover ways to carry out our calling."3 How well does the church do this? Worship is the way the church most closely relates the Christian faith to the daily lives of the vast majority of practicing Christians. When in worship Christians do not experience a connection between their faith and the tasks and activities to which they devote the majority of their lives, they are less likely to embrace life as their baptismal vocation and to invite others to join in bearing God's creative and redeeming word to the entire world.
In worship, the church often uses Paul's words about gifts and activities as manifestations of the Spirit to point to and celebrate ministries within the congregation. In a sense, a congregation lifting up church work in worship is completely understandable as it naturally celebrates the ministry that is most apparent, immediate, and essential to its life and ministry. Yet, when in worship congregations point to church activities as Christian service, while neglecting to name other arenas of people's lives as ways they participate in God's work of reconciliation, they reinforce people's tendency to separate Sunday from the rest of the week, or faith from the rest of life, or Christian service from the way we make our living.
Christians may come to regard certain occupations, such as pastor, preacher, nurse, and teacher, as more connected to God's work and even holier than other occupations. After all, Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John away from their boats and nets to do the work of the gospel (Matthew 4:18-22). Paul's naming of the gifts given to the members of Christ's body could be interpreted as suggesting that certain activities are more connected to God's work than others. People might decide that, since they do not possess the gift of prophecy, administration, preaching, teaching, almsgiving, or a call to works of mercy as their primary vocation, they cannot serve God (Romans 12:6-8). Paul's use of numbers to describe the way God set up the church — "first apostles, second prophets, third teachers" as well as deeds of power, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28) — may suggest to some a ranked order in which some gifts and callings are more important and essential to God's work than others.
Christians who do not find these gifts in themselves might conclude that they do not have a role to play in God's work of reconciliation and new life through their daily lives. They may understand themselves to be serving God solely by volunteering at church. While this understanding of Christian service might be good for congregations, it suggests that serving God is something people do in addition to everything else they have to do, rather than the reason behind or motivation for everything they do.
Celebrating Life's Tasks
So, however they do it, congregations do well to find ways to celebrate in worship the tasks and activities to which the baptized devote the majority of their lives as Christian vocations, ways we thank and praise God through loving service in the world and signs of the Spirit's presence for the good of all.
For example, how might God help a congregation connect faith and daily life in worship, if people came to church wearing the clothes and uniforms they wear to work every day? Imagine what that worship service might look like. One greeter, who is outfitted in sweats, is the instructor at an exercise class; the other greeter is a farmer dressed to work the land. The ushers bringing up the offering include a bank officer and a sanitation worker. A firefighter and a pharmacist sing in the choir. The communion assistant is dressed for counter service at a fast food restaurant. The congregation sings, prays, confesses, and hears God's Word in the clothes they wear Monday through Friday, rather than in their Sunday finest. Might the Spirit help the congregation to experience Christ's presence and their faith as touching their everyday lives?
What might the Holy Spirit do if a congregation held a special offertory procession, in which worshipers brought forward the fruits of their avocations (Deuteronomy. 26:1-10) — woodworking, wine making, a Web design, and a wonderfully decorated three-layer cake — and laid them at the altar? Might the Spirit help people to embrace their leisure activities as ways of praising God? What if congregations intentionally use the rite of Affirmation of Baptism to lift up particular occupations as Christian service in the world at various times during the year — teachers and students in the fall, health professionals during flu season, and accountants and bankers at tax time, for example? Might these Christians approach their work differently? Why not annually include a service of Affirmation of Marriage in the life of a congregation, rather than save it up for a significant anniversary? Perhaps couples would see their marriages as acts of Christian witness.
As we discover ways to celebrate our baptismal vocation in worship, we equip the baptized in "giving thanks and praise to God and bearing God's creative and redeeming word to the entire world."
Craig Satterlee is professor of homiletics at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and dean of the ACTS Doctor of Ministry in Preaching program. This article is based upon the author's book When God Speaks through Worship: Stories Congregations Live By, with permission from the Alban Institute. Copyright © 2009 by The Alban Institute, Inc. Herndon, VA. All rights reserved.
- Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, 2006), p. 231.
- The Use of the Means of Grace (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, 1997), 52.
- The Use of the Means of Grace, 52A.
This article appeared in the September / October 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners (vol. 25, no. 5).