Baptism and Ordination

As an adult, I never had to figure out how to live out my spiritual life separately from my work life. My own spiritual practices and vitality were central to my vocation. And in my vocation I publicly worked out my spirituality.

Now, though, I don’t work in the church. I have an office downtown, and I park in a parking garage and walk to my office carrying my briefcase like all the other “business people.” For the first time in my adult life I am having to figure out how to live out my faith outside the work of the church. It’s harder than I thought it would be.

This morning I woke up thinking about the prophet Jeremiah’s word to the Jewish people who were living in exile. They had been separated from the temple in Jerusalem, which had been the center of their world—certainly the center of their faith practice. I like this word “exile.” Jeremiah gives these exiles living in a strange land a word from God that will tell them what they are to do.

And the word he gives is not to do the natural things that people in exile want to do:
1) Live in past or
2) Wait for the future.

This is what they are to do in the present:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29)

Build houses and live in them.
Plant gardens.
Establish relationships.
Work for the welfare of the city where you find yourself and pray to God on its behalf.

Last week, as a part of my job, I took a group of people to visit John T. White Elementary School. John T. White is one of five Fort Worth ISD Leadership Academies—campuses that have struggled mightily for a number of years and that were reconstituted last year with new a new staff, new approach, and new resources. John T. White serves one of the highest-need populations in the district, and they have been on the state’s “Improvement Required” list since the school first opened about eight years ago. Practically all of the students are economically disadvantaged. And many lack stability—moving from apartment to apartment every few months. John T. White has a 40% mobility rate—40% of their student population turns over over the course of a year.

After one year as a Leadership Academy, John T. White has done something amazing. They moved from a state rating of an “F” to a “B” in one year. In their socioeconomic category, John T. White ranks number one in the state in academic improvement. The culture of the school and the behavior of the kids has changed dramatically, too.

Walking through the school last week, led by four 5th grade student council officers, it is impossible not to be deeply moved seeing these precious children doing so well. The trajectories of lives are being changed.

Every teacher at that school, every principal, every district employee involved in this work is seeking the welfare of the city in which they find themselves. They are “building houses” and “planting gardens.” They are doing God’s work.

Martin Luther said that there is a difference between a Christian’s office and a Christian’s vocation. Luther said that our offices are what we do for a living—
teacher,
homemaker,
businessman,
pastor—and that none of these is any dearer to the heart of God than another.

Whatever our individual offices in the world, our vocation is to serve God through them—to be God’s person in the world. That’s the vocation that all of us share, and we live out our vocation through our individual offices.

This is what Luther wrote 500 years ago:
“Only look at your tools, your needle, your thimble, your beer barrel, your articles of trade, your scales, your measures, and you will find this saying written on them. You will not be able to look anywhere where it does not strike your eyes. None of the things with which you deal daily are too trifling to tell you this incessantly, if you are but willing to hear it; and there is no lack of such preaching, for you have as many preachers as there are transactions, commodities, tools, and other implements in your house and estate, and they shout this to your face: ‘My dear, use me toward your neighbor as you would want him to act toward you with that which is his.’”

I’m trying to come to terms with the idea that the moment I was called by God, the moment I was called to ministry, was not at my ordination in my early 20s as a seminary student but at my baptism years before. You and I, we have this in common: we are God’s people in the world.

Build houses and live in them.
Plant gardens.
Establish relationships.
Work for the welfare of the city where you find yourself and pray to God on its behalf.

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