Monday, August 16, 2010

Dirty Jobs: The Doctrine of Vocation in Action

Dirty Jobs: that's the name of a popular television show on the Discovery Channel. And as the title suggests, the host, Mike Rowe, gets messy, dirty, and downright filthy as he searches the country side "looking for people who aren't afraid to get dirty (Discovery Channel – 2008)." From dirty jobs such as Roadkill Collector and Sewer Inspector to Whale Autopsy Technician and Septic Tank Specialist, Mike Rowe explores the livelihood of "hard working men and women who earn an honest living doing the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us (Discovery Channel – 2008)."

Dirty Jobs is a sublime illustration of the Christian doctrine of vocation in action. When we speak of vocation we usually think of our "job" or specific vocational training that was earned at a vocational school. But the biblical teaching of vocation involves more than thanksgiving for a "job"; it recognizes that God is the giver of all good things and He calls us into particular offices in life so that we are able to provide daily bread for our families and to serve the neighbor and in doing so, we also serve our Heavenly Father.

Vocation is a Christian word. It comes from the Latin word vocare, or calling. All Christians are called. Your calling began when you were baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Through baptism, all Christians are called by God to be His children, buried with Christ in His death and rising with Him in His resurrection. This is why St. Peter calls Christians a royal priesthood and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9-10). And according to God's Word in St. in Romans 12:1 we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices.

There is a temptation, then, to think that by these living sacrifices – whether it is our vocation at church or at home or at our workplace – we earn favor with God. God doesn't need our good works. In fact, He has already done the best work for you, in Christ's perfect life, death and resurrection. Our calling into faith and life in Jesus our Savior is a free gift. So, even though God doesn't need our good works, our neighbor does.

This is why our earthly vocations or "stations in life" as Luther called them are fruits of our heavenly calling as God's children in baptism. The purpose of vocation is to love and serve the neighbor in the particular stations in life that God has called us to whether we are a husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, teacher, student, etc. We don't live life hidden in a corner. This was the danger of many priests and monks in the Reformation era. Many taught that the highest form of Christian living was to become a monk and live in a monastery. Luther wrote extensively against this false teaching as he re-discovered the doctrine of vocation and began to teach and preach about its necessity in the Christian life. Luther taught that on one level, there is no difference between monk and magistrate or priest and plumber. Each Christian is called according to God's Word and Spirit, regardless of what their status in society is. This means that God's calling of a Roadkill Collector is just as holy as God's calling to be a pastor.

The difference is the office and duties that are unique to each vocation. For example, the pastoral office is not the office of school teacher, just as the office of father is not the same as the office of mother. Each vocation, or calling from God, has particular and unique duties attached to it. This is how God works in, with, and under the ordinary means of this life to accomplish His good and gracious will, physically and spiritually.

Luther called vocation the "mask of God" where God hides Himself so that through the work He has called us to do, the needs of people in our family, workplace, and society might be cared for in love and mercy. Therefore, we can find joy in what appear to be mundane activities – from scrubbing toilets to inspecting sewers. Through our vocation God has called us to serve Him as we serve the neighbor.

Luther once said that we can find God, even in the sewer. While this may seem odd, it is true in many ways. We can thank God for the vocation of sewer inspectors and other jobs like them that keep our homes safe and clean. But what is even more joyous is the fact that through the incarnation of Christ into human flesh – God has come to us in our sewer of sin. There was no job too dirty for Jesus. There was no sin too ugly, too disgusting, and too condemning that would keep His love from us. And so He got into the mud and muck of humanity by becoming one of us, by dying for us and rising again from the dead. Now that was a dirty job. He who knew no sin was made sin for us so that we might be washed clean in the water and the blood that flows from His pierced side. That was Jesus' calling and therefore you are called His dear children – no longer dirty but clean, free, and forgiven. God Bless you in all of your dirty jobs that He has called you to in this life. And enjoy getting dirty!

If you are interested in reading more on the biblical teaching of vocation, check out the following books:

  • God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life – Gene E. Veith, Crossway Books, 2002.

  • Luther on Vocation – Gustaf Wingren, reprinted by Wipf and Stock Publishing, 2004.

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