The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
18th Sunday after Pentecost
September 27, 2015
A few weeks ago, Maggie and I were at a party hosted by our neighborhood. You know how these things go. You bump into somebody new, you say hello, you tell each other your names. Then you ask, “so, what do you do?” I dread that question. I know one priest who got so tired of the awkward looks, that he started telling strangers that he was in commercial real estate. Anyway, I was talking to this guy about my age, he asks what I do, and I say, “well, I’m the priest at the Episcopal church here in Spring.” He has this look of half fear, half shock, and he says, “My family back home are all Episcopalians. I grew up being an acolyte as a kid.” With eyes like saucers, he said, “you mean, you’re the guy at the front of the church wearing all those clothes and doing all that stuff?” Yep. Yours truly. Then he says, “what made you want to do that?”
Now that, is a long story. Those of us in the clergy usually have long tales about how it is God that called us to this ministry. For me, it was when I started driving myself to church in high school and I discovered that this was where God had created me to be. I was caught up in the beauty, the mystery, and the grace, and the mercy. I discerned in college that God was calling me to preach, to baptize, to celebrate. I tried to hide from it. I thought that God would come to his senses and realize that I was not the best candidate. Nevertheless, here I am, the guy at the front of the church wearing all those clothes and doing all that stuff.
But I want to be very clear about this, I am not just called to be a priest. My vocation, my calling, is not to just sit around and be priestly in all these funny clothes. My vocation is to do the things that priests do. To preach. To baptize. To celebrate.
Think of what Jesus says to his disciples. “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Salt, in the ancient world, was incredibly important. Not only did it season food, it preserved food. The ancients knew that without salt your body can’t stay hydrated. The ancients knew that just a little salt would help some vegetables grow. When Jesus tells us to have salt in ourselves, he’s talking metaphorically about the things that salt does.
Take that to what Jesus says. It is our job, as Christians, to preserve. To hydrate. To fertilize the world around us. In a way, salt has a vocation, a calling, a job. Salt’s job is not just to just sit on the shelf in your pantry. Salt’s job is to do the things that salt does.
And there are many different kinds of salt. The salt we know of today, the little white grains that come in that little plastic tubes, that’s only one kind of salt. There is pink salt. And black salt. And red salt. Today, most of the world’s salt is not used for food. It’s used to deice roads. It’s used in heavy industry and manufacturing. It’s all salt, but each type of salt has a different job, a different vocation.
Each Christian is the same. We just all have different jobs to do. We all have different vocations. It is easy for us to slip into the idea that it’s only the clergy that have been called. That we are the only ones with a Christian vocation, a Christian job to do. But that’s just not the truth. People like Deacon Bob and I are just specialized types of salt. We’re all salt, we just have a different job to do.
That means that you have a Christian vocation. You have a Christian calling. You have salt in yourselves.
In just a few moments/later this morning, we are going to baptize Joshua Thomas Alvarez. Now, baptism is not about becoming a Christian. Baptism is not about getting a Christian I.D. card. Baptism is about calling. Baptism is Joshua’s calling to become a minister. To do the work of God in this world. Baptism is not the end, it’s the beginning. It’s when God gives Joshua a mission.
Think of your own baptism. That baptism was not about God rescuing you, or saving you, or making you into a Christian. God already rescued and saved you two thousand years ago on the cross. That’s out of the way. Your baptism was a commissioning. To go out into the world to do the work of Jesus.
The fancy church word we use for this is “ministry.” It’s a shame that we think that ordained ministers are the only ones that get to do ministry. That’s thinking too small. You are a minister because you have been baptized. The Lord God has called you to a ministry. And your vocation, your calling is summed up in the Baptismal Covenant:
To continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and
in the prayers
To persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord
To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself
To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being
Now, these are tall orders. And we can get overwhelmed when we think about all the things that we should be doing as Christians. I think our goal, as Christians, is to find that one thing that God has gifted us with, and focus on that. Salt that is used to deice roads doesn’t worry about seasoning food. Salt that is used as fertilizer doesn’t worry about working in a factory. Each type of salt has its vocation, its calling. Each Christian has their own vocation, their calling, and they shouldn’t worry about the rest.
In fact, that’s what Jesus is talking about in this difficult passage about hands, eyes, and feet. I know, this passage freaks us out just a little bit. But when he talks about cutting off hands, eyes, and feet, I don’t think he means our physical limbs. He is talking about the things that we do that aren’t helping us. Those can go away. You can cut them off. Because it’s better for you to do one thing really, really well, than to do a hundred things that suffer from lack of attention. If you are doing something in your Christian life that is causing you to stumble, something that is distracting you from the real work that God has given you to you, cut it off. When Jesus first said these things, he was talking about the Jewish law. What were the parts of the Law that weren’t helpful? What were the parts of the Law, that might have been okay, but weren’t helping the people connect with God? Those parts can go.
It’s the same for us. If your vocation is to feed the hungry, but you find yourself stuck in a Sunday School classroom – cut it off. If God has called you to go on mission trips and proclaim the gospel, but you find yourself stuck at home – cut it off. Trust that somebody else will do that other work – you focus on the work that is given to you. Because if they aren’t against you, they’re with you. Hands, eyes, feet – they all work together for the common good. And the good news is that you don’t have to be hands, eyes, and feet all at the same time.
Each one of you has a gift. You have a talent. At your baptism, God has given you something that nobody else has. That is the salt. But it’s not enough just to be the salt – you have to do what that salt is supposed to do. You can’t just expect salt to sit on the shelf. If it does, it loses its saltiness. If salt has lost its saltiness, how can its saltiness be restored? If a Christian has lost their sense of ministry, how can their vocation be restored? Whenever you walk past that baptismal font, remember that you have been commissioned. You have been called. You, even you, have a ministry.
And when people look at your with big, saucer eyes, when they ask you, “what made you want to do that?” Just point to that baptismal font. That water is what made you want to do all things for Christ.