Vocation and Vacation

Sermon preached the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost…                                   

click here to listen:  Vocation + Vacation

When I was six years old I wanted to be an astronaut.  I was raised during the height of the space race and the events that took place 40 years ago tomorrow night still make me starry-eyed.  Eight years after President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade it happened.  This dream, passion, vocation and life’s work of tens of thousands of people was about to be realized.

The morning of July 16, Apollo XI astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins blasted off for the ride of their lives, what you could call the ultimate “extreme adventure working vacation.”  I like the rest of America watched the events on television.  We collectively listened and watched as the most trusted man in America, Walter Cronkite shepherded us through this exciting “out of this world” experience.  Cronkite was so passionate about his vocation, that he stayed on the air for 27 of the 30 hours that Apollo XI took to complete its mission. 

At 4:18 pm Commander Neil Armstrong with less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining manually landed the Eagle in the Sea of Tranquility avoiding a landscape of unexpected boulders that could have ended their lives.  I spent that evening outside, under the stars hanging out with friends between our carport and Ricky Hoffer’s house next door.  We pretended to be astronauts, wondered about vacationing on the moon and argued whether the Apollo experience would be really cool or really scary. 

At some point my parents brought our black and white television outside and six and a half hours after the excitement of landing (and way past my bedtime) the nation waited and watched for that first small step.  Neil Armstrong stepped off the lunar module onto the surface of the Moon and as he looked up, saw Earth in the heavens as no one had done before him.  He was joined by Buzz Aldrin, and the two astronauts spent 21 hours on the lunar surface and returned 46 pounds of moon rocks.

These two men had successfully gone away to a deserted place all by themselves and yet were followed by a great crowd via television.  We watched and heard their “other worldly” words and Aldrin’s simple but powerful description of the place as “magnificent desolation.”  After their historic moon walks they successfully docked with the Columbia command module where Michael Collins had been patiently orbiting the cold but no longer lifeless moon.   

And today, we still wonder about what it all means.  We work; living out our vocational lives sometimes living to work, sometimes working to live, at best sharing our passions and gifts, at worst praying for meaningful work, or work at all.  The disciples and Jesus were no different.  They worked, lived out their vocations and probably worked too hard.  In Mark these past few weeks we have heard about their work, Jesus sending them out to minister among large numbers of people.

On their back and forth ministry at home and across the lake, the disciples and Jesus work hard and are having a world changing impact.  Jesus and the disciples begin to attract attention and resistance as they live out their vocation to proclaim God’s word and comfort the afflicted.  They must be tired and overwhelmed in this work, sensing that they will be afflicted by those opposed to the saving good news and presence of Jesus the Christ.

We too are called to be disciples as we live out whatever our vocational passions, gifts or circumstances are each day.  We as the priesthood of all believers are called and sent to bring healing and comfort to the world.  Life, even as a believer is not easy and we too get tired and experience pain suffering. 

As Henri Nouwen points out in his book The Wounded Healer, in our own woundedness we can become a source of healing for others.  We can have compassion and bring comfort to the afflicted because we have experienced the realities and pain of life on earth.  Like Jesus and the disciples, we unbind our wounds one at a time and rebind them. In doing this as believers we are able to care for others while in the midst of caring for ourselves.  A way to unbind and unwind is to come home and relax, or get away to a deserted place. 

It is important to remember that we are not shepherds like Jesus.  We are in our busyness often like sheep without a shepherd.  The reality is that when we are faithfully living out our vocational call, we are more like sheep dogs.  We like sheep dogs, help but don’t lead, we listen and try to hear the will of God through all the noise of daily life.

Jesus tells us to get away… and so we are called to both vocation and vacation.  But we are unable to listen to that still small voice or discern God’s will without time away.  Quiet rest, relaxation, Sabbath, or a vacation is important.  Contemporary religious leader Barbara Brown Taylor reminds that, “Sabbath is a gift, but we are so reluctant to accept it, that God had to make it a command.”

This time of year, many of us will take time away for vacation.  But if you are like me, you want to get the most out of your vacation time.  You may so over plan, schedule and play hard during that time away, that you need a vacation after a vacation.  Kay and I have tried mixing work with Sabbath, spending half a day of travel for a day and a half weekend in London, three days in Napa visiting 15 wineries, and an infamous 10 states in four days trip.  I must confess that too often my “type A” personality charges ahead and “down time” can seem as far away as the moon.

Jesus gets this, and Jesus lived this.  Vacations don’t have to be “out of this world.”  Jesus calls us to get away, not to be so busy that we need another vacation, but rather to charge our batteries.  To unbind our wounds and to be ready to have compassion on a broken and fallen world that is too busy and loud to hear God’s voice… I’m not up in the sky somewhere; I’m here with and among you waiting to be love for and in you and all people who hurt.

We don’t have to be the shepherd, or in control… we need to be sheep dogs.  We don’t need to fill our vocation and vacation time so full as to not be able to hear the Shepherd above the noisy sheep and world around us.  We need to listen.  Listen, God is calling us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, to come and rest, to come and touch, taste and see from death into life.

+          +          +

 After the Apollo XI astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had landed and the world heard the words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” they had a Sabbath experience…

Now Neil and I were sitting inside Eagle, while Mike circled in lunar orbit, unseen in the black sky above us. In a little while, after our scheduled meal period, Neil would give the signal to step down the ladder onto the powdery surface of the moon. So I unstowed the elements in their flight packets. I put them and the scripture reading on the little table in front of the abort guidance system computer.

Then I called back to Houston.

“Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in their own individual way.”

For me this meant taking communion. In the radio blackout I opened the little plastic packages which contained bread and wine.

I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.

And so, just before I partook of the elements, I read the words which I had chosen to indicate our trust that as man probes into space we are in fact acting in Christ.

I sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the Church everywhere.

I read: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.’

Wherever we go, wherever we are, we discover again and again, that God is there.  Wherever we go, wherever we are, we are shown again and again, that God gives us compassion.  Wherever we go, wherever we are, we are loved and we are refreshed from death into life! 

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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One thought on “Vocation and Vacation

  1. oh, how I remember that landing—what a rush
    vacation time—so hard not to try to fill it with meaningful? stuff—love the image of church as a place to be still and know that God is near

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