This summer we are exploring together how we discern what it is that God calls us to do, each of us individually and all of us together. The word for this is “vocation,” from the Latin word “vocare” which literally means “to call.” Vocation: God calls us to live our lives on purpose for the common good.
Our vocations are personal to each individual but they are discerned and lived out in community. We have multiple vocations throughout our life, and multiple vocations at the same time. We are not created for production value, but we are created so we find joy and fulfillment doing some things and not others.
The first week we talked about how discerning our vocation begins with listening to our longings, paying attention to what lights us up and also what breaks our hearts. Last week we talked about openness: discerning our vocation includes being open to what can happen in the future, what has happened in the past, and what is happening right now. This week we are going to talk about values.
Values underpin the choices that we make, and they reflect our core beliefs. Spoken or unspoken, values are interwoven with our convictions, they shape our actions, and they impact our relationships, both personal and public.
A couple of years ago, my mom came to visit us and she sent Sam and I out for dinner while she stayed home with Sammy. And because we are the kind of nerdy people we are, we decided to spend that dinner talking about what our top three family values should be. Many paper napkins later and after a lot of debate about what particular words mean and which concepts could be included in which other concepts, we settled on “curiosity,” “generosity,” and “humility.” Curiosity, generosity, and humility. A couple months ago, someone asked me for my top five and I added “humor” and “connection” to those three to get my own personal top five. I did that off the top of my head.
This week I spent more than an hour exhaustively going through a list of values three pages long, and putting them in a bracket and choosing one over the other and at the end of it, you know what I had? Almost exactly what I started with.
Humor/joy, companionship, Generosity, humility/vulnerability, and curiosity/creativity.
When thinking about naming our values, it’s helpful to remember a few things.
1. Values come from somewhere.
Circumstances, necessities, experiences (values around violence are different if you grow up in a violent culture)
2. Values change (just like vocations) They are not written in stone.
Need to be guided by different values in different seasons. Your personal values might be a little different from your family values. Your values are going to be different from our church’s values, although I bet there’s some overlap.
3. Values complement and also conflict with each other. e.g. Humility and boldness.
What does it mean for us to be inclusive, to be respectful of all people? It doesn’t mean that we endorse all opinions.
As I was preparing for this week, the thing that stood out to me the most was how easy it is to talk about values and how hard it can be to make our walk match our talk. I can tell you all day long that our values are curiosity, generosity, and humility. But if you want to know what they really are, take a look at my bank statement and my calendar. Listen carefully to how I talk about other people, especially people who disagree with me. Naming what we want our values to be is only the first step. What really matter is how we enact those values.
As you might imagine Jesus has some good stuff to say about this. Hard stuff, but good stuff. In Matthew chapter 23, he is in a big argument with the religious leaders, specifically the people who are most interested in having everyone follow the religious rules, the scribes and the pharisees. This is page 1536 in your pew Bibles. These folks were not official leaders with a lot of power, but they were cultural leaders with a lot of influence over other people. This argument comes near the end of Jesus’ ministry, in the last week of his life, after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus is speaking to particular people in this story, but his words are for all of us.
We pick up the argument in Matthew chapter 23, we’ll start in verse 1 and read a few verses and then pick up again later in the chapter. Let us listen now in the reading of scripture for the word and wisdom of God.
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’s seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it, but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others, for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
And now skip to verse 23 through 28.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and of the plate, so that the outside also may become clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of uncleanness. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
Hypocrites – a tough accusation. But that’s the word we use for people who say one thing and do another thing. Who profess one value but act in a way that is counter to that value. And right now, I invite you to stop thinking about other people who are hypocrites and gently ask yourself where YOU are being hypocritical. Because the truth is everyone has their point of hypocrisy. We all have our limit, the thing we won’t do even though it’s in line with our values, usually frankly because it’s just too inconvenient for us.
These religious rule-followers had values. They could name their values. Sometimes they were even doing things in line with their values, but only when it was convenient or when it would get them affirmation from other people.
The final thing to remember about values is that only our actions matter. It really doesn’t matter what we say our values are. It matters what we do. Values are validated in our choices. The large and deliberate ones. And the small and quick ones. Yes impulses happen. But if we are deliberate about naming our values, thinking about them when we wake up in the morning, keeping them at the front of our minds, if we are deliberate, even our impulses can start to shift.
If you can already pretty easily name your values, the next step is to think about how those values play out in your everyday life. If “justice” is a value for you, how does it show up in your basic choices? Values can’t just be theoretical; they have to be practical. If can’t already name your values, you could start by looking at your bank statement and your calendar. What do those things say about your values? What qualities do you want your life to have? What do you like doing? How do you want to be remembered? All of those are questions that will help you name your values?
If something feels off to you right now in your life, it could likely be that you are regularly doing something that’s out of line with your values. Maybe it’s not even a value that you’ve been able to name yet. But your God-given sense of what is right for you is sending up signals that something’s out of whack.
Discerning our vocations includes being able to name our values. To really know who we are, why we are here, and what God is calling us to do, we need to be clear about what is important to us. We need to think seriously about how we are living into what’s important to us. Trusting in God’s grace, we can ask ourselves where we are being hypocrites. And with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can make choices each day that are in line with what we believe God is calling us to do in this place, in this season.