14. January 2018

Ambition or Vocation?

Service Type:

Minister: Revd Dr. Ian Tutton | ‘Follow Me’ (Mark 1, 7)
Ambition has a ring to it; as if it’s not quite right; an air of selfishness attaches to it. Yet, Vocation seems entirely right, a sense of selflessness, of altruism. Certain professions are more suited to vocation than ambition – it is unlikely that somebody says their ambition is to be a nurse; rather nursing is their vocation; it’s not about satisfying self, it’s about bringing satisfaction to others. Society takes advantage of this entirely laudable attitude by suppressing wages and salaries in the so-called public service sector because no one does it for the money. Some people find their ambitions to have been overtaken by a sense of vocation (religious or otherwise) – myself included – but they will be few amongst us – hence Jesus’ comment about ‘many being called, but few chosen’ – not because there is anything special about them but simply because we can’t all be ministers! But ambition and vocation need not contradict one another. Every Christian, everyone who commits themselves to follow Jesus is ‘called’ as such, is called by God to contribute productively to the ongoing ministry and mission of the Church. There is a sense in which because someone is a Christian that should transform their attitude towards what they do in pursuit of their ambition…
“If [anyone]does not work passionately – even furiously – at being the best in the world at what [they do, they] fails [their] talent, [their] destiny, and [their] God.” (George Lois)…
Or, even more directly…
“If you don’t have the ambition to be the very best at what you do, then what’s the point? If you aim for greatness but keep missing — fine. At least you had the guts to aim. There’s honour in failing that way. But there’s nothing honourable about settling for mediocrity.”  (Benjamin Wood, The Ecliptic).
And then of course there is the reality for so many people the job of work they do neither satisfies their ambition, nor does it contain any sense of what may be called a vocation – its what they do so that they can pay the bills, taking whatever job is offered regardless – and we have to acknowledge that this applies not just those doing the more menial, mind numbingly boring jobs, it can apply equally as well to those at the very top of their profession…
“Who is willing to be satisfied with a job that expresses all his limitations? [They] will accept such work only as a ‘means of livelihood’ while [they] wait to discover [their] ‘true vocation’. The world is full of unsuccessful business[people] who still secretly believe they were meant to be artists or writers or actors in the movies.”  (Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island).
But what a Christian understanding of vocation ought to inculcate in us is a sense that whatever we find ourselves doing in life, we do it in such a way that reflects our Christian commitment. The most powerful expression of faith in action is how we live from day to day, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, regardless of the circumstances of the moment…
“Often we want to be somewhere other than where we are, to even to be someone other than who we are. We tend to compare ourselves constantly with others and wonder why we are not as rich, as intelligent, as simple, as generous, or as saintly as they are. Such comparisons make us feel guilty, ashamed, or jealous. It is very important to realize that our vocation is hidden in where we are and who we are. We are unique human beings, each with a call to realize in life what nobody else can, and to realize it in the concrete context of the here and now. We will never find our vocations by trying to figure out whether we are better or worse than others. We are good enough to do what we are called to do. Be yourself!”
(Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith).
But just because as followers of Jesus we are called to be servants of God in the world that does not mean that we have to be servile as far as the world is concerned. Our service for God may well require of us that we confront the injustices of the world in a way that does its best to transform society that it might be a better place for each and all alike…
“Relinquish! What! my vocation? My great work? My foundation laid on earth for a mansion in heaven? My hopes of being numbered in the band who have merged all ambitions in the glorious one of bettering their race – of carrying knowledge into the realms of ignorance – of substituting peace for war – freedom for bondage – religion for superstition – the hope of heaven for the fear of hell? Must I relinquish that? It is dearer than the blood in my veins. It is what I have to look forward to, and to live for.”  (Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre)
…Or again,…
“The credit belongs to those who are actually in the arena, who strive valiantly; who know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spend themselves in a worthy cause; who at best know the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if they fail, fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”  (Theodore Roosevelt).
Today we have heard the story of Jesus calling the fishermen from the side of the lake, ‘imposing’ a vocation from God upon the ‘Ambition’ that was theirs within the constraints of the family fishing business. Later on, we heard of just how different life had become, at least for two of them as they engaged in proclaiming the Good News that Jesus having been raised from the dead was thereby proven to be the Messiah of God and deserving of recognition as such. And none of us should exclude the possibility that God could intervene in our lives in such a dramatic and drastic way, but that isn’t how it will be for most of us. We have also shared in an act of rededication for Elders and Deacons – those whose calling, ‘vocation’, under God is being worked out within the context of everyday living: and there are others of you who deserve similar recognition – caterers, coffee makers, flower arrangers, stewards, musicians, singers, administrators, offering counters, children’s helpers; not to mention those whose work is done quietly, unfussily, anonymously…all equally valuable – called by God, and affirmed by the Church…

Ambition or Vocation?

‘Follow Me’ (Mark 1, 7)

Ambition has a ring to it; as if it’s not quite right; an air of selfishness attaches to it. Yet, Vocation seems entirely right, a sense of selflessness, of altruism. Certain professions are more suited to vocation than ambition – it is unlikely that somebody says their ambition is to be a nurse; rather nursing is their vocation; it’s not about satisfying self, it’s about bringing satisfaction to others. Society takes advantage of this entirely laudable attitude by suppressing wages and salaries in the so-called public service sector because no one does it for the money. Some people find their ambitions to have been overtaken by a sense of vocation (religious or otherwise) – myself included – but they will be few amongst us – hence Jesus’ comment about ‘many being called, but few chosen’ - not because there is anything special about them but simply because we can’t all be ministers! But ambition and vocation need not contradict one another. Every Christian, everyone who commits themselves to follow Jesus is ‘called’ as such, is called by God to contribute productively to the ongoing ministry and mission of the Church. There is a sense in which because someone is a Christian that should transform their attitude towards what they do in pursuit of their ambition…

“If [anyone]does not work passionately - even furiously - at being the best in the world at what [they do, they] fails [their] talent, [their] destiny, and [their] God.” (George Lois)…

Or, even more directly…

If you don't have the ambition to be the very best at what you do, then what's the point? If you aim for greatness but keep missing -- fine. At least you had the guts to aim. There's honour in failing that way. But there's nothing honourable about settling for mediocrity.”  (Benjamin Wood, The Ecliptic).

And then of course there is the reality for so many people the job of work they do neither satisfies their ambition, nor does it contain any sense of what may be called a vocation – its what they do so that they can pay the bills, taking whatever job is offered regardless – and we have to acknowledge that this applies not just those doing the more menial, mind numbingly boring jobs, it can apply equally as well to those at the very top of their profession…

“Who is willing to be satisfied with a job that expresses all his limitations? [They] will accept such work only as a 'means of livelihood' while [they] wait to discover [their] 'true vocation'. The world is full of unsuccessful business[people] who still secretly believe they were meant to be artists or writers or actors in the movies.”  (Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island).

But what a Christian understanding of vocation ought to inculcate in us is a sense that whatever we find ourselves doing in life, we do it in such a way that reflects our Christian commitment. The most powerful expression of faith in action is how we live from day to day, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, regardless of the circumstances of the moment…

Often we want to be somewhere other than where we are, to even to be someone other than who we are. We tend to compare ourselves constantly with others and wonder why we are not as rich, as intelligent, as simple, as generous, or as saintly as they are. Such comparisons make us feel guilty, ashamed, or jealous. It is very important to realize that our vocation is hidden in where we are and who we are. We are unique human beings, each with a call to realize in life what nobody else can, and to realize it in the concrete context of the here and now. We will never find our vocations by trying to figure out whether we are better or worse than others. We are good enough to do what we are called to do. Be yourself!”
(Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith).

But just because as followers of Jesus we are called to be servants of God in the world that does not mean that we have to be servile as far as the world is concerned. Our service for God may well require of us that we confront the injustices of the world in a way that does its best to transform society that it might be a better place for each and all alike…

“Relinquish! What! my vocation? My great work? My foundation laid on earth for a mansion in heaven? My hopes of being numbered in the band who have merged all ambitions in the glorious one of bettering their race - of carrying knowledge into the realms of ignorance - of substituting peace for war - freedom for bondage - religion for superstition - the hope of heaven for the fear of hell? Must I relinquish that? It is dearer than the blood in my veins. It is what I have to look forward to, and to live for.”  (Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre)

…Or again,…

“The credit belongs to those who are actually in the arena, who strive valiantly; who know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spend themselves in a worthy cause; who at best know the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if they fail, fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”  (Theodore Roosevelt).

Today we have heard the story of Jesus calling the fishermen from the side of the lake, ‘imposing’ a vocation from God upon the ‘Ambition’ that was theirs within the constraints of the family fishing business. Later on, we heard of just how different life had become, at least for two of them as they engaged in proclaiming the Good News that Jesus having been raised from the dead was thereby proven to be the Messiah of God and deserving of recognition as such. And none of us should exclude the possibility that God could intervene in our lives in such a dramatic and drastic way, but that isn’t how it will be for most of us. We have also shared in an act of rededication for Elders and Deacons – those whose calling, ‘vocation’, under God is being worked out within the context of everyday living: and there are others of you who deserve similar recognition – caterers, coffee makers, flower arrangers, stewards, musicians, singers, administrators, offering counters, children’s helpers; not to mention those whose work is done quietly, unfussily, anonymously…all equally valuable – called by God, and affirmed by the Church…