On Vocation and Salvation – The Rev. Michelle Meech
August 21, 2022
The woman in today’s Gospel reading is healed, she has experienced “salvation.” I think in our society, especially, “salvation” is a loaded word. We hear phrases like, “Jesus saves.” And I’ve always wondered exactly what that means. What is “salvation,” exactly? The Greek word here is “soteria”, which can be translated as “abundant health. It can also mean a sense of safety, or protection. Deliverance.
So, the Gospel story is definitely about salvation – “Woman, you are free from your ailment.”… is what Jesus proclaims. An ailment that had left this person bent over and unable to stand up straight for nearly 2 decades… gone just like that. Deliverance. Abundant health.
But what are we being saved from? Is salvation only reserved for those who are in physical pain? What about emotional pain that can torture us for the better part of our lives?
And what are we being saved for? This, I think, is a more interesting question.
When we talk about healing prayers, we often find ourselves in a conversation about healing a physical ailment or fixing a part of ourselves that is broken. And this Gospel story from today certainly reinforces that understanding. The woman is “unable to stand up straight.” Most of the commentary I’ve read on this story describes a physical healing – a fixing of this woman’s crippled spine so that she could physically stand up straight. Further, it lays the blame for this physical ailment on “a spirit” – the work of a demon.
Now, however you feel about this miraculous physical healing and whatever you might think about the existence of demons – whether you hear this story as metaphor or as a literal physical healing – the story depicts a woman being freed from the oppression of whatever has been weighing her down… so that she might come to know God and offer praise. So that she might discern her call as a rejoined member of that community, free from that which has kept her crippled for so long. A New life. A resurrection.
When we stop to think about the things that are weighing us down, when we consider that which is getting in the way of a deeper connection with God, it may be a physical ailment. But it’s more likely something else. A wound unseen by the world that we carry in our hearts. A belief that we need to be other than what we are to be valued or loved or useful. A desire to be fixed in some way so that we can feel whole.
The Good News, my friends, is that while our wound is real, God is with us in it. And this wound does not determine who we are, nor who we are called to be by God. God knew us before we were born, the prophet Jeremiah tells us. And God made us as good, just as God ordained the entire creation to be good. And whole. And loved.
The Good News, then, is that we are already exactly who we need to be and God is calling us to accept ourself just as God accepts us. You are already perfect. Nothing that has happened to you will ever change that truth. The Good News is there is nothing to be fixed in a beloved child of God because we are already whole. We are already blessed and a blessing, having been being formed in the very image of God.
So the healing that we so often need is not to fix ourselves, it is a healing to unburden ourselves. The healing in today’s gospel story happens on the Sabbath, just as it should. Because healing is an unburdening. It’s the action of receiving the Word of God, so that we can come to know our wholeness more fully. So that we might live no longer for ourselves and the things we think we need in order to be better or different, but that we may accept our blesssedness and become, the Body of Christ. One body and one spirit in Christ. This is our birthright as creatures of God.
Jesus unbinds this woman from her demon, just as he unbinds us from those demonic thoughts which trick us into thinking we are less than what we are. Jesus unbinds us from our beliefs of inferiority and shows us the sacred order of our life just as it is so that we are free to stand up straight and praise God from the depths of our soul. Jesus heals our thoughts and delivers us from those cruel whispers and those wicked voices that tell us we are broken. Those voices are lies. We are not broken. We might feel that way, but we are not.
And this happens, as it should, on the Sabbath. At this Table, as we share this meal, this love, we are unbound and given new life on this Sabbath day, this day of rest, this day of praise, this day of resurrection. And this unbinding, this deliverance happens so that we might become that which God has consecrated us to be from before our birth. Empowered to live into our true purpose. This is what we are being saved for.
Luke, I think, gives us an understanding of what it is we are being saved for. Jesus calls the religious leadership hypocrites: “Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” It’s clear from the passage that healing, salvation… is not just for ourselves, but so that we can unburden others whenever it’s in our power to do so.
Nobel Prize winning author, Toni Morrison, put it this way: “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”
This is what we call vocation in the Christian faith, when we live into our true purpose. When we live into who God created us to be.
Vocation can be a tricky word. We so often connect it with our job. It’s not that vocation is disconnected from our job, but it is not the same thing as our job. Let me illustrate this with a story.
A man fell into the business of selling carpet for a living. He sold wall-to-wall. He sold area rugs. He sold patio carpet. He even sold welcome mats. After becoming good at his job, he started thinking about what was next for him.
A few of his friends were discontent, looking for better jobs with more money, so they could buy bigger houses, with more things. He saw other people who seemed like they “had it all together.” He read about people who had jobs or positions of power he was jealous of. And he started wondering, “What is wrong with me? Why am I not happy? How do I fix myself?”
This man became distraught, thinking that he was meant for more than a simple life of selling carpet. It’s not that he didn’t enjoy his job. He liked interacting with customers and he made a living that was enough for his family. But he became convinced that his life was unfulfilled.
He started going to church more often, looking for some kind of sign. And soon he developed friendships with others. One day he found himself in a conversation about vocation. “Ha-ha!” he thought. “Now, I’ll find an answer about what it is I’m truly called to be doing in this world.”
And here’s what he discovered: his vocation had nothing to do with his job, but it had everything to do with how he understood his purpose. God had called him to a life of service, just as we are all called to service. The person we follow, Jesus, gave himself up to a life of service.
Gradually, this man saw that his vocation was to help people create spaces of beauty and graciousness in their homes and, sometimes, their businesses. He started connecting with the people he served in a deeper way, listening to their desires and their needs and helping them in other ways like sponsoring community endeavors, offering extended services.
And as he continued to connect his life in the world with the healing he received through the Word of God, he started to experience a widening of his vocation. He saw that he was called to be in service to God’s whole creation. He started to adjust his own business practices, hiring people to create a truly diverse workforce and offering benefits that offered a sense of dignity to his employees. He started carrying lines of carpet that were sustainably produced and manufactured in factories that treated their workers ethically.
Soon, he was educating other business owners on how to spot sustainable production in their product lines and several of them created an advocacy group for ethical business practices. Still his job was to sell carpet. But his vocation was so much bigger than that.
Once in a while, when he would get together with his friends over a drink or at a planning meeting, they would share stories about what inspired them to get more involved in this advocacy work, and this man would talk about the healing he received at church. This healing that invited him to remember his wholeness because God knew him before he was born and created him to live in peace, to support others, to be present to his life. The healing that enlightened him to the knowledge that he was already good. He was already OK. And it was the healing that called him to a vocation as a member of the Body of Christ.
This is what salvation is. When we are freed up from that which weighs us down so that we may live a life in service to God’s creation, so that we may praise God and extend God’s Sabbath to others. This is how we become who we have been created to be.