I spent much of the week before Memorial Day sampling the offerings of strip mall fast food restaurants in suburban St. Louis. Okay, so I wasn’t in St. Louis for the cuisine. I was there for a week of class at Covenant Theological Seminary, where I am enrolled in a cohort studying the nexus of Faith, Vocation, and Culture. Together we are thinking about what it means to live faithfully as Christians in the midst of ordinary life.
Butchers, Bakers, Candlestick Makers
One of the fundamental premises of the class is that often we limit faith to ‘spiritual’ parts of our lives--worship services, mission trips, Bible studies. In reality, though, all of life is lived before the audience of God. Everyday stuff, including our vocations, is integral not incidental to God’s mission in the world.* Improperly limiting faith to a specific parts of life can produce a hierarchy of faithfulness to God. Therefore, overseas missionaries or those who work in full-time ministry can be viewed as more ‘spiritual’ than people who pursue secular vocations, as butchers and bakers and candlestick makers. Somewhere along the line, the church went off track. We exchanged the Kingdom of God in the midst of our real and gritty world for a Kingdom of God limited to the rarefied and disembodied realm of generic spirituality.
Recently, I came across a sermon from preacher and writer, Frederich Buechner. He captures beautifully the real contour of God’s Kingdom in this world. I’ll quote him at length:
“They [the first followers of Jesus] seem to have gone right on working at pretty much whatever they’d been working at before, which means that he didn’t so much call them out of their ordinary lives as he called them out of believing that ordinary life is ordinary. He called them to see that no matter how ordinary it may seem to us as we live it, life is extraordinary....Life even at its most monotonous and backbreaking and heart-numbing has the Kingdom buried in it the way a field has a treasure buried in it....If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it in those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser that we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” (Frederick Buechner, “The Church”, Secrets in the Dark, p. 148-9)
Inspired by Buechner, I pray we might have eyes to see that ordinary life is extraordinary.
*This is a favorite saying of Steve Garber, one of the professors of my cohort and the founder of The Washington Institute.