Three Ways to Serve Our Neighbors Every Day
February 16, 2015 | Posted by Ken Chitwood
The word “vocation” may make us think of a relatively narrow realm of responsibilities, but it should mean so much more.
The Latin word vocatio, or ”calling,” was long used to refer to religious orders and priestly ministry, Today, we use the term all the time to talk about someone’s profession (think “vocational training”). Martin Luther was the first to use “vocation” in reference to seemingly mundane and profane offices and occupations. Behind the semantics of Luther’s heritage is the idea that every station in life that is, by nature, helpful to others, is a calling, a vocation, through which the love of God is made manifest.
In the words of Gustaf Wingren vocation is “anything that involves action, anything that concerns the world or my relationship with my neighbor.”
Not only is the idea of vocation expanded beyond our occupations, but it is also bigger than any one station we occupy. Not only are we called to serve others, and extend God’s creative care for earth and humanity, through our vocations as farmers or faculty, plumbers or priests, accountants or artists, husbands and wives, daughters and sons, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, cousins and godparents, friends and competitors, etc., but we can also serve others in momentary vocations.
Momentary vocations are those brief moments wherein we may be called to serve a person in passing, an “extra” in our lives who would otherwise go unnoticed, but for some reason has been brought to our attention, thrust into our hectic schedule, or appeared at our doorstep. Whether it be a beggar on the street, a teller at your grocery store, or the person visibly upset in the hallway at work or school, too often, we pass up these momentary vocations and miss the opportunity to participate in God’s care for the world.
Through presence, passion, and purpose I suggest some ways we can be more active in these momentary vocations.
This is our primary ministry in momentary callings. We choose to be present. This “ministry of presence” is that service that can be offered by simply being with someone – most often those in need of comfort.
Jesus typified the ministry of presence. Jesus dwelt with humanity and brought healing to the lame, the sick, the defiled, the sinful and the unclean and often did so when they ran up to him on the streets, pressed upon him at the door, or burst through the roof. He sat and ate dinner with those who were outcasts and touched those who were untouchable. He did not consider his status higher than others and instead associated with people of low position – people like you and me, tainted with sin and in need of His presence.
For me, this means leaning into the people I pass by every day. Most often, this means being present with the tellers at my local grocery store. I always stop to ask them “How are you?” You’d be surprised how they respond. On more than one occasion that simple question, that invitation to be present with someone, has opened the door to deeper conversation, impromptu prayer, and more meaningful relationships.
At the foundation of our presence must be a passion for our neighbor — whoever they are and regardless of race, religion, or station in life. Without these boundaries to our love no matter who it is that comes our way, we can be compassionate toward them — ready to share in their misfortunes and bear God’s benefits to them in their time of need.
Too often, when presented with a momentary vocation we grunt and sigh, huff and puff…if we do anything at all. While there were times when Jesus was weary and wanted to withdraw, his compassion (literally, a deep stirring of the bowels within him) moved him to serve others and do so with gusto. We might take the cue and do the same, even if that person interrupts our lives for a moment.
In that instant, we might ask, “What is my convenience worth?” If it does not cost more than the opportunity to show compassion to one of God’s children, we are compelled to stop and serve with zeal.
Still, we cannot neglect the overarching purpose of our service in momentary vocations. While we do not need to engage the “Gospel-presentation-full-court-press” in every situation, we must be cognizant of the divine design of these moments.
For example, when serving a stemmer, or panhandler, we cannot think only of their immediate needs, but also about the systemic issues behind their lack. This may not only mean altering our actions in the moment (I sit down for a meal with someone who asks for money, instead of just giving them spare change), but also being galvanized beyond this one act of service to perhaps engage in greater advocacy and action on their behalf.
While we may not engage in every momentary vocation (after all, our primary vocations are calling too), I encourage us all (with presence, passion, and purpose) to lean into the divine promptings that are at work in little interruptions, inconveniences, and opportunities to bless our neighbor and give glory to God in momentary vocations.