Have you ever seen the TV show called “Dirty Jobs?” It’s a reality show that was on the Discovery Channel and stars a guy named Mike Rowe, who then later started a show called “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” which has a similar theme, and now he has a great podcast. In every episode of Dirty Jobs, Mike participates in doing a different job, a lot of which most of us probably never even knew existed. Mike introduces each episode by saying, “I explore the country looking for people who aren’t afraid to get dirty — hard-working men and women who earn an honest living doing the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us.”
So, Mike has done all kinds of jobs. He’s been a bat guano collector, a catfish noodler, a septic tank technician, a horse breeder, a roadkill collector, a garbage collector, a shark tagger, a sewer inspector, a pig farmer, a beer brewer, an oyster harvester, an exterminator, a beekeeper, a sludge recycler, a chimney sweeper, a mushroom farmer, an animal handler, a fuel tank cleaner, a shark suit tester, a leech trapper, a maggot farmer, and many, many other things.
Who knew that there were so many types of jobs in the world? As you go about your day, have you ever considered that there are people shearing alpacas, people cleaning crawfish, people washing the runway paint stripes at airports, people making bricks and shingles, there’s even a guy who makes flower pots out of cow manure. There are all sorts of jobs in the world, most we never even think about, but each of which makes our lives a little easier or better.
But, my plan today is not just to talk about manure or various dirty jobs. I want to talk about vocation. In the reading from Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 today, the writer talks about how “he who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income.” No matter how much money we have, we always seem to want and “need” more. If your income grows, you find more ways to spend it. There’s never enough; it’s like trying to fill a bucket with water when there’s a hole on the bottom. More money doesn’t make us happy or content; however, for the one who enjoys his work, sweet is his sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:12).
You all have various vocations. In fact, each one of you has more than one vocation. A vocation is just a role that God has called you into in this life. You may be a friend, husband, wife, father, mother, grandparent. You may be a parent, a child, a teacher, a learner. You may be an employee or an employer. You may be a reptile wrangler, a goose down plucker, a cloth diaper cleaner, a tofu maker, a soldier, a politician, a lawyer, a contractor, a plumber, a teacher, or any number of other things. Like Mike Rowe, you may be an opera singer, a voice-over artist, a reality show host, a philanthropist, and a podcaster.
The point is that God calls people into various vocations in life. He gives you roles to play in this world. Think about that: your work in your job, in your home life, and in your relationships with other people is pleasing to God when done according to His will, because you and your vocations are the ways in which God tends His creation. You are like God’s hands on the earth, because it is through you as God’s stewards that He cares for what He has made.
So, that is why the book of Ecclesiastes urges us to enjoy what God has given us, accept our lot, and rejoice in our toil. It’s because you have work to do that is given you by God Himself. And if you rejoice in it, then you will not much remember the days of your life, because God will keep you occupied with joy in your heart. Life will be a blessing and meaningful, because you will work in the knowledge that you are helping to tend God’s creation.
This is oftentimes a different message than what we hear out in our culture and society. It may be different than what you’ve seen in self-help books and on TV. Because the Christian view of vocation is an affirmation of the goodness of God’s creation, even though it is fallen. It says that God cares enough about what He has made to ensure it’s taken care of.
The Christian view of the world is not all spiritual, nor is it all material. Instead it is incarnational; that is, the Christian world-view upholds both the spiritual and material nature of our lives. This is a view that says that we as people have been created by God as embodied creatures. We have both a soul and a body. God created Adam from the dust of the earth and then breathed His spirit into Adam to make him a living being; and we as Adam’s descendants are both body and soul. And God also created this world and all that is in it. And He tends His creation through His creatures. God has given us tasks – vocations – to fulfill in this life so that we can help care for His creation.
So, God’s creation is good. It is marred by the sin of Adam and Eve, that is sure, because their sin brought decay and death into the world. But, sin, decay, and death are intruders in God’s good creation. They don’t belong. They’re enemies. Sickness and death is not natural. But, God works in this world to care for it until He finally restores it to the perfection in which He originally created it and removes sin, decay, and death forever.
This, then, is the wonder of your vocations, that God has called you into certain roles and uses you as His hands to care for His creation. God is involved in His creation as its Creator through you. He is neither the remote God of the gnostics who believe that God has nothing to do with the material world; nor is He the idol of the pagans who believe that He is part of His creation. No, God is separate from creation, but He cares for it. He loves His creation, because He made it. And He uses you as His instruments to help care for what He has made.
So, the shoeshiner, the jelly bean maker, the fish breeder, the barber, the landfill operator, the onion processor are engaged in vocations that God has given them in order to tend and bless His creation. God is involved in His creation, because He made it and He loves it.
In fact, God is so involved in His creation that He sent His only-begotten Son to die for it. Jesus Christ was the first, but made himself last of all. He is the Son of God, the second person of the Godhead, but He died for you and the rest of creation. He defeated sin, death, and the devil – enemies of God’s good creation.
So, Jesus Christ isn’t the pristine, clean, untouched, remote God that some people imagine. He also isn’t the “buddy” and “just one of the guys” that others imagine. No, he is God in the flesh who came to die and rise through the Virgin Mary, who fulfilled her vocation as the Mother of God (the theotokos or God-bearer). Christ is incarnational and he engaged in the ultimate “dirty job” by doing the kind of job that makes civilized life possible for the rest of us. Jesus was whipped, spit on, and crucified. He was grimy, sweaty, and bloody. He was dirty. He was sinless, but took your sins upon himself and died on the cross to kill them there. And then he rose so that you too will rise from the grave when he returns again on the Last Day for you. Our God got down and dirty in the work of the cross and empty tomb. And He did this for you. It is Christ’s work that saves you, not your own works.
He did the dirty work and now has washed you clean through His blood. You have been baptized into His name. And you are fed with His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper; he is still here working through Word and Sacrament, still working through His creation to bless you and keep you as His own. You have been brought into the promised land, the land where the Lord dwells, the land of Zion, because you have been brought into Christ’s Church by Him as children of God and brothers and sisters of each other.
So you see, the Church is the forerunner of the restoration of all creation. For when Christ returns, all creation will be restored and you will dwell in it with the Lord forever, not as angels floating on the clouds, but as people, real people, with real bodies, living with the real Lord God Almighty. You have a taste of this now in the Church where the Lord is here in our midst veiled through Word and Sacrament; but on that day that is coming you will dwell directly with the Lord forever, with no sin, no decay, no death, no sorrow, no evil in the world – just the Lord and you his creatures living in perfect communion in eternity.
So, as God’s children, with regard to your work in this present world, you have an additional blessing over those who do not have faith in Christ. We all have vocations, even those without faith. God works through us all as His hands to care for and tend His creation. But, you have an advantage, because you know from whom your vocation comes. You can see with every fish you catch, every bolt you turn, every board you nail, every egg you fry, every diaper you change that this work is pleasing to God because it is work that He has given you to do. And by doing it you are helping to care for God’s creation, and no one else can fill the role that you have been given to fulfill.
So, in your vocations you bring the first fruits of Christ’s restoration to a fallen world and show the world that God loves it enough to send His only-begotten son to die for it. You show a fallen world that this world is worth saving and that God is saving it. And, you show a fallen world that it will not be fallen forever, but that Christ is returning to finish what he started on his cross and empty tomb. Amen.
(Image: Jesus the Carpenter and Mary; from a church in Belgium. By Thomas Quine – Jesus the carpenter and Mary, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51676437)