We are used to seeing people in their usual surroundings – at work, at school, at church, in the shops, in uniform, and so on. So it is not uncommon for people to ‘readjust’ when they see a person ‘out of place’ – in fact, they may not initially recognise them!
While I’m a grandfather, I am more a grandfather – more seen as one – on the streets and in the shops and parks around my daughter’s house. This week my daughter and her family ‘returned to Suffolk’ for a few days it was fun and chaotic to have them with us. Charlotte and I spent time with them on their trips out and one afternoon was spent in Bury St Edmunds – the abbey grounds, the playground, walking, having a good time. I had taken a tiny bit of church work with me – banking as the only branch still open in the area is there – and so while the others went shopping for a moment, I pushed the pram with Ottilie to the bank. In there I bumped into a staff member from Sea Cadets and it was nice quick exchange. Job done. He went back to work and I walked back to the shoppers. A brief moment in my life that day.
I didn’t think much about it until the next time I was at Sea Cadets it was he who made the point about seeing me as ‘Grandpa’ – and that it was different – unusual – nice – to see me pushing a pram with my granddaughter. Of course, all my identities and roles are part of me. It’s just that they’re all not ‘let out’ at once!
We all have identities and roles which reflect our relationships and our place or role in society. The people we see at work or school all have lives outside of these places – as do we. This is the world in which we live and Lutherans approach living here recognising the roles we have, knowing our personal identity, and desiring that what we do brings good things to the people around us and points – sometimes with words, sometimes with deeds, and sometimes with both – to Jesus whom we follow.
This understanding of the Christian life is called our ‘vocation’ which means more than a job but is our ‘calling’ from God to stand in all our relationships under the cross, ready to serve. The medieval society of Luther’s time was quite rigid – there were those who prayed (the Church’s clergy), those who ruled, fought, carried the sword (the nobility), and the rest (those who worked). Today’s society still has strata but there is more mobility and Christians can be found throughout all social strata where we are the ‘masks of God’ by which God blesses society. This Lutheran understanding of vocation – is largely forgotten – but it can shape and enhance how and why we live. We all can pray for the world (not just the clergy). We all rule (in some context – eg. voting in elections) and this isn’t confined to the nobility. Today the clergy can be called into marriage and parenthood and everyone can be called to productive work. And all people need God’s Word – hence the rise of literacy and schools since the Reformation.
We are used to multiple identities and roles today. We know that there is more to people than what we see of them. Christians are like everyone else in this regard with the difference that they see their roles and identities as being ‘in Christ’, that Jesus is with them, and in a hidden way, God is bringing his blessings to this world through his people. That perspective doesn’t mean that we’re not interested in our working conditions, our grades at school, or what is happening in the world but these things are not our primary reason for getting out of bed. We get out of bed to follow Jesus – with the hope that whoever sees us will somehow be aware of Jesus too.