Vocation sermon 2

Genesis 41:15-36, Luke 12:35-38

Thanks to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is one of the best known stories from the Old Testament. It was even used by the BBC as a follow up to ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria.’ – where a group of hopefuls auditioned to play Joseph in a West End production.

So I’m guessing that the central story of Joseph is familiar: the spoilt dreamer who so wound up his brothers that they sold him into slavery in Egypt. He endured many difficulties and imprisonment, before we get to today’s passage, where we hear how his ability to interpret dreams saved Egypt from famine. And, in so doing, it also rescued from starvation his own family, with whom he eventually got reconciled.

Where the musical and film are different from the Bible story, is that they don’t recognise the part God played. In the Genesis account, it’s clear that God works everything together for the good, so that his people will survive. God looks after Joseph and protects him. And it’s clear too – as in v. 25b, that his dream interpretation is a gift from God.

It’s those gifts from God that I want to think about today in our second sermon in the Vocation series. Last week in the evening we looked at what vocation actually means. And fundamentally it’s not about your job. Vocation is bigger than being a priest, missionary or teacher. The key to vocation is that God calls you as a person. He calls you to know him individually. That’s the point. God doesn’t call us because he wants jobs to be done. He calls us because he wants us to be his friends. So don’t think about vocation as being about careers. Think about it as God’s call to you – have you responded? Do you continue to respond by spending time with him? Because he values time with you.

That’s why each of us has a vocation – everyone can be the person God wants us to be. He’s made us unique. He’s given us special gifts and interests – things that make us tick. They have been implanted by the Creator. And it’s part of our vocation to make the most of them.

We glorify God by what we are. Joseph did it through his dreams. Sometimes our gifts can be used in a clearly religious way. I read an article by an evangelist who reaches out to walkers in the Scottish Highlands. He had seen the job advertised and wasn’t sure whether or not to apply, so consulted a friend. ‘Richard,’ the friend said, ‘what sort of God do you believe in? One who wants you to do things you don’t enjoy? Or a God who wants you to flourish? Your two passions in life are hiking and bringing people to Christ. This job is made for you!’

In my curacy church, there was a man with learning difficulties. Couldn’t read. But he was a real people person, a great welcomer, and loved being useful. So he became a sidesman – and no-one ever took the offertory plate up with a greater sense of occasion.

Using our gifts doesn’t have to be stereotypically religious. Do you remember the film Billy Elliott? – about a boy from a mining community who has a natural ability to dance, and takes up ballet? Can that glorify God? Yes, I think it can, because whenever the gifts that God gives us are used well, then that is a glory to our Creator. It shows off the beauty and wisdom of his world.

So, if each of us has a vocation, and if that vocation can evolve over time, then it makes sense to be aware of it, to search for it. Where to look? Start with what you’re good at, the things you love. If there’s anything that you’re enthusiastic about, whether it’s astronomy, flower arranging, or writing, develop it, invest in it and see what happens.

Encourage your children or grandchildren to take up their interests. Of course, there may be a risk in this – their chosen career may not be as stable or as supportive as a parent might wish. But then, what do we value? Wealth or service? Success or fulfilment? I knew a man who was a great musician, but Father felt it was an unpredictable career, so he was pushed into an unhappy 9 to 5 at the bank. Taking up our vocation may have some sacrifices, but we’ll consider that next week.

Does vocation stay the same? Quite possibly not. A particular talent or interest may come into its own at a certain time and place. Joseph was called to be a son, which took him a long time to work out how to do well, and for a while it looked as if that vocation had died. He was called to be a good servant, until he was set up and thrown into prison where his vocation was to be a witness. Finally his gifts came into their own as an able administrator.

Today someone who chooses to marry takes on a vocation as a husband or wife, perhaps also parent. In younger years your vocation may take you abroad with a company, but later on you may be called to a change of career. Within a career, vocation develops. Many who are ordained come to that call later on in life – and I don’t think that means they were missing their purpose until that point. Vocations can evolve.

We may go through times when our talents seem unfulfilled. Early on we hear how the young Joseph had prophetic dreams in which the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. It’s pretty obvious that referred to his father mother and eleven brothers – that one day he would be greater than them. But it was perhaps unwise to share it! Early on, Joseph’s dreams just caused friction.

Only later, after the suffering of kidnap, slavery, false accusation, and imprisonment, did Joseph’s dreams really come into their own. Or perhaps his experiences gave him the wisdom to deal with them appropriately. It’s one thing having gifts, it’s quite another knowing how to use them. As someone said: ‘Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is actually a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.’

More seriously, it’s interesting that as Joseph’s gifts develop, he seems to become more dependent on God. He says God enables him to interpret dreams. How might we give God glory for our talents?

Furthermore, any ability can be used for good or for evil. A well known example: nuclear technology could power the world without carbon emissions, or it could blow us all up.

It’s down to humanity what we do with it. Gifts and talents are given by God to be used for the good, but people can twist them to wickedness.

There is a moral ambiguity about this in the story of Joseph. After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams he then displayed another gift. In verses 33 to 36 he advised Pharaoh on what to do about the looming famine. After all, Biblical prophecy is never given for idle curiosity, it was so that people could act upon it.

Sometimes, that’s so they can avert disaster by repentance. Here, in v32 says Joseph suggests they build up food reserves for hard times ahead. Pharaoh is so impressed with Joseph’s wisdom, that he gives Joseph the job of organising the plan. And so the original dreams of greatness are fulfilled, and Egypt is saved.

God uses this to bring healing in Joseph’s family too. Far away in Israel they are affected by the famine and come to buy grain, and after a complicated sequence of events, Joseph’s real identity becomes clear, he forgives his brothers, and the family move to Egypt permanently. So all’s well that ends well? Well, not quite. Later in the story In chapter 47 the famine is still ongoing…and then in verse 19b ‘the people said “buy us with our land in exchange for food. We with our land will become slaves to Pharaoh, just give us seed”. In times of plenty Joseph took the excess grain. In hard times he sold it back to the people – in exchange for their money, livestock, land, and very selves.

Power corrupts? Perhaps. Just following our God-given desires and developing our inbuilt talents is not enough. They have great potential, for better or for worse. We must ensure that we use our abilities, our vocation for the good.  

As the gospel reading reminds us, we have been given a trust. We should be ready with our gifts, able to serve. Using our talents for the good of all, our vocation to the glory of God. So that when the moment of truth comes, Christ will find us prepared.



So, tell me Mum and Dad, why would you like your baby baptised? It’s great you’ve made a positive choice that this is what you’d like for little Jack – because not everyone does have their children christened nowadays. Can you tell me a bit about what the baptism means to you?

It’s interesting what responses I get in the baptism visit. Of course there are occasionally parents who say, well actually, it’s for Nan really, she feels they ought to be done. I even heard of a Gran somewhere who was going to cut all the grandchildren out of the will if they weren’t christened. And there was once somebody who came to see me rather anxious because Grandma had told her that you had to be baptised if you wanted an operation on the NHS! In those situations there’s a lot of reassuring and myth-busting that has to be done.

But most parents have thought about it and what it means to them. We’d like to give Jack the best possible start in life. Being brought up in a Christian home meant a lot to me and I want that for Emily too. We want her to be part of God’s family and brought up the right way. When you have a baby it makes you think about what really matters and we’ve decided this is important to us. Well actually, Vicar, Jamie had a really difficult start in life and we just want to give thanks that he’s here. We want to bring him into God’s house.

All these things are going on in the New Testament reading from Luke chapter 2, and a lot more besides. When Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple they start him off in Israel’s faith, with celebration. It is also about giving thanks for a safe delivery and enabling Mary to return to normal life after being isolated during childbirth. The fact that Jesus is her first-born son is also important: according the Old Testament Law the first male in the family belonged to God and had to be bought back or redeemed by presenting an animal for sacrifice instead.

There’s a telling little detail there in v. 24. They ‘offered a sacrifice of two turtle doves or young pigeons.’ It was supposed to be a lamb and a young pigeon. But a whole lamb is expensive, so the Law compassionately allowed the poor to give a second pigeon instead.

So Mary and Joseph did not have much. They lived in a household where every coin mattered and you had to watch what you spent. If getting by is difficult for any of us, remember that Jesus knows what it is like trying to make ends meet. And if we are better off, let us remember that Jesus’ words about generosity and the way that he lived, are all the more remarkable coming from someone of limited means.

In everything that he did, Jesus practiced what he preached. As an adult he lived by the Old Testament law. He didn’t do so grudgingly. He affirmed it wholeheartedly. Because he knew it was God’s will.


That’s important for us today – Jesus had a high regard for the Old Testament and so should we. It was his Bible, it was the culture he lived in. If we want to understand him, we should also get to grips with the Old Testament Scriptures he lived, breathed and recited every day.

Jesus did not come to tell the Jews ‘You’ve got the wrong idea and I’ll teach you the right way’. Yes, there were things that the Pharisees did that were over the top, legalistic and strict – but Jesus argued with them over their interpretation of the Law, he didn’t say the Law itself was wrong. Yes, many people in his time had forgotten that the promise of the Messiah was for all nations – but Jesus called them back to it, as Simeon does in v.32. Jesus didn’t abolish, he fulfilled.

Jesus did not say that the Old Testament was a ritual dead end. God did not have a Plan A Old Testament, and when that went wrong he came up with Plan B New Testament. Instead he fulfilled it, he brought it to completion, he shared its true meaning. That’s what we see in this reading, not the Old Testament set aside, but brought to completion.

Those of you who are married, do you remember what it was like being engaged? A time of promise, hope and expectation? Lots of organisation too. Now that you’re married, would you go back to being engaged? Probably not. Being married is better than being engaged. So does that mean that you now look back on the time of engagement and think of it as a dreadful time you’d rather forget about? Of course not! I remember romantic meals and much excitement. It was lovely.

Just because the engagement has been fulfilled in marriage, doesn’t mean you look at it as a useless time. Just because you wouldn’t want to go back doesn’t mean it was all dreadful. So why do many Christians think of the Old Testament like that? Why is two-thirds of our Bible a closed book to many? The Old Testament is like the engagement, and the New Testament like the marriage. The new brings completion to the old, the old lays foundation for the new. Both have their valuable place.

I passionately believe that the Old Testament is not archaic history for those who like that kind of thing. It is not something Christians can throw off with a hearty sigh of relief ‘thank goodness we don’t have to follow that kind of religion anymore’. Instead, the Old Testament is the background, the scaffolding, the foundation on which my faith is built. Jesus doesn’t make sense without the Bible he used.

That’s why, during this Lent, I’m going to be preaching a sermon series on big themes from the Old Testament. It’s why our Lent course will take the biggest Biblical ideas and tie them together – showing how Jesus fulfils what came before him.

You can see it all through today’s passage. It’s incredibly symbolic. For instance, we’ve thought about why there was no lamb – because Mary and Joseph were poor. But there’s a symbolic level as well. There is no lamb because the Lamb of God himself is there. Jesus is the lamb.

He will give himself for our sins, just as the lambs were sacrificed to bring peace with God. The one who will replace the temple comes to the temple. The one through whom we meet God is presented to God.

It’s all of this that Simeon and Anna have been waiting for, all through their long years. They know that Messiah is coming, and now they have seen him. Our situation is not that different. One day we shall see Jesus. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, now we see as through a glass darkly, then we shall see face to face. We shall see him in glory.

I’ve heard a story of an old Methodist lay preacher who lay seriously ill in bed. The doctor came to him and gently broke the news that he was dying. The man was elated – at last he was going to see his Lord. Apparently he got so excited that he lasted several days longer than anyone expected!

If we have faith in Christ, like Simeon, one day we shall see him. The waiting will be over, the engagement passed. Term time will be finished and the holidays begun. Let us live in the light of that promise, so that we won’t have wasted our time here. Let’s stir up ourselves to faithfulness, long term persistence and courage like Simeon and Anna. Let’s strive to walk in Christ’s way, with his light shining upon us. Let us count all else but dross except for knowing Christ, so that we can truly say

‘Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,

according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation

Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles

And to be the glory of thy people Israel.’