Contributed by Bob Chell, Brookings, SD

Warm-up Question

What do you want from your life’s work?

Gonna Serve Somebody

Forbes magazine (‘information for the world’s business leaders’ is how it defines itself) recently published a list of the Ten Most Hated Jobs and the Ten Happiest Jobs. It took me less than five minutes on Google to find competing lists where one person’s ‘happiest’ was listed as another persons most ‘hated.’

As our son headed off to the university this fall I paid close attention to the articles Time and Newsweek publish nearly every spring listing the best jobs—meaning those with high salaries and lots of job openings.

Whether it’s the happiest, the hated, or the best, chances are good you can find your career of choice on at least two out of the three lists.


Discussion Questions

  • Generations of young adults have despised the question, “What do you want to be/do when you graduate?”  How and why does the opening question above differ from this conversation stopper?
  • What is your greatest fear as you consider career options? Does your family raise your confidence or your anxiety as you contemplate your choices? Has anyone suggested how faith may shape your choice?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 16, 2011 (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

 Isaiah 45:1-7

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Matthew 22:15-22

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

As a college student I loved the liberal arts and feared the hard sciences. (There’s a reason they’re called hard sciences, I figured.) I loved essay tests and loathed multiple choice and fill in the blank which required me to know the answer. With essay tests if I had only the sketchiest notion of what the question was asking I began: This question is best answered by looking at the broad context… On the other hand, if I knew but one detail I would begin by writing: This question is best answered by examining a microcosm…. With essays I was in control and could lead the professor wherever I chose.

I loved the courses where there were no answers: philosophy, English literature, sociology, psychology. Any class where the teacher said, “Well, it could be this, but on the other hand…” Ah, ambiguity! It was precision I feared.

It was only when I became a campus pastor, and later when I married, that I realized what St. Paul meant about each of us having different gifts.  I married someone who loved the hard sciences; chemistry, math, biology; classes where there is one correct answer. Today she administers drugs which can kill or heal. Precision makes the difference and she gets the details right every time.

I love the diversity of students I work with as they discern where their personalities and passions (their gifts from God)  meet the wide variety of opportunities available to them.

You may wonder what this has to do with paying taxes (the issue in the gospel text). I think Dylan says it best. (For folks of my generation Bob Dylan always says it best.) In his song. Gotta Serve Somebody he writes

You may be a state trooper, you might be an young turk

You may be the head of some big TV network

You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame

You may be living in another country under another name.


But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes

You’re gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Jesus told the Pharisees to give the coin to the emperor because it had the emperor’s image on it, and to give to God those things which were God’s. The Pharisees were detail people, masters of minutiae, and it sprang to mind immediately, where God’s image could be found. They knew what was to be given to God. They knew it by heart, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Gen. 1:27

You, too, have been created in the image of God and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

Discussion Questions

  •  Is God giving you a clue to your vocation hidden in your hobbies and interests? (For example,  if you love to figure your batting average you may be called to be a baseball player…or an accountant…or a statistics teacher…or a manager. You get the idea)
  • Where would your friends and family say your gifts and interests might lead you vocationally?
  • In Forbes’ list of the happiest and most hated jobs, most of the happiest were lower in salary and status than those which were hated. Does this surprise you? Just how important is money when choosing a career?
  • Lutheran’s celebrate two sacraments, places where Christ promises to be present: Holy Communion and Baptism. Can you name two other places Christ promises to meet us? (See Matt. 18:20 and Matt. 25:37-40 for two answers—are there others?)

Activity Suggestions

Ask each person in the group to make their own list of  five jobs they would most like to have and five which they most most hate.

  • Have each person share their list with at least one other person.  If your group is small, each can share with the whole group; you may want to break a large group into smaller groups.
  • Next, tally all the individual lists into group lists.  Is there a clear consensus on what is viewed as desirable and disgusting.
  • Look at the top jobs on each list; what characteristics do they share?  (For example, top jobs may pay well or offer a lot of flexibility in working hours, while unpopular jobs may pay poorly or involve a nasty work environment.

Closing Prayer

O God, we feel more confused than gifted when we think of the future. We love the security money which routine provides and are anxious about what it would mean for us if we trusted in you completely. Guide are hearts and minds as we explore the future and keep us open to those things which stretch our boundaries and push us to lean on your promises. Help us to let go of our comfortable security that we may grasp the exciting opportunities you call us to.  Amen.