Pr. Jaynan Clark
16 March 2013
So, Paul was a tentmaker in the 1st century either really or figuratively but we do know that he wasn’t on the church payroll. His missionary journeys depended on the graciousness of his hosts and that provision was all that was needed it seems. He lived and worked and witnessed as a child of manna in many respects. Once a super-uber Jewish zealot of high classification and clout known as Saul, he got taken down more than a notch and found himself face down in the dirt of the Damascus road with more than just his name changed. There I’m sure not only his faith was rerouted but, as such an encounter with Jesus the Living Lord promises, all of his life was turned upside down and shaken and counted as refuse, lose, poop to be scooped and discarded. No big religious action on his part, but rather just being acted upon by the power of the Living Word of God who has His own will and way of doing things. Paul didn’t “lose himself” or “find Jesus” or piously and willingly “count as loss all that was before” (Philippians 3:7ff). He was forced into obedience and literally knocked down, dragged away, and blinded by the light. Extreme personalities obviously call for extreme measures. One way or another the recognized and heralded zealot of the day became a frightened, vulnerable, dependent blind man at Jesus’ feet. This tends to make a tentmaker out of just about anyone if that is the will of the One in charge. Charge!!!
So, haven’t been knocked down and rolled in the dirt by Jesus lately? Maybe you have and you were not only too blind to see but had deaf ears? Did you not hear the call to “call your losses” and consider your reward to be joining in the “fellowship of sharing in his sufferings and becoming like Him in His death” so as to be included in the resurrection? (Philippians 3:10,11) When we equate the “calling of God” with personal success, self elevation, power, prestige, privilege, money, the good life, easy street or any of the other “rewards” we not only seek after in this life but expect from the hand of the Father, well then, we can be counted among the wandering profiteers who hope to serve in order to be served. Left not counting our losses but looking for our gain is a far cry from being a tentmaker.
The organized religion of the day, with a heavy dose of bad theology, has produced a plethora of these hirelings who preach a gospel of prosperity and privilege (not that there is one... another gospel that is.) With that blinding you and plugging up your ears to the level of deafness how could one ever imagine being a true, down and dirty, on the road tentmaker? A tentmaker who by the “trade” of your life for His is unwillingly led by the nose to places you don’t want to go, to meet people you don’t want to meet, to say things you rather wouldn’t. If your focus is on “getting’ yours” then you probably missed “getting His” so to speak. In "Pauline" (tentmaker speak) you probably veered off the Damascus road and detoured on to another, more user friendly, well paved path. What you missed was running the race and pummeling your body day in and day out for the reward to “share in his sufferings and become like Him in His death.” What a prize by world standards and expectations! Not exactly something you choose or seek to find and have as your own. If this is where you find yourself then you have been found---you, cross in your hand, are a tentmaker. Tentmaking engaged in not by choice but by His calling rarely comes without pain and loss to the “self.”
So, tentmaking is not a modern day “choice” anymore than it was what Paul had planned for his future. It just “is.” Like God’s self-identification as “I Am who I Am” it just “Is what it Is.” If you try to ‘be’ a tentmaker by calling, it seems to me and the written Word, the only ‘be’ you will “be” is a religious wannabe trying to piously “be” humble and a self-serving sufferer. This is a choice. The real tentmaker is appointed, set apart by some type of uncomfortable invasion and seemingly destructive force that, upon reflection, when the scales drop from your eyes, is in the form of a cross. Go figure.
Are you a tentmaker? You will know it if you are... not just because you engage in serving Jesus without pay but it will have put you on the same track in the same race with Paul, in spite of yourself. Perhaps you are a part time pastor and doing other labor to support your family, this would be historically called tentmaking though it seems more like a professional designation or a tax identification and an economic necessity for some. While this technically is what many, even most, identify as being a “tentmaker,” the stark in-your-face reality it produces is that “tentmaking” is a calling reserved for the cleric ie the professional pastor who is only part-time. Biblically and historically speaking, perhaps that is legitimately what emerged from Paul and his tentmaking missionary journeys, but I hope to challenge and even redefine that for at least a few of you.
I don’t think being a tentmaker is reserved for the “pastor” anymore than I believe ministry and preaching and teaching is. The ministry is the ministry of the baptized not the ordained only. Ordination is a public calling to make sure certain things get done for the cloud of witnesses present and future but it isn’t a calling that limits the doing of the living Word (i.e. giving Jesus away to your neighbor by name, through Word and sacrament and service) to only a few. It is the commission and calling of all God’s children. Baptized in order to baptize. Taught in order to teach. Commissioned in order to commission. Called in order to call. Made a disciple in order to make disciples. This is your vocation as a tentmaker. Being a tentmaker invades every part of every person, place and thing in your life “that is not your life but Christ’s life within you” (Gal. 2) which is how Saul, made- into- Paul, the called, original tentmaker put it.