Another busy week nearly over, but today needs some time taking into preparing services for tomorrow and the start of another week. I guess most people think that because Anglican services are liturgically based that everything just happens like some kind of 'holy sausage factory' churning out the same stuff week by week, but we try to offer something that is within a framework yet reflects the freedom that comes from the life of Christ which we share.
I have a traditional service to start and end the day, but our main morning service is an act of all age worship which involves making our time together meaningful and at the same time accessible. I think I've managed to get something together which works - I just need to print it out now.
Also, I am just working on a sermon for tomorrow, and having looked through my old sermons I thought i might talk again about our own calling to serve God - a calling that is not just for Clergy or lay ministers or those who work for the Church. So, here is a copy of my previous sermon, whilst i think about what I will say tomorrow you are welcome to read this...
Heeding the call
I am often asked – ‘how did you become a priest’, or ‘why did you become a priest’ or – more pertinently, by those who have faith of their own usually – ‘how did you receive your call to the ministry’.
When I’m feeling rather flippant I tend to respond that I used to say that I would only be ordained when I was old and rather useless – which was my own prejudice at the time. On other occasions I would say that God called me despite the fact that I didn’t want to know… That’s probably nearer the truth. When I was 24 I felt a sense, a very strong sense, that I was being drawn into ordained ministry. I had felt this before as an undergraduate, and I explored the possibilities with what was called a ‘vocational advisor’ but came to no conclusion. When my calling finally came I cannot quite say what that felt like – or even how I knew – but at the time I was acting as lay chaplain to Imperial College in South Kensington, and I did know that God wanted me to continue in my pastoral and teaching ministry beyond my time as lay chaplain, and so I followed that call.
Like all those who feel called to ministry I went to explore my vocation with a Diocesan Director of Ordinands, or DDO who, after discussion recommended me to the Bishop, I then was sent to a Bishop’s selection Conference, recommended for training which I did in Cambridge at Westcott House, was offered a curacy in the Diocese of London and Ordained in St Paul’s Cathedral on June 29th 1996. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, you’ve learned more than you probably want about me, you might be wondering quite why I chose to share all of this information with you today.
That’s an easy question to answer – easier than the one we began with – I felt compelled to share this with you because today’s readings so obviously remind us of the calling of God upon all of our lives, and draw us back to the reason for Christian faith, and the fact that every calling is different – yet the same.
I feel I should make myself clear, though. When I talk about calling I am not talking about the calling to become a minister. When people talk about vocation they often add ‘to the priesthood’ – but ordained ministry is not the only calling we receive from the Lord.
We are all called to follow Christ – but just as we are all made differently, so the calling comes to us differently and we all take it up in different ways. We are all called to follow our vocation – the vocation to be a Christian who is a teacher, a farmer, an accountant, a housewife, a mother, a father, a friend – dare I even say – a Churchwarden. We are called to follow Christ in our everyday lives. Being a priest is not a higher calling than any other, it is just a different calling. On this day, which is also known as ‘education Sunday’ we remember the calling of those who are led to work in and who are gifted to work with our young people, teaching and training them. But again vocation is about finding who God has called us to be, whatever our occupation is. St Paul says in the letter to the Romans ‘whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as though you do it not for men but for the Lord himself’.
We all have different callings – but the calling to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, is that which unites us –as the well known hymn says
‘in simple trust, like those who heard
beside the Syrian Sea,
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word
rise up and follow thee’.
This is the essence of our vocation. And there are common threads which we see in our biblical passages for today which bind our calling together.
The first thing we see in being called by God is that God meets us in some way – we may not have a vision of God as Isaiah did in the temple – something awesome and overwhelming; we may not have an encounter with Jesus like Peter in the boat as we heard in the Gospel – where the massive draught of fishes was equally overwhelming; but we all have our encounter with God. Mine was in my youth, when I saw the lives of other Christians and I was drawn by their faith. Yours might be in your own observance Sunday by Sunday in childhood, reading the prayer book, singing familiar hymns. It may even stretch back before you can remember, even all the way to your baptism as a child. In some way God meets us and encounters us all. And as an adult, if we are open to him, God will continue to meet us and to surprise us, in our reading of the Bible, in our worship, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. And this is the root of our calling – that God calls us to him, to be those who respond to his love.
Of course, in meeting God we see a common reaction in both of our stories. In the face of God’s love and perfection we can only feel unworthy. Isaiah said ‘depart from me O Lord, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips’. Peter’s response was ‘depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ None of us feel worthy of being loved and wanted by God, none of us can truly feel worthy.
Many people respond with a feeling that God wouldn’t really want them. But God does. That familiar verse says that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.’ That’s the world, not everyone in the world except me. We may not be worthy but through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ our sins are taken away – in the same way that the burning coal that touched the prophet’s lips took away his sin. We simply have to confess our sins and they will be taken from us.
The next response to God’s calling which is shared in these accounts and in all of our lives is the fact that a response is demanded of us. For Isaiah he was sent out to do God’s work amongst his people, to speak the word of God to the society around him. For Peter he was called to be a disciple of Christ ‘fear not, for I will make you a fisher of men.’
And that is the challenge for us – how is our calling being lived out in our lives. It won’t be the same for all of us – we are not all called to proclaim in the way that the prophet Isaiah did. Sometimes, like Peter, we will sit at the feet of Christ and learn from him, perhaps to be sent out later as was he.
Our calling is not all to be evangelists, teachers, preachers, apostles – or even Priests. Our truest calling to be faithful, to do as Christ commands, to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, to love our neighbour as ourselves. To be the Christians God wants for us to be.
And if we do respond to our calling, then God will lead us to new places, he will bless us and help us to be truly the people we were made to be.
We may not have had a blinding flash, a revelation. We may not feel at all worthy, we may not feel God wants to do anything with us – but he does. God offers to meet us here, to change us. It just remains up to us to respond to his calling.