Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sermon for the 1st Mass of Revd Clare Welham, St Matthew's Cainscross, 30th June 2013

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,

Clare prayed these words earlier, on behalf of each one of us...
They come from the Collect - that prayer that gathers all our different needs, longings and joys into a sort of basket of prayer which the President then offers to God as we begin to change our way of being, from the disparate individuals that arrived in church into a congregation, gathered with the common purpose of worship.
And today Clare prays the Collect for the 1st time – for, as a priest, she carries the Church's authority to preside at the Eucharist, to take the jumbled mess, the tangled threads of our lives and to offer them to God in this service that is both a celebration meal and a process of transformation.
We are all so full of joy and excitement at her priesting.
That wonderful service in our Cathedral yesterday, in which 8 men and women were ordained by God's Church to preside, to reconcile and to bless will surely leave all of us on a high for some time to come...
And here, in the church which is her spiritual home for now we are, quite simply, delighted for Clare. Not just A new priest but OUR new priest, someone whom we love, called to live out her ministry of prayer and preaching, of presiding, reconciliation and blessing HERE in THIS place.
That is a huge and wonderful gift to us – for which, I hope, we are properly thankful.

But – it would be a real shame if, in this weekend when we celebrate the ordination of new priests and deacons, we went home with the idea that vocation and ministry are just for the holy few.
Vocation”, of course, means “Calling”......and it does not matter who you are, what your unique blend of gifts, strengths and weaknesses might be...It doesn't matter whether you have a firm sense of the presence of God, or are completely bemused by watching otherwise intelligent people sign their lives away to something that seems to you an extraordinary are nonetheless called to something.
Vocation, said someone far wiser than I, is the place where your gifts and the worlds needs meet.

And, of course, the world has many many needs.

Yes – it needs priests and deacons....but it needs teachers, doctors, and nurses too.
It needs musicians and painters, architects and actors, writers and sculptors.
And for the most part we've been good at recognising that sort of calling.

But, you know, your vocation may not actually be realised in your daily work.
It's an added bonus when it is – but it may be that there is something quite different which lies at the heart of what makes you YOU...something that brings you to life in a deeper way...and that nobody has ever turned into a job at all.
It may be two things – carer and writer – teacher and musician...or even three – priest, wife, mother
Those are all equal vocations – I wonder when we got hold of the idea that for something to be truly valuable to God, or to God's world, it needed to be a full-time occupation – ideally with a salary?
If you pause to think, you'll realise that it's far FAR wider.

There are those with a vocation to listen...those with a vocation to make houses into homes...those with a vocation to turn a patch of scrubby ground into a productive, even a beautiful garden.
There are those with a vocation to parent or grand-parent...and, if you're old enough to remember seeing “Chariots of Fire” in the 80s you might remember the runner Eric Liddell saying “God made me FAST and when I run I feel his pleasure”
Vocation may be public and obvious, or hidden, behind the scenes.
You may always have known what it is – or you may not yet be certain.
Vocation is, I would say, what you are left with when you take away all the “oughts” and “shoulds”...
It's the thing you keep coming back to, that will never quite leave you alone.
It won't always feel “good” - but it will always feel true...something that you just HAVE to do in order to be truly yourself, something that helps you to be fully alive

It has, in fact, a kind of inevitability to it. It is what you are FOR.
Nobody else can sing your song in the world if you remain silent.

For Jesus – his vocation was who he was...God's love lived out in a human life...
But it didn't always feel good for him either
He set his face towards Jerusalem” - says Luke, writing in today's gospel
There's surely something there of the struggle to screw yourself up to do something that you know will be hard but that only you can do...a sense of resolution, of determined focus on the needful task, no matter what the cost.
And for Jesus, as for those ordained this weekend, vocation – who he is – and ministry – how he shows it – are close to being the same thing.
Every minute of his journey towards Jerusalem, each conversation along the way, reveals more of the truth of his identity and his calling.
And at the heart of it, as for all Christian people, is the call to loving service.
That is what ministry is...just another word for “service”....the placing of your gifts, the essence of your vocation, at the disposal of others.

Sometimes, as for Clare today, those others will welcome and celebrate your gifting.
Sometimes being true to your vocation will force you to stand outside the walls – to speak uncomfortable truths that few want to hear or simply to move on.
Even Jesus had to do this. He didn't hang around trying to persuade the Samaritan villagers to change their minds, nor did he compromise his message and ministry to make it easier for them.
He could not both please everyone and stay true to his calling (and, though sometimes it seems that clergy are expected to stand as universal nice-guys, that situation remains true today)
If there was a choice to be made, he kept on keeping on.
He had set his face towards Jerusalem and was not to be distracted from his journey.

And he has laid that on us, his would-be disciples, too.

We are to be tireless, single-minded in following -whether we're called to live out our vocation as priests or painters, flower-arrangers or treasurers
I know very little about ploughing – but I'm told that if you look back over your shoulder when you are trying to plough, you will inevitably end up making a mess of the task, and leave the field with wiggly furrows.
The trick is to keep looking forward...focussing on the goal.
If you want to do the job properly, you simply can't look back – no matter how attractive the landscape behind you.

But we do have a choice in this journey of vocation.
We are all called, but we are never constrained.
The hymns that Clare has chosen for us to sing today reflect this...
First we heard God's invitation “I heard the voice of Jesus say Come unto me.....”
Then came our response “I choose to be holy, - set apart for you Lord”
Later we will affirm that each of us comes “Just as I am” - a jumble of hopes and dreams, fears and failures, doubts and certainties
We come as we are – because that's what it's all about.
God calls us as we are – to use the gifts that He has given us.
He calls us into relationship with Him
He calls us to make his love known

God will never force us – but as you ponder your own vocation today, remember that all our individual vocations contribute to the over-arching purpose God has for God's Church and God's world, which Paul wrote of to the Galatians
use your freedom to serve one another in love”

This is what each of us, ordained or lay, believer or sceptic, is invited to today.
Use your freedom to serve one another in love

May God bless us as we try to live that calling – for his sake, and the sake of his world.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Wonderful and profound, as ever :-) Thank you!