Sunday, 15th January 2017 St Mary’s Priory Church
I hope that you were all as energised as I was by last Sunday’s great celebration – our commissioning as the Monmouth Ministry Area and the recalling of our baptism too. So what now? Will this New Year lead us to new and exciting ministry and mission or will we pack everything away with the Christmas decorations and later with our crib figures too. Will we all think seriously about what we committed ourselves to be and to do
and are we prepared to set out on a journey with intent and purpose – will we be prepared for it to lead us far away from the manger and the crib – and possibly along paths, the destination of which is unknown – or perhaps worse still a difficult and dangerous way. One thing is certain – that our lives will never be the same again –
I know there are some who still are a bit sceptical about what the new ministry areas are all about … but Fr David wrote about it in the service booklet last week – so if you haven’t yet read it please do soon …..
‘A Ministry Area is a way of calling each of God’s people to live out their full Christian calling, maintaining that which is valuable in our tradition and finding new ways of presenting the Gospel and showing the healing power of God’s love to the wider community.’
In other words it is about vocation and all of our readings this morning give us further insights into the way God calls his people and the way in which we are invited to respond. There is a tendency today to automatically think of vocation in the church to be about ordained ministry or another authorised ministry such as being a reader. This really narrows and restricts our vision of responding to God’s call; and even if we broaden our horizons we tend only to speak of vocation in terms of professional work- such as in the cases of nursing and teaching. But God calls every human being – he calls us to himself and calls each one of us to some particular self giving task at each and every stage of our lives. The call is wide and varied and all we have to do is learn to listen and discern in order to begin to unearth and give our innermost treasures in the service of God and his kingdom.
In many of the biblical stories of vocation there is a change of name, which emphasises the change of life direction that a person is being called towards. Abram becomes Abraham, Saul becomes Paul and in today’s gospel Jesus says : “You are Simon, son of John; you shall be called Cephas, (that is, Peter the rock).
You are Simon — you shall be Peter
There is something encouraging about this for all of us because it does not require us to be fit for our calling from the very beginning. Indeed, the very nature of vocation means that we have to travel a road from where we are and who we are – to where God wants us to be and who God wants us to be. It is about moving from the reality of the present to the potential of the future. Jesus sees the potential in Simon the fisherman – a rough, impulsive and unreliable man, who would in time deny him and desert him – Jesus saw his potential to become Peter, the rock on whom he would build his church. Peter had a long road to travel and by no means an easy one but as all our readings and our psalm today tell us: those whom God calls he also equips by his grace.
God’s faithfulness to his people provides each one of us with many individual gifts: gifts of speaking, strength, hope, knowledge and skills and we are called to respond in faith with these gifts. Paul encourages the Corinthians and us too when he says: ‘I am always thanking God for you. I thank him for his grace given to you in Christ …it is God himself who called you to share in the life of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and God keeps faith.’
At our baptism each one of us were proclaimed as sons and daughters of God – we were marked with the sign of the cross – accepted into the fellowship of Christ’s church — a new part of our journey had begun and from our baptism we set out to become what we then are in name – we didn’t become steadfast and faithful pilgrims overnight but the potential was and is there and with God’s help and through other people we can always grow in maturity as Christian disciples.
Now as members of Monmouth Ministry Area we have been commissioned to set out on another journey of discovery, last week we made a public declaration of our intention to respond to God’s calling. But our journey did not start and end last Sunday morning … it is not a case of been there, done that and got the tee-shirt….. there is always a gap between recognising the potential and then realising it too. It will take courage, tenacity, hope, hard work and above all Christ-like love to progress towards our goal. Most of us are only too aware of the distance between our own lives and the ideal set for us by Jesus. But wholeness comes through our acknowledgement of the difference between the Simon in us and the Peter we are called to become – and then trying to hold the two together because when God calls us he doesn’t just call the good bits – he calls every part of our being. And we should not despair when we have doubts and setbacks because we have the reassurance that we are loved even when we fail. God will work through our natural strengths but also through our weaknesses.
When I was first ordained and returned to the church from which I was sponsored the Vicar was convinced that I was called to bring organisation and efficiency to the parish. However, within weeks, when he came to visit me in hospital he said – no Janet, not organisation but healing. I had travelled my road just a short distance and it had become clear that my calling to that place had been discovered in utter weakness.
And look at the passage from Isaiah today – here we find someone struggling with his vocation. He knows that his whole existence is bound up with what God wants him to do and yet he is full of agonising self-doubt. Yet in this moment of profound weakness, God chooses to call him to greater things – now he is to go to the whole world and not just to the people of Israel. And God also spoke to Paul: “My grace is all you need, power is most fully seen in weakness.”
So in this new year how are we going to respond to God’s call – will we be giving or keeping — will we be sharing or hoarding — will we allow God to turn our weaknesses into his opportunities. Will we acknowledge God’s generosity to us and overflow with generosity to others — look again at our Gospel story — John the Baptist had the generosity to share his knowledge of Jesus with two of his disciples or friends – he didn’t keep it to himself and he didn’t claim the glory – and then Andrew one of those friends went and shared the news with his brother Simon and brought him to see for himself. Without their generosity Peter the rock may never have been discovered. So who are we being called to share our faith with – who might we enable to discover their own calling?
Someone is waiting for you to help them look, come and see.
I want to finish with a thought from Anthony de Mello’s “one minute wisdom”
Said a traveller to one of the bystanders,
“I have travelled a great distance to listen to the master,
but I find his words quite ordinary.”
“Don’t listen to his words. Listen to his message.”
“How does one do that?”
“Take hold of his sentences. Shake them well until the words drop off. What is left will set your heart on fire………………..”
May our hearts burn within us as we follow the road that God has called us to travel.