The Anglican Churches in the Monmouth Area

The Anglican Churches in the Monmouth Area

Sermon on the Baptism of Jesus

Bishop Dominic, St Mary’s Church on January 19th

Every Jew and every Christian will know the Genesis story of Joseph and his coat.  The Authorised Version of the Bible and Andrew Lloyd-Webber tell us that it was a coat of many colours so I hope it won’t shock you too much if I tell you that the Hebrew (Kethoneth passim) is problematic and modern translations of the Bible translate it as a coat with long sleeves. And that highlights some of the problems that we have with translating the Bible into English or any other language.

A similar problem arises when we look at the accounts of John
the Baptist who we are told came with a message of ‘repentance’ and we have
tended to understand that in moral terms so that we must repent of our sins,
and that then leads to the thorny question that arises from today’s
gospel.  If Jesus was sinless, then why
did he need to undergo a baptism of repentance?

One suggestion which I quite like – although I think it is
totally wrong – is that he did it to please his mother who presumably said,
‘Don’t upset your Auntie Elizabeth and Cousin John and you go and get baptised
with the others’.

The real problem I think is one of translation. We have
tended to translate the Greek word metanoia (or metanoeite) as ‘repent’ when it
literally means to ‘change your mind’ or to ‘go beyond your mind’.
Unfortunately, when the NT was translated
by St Jerome from Greek into Latin the word ‘paenitentia’ was used which
means to ‘repent’ or ‘do penance’ – but the original Greek word means to have a
change of perspective, to change your world view and to find  new way of perceiving and understanding life.

Now I am not telling you this to give a lesson in biblical
languages but to show that the message of John the Baptist was about having a
change of heart and a change of mind – it wasn’t primarily about going to
confession and having a change of behaviour – that is secondary because a
change of behaviour will follow the change of heart.  There is no point in changing your behaviour
if you haven’t changed your heart and mind – that is hypocrisy.  There is no point in being loving, forgiving
and welcoming on the outside when inwardly your heart is still filled with
prejudice, hatred and anger.

At our last Group Service, Canon
David Osborn preached about the assassination of Thomas à  Becket in Canterbury Cathedral and we were
reminded of the words from T.S. Elliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral  where Thomas replies to his tempters by saying
‘The last temptation is the highest treason; to do the right deed for the wrong
reason’. Yes, true conversion takes place in the heart and is then expressed in
action.

Jesus taught us to beware of outward
appearances which may be a sham.  He
says, don’t practice your piety before others..when you give alms do not
sound your trumpets before you…when you pray don’t do it on the street
corners…do those things in secret where your Father who sees in secret can
reward you.

Jesus constantly emphasises the
importance of inner motivation and intention and we find that most clearly in
the Sermon on the Mount and for example when Jesus said, ‘You have heard
that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’.  But I say to you, everyone who looks at a
woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart’.
Jesus
was concerned with inner transformation and that inner transformation is linked
with baptism.

There is a story of a new vicar who
complained that the baptismal font leaked
and it no longer held the water for long enough and that it needed to be
repaired.  The churchwarden was reluctant
to go to such expense, so the vicar asked what he predecessor did at a baptism
and the churchwarden replied, ‘He did spit on his hand’.

And at a family service, I once asked
the children, ‘What is baptism’ and a little boy shouted back ‘drowning’ and
the people laughed, but he was right.
Not many people realise that according to the instructions in the 1662
Book of Common Prayer the Anglican way to baptise a baby  is to put the baby under the water unless the
child is sickly when the water may be poured.
Baptism is about drowning – about going under the water and dying with
Christ so that we may be raised to a new life with him and that involves a new
way of thinking.  St Paul urges us to
ADAPT our minds so that we have the same mind as Christ, so that we look at the
world through his eyes of love and compassion rather than judgement and
condemnation.

In baptism the first question we are
asked is, ‘Do you turn to Christ?’ and at Easter in the early Church the
candidates physically turned around to turn their backs on the world and its
false values to face the Easter candle and the Risen Christ.

So why was Jesus himself baptised if
he had no need of repentance and it wasn’t just to please his mother? Well,
Jesus himself tells us in Matthew’s account that it was ‘to fulfil all
righteousness’ and that again is problematic because we really don’t know what
that means but what we do know is that by being baptised Jesus identified
himself fully with the human race he came to save, and that his baptism [and
the voice from heaven showing his father’s approval] marked the beginning of
his ministry, and so it is that baptism marks the beginning of our ministry and
that life long spiritual journey to be inwardly transformed in heart and
mind.  Amen.

 

 

Sermon: The “Dog-Woman, Jesus and the Gift of Grace”

Sermon: The “Dog-Woman, Jesus and the Gift of Grace”

GOSPEL READING: Mark 7. 24-37

From there Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

She answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

What is that Gospel passage all about?  Jesus actually calls the woman who begs for help a “dog”!

Well, just before this Gospel extract, Jesus is being given a hard time by the Pharisees.   “Hey, Jesus, your disciples aren’t washing their hands; your disciples are eating the wrong kind of food with the wrong kind of people”

The Pharisees were pointing out how everything the disciples were doing and eating and thinking and saying was wrong, wrong, wrong as a way of, also, showing how everything about them was right, right, right.

The Pharisees accuse Jesus’ disciples, of not being worthy to be included, because they don’t get it – they don’t abide by the rules.

So Jesus says, ‘you think you are right, because you keep all the rules and eat the right stuff…you think that makes you pure of heart?  It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles, Jesus says, but what comes out of it.  For out of the human mouth come cruel words, criticism, gossip, cynicism, cruel intentions.

This has been another very hard week for the human race.  The Boris and the Burka row drags on, raking up unhelpful ideas and comments from extremists making the delicate balance between cultures and traditions more fragile.

More innocent people wounded and killed in, Camberwell and Parliament Square in London.  Extraordinary infighting between Italian officials as the wreckage of that motorway bridge is still being searched for survivors.

Judgement, division, intolerance, exclusion, greed and fear.  Why?

Back to the Gospel and Jesus and the Canaanite woman.  The Canaanites of course were Israel’s old enemies 800 years before. They had worshipped Baal and the Old Testament is full of stories of conflicts between Yahweh, Israel’s God, and Baal. So, St. Mark is trying to make the point that this woman is regarded as completely outside of God’s care, she’s not just any old gentile—she’s belongs to the most worthless, most hated group of all.

To make the point, Jesus says to her – “Look I’ve got nothing to do with you.” But she won’t take no for an answer. “Lord, help me!” she pleads.   Now Jesus’ direct response is hardly reassuring. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  Just what is Jesus saying and why? We don’t get it!

But the woman believes in Jesus’ healing grace; she GETS IT.  She understands. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Do you get it? Jesus has basically called her (and those of her community) dogs. She doesn’t deny it, she doesn’t bristle at the put down. Instead, she turns it back on him. “Yes, we may be dogs, Jesus, but remember, loving masters give their dogs table scraps to eat.”

Jesus praises her faith; her daughter is healed instantly. This is may be one of the most troubling and confusing stories in all of the gospels. Jesus is supposed to be merciful and compassionate; he’s supposed to respond with love and care when someone asks him for help. But that’s not what it looks like here. It’s not just that Jesus treats her with what appears to be enormous disrespect. It’s that she forces him to change his mind, to do something he seems not to want to do.

This story reminds of us that Jesus is not quite everything we want him to be. We’ve got this warm, fuzzy notion about Jesus and this story breaks that notion apart. As much as we want to domesticate Jesus and make his message one that confirms our preconceived notions of faith and of God, the gospels tell a different story. And this story may be the one that is most challenging of all.

One of the things I like about this story is that it shows a woman, an outsider, someone who has no religious power or even religious significance in the Jewish world of first century Palestine, challenging Jesus. More than that, as an outsider, as someone of reviled status, she forces herself into the story. She forces her way through Jesus’ disciples. She forces him to pay attention. She makes him stop in his tracks and notice her. When he apparently ignores her; dismisses her, she doesn’t walk away. She flatly disagrees with him, takes issue with him, engages in wordplay, and beats him at his own game.

Why does Jesus call her a dog?  Because, he wanted his disciples – and that includes you and me – to know that the Canaanite woman got a very basic idea of Christianity, which the Pharisees and even the disciples didn’t get:

And that is: that Grace and mercy and healing have always been for people who are basically dogs.  Jesus is able to use the woman’s faith to prove that.

Never once did Jesus commend the faith of anyone who was a superior, judgemental, smug and not actually needing him. You know why? He came to save sinners. He came to heal the sick and open the eyes of the blind. So how the heck Christianity can ever be smug and intolerant and a bit superior is beyond me.

So, if you are a loser who doesn’t get it. If you have a heart that is sometimes dark, and selfish. If you love yourself too much; or do not love yourself enough; if you feel guilty and inadequate; if you think some really horrible things about other people, like almost ALL THE TIME, then know this: Jesus came to trade all that brokenness for his own righteousness. All of it. You can just lay it down at the foot of his cross and let him take it from you.  Jesus absorbs the pain of the world with LOVE – unconditional LOVE.  That love can make you new.  “He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak”.

You come to church to be forgiven; you come to church to be loved; you come to church to be healed.  So take heart.  And like the Canaanite woman/the dog-woman – go from church to forgive; go from church to love and go from church to heal.     Amen.

Feeding of the Five Thousand & Jesus walking on the water (John 6:1-21)

Today we have in the Gospel reading what the retailers call TFPO – two for the price of one. We have the account of the feeding of the 5,000 and also the account of Jesus walking on the water.

Some of you may know that I help with the Square Meal lunches at Ty Price and I have recently done the course on food hygiene and taken the test – and now I wait to see if I have passed and get the certificate, but there is a world of difference between feeding 30 people as they do at Ty Price and feeding 5,000.

Now when a preacher sits down to prepare a sermon, he or she will normally look at the gospel then look at the Greek text and then recall its theological significance and how various theologians have commentated on the text; but what is equally, if not more important, is to spend some time to pray with the text to discern what God is wanting the preacher to say about it and there are a variety of techniques for doing that.

When it comes to an account of an event in the life of Jesus I often use the Ignatian method of prayer when you imagine yourself as one of the characters in the scene or as a bystander watching what is happening and imagining what is being said and done. This is an old method of prayer introduced by St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits in the 16th century.

So I began by delving into my theological memory about the feeding of the 5,000. I recalled that there were less than 2,000 people living in the area so people must have come long distances.  I recalled that this is probably an eye witness account because of the detail like the grass was green.  I recalled that some scholars have suggested that this was an army on the march although I think that is unlikely. Some have suggested that this was a sacramental meal because the rest of the Chapter is about being spiritually fed with the body and blood of Christ. I also recalled that this is John’s Gospel where Jesus is always in charge of events. Then I imagined that I was there with Jesus and his disciples when one of them said, ‘Master, we have a problem’.

I imagined them looking at the growing crowd and the disciples saying to Jesus ‘Where did this lot come from?’ and saying, ‘Religious hospitality requires us to feed them – how on earth are we going to do that? Philip said that it would be far too expensive and anyway the local shops would not have enough stock.  But Jesus remained calm and told them to sit down. He was in charge.

I then imagined that I was in the crowd and had travelled a long way – at least 9 miles – to see and listen to this man I had heard so much about.  Could he be the messiah and could he heal the sick and what was he teaching? I had travelled a long way and was glad to be sitting down and it wasn’t too hot and even the grass was green and we were all ready for a picnic. I had of course packed my Marmite sandwiches but like everyone else but I didn’t want to get them out and start eating on my own and I could hardly offer them around and in any case not everyone likes Marmite.  Then a small boy went forward and offered Andrew his packed lunch – five barley loaves and two small fish and Andrew offered them to Jesus and that shamed the rest of us who reached into our shoulder bags for our sandwiches and shared them with one another.  And why is it that when you have a picnic you always take more food than you need – there were 12 baskets full left over. There is of course enough food to feed the starving in our world if only we can learn the lesson of sharing.

Well, is that what happened? Is this a miracle of what can happen when we show hospitality and share what we have? Is this a story teaching us about generosity and sharing because Jesus in the same gospel at the wedding in Cana turned over a hundred gallons of water into wine?  Is this an example of the abundant love of Jesus who teaches us the blessings of generosity because there is that strange religious economy that discovers that the more you give away the more you receive and if you are generous to God, he is generous to you.

Then I thought about the stilling of the storm and Jesus walking on the water. My theology reminded me that water is a symbol of life in John’s gospel – John the Baptist was baptising with water; Jesus turned water into wine; he offered the woman at the well water springing up into eternal life and on the cross water poured from his side.  His disciples were fishermen called to be ‘fishers of men’  and the ark, a boat is the symbol of salvation. John’s gospel ends with the account of the miraculous draught of fishes symbolising bringing the whole world into the church, the ark of salvation.

Then I imagined that I was at the oars on the boat. Now I have been on a large boat on the Sea of Galilee when a storm suddenly blew up.  That was frightening enough but now I was imagining being terrified and trying to be row a small boat for three and a half miles and feeling exhausted and wondering if we would drown or be saved. Was our mission with Jesus ending by being drowned.  Then we saw Jesus walking towards us – maybe he had spotted some stepping stones to walk on or maybe he was walking on the surface and he said, ‘It is I; do not be afraid’. Then I remembered that that was the most frequent command given by Jesus to his disciples.  It wasn’t to tell them to pray or even to preach.  It was, ‘Do not be afraid’.

If we were in Scotland today, when you got home over lunch someone might ask, ‘Did the minister give you a word?’ That is to ask what you remembered from the sermon.  Well, if I hope you might remember two things – the importance of generosity and sharing – and the need not to be afraid. Amen.

Trinity Sunday

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’  And I said, ’Here am I; send me!’.”

The Franciscan Saint Bonaventure, who wrote a lot about the Trinity said, “For God to be good, God can be one. For God to be loving, God has to be two because love is always a relationship.” But his real breakthrough was saying that “For God to be supreme joy and happiness, God has to be three.” Lovers do not know full happiness until they both delight in the same thing.  Today, we celebrate with the whole church the Feast of the holy, undivided and glorious Trinity.  One God, three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Often, in our attempts to explain the Trinitarian Mystery we overemphasize the individual qualities (as we perceive them) of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but not so much the relationships between them.

Relationships! That is where all the power is! That is where all the meaning is!”  The relationship is like that of a dance – more of a folk dance or a celidh, where the participants hold hands and moving in a circle.

God is pure unconditional love.  The love that understands; the love that forgives; the love that absorbs its own needs and gives and keeps on giving. Like the kind of love a child experiences from a parent.

Jesus, is God in perfect human shape. The Eternal Word, become Flesh – to show us how God’s way works. Remember, we must take the bowl and the towel – get on our knees and wash feet; stop worrying and obsessing with what we want and need – just be silent; get on our knees and wash feet.  Be compassionate, be kind, be forgiving.

And let’s open our hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit – that energy which motivates us to do the forgiving; the healing; the loving.  The way to be transformed is through forgiveness and love. The Trinity, in all its mystery, points to the fact that we can only experience God.  The way to experience God is through relationships.

If we wish to know God, to experience God – then, it is all about relationships. It is best summed up by three letter Cs.

Charism:  what is your God-given gift?  What makes you, you?  What are you good at? Both as an individual and as a gathered church community?

Communication: Not emails; pew sheets; church magazines – but genuine listening and speaking.  Do you sit and listen to God? To yourself?  What are you needs, fears and hopes? Prayer is the most important communication. How do you relate to one another?  How do we communicate with one another when we disagree?

Community: How do we live with each other? How do we find out what the community in which we live needs.  How can we give and help.  Not go give them “God”!  But give the people who live alongside us, support, love, companionship.  Then they will experience God in us, as we will in them.

Now that’s what Ty Price is for. Have you noticed that the way we are doing church has changed?  Have you noticed that we are enjoying new relationships with our neighbours?

None of the three Cs can be done alone. No point having God given gifts, if we don’t use them to support one another. Communication and community only exists when we enter into relationships with one another and with those around us.

Instead of worrying so much about what we don’t know about God – the three in one – what we can’t categorize and label and explain… let us worry about following the Great Commission of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

Disciple means student – we are to be and to make students in the school of God’s love.  Students do not know all the answers, but seek to learn, to ask questions, make mistakes: an education that will last a lifetime.  Our task, as disciples, is to enter into the life of God, we call Trinity, and to discern and release God’s holy gifts in one another so that God’s kingdom can come amongst us.  And remember that God’s kingdom, is God’s creation, healed.

Paul says, “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). That awesome line gives us a key into the Mystery of Trinity. I would describe human strength as self-sufficiency or autonomy. God’s weakness I would describe as relationship with each other.

 

Human strength admires holding on. The Mystery of the Trinity is about letting go.  Human strength admires personal independence. God’s Mystery is total mutual dependence. We like to be in control.  God loves vulnerability.  We admire needing no one; choosing self-sufficiency; going it alone.   The Trinity of the love we name God, is total intercommunion with all things and all beings. We are practiced at hiding and protecting ourselves.  The unconditional love of God seems to be found in revealing our vulnerability to each other for the sake of the other.  Our strength, we think, is in asserting and protecting our boundaries. God is into dissolving boundaries between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We go about this task of being, and making, disciples through relationships with each other. As St. Paul’s teaches us: “…put things in order…agree with one another, live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with you…”.  In building relationships with others, we dance in harmony with each other; we experience God in our relationships with one another.

The Trinity – as we see in others, as the God who created each one of us so uniquely, and the Christ who calls us to follow him and the Holy Spirit of God burning with love in our hearts.  Amen.

Vicar's letter May 2017

Dear Friends in Christ,

The Holy Week and Easter celebrations in The Monmouth Group of Parishes this year were varied, deeply spiritual and very well attended by parishioners and visitors.  A few highlights for me were:

 The Preaching: The opportunity and the privilege of having all the members of our ordained ministry team preach and participate in our services.  We have a wonderful team of experienced and talented priests and, on your behalf, I wish to thank them for all they do to minister the Word and Sacraments of God’s holy church to us and for the pastoral care which they give to you and to one another. And a special thanks to Canon David Osborn, Steve Martin and Rev’d Owen Williams for offering two stimulating Lent courses.

 The Altar Serving: We are blessed with a dedicated team of altar servers at St Mary’s Priory Church and St Thomas’ Church.  Under the wise counsel of Colin Robinson and Tudor Griffiths we are served and supported by John Jones, Cass and Bev Lowton, and Abbie and Jess Williams.  I am immensely grateful to Cass and Jess, who return to serve with us when they are home from their university studies.

 The Music: Our organists, Ian Dollins and Robert Jones helped, as they do throughout the year, to      enhance our worship and uplift our singing with their excellent playing.  Ian, as Director of Music, at St Mary’s, encouraged a currently small choir to sing beautifully, especially the Good Friday Reproaches.  We miss the late Colin Copestake and Derrick Cooling.  If you or anyone you know would like to join the choir of the Priory Church, then do get in touch with Ian Dollins.  Our family service at St Thomas on Good Friday was superbly led by our music group under the direction of Ruth Friend, to whom I am very grateful.

 Warmth of Welcome:  All four of our churches were lovingly prepared as places of welcome by our flower arrangers.  Visitors commented particularly on the care and beauty of the flowers in St Michael, St Wonnow, as well as St Mary and St Thomas.  Jesus calls us to love one another as ourselves.  A well cared for church, is a sign of a congregation that takes care to offer the best in welcome to all who pass through the doors and to give glory to God. On your behalf, thank you to all the flower arrangers and polishers, the church wardens and those whose tasks are hidden in the doing, yet evident in the effect.

 Baptisms: It was especially moving to be able to baptise Richard Roden at the Easter Vigil and young Jayden Horton on Easter Day.  We shall be baptising one of the teachers at Osbaston Church in Wales School on Wednesday 3rd May in the school service; then, on Sunday, 28th May, four adults and some teenagers will be confirmed by Bishop Richard in a group eucharist at St Mary’s.

Yes, we had large numbers of visitors and regulars through the doors of all our churches this Holy Week and Easter Day – but what made our services so special was the prayerful joy; the smiles; the kind words of welcome and encouragement – indeed, the reality of the presence of the risen Christ among us.  And for that, I give thanks to you all for revealing the light of God’s glory to me and to one another and to our visitors.

May God love you and bless you this Eastertide!

Fr David

 

Stations of the Cross Friday Services throughout Lent

Services to mark the Stations of the Cross will take place on the six Friday evenings throughout Lent at 6.00pm commencing on Friday 3rd March at St Mary’s Priory Church

Services will be held at St Mary’s Priory  Church, St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church and St Thomas’.

The rota for these services is as follows:

Friday 3rd March and Friday 24th March: St Mary’s Priory Church

Friday 10th March and Friday 21st March: St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church

Friday 17th March and Friday 7th April: St Thomas’ Church

Rev'd Janet Bromley's Sermon from Sunday 15th January 2017

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.

Amen