Saturday, 26 June 2010

4th Sunday after Trinity - calling, vocation and all of us


Galatians 5:1,13-25
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Luke 9:51-end: A Samaritan Village Refuses to Receive Jesus

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’as Elijah did. But he turned and rebuked them and said, ‘You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.’ Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

Today’s Gospel reading comes at a very important time for us as a church. The PCC and its subcommittees are considering what mission is about for us as a church, and how we should be doing it and what roles we should be playing within the community. The words, actions and non-reactions of Jesus tell us a great deal about what is appropriate for a Christian, and St.Paul’s words in Galatians tells us a great deal about what we should be like within a church.

Everything really hinges around the first line of the Gospel reading which says this:
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.
The words ‘taken up’ are simply a euphemism. This passage is about Jesus recognising through prayer that his teaching ministry is coming towards an end and that God was calling him on to Jerusalem to lay down his life.

There is, in that phrase, however also an allusion to his ascension. The words ‘taken up’ lend themselves to both, and if you remember back to when I’ve preached about the ascension I’ve always been keen to stress that Jesus returning to the Father and taking our humanity into the Godhead within himself was really important to our final destiny.

So this first sentence sets the context for the entire next section. This is all about Jesus having a vision for what he was going to do next and then setting about to make it happen.
So the first question this asks us is, what vision do you have for the rest of your life, however long or short that may be?

I don’t often talk about my calling into ordained ministry. That’s not because I’m ashamed of it, it’s just that whenever we talk about having a vision for our lives, or a sense of calling, people automatically assume we must be meaning ordained ministry, as a priest. So I’m always hesitant to talk about my own calling just in case it makes you feel that your calling is any less significant.

I believe that we should all be seeking what God is calling us to do with our lives and listening to what he says in response, and that every genuine calling by God is as relevant as every other genuine calling, regardless of what role he calls us to. So perhaps this is a fitting time to tell you what happened to me in being called into the priesthood, but this could have been to any role.

It happened on new year’s day. At the time I was very happy in my chosen career as a scientist, although my musical aspirations were also there too. Priesthood was not something remotely on my radar, and in fact Ali and I were going to a Baptist church at the time. We’d got up late because of the night before and I was sitting in the lounge of our flat reading a book by Naomi Storkey all about the spirituality of good relationships.

Right in the middle of one of the pages I became aware of three words becoming very clear to me, but they weren’t on the page in front of me. I just kind of became very aware of them, and the words were, ‘Prepare for ministry’. That was it. Just something plain and simple like that. There were no flashing lights or warm feelings deep down in my soul; just a straightforward awareness that this was what I must now do.

I told Ali, obviously, and she suggested that I call one of my closest friends, Paul. I’ve never forgotten his response: ‘About ****** time too.’ When I queried what he meant he said that he’d seen it coming for years and wondered why I hadn’t. That kind of response was echoed over and again by others as I carefully chose those who I shared this sense of calling, this vision, with.

But the most important thing was the way it changed my whole life. Everything now became a matter of seeing how I could reach out to do what it was I was being called to do, and I have to say that it was a rocky old path. Our Baptist minister turned me down flat, which was the final straw in a lot of internal wrestling with attending that church. We then joined our local Anglican church, but did nothing but attend for a year because we wanted to belong first.

Then I began to wonder whether I had been correct in what I heard so I spent an hour with the Reader one afternoon, explaining what had happened to me. At the end of that I asked him whether I should be a Reader too and he retorted, as was his way, with, ‘No my boy, you should be a priest.’ Those were the words of confirmation I needed and everything came flooding back, with the vision renewed.

But even then it was another eighteen months, which included a period of being held back for nine months by my Director of Ordinands because he felt I still wasn’t ready, before I finally quit my job and went into training. So it took a while, and it was not a straightforward path, but once I had that sense of vision, and it had been confirmed by others, I knew this was what I had to do.

Now my call is not better or more important than yours; it is simply my call; what God asked of me. Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. That was what was expected of him; that was his call. So let me underline this question again: What is God calling you to do? What is your vision for life? Where are you going?

The second question that this passage raises for us is about how you plan to go about that vision once you have it. I get absolutely fed up with those within the wider church who get self-righteous and threatened by opposition to what they think is right. James and John exhibit all the hallmarks of those whose sense of calling seems to be dependent on everyone else agreeing that they are in the right.

So for those who are thinking about mission, and I hope that’s all of us, let me make one thing absolutely clear: There are some three thousand people in this parish, and plenty of others with whom we will come in contact. They will not all want to come to church. In fact a very large proportion of them will not be remotely bothered by what we think is truth.

That is simply how it is, and that is how it has always been. Our role is to seek out and pray for those who are searching, that God will guide us to them and help us to illuminate the way we are travelling. Do not ever be taken in by those who want to hype up evangelism and expect the church to be filled with hundreds and hundreds of people.

It didn’t happen to Jesus. Look at all the excuses people made, just in this short passage, for not following him. And when Jesus told it how it was, and what they should expect if they followed him, most people deserted him. If it didn’t happen to him, it’s unlikely to happen to us.

So when people aren’t bothered by what we think are words of hope, don’t be threatened by it as James and John were. Simply trust God to guide us to those who are wanting to listen and who are searching for truth in their lives. Jesus was non-violent. He just shrugged his shoulders and they moved on to another village.

These two are therefore the questions that this passage asks us. What is your vision for your life, however much is left of it, and how will you conduct yourself? As a church we must ask ourselves these questions, about what our main mission focus should be, but we are a body made up of many parts, and for us to do what we are called to do it is essential that everyone of us asks God what we are supposed to do as a part of that vision.

And then once we know we must conduct ourselves with humility. Being a servant of the truth is not something to be proud of, it is a calling, remembering that we all have so much to learn. And it is from that well of humility that those who are searching will have their thirst quenched.

So let us consider, what is God calling us to? What is he calling each of us to? Are we listening and are we going to let that calling alter our priorities? And are we going to remain humble, knowing that we are not special, we are simply searchers who have been led to God by the Holy Spirit. For this church to grow in numbers, and for us to grow as disciples, we must all do our part. Amen.

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