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Deanery Licensed Ministers: Sermons

Why have you been sent into this world?

Sermon Preached at St Mary's, Osterley, 23/09/2007
Revd Sue Groom, Director of Deanery Licensed Ministers

Proper 20
Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-7

There is an old Christian tradition that
God sends each person into this world
with a special message to deliver,
with a special song to sing for others,
with a special act of love to bestow.
No one else can speak my message,
or sing my song,
or offer my act of love.
These are entrusted only to me.

So writes John Powell in his book Through the Seasons of the Heart.

Do you know why you have been sent into this world? What is your message? What is your song? What act of love will you bestow?

Paul knew why he was sent into this world. As he wrote to Timothy, Paul knew that he had been appointed a herald and an apostle, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. He knew what his message was too, ‘there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.’

There is a wonderful story from the Jewish tradition about a man named Simon. Simon had always wanted to be more like Moses. That was his constant worry. And he kept going to the Rabbi and saying, ‘Rabbi I must live my life so that I live more like Moses did.’ The Rabbi eventually said to him, ‘Simon, God will not ask you why you were not more like Moses. God will ask you why you were not more like Simon.’

I am not Paul or Moses or Simon, and neither are you. We are constantly bombarded by all kinds of voices calling us to be more like this, to be slim, to be beautiful; to fulfil that need, buy a new car, get the latest gadget; do this particular work, care for our elderly relatives, go for a promotion. The difficulty is in finding out which is the voice of God, rather than that of the lesser gods such as the media, society, influential people in our lives, or our own self-interest.

So how might you begin to discern why you have been sent into this world?

Your own calling will be some activity that connects deeply with who you are, your nature, your character, your experience of life, your history. Paul was a highly educated lawyer and a devout Jew, an ideal person to proclaim the gospel and compose letters. He was also very persistent and as a Roman citizen he could travel freely around the empire.

If you are married with children then it is unlikely that God is calling you to be a monk or a nun. He is more likely to call you to draw on your own experience as a spouse and parent in serving him. Yet there will be something new and creative about your call, something which stems from some ‘thorn in the flesh’ you have had to come to terms with, something you have thought of as a problem or disaster, some wound or handicap. We know that Paul had some sort of eye complaint which made it necessary for him to get someone else to write his letters for him.

As a Christian your call in the broadest possible sense will have something to do with enriching the impoverished, or giving sight to the blind, or releasing prisoners, or freeing the oppressed. It will reflect the character of the God who calls you, a God who is holy and righteous, with a passion for social justice and fair dealing.

Your call will involve you in doing what in your heart of hearts you love to do, even if it causes you hassle, trouble and suffering. Paul suffered imprisonment, flogging, stoning, opposition from friends and enemies, many a sleepless night, hunger and thirst, several shipwrecks. But the thing that upset him most was his ‘thorn in the flesh’ which he repeatedly asked God to remove, but to no avail. Paul’s weaknesses forced him to rely on Christ. So often when God calls us, he calls us to take a risk, to step out of our comfort zones, to rely on his strength alone. He takes us as we are, warts and all, and draws out of us the message, the song, the act of love, for which he has created us.

The American preacher and writer Frederick Beuchner suggests that your vocation, the kind of work God calls you to, is usually the kind of work (a) that you most need to do, and (b) that the world most needs to have done. He suggests that if you really get a kick out of your work, you've presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing deodorant commercials, it could be that you've missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you've probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you're bored and depressed by your work, the chances are you've not only bypassed (a), but you probably aren't helping your patients much, either. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep satisfaction and the world's deep hunger meet.

Vocation has the element of knowing that if you respond to the call, you are faithful to your own inner being and you are enhanced by it. Your own awareness converges with some need out yonder and intersects with it in such a way that you have a sense that you were born to this.

The church today in Kensington needs Deanery Licensed Ministers. It needs to extend the pastoral ministry it offers to God’s people and it needs to strengthen its mission in this area. Is God calling you to minister in this deanery as a priest or deacon? Are you someone who has a deep and searching faith and an openness to share this with others? Are you someone who has thought about ordination before but because of family or work commitments did not feel able to respond at the time? Are you someone whose friends and family drop hints about how they see your calling? Can you see further opportunities for ordained ministry in this community?

If you feel that God may be calling you in this way then speak to Rosie and do get in touch with me if you would like to learn more about what might be involved in training for Deanery Licensed Ministry.

Do you know why you have been sent into this world? What is your message? What is your song? What act of love will you bestow?

In the words of today’s collect, may God grant that we may both perceive and know what things we ought to do and also have the grace and power faithfully to fulfil them. Amen.

Acknowledgements and Bibliography
As with any sermon, various ideas come together over a period of time and it isn't always possible to retrace my steps to every source of inspiration. I am particularly indebted here, however, to two of Francis Dewar's books, Called or Collared? An Alternative Approach to Vocation (SPCK, 2000) and Invitations: God's Calling for Everyone (SPCK, 1996); to John Powell's Through the Seasons of the Heart; and to Frederick Beuchner. I will gladly acknowledge any other sources if brought to my attention. Thank you.

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