Deanery Licensed Ministers: Sermons
Who is God calling you to be?
Sermon Preached at St Peter's, Notting Hill, 10/06/2007
Revd Sue Groom, Director of Deanery Licensed Ministers
Trinity Sunday 1
Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16
A farmer brought home a chick from an eagle’s eyrie. Not quite knowing what to do with it, he put it in a chicken run, where it grew up with the chickens. One day a passing traveller saw it, and commented on its presence. ‘It’s a chicken,’ said the farmer. ‘No it isn’t,’ said the traveller, ‘it’s an eagle.’ And he placed it on his wrist and spoke to the great bird. ‘You’re an eagle,’ he said. ‘Fly!’ But the eagle looked down at the chickens in the run, hopped down and pecked with them. ‘You see,’ said the farmer, ‘I told you so. It’s a chicken.’
For the next week the traveller called each day and brought food suitable for an eagle: raw meat and flesh. Slowly the bird’s strength began to revive.
So again the traveller placed the bird on his wrist and spoke to it: ‘You’re an eagle,’ he said. ‘Fly!’ and the great bird stretched out his wings, but when he saw the chickens in the run, he hopped down and scratched with them. ‘You’re wasting your time,’ said the farmer, ‘I told you. It’s a chicken.’
The next morning while it was still dark the traveller returned, and taking the bird on his wrist he walked a little way into the bush. As the morning sun rose, it shed a golden light on the great crag where the eagles’ eyrie was built. The traveller lifted the bird and pointed to the mountain top, ‘You’re an eagle,’ he said. ‘Fly!’ And the great bird looked up to the top of the crag, it stretched out his wings, and it flew, it flew round and round and round... until it vanished from sight high in the sky...
Do you know who you are? Do you know who God calls you to be?
Saint Paul regularly introduced himself in his letters as, ‘Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.’ In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians he writes, ‘I, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.’
The surrounding context of this verse in the letter to the church at Ephesus is plainly concerned with unity among the believers. This unity, this oneness, writes Paul, is dependent on the character of people’s behaviour towards one another. This unity among Christians, he explains, derives from the unity of God. This unity, furthermore, is enriched by the diversity of gifts the risen and ascended Christ lavishes upon his followers, gifts which are to be used in the service of God. And this unity, Paul reminds his hearers, demands growth into maturity, into the body of Christ here on earth.
‘I, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.’ What is the vocation to which we have been called? How are we to live our lives so as to be worthy of that calling?
Carlo Carretto, an Italian school-teacher who spent ten years in the Saharan Desert learning to pray, wrote this about God’s call: ‘God’s call is mysterious; it comes in the darkness of faith. It is so fine, so subtle, that it is only with the deepest silence within us that we can hear it... And yet nothing is so decisive and overpowering for someone on this earth, nothing surer or stronger... This call is uninterrupted: God is always calling us! But there are distinctive moments in this call of his, moments which leave a permanent mark on us - moments we may never forget.’
There was one very decisive moment in my own call to ordination, one which I will never forget. It came during the year when General Synod was debating the ordination of women and a few friends had suggested that I should take an interest in the debate. But I saw no reason to. Then, my grandfather was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer and I was called to visit him in hospital.
Now, my grandfather had no time for the church, he firmly believed that it was full of hypocrites, he was committed to communism. My grandfather was a wise man, who had seen a lot in his eighty plus years and who reflected on what he had seen. My grandfather also knew me well. Phil and I had lived with him for several months when we were first married and we continued to visit him regularly. We were close.
The day I visited my grandfather in the hospital, I sat on the edge of his bed and we chatted about this and that. We discussed the news and commented on the state of the world. I mentioned that a friend had suggested I consider training for ordination. I fully expected him to object, but instead, he looked straight at me and said, ‘yes, that is what you should do’.
That moment made a permanent mark on me, I could no longer ignore God’s call. My grandfather died two months later and his was the first funeral I prepared.
Our God is a God who calls. And vocation is not the exceptional prerogative of a few specially good or gifted people... All men and women are called to serve God. God knows us each by name. He calls each one of us into life. And he continues to call us to live lives worthy of our existence as children of God. He speaks to us in the depths of our hearts, calling us to intimacy with him, and he bestows his gifts upon us so that we can be his co-workers in the world.
In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul characterized himself as ‘the prisoner in the Lord.’ Because we know that Paul was frequently thrown into prison, we tend to read this self-characterization literally. But I suspect that he is also revealing something much deeper concerning a relationship of captivity in his life.
The young Saul had been an ardent Pharisee and dogged persecutor of those who declared that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. That relationship changed suddenly and dramatically one day on the road to Damascus when the risen Lord Jesus captured Saul. (Read all about it in Acts chapter 9!)
In that new captivity Paul found perfect freedom. In being captured by Christ, caught in chains of love, not fear, Paul was freed from bondage to lesser gods. He had a new focus. He had a new purpose in life. When we are called by Christ we are called to be captivated by him, to place our allegiance in him, in order to be freed to be the people he has called us to be. For it is in serving God that we find perfect freedom.
Imagine what it is like to be captured by chains of love: Familiarize yourself with the wonderful thought that God loves you with a tenderness, a generosity, and an intimacy which surpasses all your dreams. Give yourself up with joy to a loving confidence in God and have courage to believe firmly that God’s action towards you is a masterpiece of partiality and love... Rejoice that you are what you are, for Christ loves you very dearly.
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.’
We are constantly bombarded by all kinds of voices calling us to be more like this, to fulfil that need, to do this particular work. The difficulty is in finding out which is the voice of God, rather than that of the lesser gods such as society, influential people in our lives, or our own self-interest.
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 Mark 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.
Our God is a God who calls. He calls us all to minister in the church and in the world. He speaks to us in the depths of our hearts, calling us to intimacy with him, and he bestows his gifts upon us so that we can work with him for his kingdom and to his glory.
When we respond to his call, God frees us to fly.
I urge you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called by God.
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 Francis Dewar's Invitations: God's Calling for Everyone (SPCK, 1996), Carlo Carretto's Letters from the Desert (Darton, Longman & Todd, 2002), Tom Wright's Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters - Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon (SPCK 2002), and to Frederick Beuchner. I will gladly acknowledge any other sources if brought to my attention. Thank you.