Sermon for Sunday 5th July 2015.
Readings: Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13.
We are in a time of new beginnings, traditionally that time of year when deacons and priests are ordained and embark upon a new stage in their lives. Social media have been full this weekend of messages of support, of joy, of hope as friends and colleagues welcome new partners to the clergy and are reminded of their own steps over similar thresholds in years past. Today’s readings speak vividly of sending, of God’s call giving us the task of convening his kingdom on earth. As one priest put it yesterday on Twitter: “Christ is walking, healing, dying, rising right here” and we are to walk, to heal to die and to rise alongside him.
And yet the bible texts acknowledge that even with the Holy Spirit and God’s will with us we will find – and indeed must expect – difficulty and opposition. God acknowledges to Ezekiel that the nation of Israel has not remained faithful as God had hoped and that Ezekiel will find his countryfolk obstinate and stubborn. Paul finds himself stuck with a ‘thorn in his flesh’ that he cannot shake off: a reminder that he is but human and that all his faith and passion for the Lord do not render him somehow beyond all that. And our own Saviour finds that his family and community who knew him through his youth and the years leading up to his public ministry cannot see beyond the image of the child, the adolescent and the young man that they recognised from their shared life before now. As Mark records – they cannot understand how a carpenter of all people comes to be speaking with such authority not on timber and wood-working but on the words of life.
Too readily we apply or accept labels of who we are and of who those around us are. We expect to see people in certain places and situations and do not always recognise those we know when we meet them in contexts that we did not expect. How often have you said to someone ‘What are you doing here?’ or ‘I didn’t expect to see you here’. Part of the freedom that God calls us into is to lay aside those labels and to let loose the restrictions that our own expectations limit us to. Instead we are to allow others to surprise us and to show us new sides to their own lives that we did not know, rather than to expect them to follow a script or pattern that we expect them to adhere to in order to be acceptable to ourselves.
Yet there is hope and good news amidst all the warnings. For all that Israel is obstinate and stubborn, the Lord promises Ezekiel that the people will know that a prophet has been amongst them. How they allow themselves to respond to his words and his example is up to them but Ezekiel is assured that his faithfulness will not go unremarked, however positive or negative the reaction proves to be.
Paul delights that he is aware of his weakness: he recognises how this imitates, however meanly, the suffering that Jesus endured for us and sees a constant reminder in the burden that he bears of the strength beyond our own human capacity that God renders to us through the Holy Spirit. God has spelt it out for him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We are not to allow pride in our own abilities to blind us to the paucity of those abilities alongside the incomparable strength and power that God offers to us through the Spirit.
Recognition of our own weakness helps us to understand what gifts are given us by God when we answer His call.
And lastly Jesus sees the outcomes of his disciples’ following when he sends them out into the communities round about. After the difficulties that he himself has struggled with in Nazareth his followers see the fruits of their faithfulness in healings and in the driving-out of evil spirits as they obey his commission.
Much has been said of the priesthood of the laity – that we all share the same call in our lives to proclaim the good news of salvation offered to all through faith in God and grace freely given in return. The following words are from the introduction to the service of ordination:
“God calls his people to follow Christ, and forms us into a royal priesthood, a holy nation, to declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
The Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. In baptism the whole Church is summoned to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of his kingdom.
To serve this royal priesthood, God has given a variety of ministries.”
We have seen that around us this week with the news that Anne Hollinghurst will be the next Bishop of Aston. Remains to be seen how soon she will take up the post but it might just be that one of her first acts in this diocese could be to install a new vicar here at St Chads. Yesterday Becky Stephens, who was a curate at Holy Trinity not long ago, was ordained priest in Birmingham. And not all ministries are for ministers. Each of us has a vocation that God calls us to – and it need not be worked out within these four walls. My own vocation for the past two decades has been in engineering, working with water and the landscape around the country, making landscapes for communities that drain and withstand flooding.
So, in honouring God’s call to us, I leave you to ponder your answers to these questions that are based on those put to the people present at an ordination service.
Brothers and sisters, you have heard how great is the charge that you are called to undertake.
Is it now your will that you should be fellow pilgrims alongside one another?
Will you continually pray for one another?
Will you uphold and encourage one another in your ministries?
Tim Dawe. July 2015