Search form

You are here

Sermon on 11 May 2014

Beautiful gothic architecture inside Salisbury Cathedral
Posted By : Edward Probert Sunday 11th May 2014

A sermon preached in Salisbury Cathedral on Sunday 11th May 2014 by Canon Edward Probert, Chancellor

(Acts 2.42-end; John 10.1-10)

VOCATION

In the hallway of our house there is a wadge of paper about an inch and a half thick. It is all in quite small print and represents a substantial amount of reading - probably 12 or more hours of concentrated work. I have two weeks to squeeze in that reading and make all the relevant notes, in order to be able to play my part in what is known as a Bishops' Advisory Panel. A group of advisers and candidates will be sequestered away for three or four days of intense interviews, exercises, and, for us advisers, discussion and report writing. Past experience with these panels tells me that, though I habitually only sleep for five or so hours a night, I will not have time to read a book or a newspaper or emails, for these are periods of extraordinary total concentration. But I find them both exhilarating and humbling, because I know that these people whom I have never before met, and probably won't meet again, but for a short period will get to know with remarkable intimacy, are offering themselves to this scrutiny in response to a powerful sense of vocation. Depending on the advice we give to their bishops, they will either go on to ordained ministry as deacons and priests, or they won't.

 

Each of the people we see thinks he or she is being called to this by God. We have to see whether we agree with that opinion; whether the internal calling is matched by the external calling, whether what they offer is what is needed by the Church. We don't operate quotas, there is no proportion who must be accepted or turned away, but the likelihood is that some will come away surprised and profoundly disappointed that our opinion does not concur with theirs. Their willingness to put themselves in this exposed and vulnerable position is the reason I will come away encouraged and humbled. These are lives open to leading from God, recognising the need to change and move according to where he leads.

 

This is a very particular piece of work for us advisers, and it is focussed solely on calling to ordained ministry. It has been conventional in the Church to talk of 'vocation' only in this terms, as applying to clergy and maybe monks and nuns. That is a kind of professionalisation of the idea of calling which is echoed by the description of certain other roles - such as teachers and nurses - as 'vocational'.

 

There is a truth in each of these uses of the terminology of vocation, and they are nothing but the truth - but they are a long way from being the whole truth. I firmly believe that some are called to ordained ministry, just as some feel motivated even in spite of themselves to roles which serve the health of society in other professions. But the call of God is not to a few hundred or a few thousand, it is to absolutely everyone. God is calling to every one of you here, and he calls ceaselessly to all the people he has created. For every one of us, that call to relationship with God is the most important thing in our lives, the starting point which makes all else possible. We are called to faith, and we will never have a higher calling.

 

So we sadly diminish the meaning of vocation if we farm it out to a special body of professionals. To be a christian is to live in response to God's call, to ask yourself what it is that God asks you to do today. Before everything else, you and I have to be people of faith, whose own lives are palpably affected by the responsive relationship we have with the one who has given us everything. You can see something of the dynamism and joy of that response in the report Acts gives of the early christians in our first reading.

 

Whoever we are, we have that call to faith, hope, and love. These fundamental things can be expressed in the most mundane of circumstances, what John Keble called 'the trivial round, the common task'  - in a cup of tea with a neighbour, or in George Herbert’s sweeping a room as for God's laws. That call to integrity of life lived with and for God is the highest vocation you or I will ever have.

 

But there is another dimension. Part of the way God has made things is that no two people are the same; however many we are, we each have our special qualities and particular potential. And we are called to use the whole of ourselves for God, which means that we should reflect on how our special qualities can be best used in his service, what it is to which we particularly are fitted. It's that important, but entirely secondary, question that we advisers will be seeking to answer in the cases of those people represented by that pile of paper in my hall. This isn't a question of pass and fail; everyone who responds to God's love has passed! The question is, how can each person be best used, in the light of their attributes and the needs of the Church or human society.

 

As Jesus said, he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

So I leave each of us with two questions. The first is: how, today, are you going to answer the most important calling you have, to love God and to love your neighbours? And the second is in two parts: what are the gifts with which God has endowed you, the experiences, the skills, the insights?; and how best can these be put in his service?