THE CALL TO MINISTRY – a sermon preached on Zoom on 4 July 2021 at 10 a.m. by Graham Low
We are at the end of a season in the church year called embertide, when, according to tradition, we pray and fast for three days. In particular we pray for those being ordained deacon or priest at this time. Many women and men were ordained last Sunday and more are being ordained this weekend, including 32 deacons for our diocese. This season is also called Petertide because of its link with the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, which was last Tuesday, and because of the key roles that these two people had in the formation, witness and life of the church. In this season our prayers are also particularly asked for people of any kind to be open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit is prompting them to consider a vocation, a call, to ordained life, to the religious life, or some other Christian ministry. Jesus called a very mixed bag of people to be his disciples, and a very mixed crowd have followed ever since, as we all know.
The readings set for today give us a vivid picture of some of the consequences of following the call of God. Ezekiel was initially with fellow exiles by the river in Babylon, but now he is having extraordinary visions: God tells him to stand up, and he senses a spirit within him which will help him as he is told to go to the people of the nation of Israel: rebellious, impudent and stubborn. And he is told that where the people hear him, they will know that a prophet has spoken.
Earlier in the gospel of Mark we read that Jesus also had a vision from God at the beginning of his ministry, before he was tried in the wilderness and then began to proclaim God in word and deed. Now Jesus goes to see his own family and teaches in the synagogue. There are no recorded visions as such but the enormous power of what he says and does is very striking and has a certain visionary or miraculous quality which everyone can sense. But it raises questions and doubts, as well as faith. When the miraculous meets the familiar, belief is challenged. The neighbours know about Jesus’ home life and his family background and they find that this does not fit at all with the authority that they now see in him. We too would probably be perplexed if we were neighbours of Jesus’ family. But we might also be sympathetic to Jesus. To be doubted or even rejected by ones’ family and friends is very hard indeed. Clearly Jesus finds life is difficult back at home.
There is an irony in Jesus’ finding that he can do no deed of power there, except that he lays his hands on a few sick people and cures them. And he is amazed at their unbelief. Even curing a few people is extraordinary, but this seems very limited compared with Mark’s report of the success of the disciples in performing many miracles, after Jesus sends them out. But Jesus risks sending them out in spite of the fact that they had witnessed both miracles and rejection. Like Ezekiel they are going to both stubborn and receptive people. All they can do is go on with little support and move on if they are rejected.
The people being ordained now will find that they will be accepted by some and rejected by others, just as Ezekiel and Jesus were. And all of us will find ourselves in situations where we are made uncomfortable, or even rejected outright, when we reveal, however gently, that we are followers of Christ.
Today’s collect gives us another perspective. In it we pray for the riches of God’s Spirit to be poured upon the church. And we pray that all who minister the gospel will receive countless gifts of grace to do God’s holy work. Holiness is mercifully found in all the mess and muddle of life, and often unexpectedly and gloriously. Holiness is not circumstantial, but it is the fruit of intentional faithfulness to God, whatever the situation, and for all of us.
Holiness is bound up in prayer, all of which is about attention to God’s presence everywhere in the world. God leaves fingerprints of his presence for us, and especially where we find faith, hope, trust and love. May all of us, with those being ordained, have the grace always to live and reflect these pointers to God. Amen.