A sermon preached by Revd Stephanie Bullock on the occasion of Graham Low’s 25th Anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood
Trinity 6 Graham’s 25th anniv of priesting (Mk 6.1-13)
Andrew, Graham, thank you for inviting me to preach today.
So – is it really 25 years since I preached at Brighton, at your first eucharist, Graham? I can’t find the sermon, irritatingly, my filing system is far from perfect. But I think I preached on risk. Those of you who were there may have better memories than I have. SO did it feel like a risk to change profession, retrain when we were both in our 40s with young children and for you to move home and schools? I think it did.We didn’t quite know what we were letting ourselves in for, where our journeys would lead, what challenges, joys and sorrows we would meet on the way. But here we are, 25 years later, older and with grandchildren, retired – whatever that means for clergy in the Church of England- and still journeying.
I imagine that most of you will, at some point, have read Alice in Wonderland. Do you remember her meeting with the Cheshire cat?
‘She was a little startled seeing the Cheshire cat sitting on a branch of a tree a few yards off. The cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good-natured she thought; still it had very long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt it ought to be treated with respect.
‘Cheshire cat’ she began rather timidly, as she did not know whether it would like the name….’ would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here?’ ‘That depends on where you want to get to’, said the cat. ‘I don’t much care where’, said Alice. ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go’ said the cat. ‘So long as I get somewhere’, Alice added as an explanation. ‘Oh, you’re sure to do that’, said the cat, ‘if only you walk long enough.’
For Alice, it seems as if the importance of her journey is about getting somehwer. Reaching a goal, no matter which way she travels. The cat seems to take a longer view – just walk long enough.
People over the centuries have gone on pilgrimage – be it hundreds of miles, say to Santiago de Compostela, or just 7 or 8 miles of the old Dorchester pilgrimage. There was certainly an end point, St James’ Cathedral in Santiago, or Dorchester Abbey, but arguably the important thing was the journey. The people you met on the way, the importance of travelling together, of the help you might receive, of the time spent giving thanks for God’s gifts.
Today’s readings tell of people who make journeys. Paul travels from country to country bringing the good news of Christ to both Jew and Gentile. Jesus has been preaching and healing around the Sea of Galilee and has returned home to Nazareth. We might expect that returning home would be an occasion to look forward to – a time to renew friendships, to be greeted by those you love. Instead of which Jesus is met with hostility and suspicion. SO after healing a few sick people he moves on,, and begins preaching and healing amongst the villages. It’s almost as if Jesus thinks it’s not worth expending energy fighting in Nazareth. Much better to move on to new territory, meet new people and tell them of God’s love. And at a time when Jesus’s own authority is called into question, he sends out his own disciples to preach. The message of God’s love is more important than questioning and antagonism.
I wonder when you last went to a baptism? Maybe recently, maybe many years ago. At the end of the service the candidate, or if they are very young, a godparent on their behalf, is given a candle which has been lit from the Easter candle. And they are instructed to ‘shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father’.
Baptism is the beginning of our journey of faith. At baptism we are blessed, accepted into the church family, called to be the person we are uniquely called to be, and commissioned to go out into the world.
We are all unique individuals. We aren’t all the same as those first disciples. Our culture and our circumstances are all different. But we are all human beings, each with our own faults and failings and with our own gifts. And we are called to discover what they are and use them for God’s purpose as we travel on our journey of faith.
Gerard Hughes, a Jesuit priest, made a number of pilgrimages. In his book ‘ In Search of a Way’ he talks of what it means to be a pilgrim. He says ‘God calls all people, loves all people. The Church is a gathering of those who are aware of their call by God and who meet to celebrate that awareness.
Those who profess faith in God, who experience his mysterious call within them, form a restless people in search of a way. They will be a joyful people who have found a direction, and want to communicate it, sing it, tell everyone about it.
They will be gentle people, tolerant, not preoccupied about possessions, because they are in search of the only possession that matters and which none can take from them. They are not worried about social status and prestige, because they have found a ecurity within themselves which nothing can destroy, nor are they afraid of being challenged , because they know how little knowledge they have, and welcome every challenge as an opportunity to learn. Ideally, the Church is a pilgrim people; they are en route.’
This was Gerard Hughes’ vision. And of course, as he says, it is an ideal. \none of us is perfect. We will inevitably fall short. But – at our baptism we are called by God to travel this journey of faith. The disciples followed their journey 2000 years ago. For Graham, that journey has followed a particular pattern which we celebrate today. Each one of us has our own call, our own journey of faith. As we each travel that journey, both as individuals and as community, may we respond to that call, shine as lights in the world, and give thanks