25th November, 2018
In the beginning
you moved amongst the darkness and the light.
You called forth creation to journey with you.
When you called, your friends Sarah and Abraham
left their home and journeyed into the unknown, discovering their home in new places.
Down through the years
countless people responded to your stirring within them.
They too left what they knew,
drawn on by the longing to travel with you.
For some the journey did not lead
where they might have expected.
You have taken each life and woven it
into the whole story of your people.
A good friend of mine wrote these words many years ago as a prayer to be said at the Eucharist. Each Eucharistic prayer begins with a section known as the anamnesis (for those of you who like technical jargon). What that particular word means is that each Eucharistic prayer begins by remembering how humanity has experienced God and come to know God through the centuries (anamnesis). The opening of the prayer I just shared begins in the time before there was time, it includes the moment of creation, what some might call the Big Bang, and then reminds us of the nomadic life of Abraham and Sarah who literally followed God into the wilderness.
But the moment that resonates with me in this prayer is the next paragraph that states that this story, the story of people leaving the comfort of their lives in order to follow God, is a story that belongs to many. It was true for Abraham and Sarah, but it was also true for Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Martha, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and of course in today’s Gospel, our patron saint Andrew. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
But God’s calling does not end there. It is God who calls each of us, from a time before our birth. God has called each of us into being and continues to call us on to life which is greater and grander than we have ever known. Those are also words from another Eucharistic prayer we use in this community.
But to be called is not enough on its own. Our God is a God of relationship. God may call us, but it is up to us to respond. Sometimes that response comes easily, but at other times, not so much.
Not so long ago someone came to see me. They wanted to discuss the sense of calling they had in their life, but more than that they wanted to talk about the absolute sense of reluctance they had when it came to doing anything about that calling. I looked at this person and decided to share a story about another person I know who had a similar feeling. In fact when this person was first asked to think about a life in ordained ministry they responded by saying, “The last thing on earth I want to be is a backwards priest in a backwards church.” That isn’t actually what they said, there were a few more expletives involved but you get the idea. The person I shared this story with looked relieved when I said this. He was less relieved when I pointed out that I was the person who said that 25 years ago and I’ve now been ordained 14 years.
God’s call is typically a persistent one. This is one of the ways the church has come to discern God’s call in a person’s life. God’s call does not go away, even when we ignore it or fail to recognise it.
10 years ago I visited Archbishop John Paterson seeking a discussion about my vocation. At some point I had lost track of my sense of calling to ordained ministry and was beginning to wonder if I had made a mistake. Doubts are part of life, and I was having mine. Two weeks after that meeting I was sitting in his office again as he asked me to serve as the next Vicar of St Andrew’s Epsom. Over 10 years in times of challenge and in times of celebration I have often thought back to that moment and find that I still feel a great sense of gratitude for that call upon my life and for the opportunity given to me by this community. You allowed me to find out who I could be as a Vicar of a parish and that is a blessing I hope to never forget.
My prayer over the comings weeks will be for this community as you look to the future and for that person out there who may be experiencing a sense of calling to this place. I hope that you find each other, and you support each other and enjoy many happy years together as we have.
When I began here almost ten years ago we shared a wonderful service together. In that service I was presented with many symbols of ministry. They symbolised many aspects of the life of this community and also expressed something of the hopes for our future together. Today I have placed here a different symbol of ministry.
Paschal candles. Candles which each year have symbolised the moment of resurrection and Christ’s ongoing presence with us. These candles also symbolise the passing time, one candle for each of ten years. OK so there are only 9 candles but that’s because one year we forgot to order a candle in time for Easter so we had a candle that gave us two years.
These candles also symbolise the ministry of this community in that time. These candles symbolise 171 funerals, more than 80 weddings, dozens of baptisms and confirmations. There have been many youth camps, pilgrimages and mission trips to Tonga. Study groups, soapbox lectures and movie nights. Youth group meetings, Ginger N Bread Circle, flower guild gatherings and shared meals. Choir practices, evensong, compline and alternative worship. Strawberry Fairs with its hundreds of volunteers and annual tradition of praying for good weather. More vestry meetings than I care to remember. Carol services, carols in rest homes, Christmas pageants, and a couple of crackingly fun Ukulele Carol Barbeques. These candles also symbolise our ministry of hospitality that is expressed in so many different ways, from parish dinners to fairtrade coffee after each service. My calculations suggest that those trusty urns at the back of the church have served more than 42,000 cups of coffee over the last ten years, a figure only rivalled by the number of communion wafers we have consumed. But at the heart of this community lies our regular worshipping life, the Eucharistic feast and the invitation to everyone to join with us in the renewing of this world.
And really that last point is the important one. When we gather at this altar it should always be with an awareness of those who are yet to join us here. God has called us into this place, but this place is not ours alone. There is a world of people out there waiting to hear the invitation. Everyone is welcome at this communion table. Everyone! As those who have been baptised that is a central part of your calling to ministry. You have been called and now it is up to you to help others to hear their calling also. Amen.
– Reverend Richard Bonifant