Sorry no updates for a while.
This is due to all sorts of things including ministering to Reg Beacon in his dying days. It was a real privilidge to be so closely involved in supporting the family through what has been a very hard time. I have deliberately held back though since to allow the 'dust to settle' a bit.
We were up in Edinburgh this las weekend as it has been my Grandfather's 90th birthday. Great time was had by all - especially by him! I t was wonderful to be together with other members of the family as we don't very often mostly due to disatnce...
There are several sermons to update here. Firstly come Vicky Johnson from Westcott House who preached (extremely well I hasten to add) on Vocations Sunday. Then the sermon I preached at Reg's funeral. Finally comes my sermon from the Sunday before last.
I will try not to leave it so long with another update!
Vicky Johnson Vocations Sunday Sermon
Holy Trinity Church, Leverstock Green, St. Albans Diocese
Sunday 29th April 2007, 10am
Jesus said ‘My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me’. Have you ever heard God’s voice? Can you hear God calling you? Listening to God, is perhaps something we all find a bit difficult… I know, that for a long time, I thought I was listening, but somehow, I wasn’t really hearing what God was saying.
I thought I, knew myself better, than God did. I set out on a particular path, with a particular plan and I thought that this was sufficient to silence the nagging feeling that God was calling me to do something else. Basically, I wanted a quiet life! I have to say, that the last thing I expected, was to be training for ordained ministry, the last thing I expected to become, was a vicar in the Church of England. Even now, two months before my ordination in Manchester Cathedral,
it all feels like a bit of a suprise.
I bet you’re wondering if I had one of those big, life changing experiences - with lights and flashes and perhaps a deep voice booming out ‘It could be you’! Well, I’m sorry to say that it was all perhaps rather ordinary and boring in comparison. I know some of you might find this hard to believe, but until a couple of years ago I was a scientist. I know what you’re thinking, ‘scientist’ eh? ….lack of social skills, doing dodgy experiments, white coat, safety goggles. This could be a bit of a boring sermon!
More specifically I was, what you might call, a biochemist of sorts. ‘Even worse’ you might be thinking! I don’t even know what the word ‘biochemist’ means! Well, I worked in a laboratory, and I was researching the mechanisms underlying human cancer. Lots of looking down microscopes, and playing about with liquid nitrogen and DNA!
And I have to say, that I hoped one day to discover something useful which might alleviate suffering in some small way.
All this was, to be honest, a bit of a conversation stopper at parties, but I loved my job, and I thought this was what God was calling me to do. But as time went by, I had this little nagging feeling, which wouldn’t go away. It all began I suppose, when I was little more than a teenager.
I remember going to church with my brother, and sister. We sang in the choir. My mum and dad were not regular church goers, but for some reason.. sent all three of us off to church every Sunday morning, with 50p for the collection plate,
which usually ended up being spent on sweets and ice creams on the way home. One day, during a very ordinary Sunday morning service, I remember hearing the priest reading the Eucharistic prayer, and for some reason, those words Jesus said when he broke bread and shared wine, suddenly seemed to be speaking to me. At that moment, I was somehow, in my head, in my voice, speaking the words with him, and they felt right, and natural and holy. I didn’t know what it meant, I had no intention or thought of becoming a priest myself, mainly because I wanted to be a forensic scientist or a police woman,
and in addition at that time, women, yet alone girls, were unable to be ordained. So I conveniently forgot all that had happened, and buried it away somewhere deep where it wouldn’t disturb me again.
Years later, after my studies, I began working in Manchester as a scientist. But I didn’t forget God! I was part of a local congregation, I still sang in the choir, I helped at church fetes, I was on the PCC and even went to Deanery Synod! Sad but true!
I also went along rather reluctantly, to what was called a vocations group, in the parish. It was simply a space where anyone could go to explore what God might be calling them to do in their life of discipleship. That little nagging feeling was bugging me again! It was an amazing group and an intensely humbling experience. Here among such people of faith, I could no longer ignore God’s call. There were people exploring how they could better serve the community perhaps as a churchwarden, or musician, or bereavement counselor, -there was a woman thinking about how God was acting in her life,
as she and her husband tried to begin a family together, -there was someone who felt their job needed to change,
and ended up working in some of the most deprived parts of the city, to ensure that local children would get a good start in life, -there were people exploring how they could live out their Christian life more fully in their employment situation as a nurse, teacher or social worker… how they were caring for relatives, and what it meant to them, -there was woman exploring where God could be found in the midst of her own terminal illness. I felt God was calling me to be a priest, and despite my reluctance to even acknowledge it myself, God seemed to know me, better than I did.
Because everyone around me was trusting where God was leading them and being so courageous and brave, I had to be too.
I had to listen to Christ’s voice and follow where it was leading me. I must confess my first reaction was to ignore it,
to run away, to hide. I pretended that it hadn’t really happened. I mean, I couldn’t possibly be a priest because I was scientist,
I was doing well, had a good job, I was too young, didn’t know enough, wasn’t holy enough. Of course, all those things were true, and probably still are. Coming up with excuses is a very human response to God’s call. A brief glance through the Scriptures tells us that much: Jeremiah was too young, Moses was too scared, Isaiah was a man of unclean lips, and Jonah just didn’t feel like it. And yet they discovered, as I did, and as I’m sure many of you have, that God is nothing if not persistent.
Someone once told me that God’s call is like an itch that won’t go away. There comes a point when you just have to scratch! If God truly is calling us, we will have no peace until we turn and follow him.
So in the end, I kept on knocking at the doors to ordination, and those doors kept on opening before me. After a great deal of arguing with God, I eventually handed in my resignation at work and began training at theological college in Cambridge,
and now I face the next stage of the adventure and have stopped trying to tell God what to do. Which I have to say, is not an easy option, but a necessary one!
I still get it all wrong, and make mistakes, but I know I just have to keep on following where God is leading me. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” Hearing, being known, following. These are things which mark out a Christian vocation. Yet we ought to be just a little careful here. All too often the word “vocation” gets treated as another word for “ordination”, for being a priest. The line of thinking goes something like this: “I know I’m not called to be a priest. Therefore I don’t have a vocation.” Well none of us get off the hook that easily! As Christians, we, all of us here today, have a vocation.
As Christians we are all called to live out our lives in response to Christ’s life, his death and his resurrection. As Christians we all have a calling to belong to the priesthood of all believers. For each of us, this calling involves constantly trying to become a person, who reflects something of the life of Christ. Our primary calling is to represent Christ in the world, and to see and hear Christ in the lives of other people. Being a priest, or a vicar or a curate or any other kind of minister, is one way of doing this. BUt It is not the only way.
There are many ways to serve God, many ways of responding to his love for us in Christ. Discerning God’s will in our lives, is an important, and a holy task for each and every one of us. And yet there is still more to do…because this does not only apply to us as individuals, but also to the communities of which we are a part. We must see Vocations Sunday, as a reminder,
that the Church itself has a vocation, and is called to hear God’s voice and follow where it leads. This afterall what the Church’s mission to the world really is.
This morning, I want to encourage you all to spend some time thinking about your own vocation, about God’s will in your life. Talk to each other about where God is in your life and in the life of this community, listen to each others stories about how the Holy Spirit is working in and through you. Be attentive in worship and listen out for God speaking to you through the scriptures, through the eucharist, through music and through community. Spend some time reading the Bible together and listen to God’s word might God be speaking to you through what you read? Listen to your community outside these walls– might God be speaking to you through them? Might God be speaking to you through your work, your family or your friends?
Listen to God through prayer. Ask God to reveal his will to you. Ask to hear his voice, and then ask to be given the grace and the strength to follow him.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” Lest we think that vocation is a nice, comfortable thing, where a wise old shepherd gathers up his fluffy sheep and all is happy and contented, let me end by saying this.
Following God’s will for us isn’t always an easy path and I think we all probably understand that. Every time we pray the Lord‘s Prayer, we say to God, “Your will be done”. It’s worth remembering that when Jesus prayed these words in the Garden of Gethsemane, he ended up on the Cross. Vocation, God’s call in our lives, does not promise to be easy or comfortable,
or even free from pain. But it does promise to be the means by which we find our fulfillment, as bearers of Christ’s light and love in this world and where we live out a resurrection faith.
Our vocation and our mission, whatever it might be, springs from that place where we realise we are fully known and unconditionally loved by God. Our vocation and our mission springs from the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and
brings us all to a new life, Our vocation and our mission springs from God’s call and our desire to follow him. I am constantly asking myself how I can respond to that call. How will you respond?
Now I am wearied of the day; all my ardent desires shall gladly succumb to the starry night like a sleepy child.
Hands, stop all your work; brow, forget all your thoughts; all my being now yearns to sink into sleep.
And the unchained spirit wishes to fly up freely into night's magic sphere and to remain there forever.
We have willingly and joyfully walked hand in hand; now let us rest from our wanderings through the silent land.
Those words come from Strauss’s ‘Four Last Songs’, music and words which were very dear to Reg, and in some ways they are so poignant. Yet those of who have had the privilege of knowing Reg know that today he is not headed for ‘night’s magic sky’ but a place with God in heaven.
Faced with the prospect of his own death, Jesus reassures his disciples - do not let you hearts be troubled, believe in God & believe in me. The faith of the Beacon family is strong, Reg’s own faith was quiet but sure, but faith does not take away the sadness and sting of death. What faith in God at times like this does, is remind us that death is not the end.
Christian faith assures us of a renewed relationship with God and an understanding of what life is truly about - through the ministry and teaching of Jesus. This relationship extends into eternity through faith. But faith is not some sort of insurance policy, but a relationship of love, just the way that God intended.
God’s love extends to all, not just to those of us who call ourselves Christians. St Paul reminds us that nothing we encounter in life can separate us from God’s love, not even death itself. God’s heart of love, his house with many rooms, is large enough to welcome us all. It is Jesus who extends that welcome to us and prepares a place there for us through his death and resurrection if each of us place our faith in him.
Reg placed his faith in him. He knew that faith in Christ was the way to a relationship with God that would last; he knew that Christ’s teaching was true; he knew that the life that Christ offered him was not just available to him beyond the grave, but day by day. It is this faith that has equipped and shaped the Reg over the years whether as an army officer, work colleague, Church Warden, Parish Trust secretary, or fete organiser, father, grandfather or friend.
Strauss continues: ‘...Now you appear in all your finery, shining brilliantly like a miracle before me. You recognize me once more, you tenderly embrace me; all my limbs tremble at your glorious presence! ‘ Reg knew the presence of God with him especially at the end. I had the privilege of ministering to him on the Monday before he died and we prayed, talked, and shared Communion together. He was physically a shadow of his former self, but as I prepared to go, a peace came over his tired face and he looked at me clearly in the eye, and I knew that he was ready to be tenderly embraced by the God he loved.
Jesus’ words therefore are for us today - be sad, but do not be troubled or afraid - for whilst we will miss him terribly - by faith Reg today appears before God’s glorious presence in all his finery, shining brilliantly like a miracle. Amen.
‘..True love begins by demanding what is just in the relations of those who love....
Let us not tire of preaching love, it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out, it is the only thing that can...’
Those words are Oscar Romero’s, more words of his feature on one of this year’s Christian Aid week posters. He was born in a small village in El Salvador in 1917. Ordained priest, he was known as a quiet and unassuming pastor. By 1977, amidst the political and social turmoil suffered by his country, he was therefore seen as a neutral choice to be its Archbishop. Courageously, however, he began to speak out against violence and his homilies supported the demands of the poor for economic and social justice. He refused to be silenced and continued to preach even under threat of assassination. On 24th March 1980, whilst presiding at Mass, Archbishop Romero was assassinated by a gunman.
Friends, Archbishop Romero is right, that our love, driven by our faith in God must affect the whole of our lives and shape the way we live - a faith that is a hallmark and that is visible in how we live amongst others and how we react to them.
So it seems strange in a way for us to be transported back to the upper room and the last supper in this morning’s Gospel reading. Yet these words of Jesus’, first spoken to frightened disciples just before his death, are underlining this idea of a faith that defines our life in community after the resurrection and ascension, after Jesus has gone away.
The gospel begins at supper, a gathered group of friends - chatter, noise, banter. Jesus knows that his time is near. Such is his love for this raggle taggle band that he removes his clothes, picks up a bowl and towel and washes their feet. Walking in open sandals on dusty or muddy roads made everyone’s feet dirty. A good host would always provide water to wash his guests’ feet, and sometimes even have a servant on hand to do it. However, so menial a task was never carried out by male servants - always by women, children or non-Jews. But as so often the case with Jesus, the normal order of things is reversed, Jesus does for us what no-one else is prepared to do for each other. Like someone nursing a dying spouse for whom the most basic tasks are an act of love, so in the same way Jesus kneels at his disciples feet.
Having begun with this visual aid, Jesus then outlines this hallmark of Christian life further and more plainly, his disciples are to follow his example of love and care. However as he looks round at his friends he sees Peter who will deny him and Judas who will betray him, so he warns them of this coming betrayal - Judas leaves and goes out into the night of loneliness and disappointment.
Now Judas has gone out and it is night, but paradoxically the hour of darkness is also the hour of greatest blinding glory. It is hard to comprehend how death and suffering on the cross can bring glory to God and salvation to the world. Jesus knows that his coming death and departure will be a great shock for his disciples but he stresses right at the start that he on his way to glory.
Knowing that he is going away, Jesus is intent on leaving his disciples with a new way of living without him physically present - so implores them to love as he has loved them. Sounds easy. I wonder if the disciples thought so too, but I am sure that the penny dropped as they cast their minds back to earlier in the evening. Jesus demonstrated his love for them by washing their feet - they should love like that... PAUSE. Jesus means the sort of love that selfishness usually prevents, not the sort that responds to a demand, but the sort that responds to Jesus’ “as I have loved you” and “God so loved the world that he gave his only son”, and he loved the disciples to the extreme of washing their feet and dying for them.
St. Jerome tells a story of John the Gospel and Epistle writer, in old age reduced to simply repeating ‘my little children, love one another.’ Yet this is the heart of the Gospel - so simple yet so difficult to live out. This is the hallmark, the defining faith visible in our lives that Jesus calls us to strive for and I pray we will continue to rediscover. Such extreme love is the hallmark of Christian life, the way by which others will know that in Jesus’ words “you are my disciples.” In the centuries of poverty and persecution which followed Jesus resurrection, this was the one characteristic that people could not ignore as those first Christians opened up their homes to the poor and needy ‘see how these Christians love one another’ wrote the roman historian Tertullian.
My friends, this morning God reminds us that his love for each of us is compassionate, intense, and unconditional. God’s love is boundless. This love of God boldly declares that all people —every person—is God’s favorite. This love makes no distinction among people. It does not judge. It does not make comparisons between one person and another.
Henry Nouwen writes, ‘I am convinced that many of my emotional problems would melt as snow in the sun, if I could let the truth of God’s motherly non-comparing love permeate my heart...’
This morning in Leverstock Green, God turns his face toward each of us. The NOs of shame; of guilt; of lack of self worth; of depression, are now swallowed up in the person of Christ. These NOs are rejected. And we all become God’s YES. We are accepted, shame-free and guilt-free. And we are now included with all our foibles and frailties.
This loving God sees each of us as his favorite; that He is not comparing us with someone else—God loves each of us and wants to have a relationship with us.
We are not in the darkness of the night like those first frightened disciples, but we are living in the light of Easter and of the risen Christ. Together with him, let us love. Amen.