Saturday, January 14, 2012

Called to service

John 1.43-end

A few years ago, someone bought me a copy of  Grumpy Old Christmas, which suited me down to the ground.    One evening, Clare was sitting alone in one room of our house, when Emily and I heard what we thought was crying coming from Clare's room.  We were both rather worried, so we looked around the door, and there was Clare, sitting on her bed, with tears of laughter rolling down her cheeks.  She waved my copy of 'Grumpy Old Christmas' in the air, and said "It's you!  It's you!"

Let me read you a paragraph from the book, by Stuart Prebble, just to see if you agree with Clare. In fact, I won't even read from the's some of the blurb about the book from the dust-cover:

So...'tis the season to be jolly is it?  Well, not in the household of the Grumpy Old Man it isn't.  In the case of the Grumpy Old Man, 'tis the season to have to put up with even deeper layers of vexation than usual!  Everything about Christmas gets up our snitches.  Everything.  From the breakfast telly presenters who tell us it's now just 120 shopping days to go, to the annual festive strike by airport baggage handlers.  From parents videoing their precocious brats at the atrocious school nativity play where your kid is playing the part of the donkey's rear end, to the woman next door who drops in to show your wife the gigantic diamond ring her idiot of a husband has bought her.  From the 150th opportunity to see 'the Wizard of Oz' on the Tele, to the Xmas turkey which tastes like blotting paper soaked in a puddle.  And how on earth are we really supposed to look happy when someone buys us a Tie with a picture of flipping Santa on it?!  Eh?

Now if I'm honest, I suppose I have to admit it.  I know it will surprise all of you, immensely, but yes, I am a bit of a Grumpy.  There's something about life which brings out the cynic in me.  So I know exactly where Nathaniel was coming from, in today's reading, when he responded to Philip's news about the Messiah having been discovered in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.  "Huh", said Nathaniel.  "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?".  Nazareth was just a humble little back-water...nowhere important, nowhere posh.  It was full of hard working people, many of whom - probably like Joseph the Carpenter - were working to build the near-by Roman city of Sephoris.  The residents of Nazareth were employed in Sephoris in much the same way as the residents of Portsmouth were historically employed in the dock-yard.

I guess that some of us would have pretty much the same reaction if we were told that the Saviour of the World had been discovered in North End.  "North End?!" we might exclaim.  "Can anything good come out of North End".

When Jesus met Nathaniel, he recognised a true and upright man...despite his cynicism about Nazareth.  Nathaniel was clearly someone who was open to new possibilities, however, cynical he appeared.  He was willing to go with Phillip to meet this Jesus of Nazareth...and Jesus saw something in him.  As he approached, Jesus said of him "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit".  Jesus saw great potential in Nathaniel.  Rising into massive poetry, Jesus said that Nathaniel "will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man".  Jesus uses an Old Testament image - the image of 'Jacob's Ladder' to say that Nathaniel will be part of God's great plan to touch earth with the power of heaven.  The picture of ‘angels ascending and descending’ is meant to help us see that God is active and alive in God’s world.

We are those who, by the grace of God, have glimpsed the possibility that there is more to life than the simple hum-drum.  We are those who chose to say 'no' to the encroaching darkness of so much human life.  We are those who declare that we believe God has other plans. There are angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.   That's why we are here, isn't it?  Week by week, day by day, we pray the words that Jesus taught us "thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven", and in doing so we declare our belief that God is reaching out to touch this dying earth with his living love.  We are those who have learned to see the world with God's eyes...not just a place of terror, war, famine and plague...but a place full of possibility for life, health, peace and justice.  We are those who long for the kingdom to be established on earth as it is in heaven.

We are the people who have an answer to the big question...why am I here? Why are we here?  To be the people through whom God brings about the transformation of the world.  It has sometimes been said that Jesus rose into heaven for one reason:  so that no-one could doubt that he calls us to do God's work on earth. Jesus has no other hands than your hands, no other feet than your feet.  If words of comfort to the sick and dying are to be spoken, then they are spoken through you.  If words of hope to the lost and the lonely are to be said, than it is through your lips that God wants to say them. That's why we talk about being the 'Body of Christ' - we, you and I, are God's hands, feet and loving hands to a dying world.

Jesus called Nathaniel to a new way of living - a way of living which turned away from cynical disengagement with the world - "Can anything good come out of Nazareth" - to a new way of living with his eyes wide open to the activity of God.  Jesus calls you, and me, to that same vision.

You see, in answer to the question ‘can anything good come out of North End, let me tell you…it jolly well does!  Everyday I see good happening in North End.  Every day I see people like you, deciding to rise above the dull monotony of so much human existence, and refusing to give in to cynicism.  I see people like you giving money to help those who are in need.  I see people like you deciding not to give in to the urge to lay in bed on Sundays, but choosing instead to come and be part of the community which meets under this roof.  I see people like you giving their time to serving in the community cafe, or to visiting the sick, or spending time with the lonely, or singing in the choir (bringing beauty into this otherwise empty space) or cleaning and maintaining this building for the benefit of everyone who uses it.

But perhaps you are already working full-time, and perhaps trying to bring up a family too.  That doesn't mean that you don't have a calling from God.  Bringing up a family is a calling from God.  Working as a productive member of society is a calling from God.  Perhaps you are being called to be the one person in your workplace who holds on to the vision that God wants to touch earth with heaven.  Perhaps you are the one teacher – or child - in the school, or the one worker in the factory, to whom everyone else turns when times are tough, because you offer them loving understanding.  Perhaps all you are able to do is give some of the money you earn so that others have the resources to help the homeless, the beaten, the downtrodden by life.

Last year, our Bishop launched what he calls our 'Ministry for Mission' strategy.  It’s summarised in the cards in your pews today.  Here are three simple propositions from our Bishop:

"FACT:  All baptised Christians have gifts and we all have a calling.  All ministry is collaborative, for lay and ordained."  That's another way of saying that any church which thinks that its Vicar is the only worker is a church on the way to closing!  All of us are called to co-operate with God in bringing heaven to earth.

Second, "THINK:  What are your gifts?  What does God want you to do with them?

Third:  "ACT:  Collaborative ministry starts with you and me.  How will you take part in God's mission?

This is your invitation - the same invitation which Jesus gave to invitation to use God's gifts together to see His kingdom grow!  Yes…even in North End!  Amen.

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