Sermon Preached by Mark Simons

Sunday 18 June, 10:00 a.m., Trinity 1

Exodus 19:2-8a
Matthew 9:35-10:8 (With reference to optional verses 10:9-23)

In the name of God who is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.

Gandalf tells Frodo the Hobbit, “We cannot choose the time we live in. We can only choose what we do with the time we are given”. In the first of Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Frodo feels called to destroy the ring before its evil destroys Middle Earth. He knows it wouldn’t be an easy journey, that it would not only be dangerous but requires sacrifice of time and potentially his life. As he prepares to embark on this journey he is joined by others from different cultures to become the Fellowship of the Ring, each bringing their own skills to enable Frodo to carry out what he needs to do.

In our passage from the Gospel today, we hear of a different fellowship, Jesus’s disciples, who are being sent out by Jesus’s authority to do the work that he was doing at the start of the passage: to teach, proclaim, cure and minister to the lost sheep of Israel.

In the passage from Exodus, we hear of the promise and calling for the Israelites in being God’s treasured people or a priestly kingdom and holy nation, by obeying him and keeping his covenant.

If we were to draw something from these passages, it is the sense of vocation in people as individuals but within a community, first we need some guidance then we are sent out to carry God’s mission. So what is vocation? Vocation for us as Christians is a strong calling from God to serve.

I would like to share briefly my journey of vocation so far; being in the choir helped shape a new aspect in my life: faith. Over time I felt something stirring within me by serving the church in different ways but then roughly two years ago now, whilst on the growing leaders course and the churches currently in the interregnum, Revd Hazel asked if anyone wanted to try and lead Evensong.

I volunteered, and about a day or so later after taking the service, having a conversation about how it went, Hazel asked, ‘have you ever considered being a reader?’ The look on my face of surprise and shock was apparently a picture. I then thought about it over the summer. I prayed, spoke to others and here I am now nearing the completion of my training.

Vocation may seem a scary word and it is particularly important to remember that it is not only to ordained ministry as clergy, but it could also be as a lay reader, pastoral assistant or even to serve the church as churchwardens, in our choirs, in our children’s ministry, hospitality and countless many ways no matter how small the task.

It is also important to recognise whilst we all in our baptism have a calling within the church community and family, God also calls us in our daily lives at home and work, whether it is a certain occupation, serving the community or caring for a family member.

Just like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, each of us can’t go about it alone; we need the community around us, bringing our own gifts, stories and talents. Just as Jesus couldn’t do all the work by himself in our gospel, the disciples are sent out to learn from their skills firstly to the lost sheep of Israel and then when Jesus eventually leaves his earthly life for them to ‘go therefore and make disciples of all nations, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ – calling them and us in serving all people.

This still applies to us today, that we are each called by God individually but communally to make his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. As a Benefice and specifically St Mary’s, we are exploring about how we as a church community can serve God in this area of Moseley and to the people around us.

The disciples were sent out to minister to others. If we were to read beyond the passage that we heard today, Jesus warns them that it comes at a cost of persecutions, ‘being in the midst of wolves’ and betrayal. For us as Christians, we are challenged to be Christ-like amidst a society of many faiths or none, so for us to have a vocation is challenging.

Personally, for me, I often think, is this really where God wants me to be? Thinking and reflecting on my own story with its struggles and scars, and that there are others who would be better at this than me, bringing more life experience or knowledge.

But I do believe God has started me on a journey that will come with surprises, stumbling blocks and a path which I may yet discover. God calls each of us as we are, to offer what we can bring to serve him even with doubts, uncertainty or lack of confidence.

We are not alone with people in the bible such as Thomas who doubted, Peter who denied or Moses that we hear about in Exodus, where in earlier chapters he says to God, please send someone else to speak to the Pharaoh! God is with us and works in each of us from being ordinary to extraordinary, as part of the body of the church.

So have you ever thought about your own vocation? I would like to leave some thoughts for you to reflect on.

Vocation is a journey that we take and God invites us to explore, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I here for?’ Again, I stress that some may feel a calling to serve God in their home or at work, and that is ok. But if you have ever thought or felt something more, that you feel you want to serve the church, it encompasses a wide range of ministries, not just ordained ministry. You may have read in the pewsheet about a vocations group that meets. If you want to explore any feelings of vocation, I am sure any of our clergy will be happy to have that conversation with you.

Secondly, encourage one another in recognising gifts that could be used in the many layers of ministries in this Benefice and the wider church. There is something waiting for you!

Finally, pray! Pray to hear God in what is planned for you, how he is guiding you and opening your minds and hearts to becoming extraordinary.

It is important to remember that we don’t go about it alone. Throughout the Bible, God and Jesus calls people to him, and as a church community consists of many members with different gifts, we are all part of one body to continue going out into the world and the lost sheep around us.

I would like to end with a quote that Hazel shared on Ascension Day by a Christian writer talking about our role in the Christian story:

“We need Jesus to be off-stage so that we can come onto it ourselves.  We are not the extras in his story, but we are invited to be players ourselves.  The Christian story is not a one-man show, but a great mystery play with a cast of thousands who all have a role with real meaning and significance.”