Sunday 28th June 2020
Trinity 3 – St Peter’s and St Paul’s Day
Matthew 16: 13-19
VOCATION – The Journey – “Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus words “Who do people say that I am?” could not have been more direct. In my school days I can remember a friend saying to me ‘Would you ever become a Priest?’ that was a direct question as well. My reply to that was, words to the effect ‘I do not have enough faith.’
The answer to Jesu’s question is one that we can all answer from our own experience. My answer is now that, through grace I can now say and mean, he is the Messiah and the Son of the Living God. My vocation grew by grace over time, dragged into a new relationship with my creator and sustainer in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. The last time I had Lock down hair – not since the days of 1979 when this photo was taken….
Over time I have met so many people who have a genuine vocation for what they do, and that is through so many different walks of life. In my latter life - from Nurses to Doctors and Consultants, Lay Visitors, Volunteers and Morticians, Funeral Directors, Spiritual Directors, Bereavement Counsellors, Psychiatrists , Social Workers, Carers, Psychologists, and the impressive list of people goes on.
The three strand definition of vocation is =
* A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.
* A calling, life’s work, mission, purpose, function, position, niche.
* A divine call to God’s service in the Christian life –function or station in life to which one is called by God.
Not since the days of 1979 have I had ‘Lock Down hair’.
My ordination to the priesthood was publicly witnessed 40 years ago today by the day and tomorrow by the date. That was at St Mary’s Parish Church in the North Wiltshire town of Calne. I was ordained a priest in the Church of God, at 10.45am by John Neale, Bishop of Ramsbury. I was ordained Deacon a year before in Salisbury Cathedral by George Reindorp the Bishop of Salisbury and prepared at a retreat with Geofrrey Tristram by Frances Dominica, the founder of Helen House at Oxford. Geoffrey Tristram is now Superior of the Order of St. John in Cambridge, Masachusetts, USA.
This morning, in this time of reflection I want us to think about our journey of vocation whatever our calling is. It goes on and on and it evolves over time. The journey entails people who we meet and mine included a revelation because people saw in me something that I could not see myself. I turned up at the Bishop’s House in Southwell (Notts) as a result of an appointment made to discuss my vocation. The Bishop’s daughter answered the front door and asked me whether I had come to collect the Jukebox. That was not a good start. I didn’t see what others saw in me for a long time and it was a car crash…and a time of rehabilitation that gave me time to reflect upon what others saw in me and hence my visit to the Bishop’s House.
In my sermon on St Peter’s Day, before my first celebration of the Eucharist 40 years ago in Calne I related this story. The midwife who delivered me in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire at home was the daughter of a previous curate of St Mary’s, Calne, H.Thompson Adam. She was baptized at St Mary’s Calne as was our first born Thomas. The only reason I knew this was that Sr Adam had seen an announcement of my ordination in the Southwell Diocesan News in June 1979 and told my mother - thinking she would like to know the connection. The irony is that the midwife who should have delivered me at home was Nurse Jane Thorneywell who was unwell at that time of my birth. She had delivered my brother and sister before me. I used to visit ‘Thorney’ in her retirement as a friend of the family. She comes to mind again today for she epitomizes the help and support that Jane and I have had from our families and friends over time.
* Thorney didn’t enjoy good health for the last twenty years of her life. She was my first unofficial ‘spiritual director’. From her chair or her bed she would listen well to me in my teenage years. She had a childlike quality, always wanted to know the truth, gently asking questions with her chesty chuckle. She never dwelt on the past. She always looked to the future, always kept in touch with world events through the radio and TV and her optimism in life was founded on a faith that kept opening the doors of new experiences – growing experiences despite her bed of sickness. One day in my teenage angst her immortal words to me were ‘Edward, you have got your knickers in a twist.’ She knew pain and she knew the reality of new life with many Mums and Dads in home confinements – home births. She expected nothing from anybody but was eternally grateful for anything she did receive. A good spiritual director can spot when we have ‘our knickers in a twist…’
One of the ordination cards I received at that time was the picture of Holman Hunts’s picture of Christ ‘The Light of the World’, standing by a creeper covered door without a door handle. It requires clearing all that negatively clings to us. Then a gentle effort to push at the door of vocation and the Kingdom of God asking God our Creator to reveal what he has in store for us?
For me the question that Jesus himself asked of his disciples and asks of us now at this moment when we look for meaning and purpose for the future is, ‘Who do you say I am?’ – not just the Son of Man but the Son of the living God and the Messiah.
From that declaration is formed the foundations of the Church and all our vocations. Who we believe Christ to be?
When we have pushed at that open door then we are equipped through the Holy Spirit to reveal the Kingdom of God.
30 of my forty years of priesthood has been in health care as a Chaplain. Vocation – ordained to the Priesthood, or another manifestation, is about discovering our purpose under God in Christ. I can see now that Jane and I were prepared for pastoral ministry through the Police service through to a lively curacy in Calne and being a Team vicar for 7 years on a new housing estate in Poole building a new church from our vicarage and developing that into an ecumenical project – a church built in people and bricks and service to the community.
So, the first purpose was pastoral working with families and schools and organizations and the homeless, an ex prisoners hostel and local businesses.
The second purpose that was revealed to us was the vital relationship between religion and medicine. How does the whole care of people make a difference whole care in individuals, communities, nations and the wider world? Health Care Chaplaincy including Hospice Care. Sharing peoples’ pain and joy and everything between in difficult times of extreme circumstances.
It is still an open road and along it our working with people of all faiths and none and our relationships. The one thing that has united us in the Chaplaincy and Community world has been helping people to be open to God’s possibilities through the expertise of the medical profession and general pastoral care and spiritual support. Together this makes an enormous difference to so many. Caring for people as unique individuals whatever their background with respect, with big ears that hear, and seeing the Christ in every person is key. (Richard Rohr – The Universal Christ).
Vocation – we all have something revealed to us that can contribute to the extension of the Kingdom of God in care. This last week I was in touch with Geoffrey Tristram my fellow ordinand all those years ago and he has a podcast that I had found on their Community of St John website about Vocation and Listening. Prayer and action always…
Prayer – listening to God, to others and the grace of God touching us in body mind and spirit.
Thorney was just one person who listened and at this traditional time of ordination …we remember those who have given us the quality and the everyday spiritual gift of listening. Thomas on his baptism day in St Mary’s Church, Calne and much more…great memories…photos show us so much.
Answering the question – who is Christ? The Son of the Living God! He is a creator not just of the past but always of the future. Today we offer that future to him.
Vocation is about grace, not having enough faith. Thanks be to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit who gives us that reality to reveal the Kingdom of God daily.
Canon Edward Pogmore