May I speak now in the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
Jesus Calls…..we follow. Trust. That was the opening and closing line of my first sermon at Westcott House, nearly six years ago. I had just arrived and, like the bewildering, roller coaster of a journey that my life had been since I properly said ‘yes’ to trust and follow God’s call, I was open for all the experiences that were in store for me – exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Back at Westcott each term, there were a number of slots where you could volunteer to preach at one of the chapel services. When the notice went up during that first term, the first opportunity was the feast of St Andrew. I put my name down – many were astounded; especially when I told them that I had never preached before. Their astonishment soon turned to one of pity….for in those first few weeks, we realised that at Westcott, whatever one did, you were always being assessed, observed and scrutinised. My philosophy was – if it went horribly wrong, at least I would know and could spend two years doing something about it. It didn’t go horribly wrong; but the result is something that you have endured these last three years. My sincere apologies.
As I said, it was a sermon for the feast of St Andrew – one of the first disciples. Having visited the Holy Land back in the 80’s, I loved painting the scene of where Andrew was called from – the shores of Lake Galilee. But I could only imagine what it must have been like to be face-to-face with Jesus, to be called and to feel that that person was one you could trust, implicitly; enough to leave everything, their livelihoods, families,
friends and just follow Jesus’ call. Apart from the fact that it has a great resonance for me at this time, it was today’s gospel that made me focus on trust – but from a complete opposite. Here is a parable which actually confounds the scholarly. Many think it is from a collection of other parables and stories, all focusing on Jesus’ ministry about wealth and its appropriate use; a collection which Luke has gathered together, perhaps somewhat artificially. Read in a certain way, Jesus might be seen actually condoning the dishonesty of the steward. Or is the steward being shrewd (giving away his own share of the proceedings, rather than his masters) and it is that shrewdness that is being commended – it’s difficult to tell. However, nothing indicates that the steward is actually reinstated. Some consider the meaning that all wealth could be called wrong, if we place our trust in it and its materialism, rather than on God – the acquisitive attitude and self-reliance which could separate us from God. The focus perhaps is in the use of such wealth, and a lesson for us all – that it should be there to serve the poor; thus providing some chances and opportunities for the poor, and freedom for the giver from the shackles of serving wealth – there cannot be two masters, wealth and God.
But to put our trust in the eternal God, through his Son Jesus Christ, is not easy – easier to feel the material around us, and what that might buy us for an ‘easy life’. But that is not necessarily a comfort when the going gets really tough, something many have felt or are stilling feeling now. Then the trust in God is perhaps a route we might consider taking. It is one I have experienced myself. Yes, I trusted in following Jesus into training for the church, and sometimes from my words it may sound incredibly easy….sadly, it’s not. Trusting, true discipleship in following Jesus Christ, is not. I know, I have been there – and know there will be times when I will be there again. The darkest time was when I was at Westcott and my dear parents were gravely ill……that’s when I felt the need for it most. But it wasn’t easy, not at all. One of the most difficult times; times many of us have felt – many are feeling….it was the time for me when prayer was truly, astonishingly answered – which is perhaps
why I recommend it so much. When the feeling of isolation, of loneliness, of being in a wasteland was so stark – for me just a few nights of looking after mum, goodness knows how my Dad had the incredible strength for such endurance for months. Painfully thinking and praying over and over about my loneliness, the phone dinged with a text from a dear friend. This is what it said, honestly….”you are not alone, you are never alone.” Amazing, utterly amazing.
Rowan Williams, in his excellent book ‘Tokens of Trust’, written from a series of Holy Week talks at Canterbury back in 2005, paints something similar when he says “God is always at work, but that work is not always visible”. The work at that time for me wasn’t the most obvious, but God was obviously at work; faithfully answering prayer again and again. And he continues to do so, and I continue to try to trust. It is prayer and trust which has brought me to this point – a point which still never ceases to amaze me. I never expected to be a priest, to be called to serve (as indeed we all are) such lovely people in this way. An opportunity which has had some amazing experiences – yes, of course the brilliant big services and events which are not in everyone’s curacy. But the really amazing experiences are the personal ones, where there has been such trust by so many individuals, and a call to help in whatever way I can, clinically, physically, pastorally, spiritually…..those are the instances God has really placed before me, to be in a place where I can help in some small way. Often it is the not so obvious which are the precious moments, to serve those around us, a privilege to be asked, an honour to be present, a true gift from God……and that’s you, I mean……you are for me, the true gift from God over these years.
Rowan Williams again has a lovely turn of phrase in his book – a way with words I can only sit in awe of. “God always has the capacity to do something fresh and different, to bring something new out of a situation” – and that’s a sentiment that I would like to leave with you. It is something I have glimpsed in my time as a priest serving you and other communities; it is something we need to pray to be able to see more of in
our daily lives, and in the future life here at the cathedral – not because it doesn’t happen…..but because we often are not wearing the right lenses with which to see it happen. But it is all to do with trust…..we must continue to trust in the God that is faithful and never lets us down, ever. It is not like the material objects, or the structures that we put in place – like the dishonest steward….it is trust in God, through his Son Jesus Christ in the power of the spirit – one God, always trustworthy. It stems from a God who placed so much belief and love in us, that he sent his son Jesus for us to follow – 2000 years ago, 2000 minutes ago, 2000 milliseconds ago. That foundation of trust can be strengthened again and again by that most simple of opening lines from our first reading today – that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings should be made……for everyone. And it means everyone – there is no hierarchy or status; everyone, equal.
I don’t know what lies ahead. People ask and I often give some vague plan….but we all know what God thinks of our plans. His plans are always the best – but we must trust to elect to follow them. It was why I wanted to be called somewhere for this next journey – called to church life first and then sort out the job and the other, dare I say it, minor details. And those details have somewhat fallen into place, with my job, a move and a place to live; so here I am Lord, send me. I have often found, if we wholeheartedly choose to let God do within our lives, God is always there, ready and willing to help, guide, comfort and direct us in the best ways – we need to trust to make it happen though. So, just like the first apostles who followed Jesus without question, will we follow the will of God through His Son Jesus Christ? For Jesus calls; Jesus always calls – will we follow? Trust.