Consider your Call

A Sermon by The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

Today two people join us as ministers of the Gospel of Christ. The Rev’d Peter Jin has come all the way from the parish of Holy Trinity in Gisborne, New Zealand. But Peter’s journey to Adelaide and St Peter’s Cathedral actually began years ago when, in the mighty metropolis of Shanghai, God called him into the Church. Peter, as you begin to get to know us, and we you, we pray that you and Wei and your darling daughter, will quickly find a home – both in the Cathedral and this city of churches. Anthony Hunt appears this morning for the first time in a service as our new Director of Music. In moving back from Sydney, thus reversing the common exodus to the east, Ant’s call into the ministry of worship through music was formed right here in St Peter’s Cathedral. A worthy successor to Leonie Hempton, we pray that Ant, Jess and their family will be happily embraced by their Cathedral family as well as their own extended family and friends here in Adelaide.

It is also a joy to  know that, on this Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, for many years the date of choice for ordinations in this diocese, a number of people are worshipping in the Cathedral today who were ordained deacon or priest forty years ago. Congratulations to you all. We thank you, and thank God, for your ministry as ordained people among us.

And then there are St Paul’s words to the Church in Corinth – that difficult, fractious collection of people I spoke about last week which made up the congregation in Corinth – so dear to the heart of St Paul, and which caused him so much grief and heartache. “Consider your own call.” It’s a phrase that immediately reminded me of words that are spoken by the bishop at confirmation when, just before the final blessing, those who have been confirmed, along with those who are in the church at the time, are addressed. Among other things the bishop says, “We are ALL called to share with others … the love of Christ and his gospel of reconciliation and hope. We are called to love our neighbours as ourselves, to honour all people and to pray and work for peace and justice.” (APBA pg 93)

These are powerful words of exhortation and encouragement – not just to those who have been baptised and confirmed – but to each and every single Christian person present. It is this idea of calling to ministry that lies at the heart of the study and reflection programme some embarked on last Thursday night – EFM – or Education for Ministry. Not that all will don a dog collar (though some might) but that, through baptism and confirmation, all are called to ministry of some sort or another. And while participating in a baptism or confirmation service reminds us of this call, in fact we renew this call and commitment to ministry every time we come forward to receive Holy Communion. Some churches have what is called an altar call when those who have ‘given their lives to the Lord’ are invited to come forward publicly and make that declaration – as Anglicans we tend to be a little less dramatic. But the call and invitation to response is there nonetheless.

Consider your own call, says St Paul.

How will we go about doing that? We could do a lot worse than making a start with today’s readings. We’ve already touched on 1 Corinthians. I spoke last week at some length about the background to this church and the idea of the Cross of Jesus being utter foolishness to the Gentiles and a real stumbling block to the Jews. Paul is adamant that the cross of Jesus, which is behind the call of all of us, is both the power and wisdom of God. It is something quite different, disturbingly so, from the normal sort of call, or wisdom or power structures of the world. Jesus was a failure by almost every single measure of success we know in our day, and in days gone by. Yet St Paul claims this cross – this foolishness and stumbling block – is the power and wisdom of God!

Consider your own call.

The prophet Micah invites us to do that when he challenges the people of his day who had misread the call of God so badly. No, bewails Micah, God does not require you to offer burnt-offerings, calves without blemish, thousands of rams – or even, heaven forbid, the sacrifice of one of your children. Other people may demand and expect that sort of thing – but that is not what God requires. So what does the Lord require? Put simply – three things. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) I don’t know what today’s equivalent of burnt-offerings and sacrificial rams might be but the actual requirements of God listed by Micah seem to speak as loudly and clearly now as back in the 8th century before Christ. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. These are concepts and precepts that any new curate, director of music, faithful parish priest, member of cathedral congregation will find challenging, requiring much prayer and the mutual encouragement of fellow Christians.

Nor does the psalmist let us off the hook. This short psalm, Psalm 15 – an attempt to give an answer as to who may ‘abide in your tabernacle’, who is acceptable to God – offers very practical and straight forward advice. Live an uncorrupt life, do what is right, speak the truth, do not slander, do not vent abuse against others (there’s a challenge when confronted with bad driving). No swearing, no going back on an oath or promise; don’t take bribes. These seemingly simple things are the qualifications called for in order to ‘abide in God’s tabernacle.’ These are the sorts of thing to bear in mind when considering your own call. Perhaps it’ because we find so many of them so difficult that we need to come, each week, before God in confession. “We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, and in what we have failed to do.” (APBA pg 120)

Consider your own call.

One of the most loved passages in the Bible is the Beatitudes – the words of today’s Gospel reading. I’ve never been sure why they are so popular because they are extremely challenging cutting to the quick of what Jesus was on about. In some ways the Beatitudes could be seen as Jesus’s version of Paul’s words about the cross being foolishness and a stumbling block. To be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers, to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake – these are difficult concepts to get our heads around, and even more difficult to live out in the practice of our daily lives. And yet, it is people who live by these precepts that Jesus calls Blessed!

Whether you are a new curate or director of music; celebrating forty years of ordination, or someone who has been worshipping God all their life; just at the start of your journey with Christ, or someone who, like the prodigal son, has recently returned to their heavenly Father – the call to follow Jesus and to strive to live out in daily life all these things is both a challenge and a joy.

“We are ALL called to share with others … the love of Christ and his gospel of reconciliation and hope. We are called to love our neighbours as ourselves, to honour all people and to pray and work for peace and justice.” Those words of exhortation by the bishop to the newly baptised and confirmed are a timely reminder to each of us as we consider our own call. The opening words of the blessing the bishop gives following a Confirmation service seem a worthy finish to this sermon – words which we can take with us as we leave today and live as those who follow the foolish way of the Cross.

“Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; give honour to all; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (APBA pg 93)