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Friday, 3 July 2015

God calling


SERMON PREACHED AT
THE WAIAPU CATHEDRAL OF St JOHN THE EVANGELIST  
NAPIER, NEW ZEALAND
ORDINARY SUNDAY 14
(5th July) 2015


Readings:        
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13
           
 
 
We speak too often in church circles of vocation, or calling, as if there were blinding flashes, Pauline conversions, or voices in the night. For those who suspect the Dean climbed out of a loony-bin window it would come as no shock to know that I experienced no such cataclysmic awakening. Certainly my coming to faith was something of a struggle, albeit an ineffectual one, against the God I didn’t believe in, but from there the journey to the bishop’s door and ultimately to a very different bishop’s altar rail was a reasonably unspectacular one. There were stumbles and nudges along the way, but no epiphany, no voice in the night, no blinding signs on the road to Damascus. Just once, when I was picked up hitch-hiking south from Tauranga, there was an unexpected conversation with a half drunk lapsed catholic, driving home from the races more or less on the correct side of the road, chattering at length about his dream that one of his many sons would become a priest, and encouraging this stranger to think about it.
That aside, I suggest the calling of God dwells far deeper back in the divine construction of our whakapapa [back-story] and our DNA (the two not unrelated). What were the forces that coalesced to make a chaotic Arts student ready to hear that drunken angel’s message that May afternoon in 1979? For me there were various confluences of experiences and gifts, later tested through various trials of application, discernment, evaluation and training. Along the way there were mistakes and discoveries, joys and tears, and still I stagger on and will for a good few years yet. But this is not about me, not even about priesthood, not even about leadership, but about the gifts the Creator God sows into our psyches and our souls, into our stories and opportunities, our blind alleys and our sweeping open highways.
For “vocation” is not about wearing a collar backwards, but about growing into the person we are called to be. The gifts that wriggle their way through the helixes of our DNA are the gifts God has conjured up for us, and we are called to utilise them in ways that breathe light into the life of others, ways that midwife the coming Reign of God, ways that touch and transform the lives of those whose paths we cross. Paul, long before he wrote the bizarre passage that opened the epistle reading today, was adamant (as every good Jew was) that there must never, could never be room for boasting in the human journey. To boast, to the Jew, was to deny the source of our abilities and opportunities, to take to oneself the kudos that belongs to God. While some psychologists might suggest that ascribing the sourcing of talent to God belittles or downplays the human self, I suggest it is otherwise, that our perspective is maintained in an appropriate focus, and we are placed where we belong, far from the centre of the universe, enmeshed in the goodness and grace of the Creator who calls us into being. 
Having been called into being we are then called to grow into the person God longs for us to be. We are, in biblical terms, made in God’s image, but the variations on that theme are infinite. Personality profiling schemes like Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram give us glimpses of the variations of being human, the variations that Paul called “diverse gifts.” Collectively we bring them together and begin to represent the Body of Christ, despite our limitations. The “I”s and “E”s, “N”s and “S”s, “F”s and “T”s, “P”s and “J”s of a Myers-Brigg profile begin to resemble a community that can exist and proclaim and radiate divine love, and as we share those divine gifts we grow in interaction with one another and with the tasks and contexts God provides.
So, when Paul climbs down from the surreal language of hallucinations and visions he reminds us of something important. We are called into different roles with different gifts, gifts of administration and compassion and vision and application, of empathy and leadership and musicality and numeracy and skills of baking and carpentry and singing and big vision and small detail. We are called, as he wrote earlier to the Corinthians, to use the gifts to build up and not to tear down, to support one another and to be as Christ to one another and to the world into which God places us.
Paul wished often that he had gifts that he did not have. Perhaps he too was an administrative flibbertigibbet, perhaps he felt he lacked oratorical skills, perhaps he was physically or emotionally damaged in some way: it is not our business! The outcome though (as every Alcoholics Anonymous adherent knows) is that he knew he could not rely on his own strength, but was cast back incessantly on the guidance and goodness of God. It’s not a bad place to start, and one I have come to know well in the years since the then Archbishop of Melbourne placed his hands on my head, the ordination that was in turn nearly a decade after a half drunk catholic picked up a hitch-hiker on the way home from the Tauranga race track.
As we, to borrow the Alcoholics Anonymous phrase, “let go and let God” (which does not mean becoming vacuous and passive automatons), we create space for God to dwell and work in (the reverse of the holy process by which God, by withdrawing Godself from the universe, created space for the universe to dwell in). By knowing our own weaknesses as the place in which God can meet us, and our strengths as the gift of God for the service of love, we can grow into and even become the calling, the vocation that God entrusts to us. Individually and corporately as a cathedral people of God we are challenged to set aside, metaphorically at the very least, bread, bag, money, and above all ego, and simply allow the gifts of God to work in us and through us.
 
 
Amen.
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