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Bishop Richard's Weekly Video Message - Transcript 21/1/2021

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s video. I’m not trying to be competition for Gardeners World this week. For those of you like me for whom its essential viewing, the existential void that is winter without it will finish in a few weeks. As its January, you can begin to sow a few seeds for the season ahead. I’d doing onions today. The point is that you don’t do that on the basis of the weather at the moment where very little grows because its too cold. You do it in anticipation of the spring that is surely coming. In the midst of COVID its hard to look forward beyond the anxieties of now. They drain our energy. But as the vaccine rolls out, we trust there will be an end to this. Perhaps not as soon as we’d hoped, but normallish life will one day resume. Hard though it is, it makes sense to begin to think ahead.

For Christians, the key question is what is God calling us to be and to do. I don’t want to talk about that in general, strategic terms but make it personal. What is God calling you and me to do and to be as we look to the future? This is a question of what we call vocation. We need both discernment and courage to step into God’s call on our lives.

Vocation has often been thought of simply in terms of service within the church. We talk easily of a vocation to ministry, lay or ordained, perhaps less easily of other activities within the church, which we might call volunteering. Some people are called to leadership within the church and we have a fairly thorough discernment process to establish as best we can whether that is the case. Ultimately, that is the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but their character and gifting are fundamental. Its not just rubber stamping a subjective judgement. Discernment in that case is corporate. It can be a gruelling process as it involves submitting intimate parts of one’s life to the prayerful judgement of others. But, ordained ministry is not an end in itself. Paul, writing in Ephesians 4 lists a number of gifts, some of which may be for the ordained, others not necessarily so, the goal of which is ‘to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up’. The New Testament, whilst recognising a specific call to ordination, doesn’t set up an unhelpful clergy/ lay caste system. We are all the laity, which is a translation of the Greek Laos, meaning the people of God. Clergy are a subset of that group, not somehow separate from it. If you complain about your vicar, remember that the church only has the laity to choose from. Clergy may have a specific role to equip God’s people for works of service, but that means there is a place for all of us in building the kingdom of God. Our baptism is a form of ordination to service, not a passing out parade or life event.

That service isn’t primarily directed inwardly to the necessary activities that sustain the institutional life of the Church, although we are hugely grateful for the army of people who do that Sunday by Sunday. Corporate worship is a vital element facilitating our growth into Christlikeness. I saw a wonderful sign on the inside of a church once above the door. It said simply, “the gathering is finished, the worship begins.” Paul’s understanding of worship was the ‘offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship’. We gather to ‘worship’ on a Sunday, not because God has self-esteem issues and we need to say nice things about him to make him feel better. We gather to be re-calibrated and equipped for what we do from Monday to Saturday.

In one sense we may have overdone our talk of vocation. I do believe there is a vocation to teach or to the health service, or business, or to any of the multiple career options we have before us today. It’s a wonderful thing when a person’s gifts and passions come together and by God’s grace they make a significant difference in their field of endeavour. But the idea of a career is a rather late western development. For most people today and throughout history, simple survival and menial labour have been their lot. But everything can be part of our calling when seen through the lens of

faith. Most of the New Testament readers were slaves, and yet Paul could still write to the Colossians, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Ultimately, every human activity, done in the Lords name can be sanctified and holy.

So, I return to the question at the beginning. What is God calling you to do and to be as we come out of COVID? To something completely new; to stop being an observer and start being a participant; or see your current work as much more worthy and fruitful than you’d previously thought it could be.

If you’d like to explore these things further do join us for an evening to discuss vocation on zoom on Wednesday, 27th January from 7.00. Further details about how to register and get on are on the website and ebulletin.

And if you’re planting onions this month, may they be fruitful and tasty!

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