Sermon for Vocations Sunday

Sermon preached by Revd Karen Charman for Vocations Sunday, 25th April 2021, via Zoom.

You can listen to an audio recording here:

“I am the Good Shepherd.”  One of the seven “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel.  I wonder if you remember the rest – feel free to unmute/shout out, or raise a hand:

  1. “I am the bread of life …” (John 6.35)
  2. “I am the light of the world …” (John 8.12)
  3. “I am the gate for the sheep …” (John 10.7)
  4. “I am the resurrection and the life …” (John 11.25)
  5. “I am the way, the truth and the life …” (John 14.6)
  6. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower.” (John 15.1)

Last week, I met with my spiritual director, and she gave me a few questions to think about, beginning with, “Who are you?” 

“Who are you?”  I wonder how many of us would answer with a metaphor? I wonder which of those “I am” sayings resonates most with you …?  Perhaps, like me, your thoughts turn to that last saying, “I am the true vine,” and you recall that Jesus continued this metaphor by describing his disciples as the branches?  Jesus is the true vine, and we are the branches, called to abide in him, and to bear much fruit.

I suppose most of us, if asked, “Who are you?” would begin my giving our name.  “I’m Karen.”  Or, “I’m Ron.”  “I’m Sarah.”  “I’m Libby.”  “I’m Alan.” ….   And names are important, of course.  But is that all we are?  Surely, we’re all more than just a name?

So, my next answers – not necessarily in this order – might be: “I’m a beloved child of God.  A Christian.  A disciple.  Daughter of John and Margaret.  Wife of Martin.  Sister of Alison and Peter.  Aunt to Iona and Lucy …  Mum to Marlowe and Coogee.”

Many of us might choose to define ourselves in terms of our relationships.  And, again, relationships are important.  As I think I’ve said on several occasions, God created us for relationship – with each other and with God.  So, it’s good to define ourselves in terms of those relationships.  But, again, is that it?  Or are we more than can be summed up by our relationships?

I think, next, I’d say that I’m a deacon, and a priest, and the Vicar of Garsington, Cuddesdon and Horspath.  Roles, perhaps?  But more than that.  Roles, or identities, into which I’ve been called by God, and ordained by the Holy Spirit.

You might choose to define yourself, next, by a profession, or career, or a domestic role to which you feel you’ve been called – mother, father, home-maker, carer, perhaps… all worthwhile vocations, or callings.

We might next define ourselves by talking about our skills, talents, or gifts – or by our hobbies and interests: I’m a musician, or an artist, a gardener, for example, or a knitter, a jogger, a cyclist, a keen walker, an animal-lover.

I expect, at some stage, we’d think about our character and virtues – I’m kind, conscientious, an introvert or extrovert etc

Then, we might begin thinking about our motivations or drives – what makes us tick?  A desire to please, perhaps?  A desire to serve?  A desire to be a good Christian … or a good wife, or husband … a good son, daughter, or friend?

We might think about the experiences and influences that have shaped us, and led to us being the people we are: the way we were raised perhaps.  Our schooling.  The genes and DNA we inherited from our parents.  We might begin reflecting upon nature and nurture …

Of course, for some people, the question “Who are you?” or “Who am I?” can stir up challenging questions around our gender identity, sexuality, parentage, our mental health and well-being, and our ability to love and accept ourselves just as we are.  Iif this does stir up any personal issues for you, and you’d like a confidential chat, please do let me know.

I wonder how many of us, in response to that question, “who am I?” would reflect on our purpose … on why we exist, as we are, and in this place and time?  Does God have a job for us – for you, that only you can do?  Does God have a plan for you? 

“Surely I know the plans I have for you … plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope,” the Lord says to the Jewish people exiled in Babylon, in Jeremiah 29.11.  Is God speaking only to the Babylonian exiles, or might he have a plan for us, too?

Today is Vocations Sunday, and we are encouraged to think about vocations, or calling: our own vocation and, also, the vocations of others.  In particular, how can we – as individuals and as a church – encourage and enable each other to consider, and respond to, God’s call?  As Christians, we’re all called to follow Jesus, to pray, to read the scriptures, to love God, neighbour and self, to be good stewards of God’s creation, to be generous … and I’m sure you can think of many more ways in which God calls us all, as Christians.  But we have individual callings too.

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, puts it like this:

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues…” (1 Corinthians 12.27-28)

Today, we generally use the language of calling, or vocation, rather than ‘appointment’.  We might say that God has called some to ordained ministry, and others to lay ministry; some to life in a religious order or community; and others to live out their calling in the wider, or secular, world. 

Perhaps you already know, very clearly, what your own vocation or calling is?  For many of us, though, God’s calling – or our understanding of God’s calling – develops and grows, and changes, over time.

The Jesus we encounter in the Gospels seems very certain of his own identity and vocation.  His identity as the beloved Son of the Father.  His identity as the Son of Man or – a more inclusive and accurate translation – the Son of Humankind.  His vocation to suffer, to be rejected, to be killed, and, after three days, to rise again.[1] 

I wonder, was Jesus always so sure of his identity and vocation?  Or, like many of us, did his answers to the questions, “Who am I?” and “What is my vocation?” or “How is God calling me to live … to serve … to die?” develop over many years?  The Gospels tell us so little about Jesus’ early years and, after the birth narratives, we skip to Jesus’ baptism and the testing in the wilderness.  Did Jesus’ sense of identity and vocation develop throughout his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood?  Or in the wilderness, perhaps, after his baptism?

In Dennis Potter’s play ‘Son of Man’ – broadcast by the BBC in 1969, perhaps some of you may have seen it? – Jesus is seen alone, in the desert, in a state of anguish, asking, “Is it me?  Is it me?”  Was it only in the wilderness, tested by the devil, that Jesus realised he was the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one?

For most of us, our sense of identity and vocation, changes and grows throughout our lives.  For many, it develops during a period of adversity or testing – my own awareness of God’s calling me, firstly to discipleship, then to lay ministry, then to ordained ministry, grew out of, and is connected to, the sudden and unexpected death of my mum.

I didn’t realise God was calling me to priestly ministry until I was about 40 years old.  However, a priest I know recently revealed that he knew when he was just 5 or 6 years old that he was called to be a priest.

As the boy, Samuel, discovered in the Temple, we are never too young – or too old – to be called by God!

Some questions for us all to ponder, reflect on, and pray about over the next few weeks – I wonder:

  • Where, or how, or to what, is God calling you, at this stage in your life?
  • Do you feel you’ve already accomplished what God called you to do … or is your vocation a work in progress … or, perhaps, a long-forgotten childhood dream?
  • Is there something left you feel you must do, or accomplish, or answer, before your time is up?

And, on a different tack:

  • How can you, as an individual, and we, as a church or Benefice, encourage others to explore, and respond to, God’s call?
  • Is there anyone you know – anyone you see in this church, perhaps, or among your family and friends – who you feel God might be calling to a particular ministry or role? 
  • If so, how might you broach the subject with them?  And can you commit to pray for them, regularly?

I’m going to end there, and give us a short period of silence, in which you might wish to ponder, and pray about, these questions – and any other questions this sermon might have raised for you.

Let’s just sit and reflect for a moment or, perhaps, listen for God’s voice … where is the Spirit nudging you?


[1] Mark 8.31, Luke 9.22 and others