Luke 5: 1 – 11 … An Ordinand’s Sermon

In this passage we see Jesus, as ever harangued by the crowds, getting into a boat and asking a fisherman to push it out into the lake a little. Along the edge of the lake were small alcoves where, if you were out in the water, there would be an amphitheatre effect for those on the shores. He teaches the people who have come to hear him speak, and when he is finished his attention is turned to the fisherman: Simon.

We can ask ourselves why he turned to Simon. What was it about him? Had Simon been listening intently? Had he questions to ask? Or was it simply because Simon had been obedient when Jesus climbed into his boat? Actually, he had been at Simon’s house previously, as can be seen in Chapter 4. As Jesus began his public ministry of healing and teaching, news about him had spread and, at invitation from the family, he went to their house and healed Simon’s mother-in-law. Simon had already witnessed the incredible power of God, before he came to have Jesus in his boat.

Jesus the carpenter tells Simon, the experienced fisherman, to let his nets down for a catch. Simon, no doubt raising an eyebrow, explains that they’ve been busy doing exactly that all night… and yet, he agrees to do as Jesus asks. With much astonishment, Simon’s nets begin to fill at an alarming rate… at such a rate that their nets begin to break. Quickly they call for the other boat to come and help and yet even then the catch of fish is so great that the boats themselves begin to sink.

Simon, awestruck by what he has witnessed has only one response: to fall on his knees, fully aware of his sin, fully aware of Jesus’ holiness. Jesus, in his kindness, looks at him and utters the words: “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will fish for people.” Jesus’ reaction to Simon’s declared unworthiness is to speak a word of cleansing. Whatever had troubled his heart is let go as Jesus calls him to a new path and empowers him for a new work in the Kingdom. And so, he (and his fellow fishermen) leave everything, family, possessions, nets and all, and follow Jesus.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared: “When Christ calls a person, he tells them to come and die.” In our church history lectures we have learned about Julian of Norwich and the Anchorite life. Our lecturer told us of how many Anchorites and Anchoresses had the Office of the Dead prayed over them as the they entered their cell, in order to signify their death to the world and rebirth to a spiritual life of solitary communion with God. And here, in this passage we have Simon’s action of leaving all behind in order to follow Christ; an act of freewill made in faith and obedience to Jesus.

So why did I choose this simple passage to speak from today? Well, it was Sunday’s Gospel reading, and I was leading Sunday School, so I missed the sermon in my placement parish. What an opportunity, I thought, to use what I’d gleaned from my time with the children this weekend, as they are often so wise. However, when I began to look closer at the text, I realised that a group of ordinands probably already know that Jesus calls us all to partner with him in spreading the Gospel and being fishers of men. Instead, then, I thought I would share four ways this reading speaks into our lives as ordinands.

1) Stop with the imposter syndrome…

Simon declares his sinfulness, and Jesus calls him anyway. We can find all the reasons why we might not be a good fit for ordination in the Church of England… but Jesus call us anyway. Simon doesn’t question Jesus, he just obeys.

It is hard. I am the ultimate questioner, long term sufferer of imposter syndrome, especially when it comes to my vocation in the Church of England. “Really, God? Me?” is often how many of my prayers began until fairly recently. His reply, always, “Yes. You. Really.”

2) We’re not in this alone…

Jesus calls us, and we go WITH him. I hope that is obvious to us all, as ordinands and future church leaders. Simon went WITH Jesus. And as we are called, we go WITH Jesus.

But, just like Simon, we also go with others we can lean on and learn from. Hard as it may be for those who have met me to believe, I suffer from social anxiety, specifically surrounding going to new places alone where I don’t know anyone. Starting at a new college, where I knew there would be people there who did know each other (staff and returning students) and that I did not know anyone, and knowing I would have to sit on the train for 2 hours alone, and then walk into Liverpool Cathedral alone was almost enough to put me off.

I prayed so hard about this particular anxiety as September approached and my prayer was answered in an unexpected way. Not that my anxiety disappeared, not at all. But in the provision of a lovely friend, Anna, who was also new, starting that term and also getting the train from the same station as me. I didn’t have to be afraid of walking in alone, because I had someone to walk with and talk with.

We go with God, and we go with each other.

3) We need to put our nets out into the deep…

We may have walked with Christ for many years, but now is the time, I believe, more than ever, for us to trust Him and put our nets out into the deep. Because, when we do go deep with Him, He equips us and empowers us. He emboldens us to follow Him. When talking about the story with children yesterday, what they were awed by was how faithful Simon Peter was. They asked, did he follow him forever? Yes, until Jesus died… and then Simon followed him until his own death. “Wow! Simon must have really liked Jesus.”

Jesus called, equipped and emboldened Simon then and he does the same for us today. But we need to meet him in the deep. We need to step out in faith, as Simon let his nets down in faith, and know that God will astonish us with things we could never have dreamed of.

4) We need to leave ourselves behind…

Finally, as we go into this new life with Jesus, we need to leave ourselves behind. Steven Furtick, pastor of a mega church in the US, has written about how “It’s less about me than I think.” And that poses some questions.

If it is less about me than I think then why am I trying so hard?

Why do I feel so responsible for success?

Why do I feel so responsible for failure?

If it’s less about me than I think, I can take my time. I can breathe. I can live in the moment. I can allow life to happen around me without trying to control every activity and every outcome. If it’s less about us than we think, leaving ourselves behind is a natural outcome, and we get to go deeply into who God calls us to be.

 

And yet, at the same time, it is about us, because God has called us: me, and you, specifically. He has called all of us to be trained for ordination as deacons and priests in his church. He has called us with our experiences, our passions and our skills, our wildly different personalities and our similarly messy lives. We just don’t know how he will use them to further his Kingdom, just as Simon doesn’t know what awaits him as he leaves everything and follows Jesus.

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton speaks a truth which is raw, as he reflects on the necessary humility that should lie at the core of how we approach a sense of vocation, which I’d like to use to close. Perhaps you might use it to consider how God is calling you today, just as Jesus called Simon then.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost (and in the shadow of death).
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.
Amen.

 

Advertisements

How did your BAP go?

I figured I may be asked this question a fair bit in the coming days (perhaps even weeks), and so thought I would make comment here.

For those that don’t know, BAP stands for Bishops’ Advisory Panel: it is an (almost) 3 day residential process, by which candidates are tested and interviewed so that advice may be given to Bishops about their suitability for theological training. Or in simpler terms, can they be recommended to train for ordination (priesthood)?

I am not sure why, or how, but I had come to the conclusion that it was likely to be stressful and not all that enjoyable. How wrong I was! Half way through I thought I must be doing this wrong, I am having so much fun. As I said to my husband, I am not sure there was an hour of the waking day where I didn’t laugh. I mean, I do like to think I’m quite a happy-go-lucky person, quite joyful. But this was something else. It felt really good to try and explain the call I believe God has placed on my life (to ordained ministry); to discuss how we sustain ourselves spiritually; to say evening prayer in a beautiful chapel space; to run through a meadow and not help but sing (or shout) out praises to God. We were told how we would feel exhausted afterwards, because of the inevitable decrease of adrenaline… and yet, I feel revitalised.

I have, of course, done lots of sleeping. And I have debriefed with a couple of really helpful people (my husband, who all kudos goes to for being so brilliantly willing to take a week off work and have adventures with our daughter, and my mum, especially).

Of course, I may feel differently when I hear the outcome in a week’s time. But I am not sure I will. One of the advisors led us in communion on the final morning, and she said we all leave changed by our joined experience together. And it is true. I cannot quite put my finger on it yet, but I am changed.

So, enough of me, and more of what a BAP actually entails…

I arrived mid afternoon, and was greeted with a door key and post (top tip, get people to send you post, it is SO encouraging). I settled my bits and bobs into my room and then came downstairs to see who (or what) I could find. If you find yourself at Shallowford House, it is beautiful. The grounds are extensive and the gardens are beautiful. We spent a lot of time outside, either by ourselves or in groups. Around 5pm we all gathered together for the first time: advisors and candidates. Our panel secretary (wonderful lady!) guided us through some icebreaker discussions, and I left feeling a part of something. It was great to finally meet our advisors, the people who would be testing our call, and our fellow candidates. After this we had a brief pause before completing our Personal Inventory.

The Personal Inventory is a series of questions split into 3 categories: Vocational, Pastoral, Educational. These 3 categories are then given to specific advisors who will be looking at criteria relating to them. It is timed, and so I started at the end and worked my way backwards. I found it a fantastic exercise, one in which I really had to think hard about what I believe about God, myself and everything in between. There were some questions which I couldn’t wait to discuss further in my interviews, but that never came up. Nonetheless, a great start.

Afterwards we had dinner (amazing food, the whole time) after which we were given our Pastoral exercise. This is an opportunity for you to show how you would respond to a pastorally sensitive and complicated scenario, as you are now. This is given out st the beginning, but only returned completed before departure. In turn, this was followed by prayer in the chapel. Then, the bar was open and so we (the candidates) enjoyed a drink together (alcoholic and non-) and got to know each other. We were a full BAP, with 2 groups of 8 and 7 respectively. It was fantastic to find out about where we had come from and little more about our journeys to this point.

I had an interesting night’s sleep, mainly because my curtains didn’t quite shut in the middle. I wasn’t disturbed by the trains, as some were, though that’s probably because I’m a heavy sleeper. I would bring ear plugs and an eye mask, if you are at all worried about how you might sleep. I did sleep fairly well, and felt rested on both subsequent days.

The entire first morning, from 9am until 12.30pm was spent delivering our 5 minute presentations and leading our 13 minute discussions. This was one of my favourite bits of the BAP. It was incredibly fascinating to hear other people’s presentations and the discussions that flowed from them were in depth and thought provoking. It can be nerve-wracking, even for a teacher, but your fellow candidates are willing you on and take an active part so your life is made easier. Our discussions ranged from whether children’s spirituality is just the icing on the cake in an increasingly de-churched world to how mentorship is useful in leadership; somebody spoke of the recent Met Gala and whether we should be outraged, or use it as an opportunity to outreach and talk about our faith. Fascinating.

Lunch followed (again, brilliant food), and then it was time for interviews. You either have 2 on the 2nd day, and 1 on the 3rd day, or vice versa. I had 1 on the 2nd day, and 2 on the 3rd day. The rest of the time you are free. As I said, the grounds are beautiful, and the chapel is a lovely space. I spent some time in prayer on my own, time with other candidates preparing and much time with candidates laughing. I also spent some time away on my own reflecting on and completing the pastoral exercise.

Over the 2nd and 3rd day we had more opportunity for prayer together, through Communion, Evening Prayer and Compline. It was wonderful to sing together, with nothing but our voices. Though these are optional and not part of them testing your vocation, I found them to be a moving time and there was a very real sense of the presence of God. In fact, I think all these opportunities to worship together were fully attended by all. There was one moment when we had just finished our worship and were due to go for dinner, but I just had to stay and sing. The oldest member of our group of candidates asked if he could stay with me: it blessed my heart for the two of us to sing with joy together.

As we finished our final interviews and came into the lounge, the other candidates applauded and cheered us. Perhaps I was blessed with a group of fantastic people, but I imagine not. Because there is no fixed quota, you are not in competition with each other. That in itself fosters a feeling of togetherness and community. It was a shared experience, and I hope to see how our journeys progress in the future. We finished with worship, and tea (of course). The advisors went to their first decision making meeting, and we departed Shallowford to return to our lives.

And so, I am changed in an as yet unknown way. It will be another week until I find out their recommendations and read about my time with them from their point of view. Regardless of outcome, one fact remains. I am called, by God, to live out my whole life as worship to him.

May it be so. Amen.

Sermon Writing

Every year our church holds a Missions Sunday, where our Mission Partners share stories from their work, we pray for them and a speaker challenges us about mission.

This year I have been given the task of preaching, and laying down the challenge. It’s quite daunting, but thenakfully God has spoken to me through a particular passage. So much so, that I sat down to write yesterday and the words came flowing out of me.

I was so pleased, as I had asked people to pray for me… and I had been praying. And finally I felt God saying, “This. Talk about this.”

But… things are never that simple. 

God has given me another word. A question in fact. A very challenging question. And a fabulous piece of scripture to go with it.

So, 6 days to go. Do I stick with what I’ve written? Or do I start again?

Burn

“And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, that ring of fire…”

So goes the classic Johnny Cash song. It’s about falling in love, the way it consumes you so you can’t escape. Love envelopes you, and it’s intense, especially in those early days. But what makes you burn? What sets your heart on fire?

For me it is the gospel of Christ – the truth that Jesus died for me, even though I am so undeserving. It is that, when I was in the darkest place, he reached into it with his hand and helped me up. He shone a light in the darkness, and helped me make that light brighter.

If that makes me burn, why don’t I talk about it more? A friend, and member of our congregation, challenged us recently in a sermon. In fact, I talked about it a couple of weeks ago. She asked exactly the same question. For me, it’s because I feel anxious that I’ll say something wrong. Or that they’ll ask a question I don’t know the answer to. 

I’m setting myself a challenge this week: this week I’m going to talk to one person about my faith and Jesus. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Vulnerability


A friend shared this image with me this afternoon, and it spoke volumes to me. “I thought this could be your mantra,” she said.

What is amazing, is that this morning I was talking to a mentor of mine about baggage. More specifically, we were talking about my baggage and how it has shaped me and continues to shape me. She then asked me, “how do you think having your daughter has changed you? How do the two link together?”

Vulnerability.

That’s how they link together. In my darkest moments, when I was really struggling with who I was and what I was worth, I was vulnerable in every sense. Since then I have spent much of my time trying to control the way I am seen and the way I handle myself, so that I’m not vulnerable. But the vulnerability actually remains, it’s just that I was hiding it from people. So my mentor and I unpicked the issue of vulnerability some more. As the thread unraveled, I spoke of how in labour I was physically and emotionally vulnerable, and since then I’ve also been vulnerable; I’ve been stripped raw. Through that rawness and my own vulnerability I’ve had no choice but to let go and make myself spiritually vulnerable too. That way I can really lean into God, listen to him, and receive from him.

It was a wonderful, rich conversation. And then I came home to this picture. Wow! What confirmation! Someone who was right there beside me in those dark moments, who knew me at my most vulnerable, bringing me such truth.

It’s ok to be vulnerable. I mean, we all are inside. But it’s ok to show it too.

How has your past shaped you? How can your vulnerability be your strength?

I Will Wait For You

 So goes the famous Mumford and Sons’ song. And it is so important to wait, and to be patient. A wise colleague of mine put different quotes all around school, getting children thinking about different values. One that was on a door near my classroom has really stuck with me: “Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.” Wow! 

  
Now, I am an impatient person. The amount of uncooked pasta I eat whilst I wait for it to cook is silly. I could just go away and wait the cooking time of 8-10 minutes instead of getting frustrated that it hasn’t cooked yet. I read a friend’s blog recently, and laughed, as she has the same habits I do when it comes to patience, waiting and food.

Why do I find it so hard to wait? I’m just so eager to get on with things straight away; a new puppy who has been let off the lead in the park for the first time. However, the last year I have been hearing God telling me to wait; to slow down and be patient. It was relatively easy to slow down, as I was pregnant, teaching and tired. Now though, it’s different. Yes, I’m tired, because I have a 12 week old baby and so my sleep isn’t what it used to be. Yes, I don’t quite have the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want. But, what I do have is head space and time. Those two things can be quite dangerous, as I look around at friends and peers and feel rather un-busy. And that’s dangerous as a new mum, because if you’re feeling a bit lonely and an opportunity arises to not only help others, but also be with other people… you might just do it. Suddenly though, you are wrapped up in so many new things, it could become very difficult to give yourself enough time to relax. Because, actually, being a new mum is very hard, and rest is important.

This morning I went to a group hosted by church, Extra Time, which is aimed at the older person. However, the lovely couple who run it always say it is really for anyone who has a bit of extra time on their hands. So, my lovely daughter and I went. A wonderful lady, the Revd. Pam Wilding, was talking about her journey as a Christian, following God’s call on her life. Pam worked for many many years as a missionary in Kenya, and it was brilliant to hear about her journey. She told a story of how, before women were ordained, somebody sat and said that “women pollute the church”. How dreadful! Now, there are still many who believe that women shouldn’t be ordained in the Church, but I’ve not really experienced that growing up. I’ve known many women be ordained, and seen it encouraged, even in my own mum’s life. I have experienced and witnessed the wonderful ministries at the hands of women, and seen hearts reached through powerful, spiritual women. For me, I can think of nothing more normal than both men and women ordained as priests in the Church.

But that wasn’t the case for too many women. When I think of how patient so many had to be, to wait on the Lord until their call could be fully realised, I feel childlike. Lamentations 3: 25 says this: The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. So that’s my continued focus, as a new mum: to wait on God, until He tells me to move. It’s not to say I can just sit back and be idle. It’s just time to be content with where I am, as I wait for Him to reveal the next part of the path. It is time to be content with extra time to rest, and extra head space to seek Him. It is time to be content with a new life, and a new mission.

“To Bridget, just the way she is!”

Ah, the immortal line from the ever wonderful Bridget Jones, after Mark has spilled out his true feelings to the heroine. Bridget, flaws and all, is loved just the way she is.

Today a verse came up in my quiet time: A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones (Proverbs 14: 30). An interesting thought for me… 

I am so jealous of the peaceful nature so many of my Christian friends have. Why am I not like that? I wish I had their gentleness. I have even prayed to be more like them. I definitely see myself as a lower ranking Christian because of my slightly more abrupt nature. I don’t know why, though. It is something which has been continuously playing on my mind, like a track stuck on repeat.

On Friday it was my birthday, and I invited some girl friends round for brunch. What a lovely morning! One of my Christian friends, whose gentleness and kindness I envy, gave me a card which told me I was a blessing in her life. It really touched me, but a part of me thought she maybe had just written it because that’s the kind of nice thing Christians say to one another. But then, in perfect timing, I received a text from a very close friend, wishing me a happy birthday. She wrote that she was thankful for my friendship. Well that just sent me over the edge.

I’m not sure why I find it hard to accept that I could possibly be a blessing in other people’s lives. These two girls in particular are a massive blessing on my life, and have been since I met them. They are very different from each other, and yet possess that same gentleness and peacefulness. It is something I greatly admire within them, and many others. And something I envy. Why am I not like that?

Maybe I’ve been praying for the wrong thing. And maybe I was just made to be a bit different from them. 1 Corinthians 12: 18-31 uses an analogy of the human body for the body of the Church. Sure, the ear isn’t as pretty as the eye, but it has its own very important and unique role to play. It is the same in the Church: we all might look different in our faiths and in our ministries, but we all have a unique and equally important role to play. I found The Message translation of this text brilliantly clear: 

You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.

Ok, so I definitely still need to be a little more gentle and peaceful, and I’m probably too hot headed for my own good. But I can pray to be more like Jesus, rather than like my friends. At the same time though, I really need to learn that God has a unique role for me in his Church. That in itself gives me peace, instead of envy, for God made me, and has shaped me through my experiences and relationships. I’m not the finished article, and I never will be, but God loves me… just the way I am.

“I’m letting go of who I was; the old has gone, the new has come.”

Yesterday evening a friend was preaching at church. I haven’t really attended the evening service since my daughter was born, as it has been tricky with feeding and routine. Yet the service was vital for me to attend. You see, on Saturday my friend told me she was gearing up to throw down a big challenge to the church. Something about that made me realise it was important for me to be there… So I could here this challenge myself. I didn’t want to be like Timothy, and miss out on the actual event. I didn’t want to hear the message second hand.

What a challenge! In a nutshell, what are we doing in our everyday lives to share God’s love? Are we as passionate about the Gospel as we should be? She shared a picture of the church teetering on the edge of a cliff, with a choice: leap off into the unknown and trust God; or step backward into the relative safety of our lives to which we have become accustomed. The title of this post is a line from a song she challenged us to use as a response.

For the past few years, this has been a recurring theme in my life. It’s how I’ve been living for some time, with choice after choice after choice. Each time I have felt that God has been saying, “Go on! Leap! I’ll catch you! But if you’re not ready… Don’t worry!” So I’ve been backing away from that cliff for some time. I’ve not really been ready to leap fully into the unknown, and I’m still not. Except recently, I’ve been hearing God’s voice clearer than before. And his message is different. Now, he’s saying, “Go on! Leap! Even if you’re not ready, even if you stumble, trust me.” Yet I still haven’t quite done it. I still haven’t quite let go.

  

I am living a new life, as a mother. It’s the reason behind this blog: I have a new mission to explore and live out. I’ve had to let go of so much, and it’s all worth it, as I gaze at my daughter’s beautiful, happy, shining face. As I face this new mission, with so many decisions ahead of me, I must lean into God and let go completely. I must leap. I must learn how to fly.

  

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑