Tag Archives: vocation

Why Will They Come?

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NRSV)

A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. (John 6:2 NRSV)

The question is, why did the crowds follow Jesus in such great numbers?

Well, because he was the Son of God, we might answer; or, because he taught with authority; or even, because they saw him as the Messiah who would free Israel from foreign oppression.

Maybe, but I think the answer is simpler, but no less important for being so. I think the answer to why so many people flocked to hear Jesus in such great numbers is “Self Interest” – or at least that’s where it began.

You see, I don’t believe that, at its root, human nature changes a great deal from one generation to another.

We may live in a society which is more sophisticated in some ways than that of First Century Palestine but when push comes to shove, we’re not that different really. We may smirk at the superstitions and pretentions of previous generations, but we have our own, which future generations will laugh at in their turn. We may abhor the brutality and violence of older societies but, in truth, it is never far below the surface of our own.

Certainly, we have learned and are continuing to learn of different ways to approach the problems of our world, but hindsight can be the weapon of the smug and to project our values onto the people of ancient times is to act with considerable arrogance. You see, we’re not so different; which is why the Gospel is just as relevant to us as it was to the people of Jesus’ time.

The clue to why so many people followed Jesus on his earthly travels is given to us in that short passage from John’s gospel, above. In verse 2 of chapter 6 the evangelist tells us: “A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.”

They came to him for healing of the body and stayed for the healing of the soul.

The people of Jesus’ day, just like the people of today, needed hope. And Jesus gave them hope. He didn’t need, on the whole, to teach them to believe in God. The vast majority of them already believed. The same is true today.

Many people came to him because they heard that he could heal them of their infirmities. They came to him in their brokenness, and he gave them their lives back. For that is what healing is – to be given a new lease of life. All those people Jesus healed would go on to face death like the rest of us; but their encounter with him changed their lives.

And having come to him, either for themselves or bringing their loved ones with them, they saw that this man was different; and they stayed to hear what he had to say. Their encounter with Jesus reconnected them with the God who loved them. He not only gave them back their lives: he gave them hope – for this life and for eternity.

He didn’t judge who was worthy, who was the right kind of person, or who could best benefit from his services. He just met the needs of everyone who came – and proclaimed the Kingdom of God.

He then called his followers to go out and do the same, first in half a dozen pairs and then later in larger numbers. And finally he commissioned his friends do carry on his work – not to build an institution, a sect or a denomination – but to care, to proclaim, to baptize and to teach.

That task falls upon our generation too; and we still have the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower and enthuse us for our work. We may feel that we are frail and faltering Christians, and that is probably true – its certainly true for me; but by God’s grace and in God’s name we are called to share his love with those around us – to help them to have that life-changing encounter with Christ.

The people of our time need hope too. Can you think of anything more hope-less than just getting by from birth to death with no sense of purpose or aim?

But Christ offers us hope, and God has a purpose for each life. In Christ we can discover that purpose. We may not have Christ’s miraculous powers to ourselves but the purpose of the church church is to be a community of hope and encounter with the love of God.

That is a tough vocation, but it is also an attractive one, for when people catch a glimpse of hope they are much more likely to stay to hear the words of eternal life, and grow into the people God created them to be.

But, we say to ourselves, “Oh, I could never do that. I could never bring someone to encounter Christ. That’s not for me. I could never do it.”

Well, you’re in good company: including people like Moses who, in his old age, when called by God to go and free the Israelites from slavery, responded with words to the effect of: “Here I am lord. Please send somebody else!”

But we have the gift of the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide us in our vocation.

And we should also remind ourselves of those words from St Paul in that passage from Ephesians, above: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

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Saint or Satan?

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
(Matthew 16:18 NRSV)

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
(Matthew 16:23 NRSV)

Part of the genius of the gospel writers is that they give us a great insight into some of the personalities they portray, and do so with the utmost economy of words. We know very little about the background of some of the people in the New Testament, and yet their characters stand out clearly through their interaction with Jesus.

Nowhere is this more true than in the writings about Peter, who emerges as a bold and impetuous man, who can also be a coward; a man who often speaks and acts before he thinks, a dear friend of Jesus who denies him at the crucial moment.

It was Peter who exclaimed, with great insight, that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. The same Peter then simply could not grasp the true suffering nature of Jesus’ vocation. One minute he is the “Rock” and the next he is Satan, the accuser and deceiver of souls. You have to have some sympathy for him.

But Peter remained one of Jesus’ closest friends and followers, despite the fact that he let him down when he needed him the most.

For Peter knew that in his encounter with Jesus he had caught that glimpse of heaven. He just struggled to work out what that would mean for the life of an ordinary fisherman and his friends.

The story of Peter can be seen as an allegory of our encounter with God. In that story, the sacred and the secular, the mundane and the mysterious are thoroughly blended together. Human foolishness and weakness is transformed by divine wisdom, forgiveness and love.

And, because the story hasn’t ended (for we are part of the same story which the gospel writers began), the same can be true for us.

Jesus,
Overwhelm my foolishness and weakness
with your wisdom, love and forgiveness.
Bless the everyday things of my life
with your divine grace,
and guide my steps to follow where you lead.
Amen

Treasure

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(Luke 12:34 NRSV)

I am often wary when someone pipes up with the old adage, “Charity begins at home.” The phrase is often used as a conversation stopper, or as an excuse to stand back from our responsibility to our fellow human beings.

In fact, it often displays a thinly-veiled hard heartedness; a meanness of spirit.

Yes, charity should begin at home. Our nearest and dearest are God’s gifts to us and we have a primary responsibility to love them in practical and sacrificial ways. The original meaning of the word we know as “charity” is, quite simply, self-emptying sacrificial love. So charity should begin at home, but it shouldn’t end there.

In his teaching, Jesus never says that money in itself is a bad thing; it is, after all, simply a means of exchange. But money and power often go hand in hand. The more money we have, the greater our freedom to decide, and the greater our power. Those with little money often have little power and can find themselves at the mercy of those who have plenty of both.

So it is not money which Jesus criticises, but our attitudes towards money.

In fact, it’s not just money: wherever we focus our attention (whether it be money, status, celebrity, our jobs, our cars, our hobbies and interests, even the social circles we move in) there is always the danger that the “thing” will become our god.

If we sit lightly on our possessions; enjoying what we have, not worrying about that which we don’t have, and doing our best to share our good fortune, whilst seeking to empower others, then we begin to move towards Jesus’ command to love God and our neighbour.

If I am tuned in to Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom, then my heart is less likely to be fixed on my needs and more likely to discover its treasure amongst God’s other children.

Jesus,
when I am worn down
by the cares of money,
or any one of a thousand distractions,
give me a heart for your Kingdom
and show me where my treasure really lies.
Amen.

Go, for Me

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:18-20 NRSV)

So what was that all about?

No fond farewells, no words of appreciation, no “Thanks for being my friends guys. Gotta go now. Its been a blast!” None of it.

But Jesus knew what he was doing, and so did the Gospel writer. There are no farewells because Jesus is speaking of his presence with them – for ever. This is the moment he has been preparing them for.

If Jesus stays then his friends will not do the very thing he needs them to do – to carry on his work for the Kingdom. They have done their “basic training” and now its time for them to go and get on with it.

In fact, that little paragraph has become known over the years as “The Great Commission”. They are to make disciples (more learners) in every nation and of every nation. And they are to be the teachers and exemplars of this new way.

Can you imagine the scene? A motley bunch of eleven disciples – with not a great leader amongst them – some of whom are not completely sure that they are believing what they are seeing, listening to Jesus tell them to go out and change the world.

But the evidence that they must have done so is to be found all around us, in the lives of many who have influenced us, and in the many-faceted stories of the Christian Church throughout twenty centuries and around the world.

“Go and teach, go and welcome people into my Kingdom, go and take healing with you, go and care, go for justice, for genuine community, for those who are left behind. Go until the hungry are fed, the broken-hearted are bound up, there is sight and speech, and those in bondage are free. Go and nurture; go and make new disciples, new teachers, new healers, new workers for my Kingdom.

Go in faith, because I will be with you. Go in the face of opposition and apathy. Go into the cacophony of the marketplace of ideas, and live what you know.

Go, for me.”

Jesus,
help me to learn of your way
and to grow in my love;
not just for my sake,
but so that others may know
of your love for them, too.
Amen

Staring at the Sky

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
(Acts 1:9-11 NRSV)

The story of the Ascension is so rich in symbolism that we can miss something of its simpler message. After Jesus has given his final instructions to his friends, he takes his earthly leave of them.

There is joy, bewilderment, anticipation . . .

. . . and then a couple of angels turn up and say, “What are you standing around staring at the sky for?”

And I look at that phrase and I hear echoes of, “Don’t you get it? You’ve got a job to do. There’s a world to change, and a Kingdom to be welcomed, and it’s like nothing you have ever seen before!”

Certainly the disciples were to be patient for a while. They needed to wait to see what God would do first, so that they could do His work, rather than their own thing.

But they had better be ready, and so had we.

Because when the promised gift of the Holy Spirit came they were able to go off and proclaim the Good News of Christ in word and deed, and so little Christian communities began to spring up everywhere.

The Spirit enabled, the Spirit empowered, the Spirit enthused and inspired, but the believers had to be ready and willing.

And so, in a quirky way, the message of Jesus’ ascension for us may be, “What are you standing around staring at the sky for?”

There’s work to be done. There is God’s love, not only to be shown, but to be given away. There are people to be fed, spiritually, and sometimes physically. There are prayers to be offered. There are deep relationships to be built. There is justice to be worked for and evil to be challenged.

So an important message of the Ascension is to be ready and prepared; ready to serve God with the gifts he has given us, and prepared for the opportunities and challenges we will face along the way.

Jesus,
you call me to wait for your guidance
before jumping in with both feet.
Help me not to use that
as an excuse to do nothing!
Show me the tasks you call me to take up,
and guide me through your Holy Spirit.
Amen

Who do you think you’re talking to?

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:27-29 NRSV)

Have you ever had it said to you? Have you ever said it? No doubt many of us have been tempted at times. “Don’t talk to me like that! Just who do you think you are talking to?” It’s a bit of a last gasp to retain some dignity when a heated argument appears to be going the wrong way. It always fails, and rightly so.

The attempt to put on airs and graces when reasoned discussion fails tends to reduce the argument to the level of farce.

Of one thing we can be sure. Jesus never sought to exalt himself at anyone’s expense.

In fact, although we rightly use the title “Lord Jesus Christ”, it is the last of those three words which really matters.

Impetuous but insightful Peter blurts out what at least some of his friends are thinking: “You are the Messiah.”

“Messiah” and “Christ” are two words which essentially mean the same thing – “God’s anointed one.” He is the one who will save the people. He is the new promised King, except that his kingdom will not be built on power, conflict and domination, but of love, justice and peace.

The name “Christ” is not his surname, but his vocation. Jesus Christ is the Saviour sent from God.

So we quite properly call him Lord and King, but he is in truth the King who comes as a servant, washing his disciples’ feet, dedicating long days to healing and teaching, dying on a cross to show that evil ultimately has no power over love.

The question is: Who do you say that he is?

The answer could significantly shape your life.

Jesus,
you are the Christ,
the Anointed One,
the Son of the living God.
Help me to understand the truth of that
and all that it means
deep within my heart and soul.
Amen.

Broken

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

(2 Corinthians 4:5-10 NRSV)

When you called me, Lord
I thought I had something to offer.
But I didn’t.

A little wisdom, perhaps,
with just enough youth to be relevant;
some skill, a little knowledge (oh, how dangerous);
experience backed up by training.

Others were kind,
asked a few searching questions
but generally affirmed my vocation,
(except those who thought I had just got a bad dose of religion).

Sure, I was searching, asking, questioning, testing,
walking away and back again;
but, you had called – there must be something in it.
Something I have to give.

Then I was broken:
broken by my self-importance, by tiredness, by worry;
broken by my driven-ness, by my diary;
broken by conflict, by my own foolishness and incompetence
broken by events.

Broken and at the mercy of your love
thankfully shown by a loving family,
and (just a very few) friends.

Sometimes agoraphobic,
often knotting up inside
at the sound of door or the phone,
and more.

For now I know.
I know that I have nothing to offer
except this empty and cracked clay jar.

And I can’t tell anyone.
Mentioned it once and got a good telling off.
“How dare our vicar talk of such things.
Doesn’t he like being here in our lovely parish?
What’s the matter with him?”
Fair enough, I suppose.

But yet, I do have something to offer you, Lord:
my brokenness,
and this cracked, empty jar.

Can you use that Lord?
Can you use my brokenness to help me get along side other broken people?
Can you use it to help me have compassion
for the sick, the lonely, the exhausted, the fearful, the broken-hearted,
the anxious, the dying, the vulnerable, the outcast, the children –
and those who think they have no need of you?

Can you fill this empty crackpot
with just enough love and light
that it may spill out to others?
Could you do that, Lord?

Because now, after all these years,
I think I am beginning to understand your call.

Nigel Carter