Sermon for Petertide by Kenneth Padley (All Age Service 30th June 2019)
Reading: Luke 9:57-62
People have always called and been called. Long before the telephone was invented, calls were made – including calls to and from God.
One of those disciples was Saint Peter. His festival was yesterday. This time for reflecting on Peter’s calling means that Petertide is a great time for the Church to celebrate ordinations – the special service at which men and women are blessed by the bishop to mark their calling as clergy.
Yesterday Charles was ordained a priest. This is why his stole is now hanging down on either side (like mine and John’s). Throughout the last year, Charles has been a deacon. Deacon means servant. That is why his stole used to hang diagonally because, at the time of Jesus, servants would have washed people’s feet and might have dried them with a towel hanging from their shoulder.
Like Charles, most deacons are ordained as priests after a year or two. As priests they can lead all aspects of our worship, including presiding at communion.
Charles has not stopped being a deacon because he has become a priest. It is as if he has put another rank on top of his old one. If he is really unlucky, he might in a few years’ time also be ordained a bishop. Bishops are the third rank of clergy. Bishops have their own peculiar clothing, most obviously the pointy hats which look like the flames of fire in which the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. And just as Charles has not stopped being a deacon, a bishop does not stop being a priest and a deacon. It is as if they have layered extra responsibilities on top.
Deacons, priests and bishops: the three ordained offices to which God calls men and women in the Church. But Kenneth, doesn’t that go against what you told us last Sunday? Last week you were talking about St Paul’s line that everyone who is baptised has been clothed with Christ. How does that clothing fit with the funny garments worn by clergy?
God calls all people to follow him. He calls us to be Christians. This is his first and most important call. When we are baptised we are all given Christian ‘clothing’. The calling of the baptised is one which we all possess fully and equally.
This, my friends, is the calling of us all. It is no more mine than yours. It is no more yours than Charles’. It is no less one person’s because they are nine than another’s because they are ninety – or the other way around. We are all called to put on Christ, in ways that are right for us depending on our circumstances, giftings, age, and so on.
Now within our primary calling to all be Christians, some are called by God as bishops, priests and deacons. We need people to preside at communion, and priesthood is the way in which we recognise God’s calling to this ministry. We need theological teachers and leaders of the wider Church, and God calls people as bishops to do that.
There’s nothing particularly secretive or special going on here: believe it or not, clergy are not a different species beamed down from another planet. Clergy are men and women licensed for particular roles within the Church, to help us in our mission together.
I want to demystify the call to ordination because I want to encourage any here today whom God might be calling to become priests in the future. Clergy are ordinary people from ordinary parishes like this. Without new priests there will not be anyone to become your next Vicar when I go under the bus. I mean that in all seriousness: the Church of England needs to ordain 500 or more people a year if St Michael’s is going to have a priest in the long run. Or to put it more positively, you and I need to encourage our brothers and sisters if we think they might make a good priest – because that is partly how God’s calling works. God does not ring on the telephone. God speaks to our hearts when we read his word and when we pray.
I first got a nudge to ordination like this when I was twelve. I know someone else who can date his call from the age of six. For others it may come when they are a lot older. If you have the slightest niggle that this might be you, please do speak with me, Charles or John afterwards – or to Barbara Young whom many of you will know and who works for the diocese in this area. And if you have an inkling about another’s calling and gifting, then please speak with them directly – it might be just the prophetic nudge for which they have been waiting.
Jesus’ call is demanding – even scary, powerful and immediate. And this means that listening for God’s call is an important everyday job for us all.