Second Sunday of Epiphany Sermon


Advent 2 – Vocation and Calling Today’s readings offer up two stories of the acceptance of God’s calling, both to people who were neither expecting it, nor felt themselves worthy or capable of what lay ahead, namely Samuel and Phillip. Samuel was young and inexperienced, Phillip from a small town on the lakes of Galilee, Bethsaida. Samuel served Eli who was a religious leader, Philip no doubt involved in some way in fishing like so many in his town. In both instances both believed their lives were going along in a way they understood, and yet both answered God’s call when it came in the positive. Samuel heard the voice of God which he initially thought was that of his master, and Philip recognized who was calling him when Jesus explained he had already seen him under the fig tree relaxing, when Philip knew no-one was around. And for many who have answered what they believe to be a call from God it is a leap of faith or trust, most cannot understand why God would wish to use them, few think themselves the right material, and those who do most likely have a difficult road of self-discovery ahead of them. Vocation to the work of God, a calling is often, mistakenly I would argue, thought to be limited to certain groups of people, like the clergy, monastics, and those who bring aid and relief in God’s name to the suffering. However, we all share a calling from the moment of our baptism, we have begun a journey on the path that leads away from darkness and towards light, we have committed ourselves to reject that which is against the ways of God, and to try as best we can to journey in this Christian family for the rest of our lives. Baptism is the key calling of every Christian, all other expressions of accepting God’s call on our lives are in some ways additional, they never take away that which binds us all. The two stories we have heard this morning recount moments of calling that were in their own ways dramatic and swift. Within the space of a few moments Samuel and Philip accepted their call and their lives changed. I think for many the coming to terms with what God is calling us to do with our lives is often less straightforward, and frequently challenging. People who seek to be ordained or take the robe of monastic life take years in a process of discernment, so that both they and the church can be sure this is indeed what they are called to do. For some the discernment process leads them not where they initially thought, but to uncover a calling they had perhaps not thought of or even known about. For the majority of Christians this discernment is a continuing process – how to do I respond positively to God in this moment, in this particular place, how can I do God’s work through this challenging moment or crisis. And that is both as it ought to be, and vital. I think the important point is to accept that for those who accept Christ and have faith in God, a response is not optional, much the same that loving a person requires a response daily, through the good times and the bad, through joy and trial alike. As St Paul makes clear in his epistles, God has endowed each person with specific gifts, and those gifts are the tools through which God can continue His work on earth. As St Teresa of Avila’s famous prayer says, Christ has no hands or feet or eyes on earth now save those of His followers. It is through their deeds and works, their words and actions alone that God can be made known to those who as yet do not know him. Vocation and calling is a challenging thing in the modern world if by that we mean those who come to ordination or monastic life. Numbers have fallen, and the church world-wide faces a dilemma in how to respond. I think perhaps we need to be clearer about the calling of everyone as the basis of our response to God, and as well be clearer than we are about the place of worship and praise and prayer in all this. Church attendance is falling and this has accelerated post-covid. Some of the factors aren’t that surprising, overly busy lives, Sunday no longer being a day of rest for many, and a sense that you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian – a phrase clergy hear all the time, and which is both right, and yet is so wrong. The church’s response to this is often heard by folks as little more than a drive to fill pews, to have visible success by seeing more people, and sadly that idea of numbers alone can become the single most important judgement of whether a community and parish is getting things right or not. And yet I would argue that church attendance in many ways ought to be the inevitable outcome of everything else that is happening in the life of the church in any place. As Anglicans we uniquely exist for anyone who lives within our geographical boundary. Anyone in these parishes, regardless of their religion or lack of it has a perfect right to the services of the clergy, the pastoral care of the church and our prayers. This is not the same for every other type of Christian, where they gather as particular types of Christians, and you join or become a member of that group. This isn’t wrong, but it isn’t who we are, the vision of this national state church was broader, and it is one sadly that is being diluted by several factors – the growth within our church of parishes which are in fact [ although they cannot say so] membership churches, who do not feel they have to minister to the community, and the church’s unwillingness to back up the church in every community strategy, which has made the church available and visible for hundreds of years. I believe that coming to church is a duty and part of our response to God, to give worship, to take the sacraments, and to have fellowship with other Christians is a vital part of what sustains us and build up or ability to respond to our own personal calling, and help us to discern how we use our own unique talents and skills. But a Sunday religion alone won’t work, unless this coming together is the catalyst for our work and witness in the wider community it remains painfully limited and can seem a little like a personal habit or hobby. Samuel and Philip remind us this Epiphanytide that all are called, and all are asked to respond to God’s need for their skills and talents in the world. For the majority of Christians this will be a lifetime of figuring out how to witness to God’s truths in a troubled world, to be able to hold that flame alight wherever we go. For some it will take a particular course, but for all on our various journeys of answering that call, it is here where we find our sustenance, here we are fed so we can continue faithfully to answer that call, and may God bless us all in that hope. amen