Preached by the Reverend Tim Sledge, Vicar of Romsey, at the Ordination of Priests, 30th June 2012.
Can you help me?I’ve lost my glasses and can’t see to peel the potatoes for tea.
Can you help me? My bus still hasn’t arrived.
Can you help me? I’m not able to register my vote for Strictly Come Dancing.
Can you help me? The pizza takeaway shop has delivered the wrong topping.
Can you help me? Santa is breaking into my house.
I wonder if you realise what all of these cries for help have in common. They are all genuine calls made to 999.And today, 999 is exactly 75 years old. On this day 30th June 1937, 999 came to birth.
Although my favouritebogus emergency call was made to the police in the States. Where the problem was “Officer, my daughter won’t come in from the garden to eat her tea”. To which the policeman replied; “Would you like us to come round and shoot her sir?!!
Why am I talking about this? Well I am taking as my theme for these two addresses two significant anniversaries which occur this weekend. And … if you want to find out tomorrows..come tomorrow morning.
When you call the people of the Emergency services, they leave their comfort zones, and they go into situations that they don’t know about, that their training will hopefully have prepared them for, every day is different, so situation is the same – yet they go. Why? Because there could be lives to be saved.So why am I talking about this?
You see the difference here is that 75 years ago, a system was set up for us to call humans to rescue us, to bring us help and hope and safety, and to save our lives. And now the calling is similar but it’s not us who make the call – these deacons are responding to the call –the call which is made by God.
You see the system of calling was set up thousands of years before. The Old testament is full of the human stories ofMoses, David, Samuel,.Because this is not a phone referral system. It is God – yes God who has called each of these amazing wonderful exciting people out of good jobs, secure backgrounds, into danger? Yes – challenge yes. Now I have locked the doors to make sure they don’t do a runner here, but here is the difference. These people are raising their heads above the parapet.
They will find themselves called and led into all sorts of difficult and new situations, but they do not do it alone – they are not superheroes, wonder men and women, but faithful godly people who have listened, heard, and responded. As John Drane the cultural theologian said – there are far too many priests like Rambo and not enough like Jesus Christ!
They have done it in order – again like the people of our emergency services – to bring life, to save life to bring hope. They are affirming their commitment to follow and be guided by alifesaving God. But I want to say that the call which these lovely people are responding to is a life-giving service. Not just that they are making the sacrifices – the death to self, but that they in their ordinal are essentially called to bring life to others – not just life, but with the model of the good shepherd, abundant life.
In this passage from John, Jesus says that he has come so that his sheep – his followers, all of us – may have life and have it abundantly. Life, obviously, is good, desirable, important. How much more so, then, abundant life.The chance to not simply persist, but thrive, to not simply exist, but flourish. To have a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfilment; to know and be known, accept and be accepted. I believe that if there is one thing that pretty much everyone desires – even if they can’t name that desire – it’s this.
We can try to find abundant life in things, but ultimately that will fail. I watched a Top Gear episode recently, I know – I need to get out more! And Mr Jeremy Clarkson – who is to diplomacy what King Herod was to childminding said whilst driving some sports car. “I have never felt more alive” I wanted to say – no Jeremy, you are driving a car round and round in circles on a race track. It might give you a thrill, it does not bring life – let alone abundance.
But perhaps we have all been party to this sort of charade, perhaps we should say, cheated ourselves – by settling for something less than abundant life. The choices we have made, the strategies we have employed, the things we have relied upon, to bring us some satisfied life - and they haven’t brought that sense of satisfaction. Because the fact of the matter is that after all of our seeking and searching and shopping, we still end up far short of experiencing the abundant life Jesus promises.
I suspect that authentic abundant life – which Jesus here describes as flowing from relationship with Jesus and through him with God – demands that we be more vulnerable than we’re most often prepared to be. So much of our life is about protecting ourselves: giving the impression that we really do have it all together and in this way guarding ourselves against vulnerability. The difficulty, though, is that we cannot experience abundant life without exposing, even lifting up, those very vulnerabilities we want to hide. And in trying to protect ourselves from hurt and disappointment, we have so numbed ourselves that we have cut ourselves off from the opportunity to really feel alive.
And then take a look at those emergency calls – those things which caused people to genuinely ring 999? They are symptomatic of what happens when our so called self-seeking control of our lives falls apart! We panic and see it as an emergency and the first port of call becomes not God, but the 999 service. But there is so much more behind those genuine calls:
It’s not that my bus has not arrived – I don’t know where my life is going
It’s not that my pizza topping is wrong, but that all the expectations I had for my life are no longer what they were.
It’s not that we can’t get to vote on Strictly come dancing, but that we should be concerned about those who don’t have the freedom to vote at all.
It’s not that Santa is breaking into my house, its more that I have lost my home
It’s not that I have lost my glasses, I just can’t see clearly any more.
When the things we expect to happen don’t happen, we panic, and we think its an emergency. The emergency – the crisis is about this abundant life.
We live in a world which is crying out for this abundant life and doesn’t know where to find it. So thank God that these people have responded to be signposts, sentinels for that abundant life.
Think about it: so much of our life is caught in this double-bind of wanting intimacy and honesty in our relationships – with each other as much as with God – and yet simultaneously holding back, not risking exposing ourselves fully to others for fear that they may reject us. It’s a legitimate fear, of course; people have rejected us in the past. And so we ensconce ourselves in emotional armour, living half-truths and sometimes outright lies about who we are, hoping to protect ourselves from hurt, perhaps all the while knowing that as long as we are not honest about who we are, we cannot trust the love and acceptance others would offer us. After all, would they accept us, we silently ask ourselves, if they really knew us? God accepts each one of us as we are warts and all and so god and the church is accepting his deacons.
And so these deacons sit before you now, ready to open their hearts and lives afresh to receive that abundance, from this in their sacramental and pastoral and missional work flows that life, in them and through them. They are called to minister as priests in God’s church. In the Church of England – which whatever you might read or might be said in the next few weeks is the best the most generous, the most loving place I would want to be. I love this church, at times it frustrates me beyond words, but I love it, because through it, it helped me and so many others to find that Abundant life in Jesus Christ. I love it, and I will gladly live, give away this life, and die in it.
So let me remind us all – especially you (the deacons) of a promise – and let me declare this promise – before all the huge promises and commitments that you are about to make – followed by your affirmation of them as friends, families, parishoners:Abundant life is not something to earn or achieve, buy or barter for. Rather, it is a gift, the sheer gift of a God who loves us enough to lay down his life for us. There are so many thieves and bandits in this world who would rob us of life, who would cheat us of abundance. And so Jesus comes as the gatekeeper and good shepherd, the one who knows his sheep – intimately and truly – and who calls us by name so that we, hearing may believe and receive this life embodied in the love of Jesus Christ.
Sisters and Brothers..one last thing to you all. We are here in awe and admiration and excitement at who you are and what each one of you is doing today here today – they are responding to God’s call. They are taking a risk and responding to a crisis and are here to bring help and hope to the places they are called to serve. I want to say to us all… respond too. Seek in your own heart – if God is placing hope in these guys, then he is placing hope in you. Maybe not to ordained ministry, but to know the love and hope of Jesus Christ in your own life. This is why I, those three bishops, these 15 and so many countless other lay and ordained Christians get out of bed in the morning. For the sake of hope..for the sake of risking all. Of sharing this abundant life.
Thanks be to God for 75 years of calls to 999
Thanks be to God for his continuing calls to us
Thanks be to God for giving us these deacons.
Thanks be to God for his abundant life.