Sermon for the 4th Sunday before Lent: Vocation – preached at the Eucharist, Sherborne Abbey, on Sunday, 6 February 2022 by The Reverend Robert Green.  (Isaiah Ch 6: v 1 – 8; Luke 5: 1 – 11)

All 12 disciples were called by Jesus, and every Christian is called by God, and it can happen anywhere as is shown by our Gospel reading this morning. Peter was at his work when he was called, and in our Old Testament reading Isaiah was in the Temple. In both instances, they were confronted with circumstances that took them completely out of their comfort zone. Isaiah was overwhelmed by the glory and presence of God, and Peter by what can only be described as a miraculous catch of fish. In both cases, they were aware of their unworthiness before God, Isaiah was absolved of his guilt by a burning coal touching his lips, and Peter, by Jesus saying: “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will catch people”

Let us look in more detail at the calling of Simon, later to be known as Peter. Jesus was addressing a crowd on the northern shore of the Sea of Gennesaret or Galilee where there are several inlets providing natural amphitheatres, and by getting into one of the boats he was able to speak to the crowd quite audibly, and the fishermen who were listening in the boat. When he had finished speaking, Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the net for a catch” Simon then protests that they have been out all night and haven’t caught anything, but then he concedes, perhaps with considerable doubt about the result, and, in obedience, he lets down the nets. The result is a huge catch of fish, so much so that he has to ask for help in bringing them to shore. What is going on? How did it happen? Simon’s reaction, like Isaiah’s is one of total unworthiness, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man”. It is a coming to terms with spiritual power. We know that in the New Testament there were some who refused their calling. When the rich young ruler was asked to give all his money away, and come follow Jesus, he went away downcast, and was not prepared to make such a sacrifice, and later in St John’s Gospel there came a point when some followers went away and accompanied him no more. God will indeed call us, but we are free to respond or not.

It is a common reaction when God calls, for a person to feel a sense of unworthiness. Our first reaction may well be that there are much better people than me, but God does not give up easily, and unless we dismiss it as quite out of hand, ‘the love that will not let us go’ will continue calling in one way or another.

For those who have answered a calling from the Lord there is never any regrets, however hard subsequent events prove to be, and God doesn’t just call people to the Ordained ministry. We can have a calling to any occupation or profession. William Wilberforce believed God was calling him to the Ordained Ministry, and he went and consulted John Newton, by this time a Parish Priest, and Newton persuaded him to remain a Member of Parliament, and spearhead the legislation for the Abolition of Slavery, which after several attempts was passed in 1807. Wilberforce just lived long enough to see the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1833.

Today we are celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Queen’s Accession, not only has this never happened before, but Her Majesty’s reign is a supreme example of someone who based on her firm Christian faith has seen her life as both a divine Calling and a total Dedication to this nation in duty and service. We know that this has been no easy task, and the events of this last year have been particularly hard with the loss of her husband in very difficult circumstances. She remains a superb role model of a Christian life lived through all the vicissitudes of human experience.

I said earlier that God does not only call people to the Ordained Ministry, but on occasions He does do just that, and in the Winterborne Valley, where I served for 12 years, we had two Ordinands in ten years from a total population of less than three thousand. One has sadly died, but the last ten years of his ministry was teaching at a Church Secondary School, and after his death a new school building has been named after him in recognition of his contribution to the life of the school. The other has a fruitful ministry in Gloucester diocese. There is a story about a prospective Ordinand which may be apocryphal, but I will share it with you. At the interview with his Bishop he was asked how his calling had come about. His reply was that it was through his vicar. His Bishop was delighted to hear this. The young man then explained that he had seen his vicar make such a ham-fisted job of it that he thought he could do so much better! It is not recorded whether he was ordained or not.

Here this morning there is a wide range of ages, and for those whose lives lie ahead of them, I ask you to be open to what God wants you to do with your life, and for those who are older let us equally be open to what God may be asking of us. Let us be clear God has a plan for each of our lives, and whilst this may well be infinitely adaptable, as people chosen by God, there is a purpose to our lives from beginning to end; even those who are housebound can have a ministry of prayer, and I have valued that prayer support many times.

There is a worship song which some of you may know written and composed by Dan Schutte, a former Jesuit. It is based on the passage in Isaiah which we heard read this morning. Perhaps they are words that some of us may need to hear.

I the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry. All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save.

I who made stars of night, I will make their darkness bright. Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

I the lord of snow and rain, I have borne my people’s pain. I have wept for love of them. They turn away.

I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone. I will speak my words to them. Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

I the Lord of wind and flame, I will tend the poor and lame. I will set a feast for them. My hand will save.

Finest bread I will provide till their hearts be satisfied.  I will give my life to them. Whom shall send?

Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.