Please find below Mark Robert final sermon, for now, in the Priory, as he leaves in 2 weeks to return to Durham. Mark is currently studying to become a full time priest, and we wish him and his wfe Liz all our prayers and best wishes, and look forward to his ordination next year......
15th Sunday of the Year. Year B
Called out and sent
A businessman drove, every day, to work of a morning, and home again of an evening; seventy miles each way, up and down the M1. He listened to Radio Four in his car, and thought about life, the world and everything, to pass the time. Day in, day out, up and down, back and forth. Like so many people, going to work to make a living. Up and down the motorway the man would see road signs at each junction to various places along the way; but the name of one place resonated with him, it stuck in his mind. It was a place where someone he knew lived.
One day, on his way home from work, the man turned off the motorway at that junction, and went to see his friend.
In my training for the priesthood last year I learnt about Homiletics. Homiletics is a posh word for how to write sermons. One of the rules of homiletics is that the preacher should resist the temptation to be too personal; the preacher should not talk about himself too much, he shouldn't be too confessional, he shouldn't make his sermon a vanity project about his own life and faith, his experiences and beliefs.
Forgive me, because I have just broken that rule; because, if you haven't already guessed, the man driving up and down the M1 was me. I was living in Nottingham at the time and commuting to Leeds and back every day. The junction on the M1 was junction 31, for Worksop, and the person I knew was Fr Andrew Wagstaff.
So it was that seven years ago God called me to the Priory; so it was also that my wife, Lizzie, and I bought a house just the other side of Retford, so that I could become part of your worshipping community here.
That was in 2005. And in the last seven years, here, in Worksop, with you, my friends, I rediscovered my calling to be a priest; I have tested that calling here, and, praise God, I was accepted by the Church to train for ordination, an ordination which will, God willing, happen this time next year.
This is why the readings we have heard at mass this morning speak to me; yes, they speak to me about my own calling, but they speak to me also about the calling of the whole people of God wherever they are found. Today's readings talk about your calling, my friends, as the faithful people of God, here, at the Priory, and these readings talk about all those people up and down this land in churches this morning and day by day – the pilgrim people of God, the new Israel, to whom God sends prophets and priests to lead and to guide, people like Father Spicer, Father Fisher, and, I must humbly accept, people even like me.
The prophet Amos, in our first reading, is told in no uncertain terms to ‘go away', ‘we don't want your sort here'. When I came here to this place, you could have said the same to me. ‘Go away', you're not from Worksop!' But you didn't. You welcomed me, and I became part of your community. You allowed me to worship with you, to sing with you, to pray with you, and you even accepted me when I began to preach to you. You have supported me, prayed for me and accepted me as one of your own. As God called Amos, so he has called me. “Go, preach to my people Israel.” Like Amos, we all need to trust in God's call, the call that he makes to each and every one of us.
Our Gospel reading this morning, from Mark's Gospel, is also about calling, and trust too. In the Gospel, Jesus has already called his disciples, he has said to Peter and Andrew “Follow me”, and, perhaps with uncertainty at first, the disciples trust Jesus and follow him; and then, as they follow him, they see him cure the sick, working miracles right before their eyes. Then comes the challenge in today's Gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out to spread the good news of God in all the surrounding country. I am sure the disciples were scared, but they trusted Jesus. It is not surprising then that the Church has used this reading as a model for evangelism; we are sent out, filled with the Holy Spirit, to share what we know about Jesus with those who we meet in our daily lives. But more than this, this ‘sending out' is what it means to be a Church. The Greek word for a worshipping community is ‘ekklesia'. The word ekklesia is itself made up of two Greek words, ‘ek' meaning out, as in exit, and kaleo, meaning call. So our word ‘church' actually means ‘called or sent out'. So it is not just priests who are called - and people like me who are training to be priests - we are all called, every one of us, together as a Church and individually, called out to serve Jesus, and we are sent, to wherever he needs us to go, to spread his good news.
I believe that I was sent here to Worksop, by God, seven years ago. You, my friends, made me welcome, and here, I found again my calling to be a priest; I did not, thankfully, need to shake off the Worksop dust from under my feet, because you made me welcome, and I was able to share the Christian life with you, here, and grow in faith and confidence; you, my friends, have fostered me in my calling to be a priest, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
But, God is calling me out again and sending me away, for, my wife Lizzie and I are moving to Durham; we are, my friends, moving away in three weeks' time. So this, for now, is my last sermon here. The 29 th of July will be my last Sunday with you, because, I am being called out and sent away. This is a great sadness, because I love being here, and with you, but life moves on, and I trust that God knows what he is doing, I trust in his purpose and plan, even though I do not always know what that purpose and plan is.
And so, as a farewell, Lizzie and I invite you to join us, at our house, for a coffee morning on Saturday the 28 th of July. And, because this is the Priory, I hope that we can raise some money for the heating fund too. I have tickets here, two pounds each. You'll get coffee, tea, homemade scones and homemade jam from our own plum tree. I hope that you will be able to join us. We live the other side of Retford, I hope that will not put you off and I hope that we will be able to arrange lifts for those that need them. Let's sort that our after mass.
You have indulged me thus far, so please permit me finish by saying something about one of the most beautiful pieces of philosophical poetry in the whole of the New Testament, and one of my favourite passages of scripture – our second reading today, that well known, hymn-like passage from Paul's letter to the Christians in Ephesus.
This poem we heard today is reminiscent of what the bishop says at confirmation: “God has called you by name and made you his own”. God has called us, “determined that we should become His adopted sons through Jesus Christ”, called out to fulfil his purpose, to praise His name, and to be freed from the shackles of our sins. Freed from our sins so that we might, unencumbered, be sent out, recognising in our lives, and the lives of others, his love, his mysteries and his purpose, recognising what we must do and what we must be.
God has called us all in Jesus Christ that we might know and share his love; let us, therefore, trust in this calling to all of us, even when God seems far away and our Christian life seems like an infinite uphill struggle with no end in sight; but, remember the words of St Paul today: “God has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.” Continue, then, to trust in God and following your calling, for, be assured, that God has already placed his trust in you, even before you were born.