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Home Who's who Bishops The Bishop of Sherborne Sermons, articles, and media Sermon Preached at Salisbury Cathedral, 21 April 2018

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Sermon Preached at Salisbury Cathedral, 21 April 2018

by Michael Ford last modified 30 Apr, 2018 05:37 PM

Bishop Karen preached at the Celebration of Lay Ministry at Salisbury Cathedral.

Isaiah 42:1-9
John 15:1-5, 12-17

First of all I want to say ‘Thank You’, thank you for being here, and thank you for all you are doing in the service of Christ across the diocese. This is a celebration of ministry, and I hope that as you too look around, you are encouraged at the strength of ministry within our cathedral today. You are, as Teresa of Avila once famously wrote, the eyes and ears, the hands and feet of Christ, where God has placed you and for that, today we give thanks.

I would also like to thank at the beginning of this sermon, those who have worked hard to put this day together, the planning team, the administration team, those leading workshops, those who are involved in this service, and those who have checked and double checked all the important requirements necessary to ensure that our ministry and that of our churches is safe for all those we welcome and minister to.

Today is also a time of equipping and it is our hope that you not only enjoy the day, but find in it new things to take back to your communities, through what you learn but also what you share together in your local ministry teams as you go back to your churches.

I want to begin by repeating some words read earlier from the prophet Isaiah, some words that set our calling in the context of God’s transformative work.

‘I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.’

For me, it all started with a pencil sharpener! At the age of 13, just after being confirmed, the leader of the junior Sunday school at my local church, asked for helpers to sharpen pencils. It was not something I volunteered for alone, for sitting next to me was my partner in crime, my best friend Helena, who whispered to me, 'Karen, we could do that couldn’t we?'

‘Perhaps I could do that, couldn’t I?’ I expect many of you have repeated those words to yourself at some stage during your Christian life. For God’s first prompt often happens gently and graciously, awakening something inside us, showing us what we can do with the gifts we already have.

My pencil sharpener ministry began the next week. Helena and I were recruited, turned up at 11am and were given 6 boxes of coloured pencils to sharpen, one for each class. It was the age of the booming Sunday School in our part of town - therefore on week 2 there were more pencils to sharpen.

Remember that little boy with his packed lunch, with a few loaves and fishes offered up to Jesus? Or the host at the wedding party with some water? Or the parable of the mustard seed?

The miracle of Jesus, is that he takes the little we offer and multiplies it big time! My pencil sharpening ministry you wouldn’t be surprised, was short lived, all the pencils were sharpened by week 3, and Helena and I, being at a loose end, began to help with a class. Within six months we found ourselves with a class of our own, and by the time we had reached the age of 16 we were leading the main sessions. By 18 I was asked to take on the responsibility of the whole Sunday school, and you could say the rest is history.

Yet, I believe that my pencil sharpening ministry has continued, because that is what God uses to remind me that even in the most mundane things I am serving Christ.

Where did your ministry begin? Maybe by boiling a kettle, or with a smile of welcome, or those wonderful chocolate brownies that you have perfected, or that little odd job, mowing the lawn for the neighbour, or giving someone a lift. Rejoice in how that has been multiplied in God’s hands! You may now be standing up the front on a Sunday, leading worship, or have the title of Licensed Lay Minister, or be co-ordinating the visiting team, however we should never forget how it all began.

Yet is there more that could be multiplied? Are you still holding things back, because you think they are too small, or insignificant or mundane to be used, or that someone else could do it better than you? How often do we come before God and with open arms say, here I am, use me?

My friend Helena was key to my pencil sharpening ministry, and every step of the way I can be thankful for the people who gave me a nudge, said that I could do it, when I looked at myself and thought not, because God’s ministry is done always in partnership with others.

The teachings of Jesus about the vine are vital to flourishing ministry, they are important to local church life, they are important to our participation in God’s mission. Because no one can grow the Kingdom alone.

When I moved to my last house I inherited a vine. In fact the vine stretched across the whole of the back of the house. The previous incumbent made wine, however for a busy archdeacon just looking at the vine as it grew and grew, over the summer months, and grapes would appear, filled me with some dread. However being a good steward, each year I would prune the whole thing and I can tell you it was a duty and not a joy.

However, as basketfuls of grapes were gathered each year, I was in a strange kind of way amazed at the abundance. Something so barren in January and February, something neglected most of the time, brought a harvest of fruit which could be crushed into grape juice.

It is easy for us to look at each other in a glass half empty way, to maybe be-moan the current state of the Church of England, and wonder what life there is left, yet as we look around today what potential there is, as we meet faithful friends who gather with us week by week, month by month, what potential there is. It is as if the ongoing prayer in our ancient church buildings, and the regular pattern of worship and fellowship, creates the possibilities of that seemingly dead, yet far from dead, vine.

In my experience, it takes just some attending to bring on the fruit - some organisation, much encouragement, some useful tools, and much trusting God for the rest.

The increase in those coming forward with their gifts for authorised ministry over the last few years is testimony to that fact. Many of you will have been tapped on the shoulder by your vicar or another minister, encouraged by your friends that you can do that, and now find yourself doing things you never felt you could or would or even should! Perhaps there are now those God wants you to encourage?

My vision for the church is that no one leaves their gifts at the door, because doing so would be denying God the opportunity to bring about transformation to the world. We are all needed to be fully communities of worship, prayer and service. To be communities so vibrant, that they are infectious. Like the grape juice from the vine together our fruitfulness will not be contained if we allow God to transform it abundantly to be shared with abandon.

The Hampton Court grapevine is over 1,000 years old. One root and some branches 200 feet long. Despite its age, the vine produces several tons of grapes each year. Although some of the smaller branches are a long way from the stem they produce the most delicious fruit because they are connected to the vine. We need one another and we need Christ.

I am the true vine, said Jesus, to his disciples on the night of his betrayal. It was an altogether familiar image for them. Israel referred to as the vine or vineyard was well known, in fact the vine had become the symbol of the Jewish nation.

However, this time it was different. In the scriptures when the symbol of the vine was used it was linked to the degeneration of the vine. The Old Testament prophets indicated a vine which had grown wild and in desperate need of pruning, but then Jesus states that he himself is the source of spiritual life. So ministers we need to abide, and in hanging around with Christ, our ministry will display Christ-like character and we shall bear Christ-like fruit.

And we are never the finished product. I have just visited Morocco, still a relatively poor country, with an illiteracy rate of 60%. It is very much a visual and verbal culture, based on much tradition. Still today in the souks, like thousands of years ago, each geographical section interestingly contains five elements – a hamman for washing, a school for education, a mosque for worship, a water fountain, and a bakery for communal baking.

There is something quite Eucharistic in that mix, making a difference to the physical, mental, and spiritual life of all those who live there. And there is a faithfulness in that tradition, illustrated in the baker who spend the day pushing things in and out of a clay oven, as an assortment of people – shop keepers, restaurant owners, homemakers, all turned up with their tray of bread or pastries to be baked. Each person has a role, and all use their gifts to sustain everyone else.

Yet, not only that, but Morocco through its faithfulness appears to have struck gold, liquid gold! Argon oil, made from the crushed nuts of the Argon tree, some seemingly insignificant nut, has been found to have huge restorative properties – particularly for women. Assisted by testimony from western models, and promoted by cosmetic firms, Moroccan women have been greatly empowered in the last few years to form local cooperatives, to make and package the oil.

By adding some lemon balm, or some rosemary, or some other herb, Argon oil not only smooths the skin, it gets rid of acne, brown spots and most importantly of all wrinkles!! For the westerner wanting to remain forever young, Argon oil has become the great saviour, but also giving life and meaning to the lives of countless poorer women. A seemingly useless nut is now a thriving billion-dollar business.

That seems to me to be a metaphor for how God works, taking our faithful service, and then refining it, and refining it, to bring transformation in abundance. It is an illustration for all of us, that we are never the finished article, and as we go on using and developing our gifts God can use us more and more, so much that we never know quite what the God of surprises is going to do next!

And I suppose that is my next challenge to you. What are you going to do next with those wonderful gifts that God has already given you? What Argon oil, or liquid gold can you bring forth? No, to dispel all rumours this is so not about ordained ministry. Ordained ministry is not the gold standard, the Argon oil of the church. Ordained ministry is a calling, alongside many callings, and if we all had collars around our necks what limit there would be to our effectiveness!

God gives everyone who utilises their gifts a ministry. I really do believe that, as lay ministers, authorised and licensed, you have so much more opportunity than me to share the love of Christ with your neighbours and friends, and to bring transformation to your communities.

What I am asking, is if pressed, and maybe literally, what more could you do for God, and do for God together? It does not surprise me that most thriving fresh expressions in our church today are being led by people like you, we clergy just get in the way sometimes. So this is giving you permission not to hold back, to, together do the things which God is calling you to do; abide in him and to continue to learn new things, to develop your gifts.

Perhaps you are enjoying being a worship leader or pastoral assistant, and have put off asking the question, ‘Could I do more and perhaps have more theological training to be an LLM?’ Or as an LLM are you feeling constrained by the traditional model and wanting to develop a pioneering, or training, or more theological role.

If we all decided after today that we will go for it, so our service for Christ, our offering, our sacrifice ran over, then God could transform the diocese of Salisbury overnight. We will need a new strapline, because through us God will have Renewed Hope.....everywhere. So don’t hold back, and that was what Isaiah was saying in the passage with which I began:

‘I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.’

This text holds together the work of the servant, with the transcendent sovereignty of God. We are all caught up in that and that’s a big ministry and a high calling and that’s what can happen if we allow God to keep us and make us, to be a sign and a light to the world. In its time it was an announcement from God to exiles. It can still be today.

And those promises we will make today, and our gifts and ministries all come together in our walk with Christ because of that big ministry and high calling. In fact the fruit is all a by-product of healthy growth, and what transformative fruit God can bring – to open eyes that are blind, to free those held captive and to release those in darkness.

Those exiles, our world are invited back into powerful hope, rooted in the purposes of God. Let’s leave here today, knowing that we are called, encouraged in that calling by one another, and knowing that together, if we abide in Christ and step out for him, we can do much more than we ever imagined, as we play our part in God’s great hope of transformation throughout Dorset, Wiltshire and beyond.

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