Sermon by Haydon Wilcox 16.05.2021

Sermon by Haydon Wilcox


A preacher was completing a temperance sermon: with great expression he said, "If I had all the beer in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river."

With even greater emphasis, he said, "And if I had all the wine in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river."

And then, finally, he said, "And if I had all the whiskey in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river." He sat down.

The song leader then stood very cautiously and announced with a pleasant smile, "For our closing song, let us sing Hymn #365: 'Shall We Gather At the River."

It is difficult for a preacher to know what to address in a Sunday Sermon.  Should it be Christian Aid Week? The conflict between Israel and Palestinians? Covid’s devastation abroad? Or a detailed exploration of today’s gospel?  For me the way it works is that I read the passages of scripture set for this Sunday at the beginning of the week and wait for a theme to emerge and the Spirit has never disappointed me.

Today I’m going to explore about being called into ministry.

On Thursday we celebrated Ascension, the commemoration of that event when the Risen Lord Jesus left the disciples to return to His Father in Heaven.  That mystery needs unpacking perhaps at another time!   We are told Jesus gave a commission to his disciple to go out into the world, to preach the good news and  bring people into the faith through baptism.  He promised help from on High, what we know now as the gift of the Holy Spirit. They were told to wait

So during this time of waiting what do the disciples do but they have an election.  We’ve endured enough of elections having we during the past week, with political commentators interpreting all sorts out outcomes.  The crowd that Peter address was now 120 in number and the followers of Jesus were growing each day. But there was a vacancy among the band of 12, now that Judas Iscariot had committed suicide.  As they waited ,as Jesus has commanded, there was one thing they could do and that was to have an election!

The criterion for candidacy is that the post holder should have accompanied Jesus from his baptism to witnessing his resurrection.  Two candidates were proposed Joseph, who was known by a number of other names, and Matthias.  Instead of everyone having a vote – the choice was left to God by the casting of lots. 

That same biblical technique can be used even today in starting  football matches or at an Annual Parish Meeting when a choice has to be made between two parties of equal merit.  We call it tossing a coin. In this instance it was Matthias who is selected and added to the eleven apostles.

The selection for ministry in the Church of England is not as simple as this, and would we really imagine it to be otherwise.  The C of E doesn’t do simple.

Today people who feel they might have a vocation into any form of public ministry in the Church speak to their parish priest, who usually refers them to a local vocational advisor.  After many conversations, if there is still a desire to proceed, they will meet with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands or the Director of Licensed Lay Ministry.  I told you it would be complicated!  Tasks may be set, references pursued, meeting with experienced people be undertaken and the pathways to training explored. 

Those seeking an ordained ministry go to a residential Bishop’s Advisory Panel and those seeking accredited lay ministry will be engaged with a day of interviews.  If selected, candidates will undertake free training, that is most appropriate for their needs. 

Only when training is completed will they be publicly accredited through ordination for a clergy person or licensing for a lay person.  The process can take 2-3 years or in many cases far longer.

The Church today is desperate for more people to come forward.  The band of apostles had one vacancy.  The Church of England has a growing number of vacancies, as hundreds of clergy and lay ministers are now coming up to retirement. Covid has also challenged the financial viability of the Church and in many parts of the country redundancies have had to take place or parishes will have to be joined with other parishes to survive.

In our diocese many people at Diocesan House have been made redundant. You here at St. Marks are being strategically linked with St. Peter’s, Farnborough.  So with contraction taking place within the Church it urgently needs to plan for expansion because it’s original call to go out into the world and bring people to faith is the major priority and the only hope for the Church to continue our Lord’s great commission is to expand its leadership and nurture the people of God into a new confidence and experience of the Risen Lord.

So today I call any of you here, whether you are in your 20’s or 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or 60’s to consider exploring the possibility of serving God in the church’s diverse ministry.  The church especially welcomes young people who can give a substantial number of years, and early retired people who can give precious time, and members of the minority groups as they bring precious insights in their representation.  If anyone wants to talk about Ministry then speak to Deglan or speak to me and I can signpost you to some who will take seriously your interest.

I truly want to encourage you.  I have never regrated responding to that call over 45 years ago. It has been a life of great opportunities and so many blessings.

But now, what about Joseph in the biblical selection process? Having not being selected we hear nothing more of him.  There have been many men and woman who in all sincerity have pursued a vocation to ministry in the Church and for whatever reason they have not been selected.  We know that in any walk of life not being selected for a role, a position, a job must be really hard but when one offers themselves for ministry.  When they pass through so many processes.  When they have voluntarily subjected themselves and their family to scrutiny, not to be selected is painful and lonely.

I think the Church has been wanting in this process and just like Joseph disappears of the radar, so many men and women have felt abandoned, considering themselves as judged, disappointing their congregations who have supported them and truly questioning what their relationship with the church is truly all about. 

Now that I have retired, I am going to use my time to support such people.  Yes, there are some who are clearly not a right fit for public ministry but there are many who sincerely entered the process and got damaged at the last hurdle.  We have to learn to care more pastorally for the Josephs and not forget them and find the right way they can help build God’s Kingdom, if public ministry isn’t the right path.

In today’s Gospel Jesus looks out for the people he called. He asks his Father in Heaven to protect them, that they shouldn’t get lost.  He asks that they may be filled with truth and be resourced to go out into the world to serve. 

As a Church we need to protect our people and not allow them, especially those who have offered and not been selected, to be lost or to become disillusioned.  We need to invest in all people, whatever their position in the family of God. 

We need to speak truth but also show love.  We need to build up and not to cast down.