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Sermon for the Second Sunday of the Epiphany 

I pray that I may speak, and that you may hear, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

We can all be a bit dense sometimes, at least, I know I can at times. As I get older. I sometimes think I am being dense more often than not, but I hope that is only my paranoia, not the true case!

I wonder what would have happened to Samuel if Eli had not been around when the Lord called him. Would he have realized that the Lord was calling him, or would he have taken himself off to whoever passed for a doctor in those days, and complained about the voices in his head.

How do we recognize God's voice when he is talking to us? How would we tell if God is calling us to a specific task that he feels we are the right person for?

Many of you will know that I am involved with the selection process for Reader Ministry. When someone has applied to start training to become a Lay Minister, licensed by the Diocesan Bishop to teach, preach, minister to the sick and conduct funerals, like Martin, Mike and I, there is a panel of Priests, Lay Ministers and Lay People who can be called upon to interview candidates and decide if they should be recommended for training. I am on that panel.

During 2005 the procedure for doing this has become, after long discussion with the Warden of Readers, the Bishop of Hertford, Christopher Foster, a far more formal affair than it has been for some years and, if you have applied to start training as a Reader, you will be invited to an all day conference, along with several other candidates, to be interviewed by a group of selectors, chosen from the main panel, who will then make a recommendation to the Warden, who makes the final decision.

You will notice that I have been careful to say "accepted for training" At this early stage no candidate can be guaranteed that they will become a Reader. This will come much later when they have completed two thirds of their training and been assessed by their pastoral and personal tutors. The pastoral tutor is, unless something precludes it, their incumbent, their personal tutor will be one of about thirty tutors in the Diocese who job to guide and assist them through their training. I am a personal tutor as well, but that's another story.

During 2005 Bishop Christopher (St Albans this time, not Hertford, and if you find that confusing try working with them full time like I do) appointed six vocations advisers, one Lay and one Clergy for each Archdeaconry, and it is to those advisers you will be directed to explore your vocation, should you feel you have one. If they feel that you should proceed, then they will point you towards my fellow secretary, Richard Osborn, if you and they think you are being called to Reader Ministry, or to Canon Michael Sansom, the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, if you are being called to the Ordained Ministry.

And now we come to the reason I have explained this to you. We are often approached by men and women who, though they might feel they are being called to ministry of some kind, are patently not suitable. It is more often the case that they are suited to something else, sometimes, not very often, it is plain to everyone except them that they have no vocation whatsoever.

Conversely there are a good few people around who everyone else knows quite well would make splendid Lay Ministers or even Priests, who seem to be completely unaware of the fact themselves even though all their boxes, so to speak.

Samuel's story reminds that even the greatest spiritual leaders are by no means always certain when God is speaking to them. Equally it reminds us that sometimes a third party who we are close to, Eli in Samuel's case, can be of great help in discerning God's path for us, even if that path is actually a dead end. Sometimes they can see what God is saying to us much more clearly than we can ourselves.

Now a commercial break sponsored by the Diocesan Readers' Association of which I am joint secretary. There is a serious shortage of Readers in this Deanery. There are twenty three churches in the Luton Deanery, and only fourteen Readers at present, with three in training. Three of us are here at St Margaret's, so that means there are eleven readers between twenty two churches. If you need any information about Reader Ministry, or know anyone who does, please ask. It never hurts to ask. Advert over.

And now to today's gospel. If I was to tell you that I could tear a telephone directory in half with my bare hands, or that I cold run a four minute mile, or that I have just been voted the best dressed man in Britain 2006, would you believe me? No of course not!

You would either nod sagely, privately believing me to be the most big-headed and misguided person you have ever met, or you would call me a liar to my face.

If you could see me doing those things, however, then it would be a different matter, there would be no question that I was capable of doing the things I claimed to be able to do. (Actually, the telephone directory was a bad example, as I can tear one in half - it requires no great strength, there is a knack to it that anyone can learn)

However if you could see me do a four minute mile (yes I know, the mind boggles) you would have to believe, and if I wore French and Avery Shirts and Armani suits you might, at a pinch, believe the best dressed man bit. But I can't and I don't, so you don't believe, why should you.

So let me give you another scenario. A man comes to Luton claiming to be the Messiah, to be able to heal the sick, forgive sins and raise the dead, and I tell you about him, would you believe me? Of course not, and neither did Nathaniel when Philip told him about Jesus. After all the years of expectation and consequent disappointment, why should he believe?

Philip's reply was the best possible - "Come and see", and his words remind us that the gospel is not about speculation or philosophy, but is a testimony to the experience of many, many people whose lives were directly touched by the ministry of Christ. It includes eye-witness accounts of definite events and of a flesh-and-blood person - Jesus Christ.

More importantly, it invites to put our whole faith in Jesus. To respond to his promises, and to see for ourselves the truth of who he is and all that he means, to us and to the world.

This invitation is not only open to us, the converted, the churched, but to everyone, and if we don't extend the invitation to them - "come and see" just as Philip did to Nathaniel, then we cannot expect this faith of ours, indeed this church, to survive, let alone grow.

If someone you know shows any kind of interest in the church at all, then "come and see" is all you have to say and then we, as a community do the rest. Having a vocation does not necessarily mean being called to Reader Ministry or to the Priesthood. The many, many people we have doing so many different, and absolutely vital, jobs in this church alone are a testimony to that. If there is something you feel you could, or should, be doing - offer your services.


Prayers - Intercessions

Living God, time and again we ask you to speak to us, to give us guidance, to show us what to do. And yet when you do speak to us we often fail to recognise your voice. Though we talk about prayer being a two way affair, the reality is usually different and we seldom really expect to hear your voice. Give us the readiness to listen to the voices of others and to be guided by their wisdom so that we may both recognise your voice, and understand what you are saying. Through Jesus Christ. Amen

Sovereign God, we thank you that you took on our humanity and came to walk with us on earth, experiencing our joys and sorrows, becoming part of our world of space and time. We thank you for the experience of those who et with you in Christ, and for their testimony to your life-giving power through him.

Above all, we thank you that we too can experience that same love and power within our lives; that though we may not see Jesus in the flesh, we can still know him as a living reality in our hearts and so experience the good news at the heart of the gospel. Receive our grateful praise, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Ron Upton
 15th January 2006

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