18 January 2009

Responding to God’s call

A traditional icon of the Twelve Apostles: Philip and Nathanael (Bartholomew) are in the middle row, first and second from the left; Andrew is beside them in the middle of icon as the first-called of the Twelve; Peter is second from the left in the front row, facing the Apostle Paul.

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 18 January, 2009, The Second Sunday after the Epiphany: I Samuel 3: 1-10; Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-18; Revelation 5: 1-10; John 1: 43-51.

May I speak to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

This past week has been a very trying, demanding and even exhausting week for students at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

For a number of days, the third year students have been going through what we call the “curacy round.”

They have been interviewed by the rectors of parishes who hope to appoint curates in their parishes in the coming months.

Some of the students have been asked to be seen by rectors of parishes they never even considered going to. Others will find that having been interviewed by the rector, a parish they once thought very attractive and appealing is one they now no longer want to consider.

And when the placements are finally agreed, some rectors and students will be disappointed, and some will be surprised.

Most of the students have spent three years training for ordained ministry. But they know the call to ministry came many, many years before that. Now that call is about to be affirmed by the Church at ordination.

The students come from a variety of backgrounds and from all over the country. But they are sharing the same anxieties at the moment: there are final exams, they are leaving a college that has been like home for almost three years, they are leaving the old family homes they have lived in, they are starting a new job, moving to a new house and to a new town. Any one of these changes is stressful in itself, so you can imagine how stressed out some of the students have been this past week.

And some of them may have surprised the interviewing rectors who met them, and some students will be surprised by the offers they receive in the coming weeks.

God’s call comes to a variety of people, and in surprising ways.

This morning’s Gospel reading is the story of the call of Philip and Nathanael, and it comes immediately after the story of the call of Andrew and Peter.

Andrew and Peter are brothers but their names indicate the early differences and divisions in the Church. Andrew’s name is Greek ('Ανδρέας, Andreas), meaning “manly” or “valorous,” while Peter’s original name, Simon (שמעון‎, Shimon, meaning “hearing”) is so obviously Jewish.

And the same again with Philip and Nathanael: Philip is a strong Greek name – everyone in the region knew Philip of Macedon was the father of Alexander the Great; while Nathanael’s name is a Hebrew compound meaning “the Gift of God.”

So, from the very beginning of the story of the call of the disciples, the diversity and divisions with the Church are represented, even in their names which show they are Jews and Greeks, the Hebrew-speakers and those who are culturally Hellenised.

In reacting to those false divisions in the early Church, the Apostle Paul tells us: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

The ordained ministry of the Church should reflect the diversity of skills and talents and personalities that God has given to the Church as gift and blessing. The call to ordained ministry that has come to a very diverse group of students in many ways reflects how the call came to the first disciples as a diverse group of people, from a wide variety of backgrounds, often – as with Philip and Nathanael – when they were least expecting it.

But they responded to that call faithfully. Andrew went and fetched Simon Peter. Philip found Nathanael.

In your prayers, please remember these ordinands in the coming weeks as they sit exams, move home, prepare for ordination, that in their ministry they will also go and invite others to “Come and See” and to follow Christ.

And now, may all praise, honour and glory be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the early morning Eucharist (Holy Communion 1) in Rathfarnham Parish Church, Dublin, on Sunday 18 January 2009.

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