Canon Treasurer - Revd Leanne Roberts
On the occasion of the licensing and commissioning of Revd Dr Raewynne Whiteley.
I confess that I was slightly apprehensive when I realized that one of the more anguished passages in Scripture, our reading from the book of Job, had been set for Evensong this afternoon, and especially on this occasion of Raewynne’s commissioning and licensing. Job’s cry of ‘How long will you torment me, and break me in pieces with words?’ will not, I pray, be indicative of Raewynne’s experience of the Diocese of Southwark … though the number of emails we receive can, on occasion, rage out of control.
It is wonderful to welcome Raewynne more formally to the Diocese and her new role, despite the fact that she’s been with us since January. We’re also delighted that some of Raewynne’s friends and family here this afternoon, and to see the support from members of the wider Vocations Team, which is a testimony to how well Raewynne has settled in and got to grips with a busy and complex brief.
Her joining us here in Southwark is good news for the Diocese, as well the Vocations Team; her energy, creativity, and kindness have already impressed those she’s met.
For those of you who don’t know, Raewynne is our Diocesan Discipleship and Vocations Missioner. While it’s not exactly the snappiest of job titles, it is a role that sits at the very heart of our Diocesan vision, not to mention providing a model for the whole Christian endeavour.
In this sense, it speaks to each one of us. Discipleship, Vocation, and Mission are three strands that interweave within the life of faith, taking different forms, having different emphases, at different points in our journey as followers of Christ.
And although it is Raewynne’s task to facilitate the intersecting of these elements within the Diocese, this is a something that concerns us all.
Take ‘discipleship’, a word that I daresay is familiar to many of us. However ‘churchy’ a term it might seem sometimes, it is deeply rooted in Scripture. Discipleship began for the apostles when Jesus called them to leave everything they had known and follow him.
In the same way, he calls us today to be his disciples; to be women and men who seek to grow in Jesus, and look to him as our pattern and our guide. In our Gospels, we see how Jesus challenged, loved, encouraged, and taught his disciples, and he does the same with us.
The invitation to follow Jesus happens exactly where we are, and takes us as we are; and when we veer off the path, or get distracted, or go astray, as will happen to each of us, Jesus, our good shepherd, is there ready to seek us out, and gently guide us back. A disciple is one who longs to enter more deeply into relationship with Christ, following his path, despite worldly distraction and our human frailty.
How are we best to develop this life of discipleship? By listening to what Jesus is saying to us: through prayer, and worship, and fellowship. Because each of us is called according to our particular talents and passions and situation.
And this is where ‘vocation’ comes in: from the Latin word ‘vocare’, which means ‘to call’, our vocation is the work God calls us to do. Each of us is created for some definite purpose, and given work to do – work that only we can do.
Vocation is a matter of discernment: it requires self-knowledge (which is often painful), and self-acceptance (which requires humility). It also requires the courage to trust our instincts (and sometimes those of others) and risk launching ourselves into the unknown.
Scripture is full of people who are called by God, but there responses differ considerably. Will we respond like the prophet Isaiah, who, despite misgivings, cries ‘Here I am! Send me!’? Or are we going to respond like Moses: ‘Here I am: send Aaron’; or even Jonah: ‘Here I am: send anyone else’?
We have to decide how we are to respond to this divine call. But Jesus promises to those who answer abundant life; for your vocation is the work that enables you to be the person you were created to be.
But we are called, not just for ourselves, but to be sent out to others. Jesus’ final instruction to his disciples was that they go forth and make more disciples. This is our mission, from the Latin ‘missio’, to be sent. A disciple is called to follow, given work to do, and sent out into the world.
This is what is asked of each of us so, in this sense, we are all ‘discipleship and vocations missioners’; we are all invited to enter more deeply into the life of God, to discern our vocation and that of others, and to go out and live as witnesses to the love of God in Jesus Christ. So, Raewynne, you are not alone in your task!
But Raewynne’s work among us does demonstrate our Diocese’s commitment to encouraging and enabling this interweaving of discipleship, vocation, and mission in our lives. And I have no doubt that we have chosen the right person for this task: there is no greater example of mission than someone who allows herself to be sent.
Raewynne has demonstrated time and again in her ministry that she is prepared to hear and respond to the call of God – in her case, moving from Australia to the US and now to the UK, and particularly to the people of Sanderstead, where she is now licensed; her discipline and commitment to following, responding, being sent is authentic and compelling, and will serve her well in this important role.
Not only this, but her cheerfulness and contentment is an inspiring example of how distance and change, though daunting, matter less when we accept that our real home, our real purpose, is in Jesus Christ himself.
Raewynne knows this, and so shows us that we might know this too. Because at the heart of discipleship, vocation, and mission is love.
The love that has called us, knows us, seeks us out, and sends us to share it with others gives us, like Raewynne, the strength and courage to step out in faith.
So whatever happens, even if we do sometimes feel as though we’re suffering the trials of Job in our life or ministry, we are assured that we can rely on the promises of God, in his everlasting covenant that is ours in Jesus Christ.
We, like Job, can have faith in the fact that our redeemer lives – and forms, calls, and sends us out in love. May this always be so for Raewynne in her ministry among us, and may it be so for each of us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.