Canon Wendy Robins
Isaiah 49: 1-7 1; Corintians 1: 1-9; John 1: 29-42
In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen
When the two disciples heard John say that Jesus was the Lamb of God they seemed to have no doubt that they should follow the one to whom John pointed. So certain were they that one of them, Andrew, went back and found his brother, Simon, to make sure that he too could follow the one whom John had identified as the one ‘who had come to take away the sin of the world.’
Such a call and a clear sense of purpose seems similar to Isaiah who we hear was called before he was born and formed in the womb to be a servant. And, similarly, Paul, whose conversion was so dramatic, knows because of this that he is called to be an apostle of Christ.
As I read these passages I find myself wondering if that strong sense of call lasted throughout their lives and ministry. We know, for instance, that Simon, who becomes Peter, denies Jesus. So, if even someone who knew Jesus whilst he was on earth slips then how do we manage to be true to the call of Jesus in our lives?
For no matter who we are or what we do all of us who have come to faith, have a calling to follow God’s path for us and to share that faith with others by word and deed. Our call may not have been as dramatic or clear as Isaiah, Paul or Simon Peter’s but many of us have a sense of when we were first a person of faith and I wonder how you might explain that time to those around you?
I’ve said before from this pulpit that I am someone who knows exactly how it happened and I am pretty certain I know the date too. Certainly, I know why and where I first came to faith. When I began to go to church in my mid-teens, I was blissfully ignorant about almost everything to do with it. So, when, at the age of 17 or so, someone said to me: I think that you should be a vicar and I thought actually yes I kind of agree, it did not occur to me then that actually this was not at all possible. This was – you will understand – long before women could be ordained even as Deacons.
The journey of the church to the full inclusion of women in all three orders of ministry has been a long one (as was my own journey to ordination – which took around twenty years!). It was a journey which ran the risk of splitting the church. It was not easy for anyone. Here though is a journey which has reached fruition, even if the number of women in high office still needs to catch up with the number of men – who have had much longer to establish themselves. But, sadly the church has not thus far been able to make the journey to the full participation of black, Asian and minority people in the highest roles in the church. Here in Southwark we have had Bishop Wilfred and now Bishop Karowei but considering the make up of this part of the country it is hard to imagine that we have as few people from minority ethnic backgrounds in positions of authority as we do. Here at the Cathedral we are committed to being inclusive and it is this amongst other things that we need to work together to bring about.
The story of the church has been one of slow progress to the next step on the journey towards working out the appropriate response to the way in which society is growing and changing. And the journey seems hard and relentless at times. This week I think that those of us who watched the documentary Exposed: The Churches Darkest Secret must be horrified and hoping and praying that the time will arrive very quickly when the journey towards the proper attitude to keeping people save within the church will have reached an end. I have to say that – because of the work that I do as the Diocesan Director of Press and Communications and the involvement that this brings in work around safeguarding - much of what was shown was not new to me but the way in which it was presented brought home the stark reality of the story once again.
As we think together today about what we are each called to do as one of Jesus’ disciples I would suggest we each have a responsibility to ensure that the church is a safe and welcoming place for all. It is clear to me that we should be sorry and ashamed about what happened during the time of the Peter Ball investigations and the attempts to silence and blacken the names of those who sought to bring him to justice.
Kate Wood who spoke in the documentary and who has worked as a safeguarding consultant here in Southwark, said how much things had changed in the church in terms of its safeguarding practice in recent years. I can absolutely agree with that from personal experience but there is still much to do and we must be diligent and committed to doing it.
The work that we have been doing in the last few years has changed the way in which the church operates and the inclusion of women in the House of Bishops is already helping to bring further change but until we have a church which is fully inclusive and transparent and safe for all we cannot take pride in what we have done. Here at the Cathedral we are very clear that we must do everything possible to ensure that everyone who comes here is safe and protected by all that we do and that if there are things that are not as they should be we will do all that we can to correct them.
We are all called by God to live lives that draw others to the God whom we follow. In the way in which we live we should show God’s love to the world and seek to serve the good of all in all that we do. It is up to us all to discern what God has called us to do and be. Wherever that call leads us and no matter how many missteps we may take we are called to be those who seek to show more of God’s kingdom to our world. As we seek to do this we should work together to make sure that all are welcome, valued and safe here in God’s church.