The Revd Sue Charles
This evening’s service is a very special one in the lives of Felicity, Janet, Frank, David, Lindsay and Helen who are to be admitted and Ian, Jackie and Michael, who are to be welcomed.
From today, they are all embarking on a new ministry in this Diocese that, we pray, will bring them fulfilment and joy, along with giving those they minister to great preaching and teaching.
It has been my privilege, along with my husband Peter – himself a Reader – to lead the pre-licensing retreat, and we have been thinking about the reality of ministry... the ups as well as the downs.
How wonderful it was to share the beginning of ministry and to gather the wisdom of the Readers with more experience. Some have been Readers for 20 or 30 years – they must have started training at the age of three.
We talked about what the new Readers are looking forward to, with was wonderful, and – even more wonderful – what the experienced Readers still look forward to.
Bishop Christopher, when he gave his charge on Saturday afternoon, reminded us of the uniqueness of Reader ministry. Readers are Ministers of the Road, Ministers of the Word and Ministers of the Table. They are called to show God’s love to the people that they meet, to teach and preach and to assist at Holy Communion.
I have spent this weekend learning, laughing, crying and praying – and singing (of my goodness what singing at the Eucharist this morning!), with a group of Ministers that this Diocese has the joy of calling their own . . . and along with the new Readers, we welcome Ian, Jackie and Michael.
The theme of the weekend was ‘the woman at the well’ – how we renew ourselves as we serve and how richness in ministry needs care and renewal.
When you begin the vocations process in Southwark, you consider three aspects of calling – being Realistic, Informed and Obedient, and the readings this evening are very aft for this.
The Gospel passage ‘the parable of the wicked tenants’, makes no qualms about God’s disappointment in those who throw Jesus out of where He should be. In the parable this place is the vineyard – in our lives, this place is our heart.
The land-owner, God, erects both a fence and a watch-tower to protect His beloved vineyard, but the tenants, who should know better, take over the vineyard for themselves. So, the land-owner decides to offer His beloved vineyard to others, who will appreciate it, work at it and enjoy the results with His Son.
Jesus often talked about vineyards – He wanted His stories to resonate with ordinary people . . . I wonder if, and how, He taught others to teach and preach – I wonder what He would suggest to our brothers and sisters here, looking forward to a changed life.
Of course, the idea of using the vineyard as an illustration wasn’t new –
as we heard in our reading from Isaiah, who wrote about ‘a love-song concerning our beloved’s vineyard’. Such beautiful imagery, the beloved lavishes His love and care on the vineyard, he prepares a place for us there, he protects it with a watch-tower . . . But, alas, the same thing happened as in Jesus’ parable.
This is all quite difficult to hear, isn’t it? But Isaiah and Jesus are being realistic about life – and the life of faith and calling in particular.
We are called to bring forth fruit – to grow fruit in our beloved’s vineyard.
Let’s not forget that Jesus’ parable appears in all three synoptic Gospels – the writers all thought it important enough to include . . . So we need to take it to heart.
One thing that can be overlooked in Jesus’ parable is that the tenants were not necessarily the people who tended the vines . . . It was the workers, those with the knowledge, experience and expertise that knew how to help the grapes grow, ripen and bring forth good fruit. Who of us hasn’t gasped at the ‘green fingers’ of a gardener who seems to be able to make anything grow – as we look on at our measly attempt at planting . . . Or is that just me?
And now I am speaking to you (points to the congregation), my brothers and sisters – I call upon you to become workers in the vineyard too – you may be called to licensed ministry, you may not. But we ALL have a ministry, a vocation, a call that God has in mind for each of us – and only us, no-one else.
I know that many people think ‘Pah! I’m not called to ministry’ – but I challenge you to re-think that. You may ALREADY have a ministry that you don’t know about . . . What about that often overlooked, but integral ministry we all experience – the ministry of the Tea Cup! Oh yes, it soothes a furrowed brow, brings people together and builds community – what better illustration of a ministry. What about those words, hugs, prayers that we share? We can’t all be called to be ‘up here’ . . . Where would the church be then??
No, my brothers and sisters, your fruits are just waiting for you to recognise them. What might they be? Well, no act of care is too small – nothing you do to make someone feel ‘remembered’ is too trivial. We are all SO good at saying “it was only a . . .’ aren’t we – as in “it was only a card or a prayer or a quick visit”. But, in the Kingdom, there is no such phrase as ‘too small’ – remember the mustard seed that can become a tree!
And, if you don’t know what your ministry is, then I say that you are not looking hard enough. Because, I can see a ministry for most people here... and you are already exercising it – tonight – right now... you are supporting these Readers!
And they will continue to need your support, prayers and acts of kindness throughout their ministry. In the Song of Solomon we hear about the ‘little foxes’ that can destroy the vineyard (2. 15) – the enemy is really good at putting them to work – and your support will help to ensure that no foxes find their way in here!
Like vines, Ministers need... warmth, light, space to growth, time, watering... and feeding! Can you help with these things? All the Ministers at your church, and – I can say this as a priest – I’m not just talking about clergy here... but Readers – and SPAs too - they all need tending and care, and they all need remembering in intercessions!!!
Isaiah’s vineyard was - and is – the ‘pleasant planting’ of the Lord of hosts. The fruit brought forth, and continues to bring forth, joy and sustenance, and we – we all – are called to help in the vineyard.
Look inside yourselves to see what vineyard or fruits God has planted in you - or around you - that just need some cultivating.