The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Isaiah 53.4-12; Hebrews 5.1-10; Mark 10.35-45
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief.
I stewed some plums the other day. They were delicious. The instructions online said to take the stones out before you stewed them – but I remembered that mum never did that. So instead I had the delight of saying the rhyme that we said as children when we counted the stones on the side of the bowl.
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief.
There is no ‘priest’, in the rhyme I now notice!
In Barry Hines wonderful novel, ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ made into the iconic film ‘Kes’ there’s a scene where Billy has to go along to the see the careers teacher. I’m not sure whether students still have to do that, being asked what you want to do when you grow up, but we certainly had to.
When I went along I said I wanted to be a vicar – but the lady didn’t have a photocopied sheet about that so she gave me one to advise me how to prepare to work in an office – which, amazingly, has come in very handy, so maybe she was more perceptive than I first thought!
Mark tells us a story that appears in each of the synoptic gospels about two of the disciples and the top jobs. In Mark’s version, as opposed to Matthew and Luke’s, it’s James and John and not their ambitious and pushy mother who approach Jesus for some career advice. They want good jobs, good positions, they want the best seats in the kingdom, either side of Jesus, his left hand and his right hand men. They had, of course, misunderstood it all and Jesus is quick to put them straight
‘You do not know what you are asking.’
But they insist they can do what he says will be required of them, that they can fit the spec, the job description, that they are the men for the job. But in the rest of the passage that we heard read as the Gospel for today the actual calling that we receive, that disciples of Jesus receive, is spelt out for them and for us.
‘Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.’
What do you want to be when you grow up?
When I was ordained, back in 1983, a dear friend sent me an ordination card. She has subsequently been ordained priest in this diocese. Sadly I don’t know what I did with the card but the words of the text on it are embedded deep within me, and it was brought back to me reading the Second Reading for today from the Letter to the Hebrews. The card said, in beautiful calligraphy and in the language used at the time
‘Ordained for men in things that appertain to God.’
It was such a particular and pithy translation of what we heard, ‘chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf’ that I have never been able to forget it.
This may be the specific calling of the priest but it is also your calling, our calling, our vocation, the job that we’re asked to do. This is the clear call to servanthood, to the lowest rather than the highest position, not in some sense of false humility but because this is where we find Jesus, this is what appertains to God, this is where we locate the divine. In that Upper Room he takes the bowl, he takes the towel, he takes the jug of water and he does the job of the lowest servant, he kneels and washes the feet of his friends – and they can’t believe it. In the Upper Room the uncomfortable encounter on the road to Jerusalem is played out within its walls.
The prophet Isaiah speaks, in fact he sings, one the songs of the Suffering Servant which we had as the First Reading. This series of songs, series of prophecies, foreshadow the very nature of the incarnate God we know in Jesus.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous.
This is all powerfully countercultural stuff. In a world, in a society driven by position and power, in a world where influencers affect the lives, the aspirations and the sense of self-worth of so many millions of people at the very time when they’re asking and answering the question for themselves, ‘what do I want to be when I grow up’, it’s incredible that we even dare to suggest that it’s the lowest place that’s the most honourable, that it’s the foot washer, the servant, the cross bearer, the crucified, who is king. But that is what we say, because that is what we believe.
The great thing about the Gratitude exhibition that we hosted here at the beginning of this month, and which attracted so many visitors, was that it was celebrating those who are the real heroes of the last eighteen months, coming on two years.
We call them keyworkers, we call them people on the front line, but so often they’ve been the forgotten, the ignored, the overlooked people in our society who make society work. The chaos we seem to be living though at the present time is mainly around what happens when all of a sudden the people who drive the lorries, the people who slaughter the pigs, the people who stock the shelves, the people who care for our elderly are missing. When those gaps begin to open up then we sit up and take notice, then we realise that those who have a calling to the tasks that actually make life possible and liveable are the ones that we cannot do without.
The 51 figures, so beautifully decorated, that stood in the churchyard and attracted all that attention were a celebration of gratitude which cannot be overlooked, forgotten; now that the figures have gone the gratitude for the foot washers must remain and we must kneel besides them, called, as we are, to the same task.
It’s a tough calling ‘serving one another in the things of God’ but that is what we do at this table and that was what David Amess was doing when he was so brutally murdered on Friday – serving his people. You bring the bread, you bring the wine and we break it and share it. We’re all servants at the table, all fed for the task, all sent to love and serve the Lord in each other, all of us.
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief
And Priest – and MP.
What do we want to be when we grow up? Christ-like, and that means servants of the servants of God.