Sermon given at Matins on Sunday 26th January 2014

26 January 2014 at 10:00 am

The Reverend Andrew Tremlett, Canon in Residence.

On Christmas Day 1046, twenty years to the day before the Coronation of William the Conqueror here in the Abbey of Edward the Confessor, Henry III of Bavaria was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome, the same day as Clement II was consecrated Pope. An astonishing and spectacular occasion, we are told.

But the story of what happened next is equally intriguing: King Henry grew tired of court life and the burdens of monarchy. He made an application to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the final days of his life in the monastery.

"Your Majesty," said Prior Richard, "do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king."

"I understand," said Henry. "The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you."

"Then I will tell you what to do," said Prior Richard. "Return to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you."
When King Henry died, a statement was written: "The King learned to rule by being obedient”.

In this series of sermons during January, I am considering the nature of Christian vocation, trying to counter any sense that this is an individualistic or private matter, and to explore the national dimension seen in the call to the People of Israel, the self-revelation of the Divine nature in Jesus and the personal and corporate vocation of the disciples. These addresses are available on the Abbey website.

This week I am concluding the series by drawing these threads together, and in doing so I want to pose two questions:
What are you being called from?
What are you being called to?

If we apply these questions to the issue of whether a nation has a vocation, a calling by God, today gives us some sobering pause for thought. Today, 26th January is, as we would say in English, caught between a rock and a hard place:

The ‘rock’ is the commemoration of that most solemn occasion both for the Jewish people and for Christians who bare a share in the responsibility for the events of the Second World War. Holocaust Memorial Day, marked on 27th January, commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp by the forces of the Soviet Union on this day in 1945.
But the ‘hard place’ is equally uninviting as 25th January three short years ago was the day on which protests against the regime of Hosni Mubarak began in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Three years on and the ‘hard place’ shows little sign of resolution.

For the people, the land, the nation – wherever that may be – we hope and pray that we are called from injustice, from inequality, from lawlessness, and to a renewed vision of what society can be, to equality before God and the Law, to opportunities for all. This must be our national calling: and the extent to which we fail, must be the extent to which we redouble our efforts to support those who bring about change and challenge inertia.

And what about the Church, the calling of the disciples of Christ – can we speak of the Institution being called from one thing and to another?

A traditional understanding of the Four Marks or Attributes of the Church certainly bears this out: those four marks are as we have them in the Nicene Creed – one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

These are firmly rooted in the witness of Scripture:
Ephesians 4 states "There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all."
It is holy in the Hebrew sense of Qadosh, set aside for a purpose, as Jesus made clear: "...upon this rock I will build my Church." Matt 18
It is catholic or universal because the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel embraces all people
And it is most certainly apostolic because it is derived from the lives and ministry of the first followers of Christ.

However, it is equally clear that whilst these roots can be found in Scripture – the where from? – the discovery and embedding of these as fundamental attributes of the Christian Church was something which took many centuries – the where to?

And while we are apt to think, especially in the Week of Christian Unity, that the lack of visible unity is contrary to God’s will and purpose for us – and rightly so – nevertheless it has been the process of engaging in the faith struggle not just with those beyond the Church but more often within, which has produced the sharpest and most clear understandings of faith.

And it was ever thus. The Church universal has always been and will always be the pilgrim church, restless, challenging and challenged. And God forbid that it ever arrives at a settled point. That would be its death.

But I want to conclude by returning to that story of Henry III of Bavaria in the eleventh century, and to ask you about your own sense of vocation. And however much we set this beside an understanding of where God is calling us as a nation, and however much we recognise that the Church universal is called to the same process of revealing the divine nature, there is no escaping the importance of our own call, as Christians, as the Baptised, as Disciples of Christ.

To use the words of first letter of John:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.

For some, this call will take you to a new place, a new mission, but for many of us – as with Henry III of Bavaria – our call is to serve God precisely where we are.

Perhaps this personal sense of Christian vocation is best expressed by Teresa of Avila, the sixteenth-century Spanish Carmelite:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet
with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands,
with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

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