Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday Reflection - Graham Lunn

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This homily was given by Graham Lunn, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 5th October 2010. The readings was Ecclus. 16:17-end and Mark 15:1-15;

It seems to me, in self-reflection and in observation of others, that a vocation to the sacred ministry often comes with two unfortunate character traits in tow: a restless activism, and a not insignificant amount of control-freakery. Both of these traits are in our day doubtless formed in us from an early age. We live in an era still defined, in the ‘sophisticated’ West at least, by a strident individualism which tells us that we are the masters of our own destiny; and we live in a country which has yet to escape a spirit of messianic Pelagianism – that British pull-your-socks-up mentality which where I come from leads to a phenomenon proudly referred to as the ‘Protestant work ethic’. I am sure, however, that they are as deeply ingrained in the character of what it is to be a fallen human being as much as in what it is to be here in the West now.

These traits of activism and desire to be in total control I’ve labeled as unfortunate, and I believe them to be particularly so when it comes to considering our continuing vocational journeys, as seminarians, as tutors, as priests. Throughout the process of consultation leading up to the experience of a Bishops’ Advisory Panel, and in training here and the search for a curacy, it has been a trial for me to realise at various points that I am certainly not the one in charge. I have to wait. I have to be patient. I must recognise that I am not the only actor in this process, that there are many others involved – and not least the Lord.

But even the Lord Himself knew a time when He seemed not to be the actor, the one in total control. The passage from Mark’s gospel we heard a moment ago ended with the phrase, “[Pilate] handed him over to be crucified”. W.H. Vanstone, in his book The Stature of Waiting, points out that up to this point, that of the narrative of the Lord’s Passion, Mark portrays Jesus as the actor in every situation. In fact, it is Jesus’ very activity which gives this gospel its breathless haste – he came, he went, he spoke, he called, he had compassion, he began to teach. But from this point on, this point of being “handed over”, Jesus suddenly becomes the one to whom things happen. His action throughout His itinerant ministry sits in stark contrast to His Passion, the events leading up to and including his death and resurrection.

What does it mean then for us to be conformed to this aspect of Lord’s Passion in our seminary context? Too much to consider fully, I’m sure, in one, two, three or as many years of residential training we might be afforded. But I wish to make two points.

Firstly, that we must take this opportunity to hone the skill of waiting, to reject the notion that we must be in control, and that we must constantly be doing in order for our ministry, both now and in the future, to be of value. This is all very well to say when already the new members of our fellowship will have discovered how busy life at St Stephen’s House can be. We are, however, blessed with time specifically set apart for conscious waiting, waiting upon God. We must heed the advice of the writer of Ecclesiasticus when he tells us not to ignore the purposes of God simply because they might be too great for us to comprehend. We must take this precious time while we have it, and learn from our life here the discipline of taking time to be attentive to the voice of the Lord in prayer.

It is also good to recall at the beginning of this year that indeed there are many actors in our vocational journeys, our Bishops, our DDOs, our prospective training incumbents, our families - the Lord. But we also have each other, and I believe that in our openness to each other in this place, and at this time, we can not only wait on God as individuals, but as a fellowship seeking His purpose for our common life. In this way too we can discover more insight into what it might be to be conformed to the Lord’s Passion, and to know more fully what it is to be “crucified with Christ” as His Body.