God is calling
A sermon at Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton for Vocations Sunday, 31 January 2021/
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 Psalm 111 Mark 1: 21-28
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The book of Deuteronomy was written to remind the people of what God had done and to encourage them to rededicate their lives to him. Moses was preparing the sons and daughters of the previous faithless generation for the future After a brief history lesson reminding them of God’s acts, Moses reviewed the law and restated the covenant, God’s contract with his people. The lessons were clear, “Because of what God had done, Israel should have hope and follow him. Because of what he expects, they should listen and obey. Because of Who he is they should love him completely”. Learning these lessons were preparations for the future.
Sometimes God Speaks to his people with a majestic display of power, at other times he speaks quietly. Why the difference? God speaks in the way that best accomplishes his purposes. At Sinai, the awesome display of light, fire and sound was necessary to show Israel God’s great power and authority. They were scared of God and asked for a prophet so they would not have to deal with this frightening God. Only then would they listen to Moses and Aaron. Throughout the Bible we hear the phrase, “Do not be afraid” God was not trying to scare the people but wants us to follow him out of love rather than fear. To overcome fear can we think more of the unfailing love and goodwill of God towards his people? Love drives out fear and enables trust. (1 John 4:18) When we trust God, he will make his power available to us and we, ordinary earthlings, can achieve amazing things.
God has plans…who is the prophet that is coming? Stephen used this passage from Deuteronomy to support his claim that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, the Messiah. (Acts 7:37) The coming of Christ to earth was not an afterthought but part of God’s original plan of salvation for all. It is part of God’s plan for all of us that we all have work to do on this earth and it is part of God’s plan that we are trained and educated and given specific gifts to use along the way. It is part of God’s plan that we listen to his call, but too often we run scared and refuse to listen or harden our hearts because we might be called to give up a lifestyle we like. Or we may need to study and be obedient when we are liking our own way of living.
On this Vocations Sunday we think of God’s call to Ordained Ministry, but this is only a miniscule part of the ministry of all God’s people and a very small part of what we are called to do. If we just look around our Cathedral Parish, we can see that we need a person in our Parish Office, now Roger had retired, we need a group of people to volunteer in the Op Shop on Wednesdays. The Op Shop is closed on Wednesdays because there are no volunteers for Wednesday. It would be wonderful to have more people to read lessons during the services, and if we look further, we need more people for every facet of Cathedral services and parish life and outreach.
The psalm this morning reminds us. that all that God does is good and that reverence for God, or a holy fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Because of the work of Jesus and his loving sacrifice in our place we can now come into the most Holy Place of God’s presence. We can now have God involved in every part of our lives through prayer and God in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. If we do not revere God and acknowledge God as the source of wisdom, then our foundation for making wise decisions is shaky, and we are prone to mistakes and foolish choices. But if we listen to the voice of God in the mind of our heart we can live with confidence and excitement at what God will do with us.
I have lived more than the four score years that many aspire to and looking back on my life I know that all through it, God has been setting me up and dropping me in it so that I am where he wants me to serve. I also know that without doubt I have been given the education, the knowledge and wisdom when I need it. And oft times I have the wisdom to know what I do not know and seek the help of others - because with the help of my God, as the psalmist says, I can leap a city wall. (Psalm 18.29, 2 Samuel 22:30)
I was not a brilliant student, and was often lazy, but as a 10-year-old I was playing the piano for the Anglican services held in the local hall. By the time I was in high school I was organist in the Parish of Beecroft, Sydney. First at St Andrew’s Cheltenham and then learnt pipe organ and was appointed organist at St John’s Beecroft with an original Leggo organ. (spelled with 2 “g”s) (1953-1957) Matriculating from Meriden School in 1955 I studied Food and Nutrition Technology Kensington Uni., continued study of the organ with Colin Sapsford at Christ Church St Laurence, and was organist at St James’ Croydon, for 17 years from 1958-1970.
My first job was in the textile industry working with the Chief Chemist at Bond’s Industries when a new state of the art dyehouse was built at Camperdown Sydney. Being somewhat rebellious I never wanted to do any of this but loved the smell of linseed oil and wanted to study art. With parents saying, “too many artists starve”. I reluctantly followed their advice. However, I learnt Millinery and Silversmithing part time and successfully made hats and jewellery for colleagues and friends. I married in 1961 and my late husband encouraged and mentored me in all I did. Management suggested I join the design department at Bonds designing lingerie and swimwear. This was part of the story of 30 years in the rag trade. I was invited to join Hestia, later Berlei Hestia to set up a new lingerie division. Accepting an offer to move to Melbourne I later designed and marketed for a small factory in St Kilda. I was invited to join the buying team at Target Australia for the last 10 years of my paid employment. I travelled the world for 16 years attending fashion shows and visiting suppliers, a fairy-tale job of glamour and creativity with an under side of boom and bust and corruption.
God had his finger on me all this time and I was occasional organist at St Paul’s North Caulfield, Holy Advent Malvern, St Stephens Mount Waverley also St Thomas Port Macquarie my Husband’s home church. In 1989 we formed a small property investment company and I have been the sole director since 2000 when my husband died with melanoma. Since then, I have renovated, with sub-contractors, bought and sold property, and collected valuable knowledge along the way, - useful - as I am now responsible for the Maintenance of this Cathedral Heritage precinct.
God did not let me off the hook lightly. 2006 saw me as a Licenced Lay Minister in Grafton Diocese, a member of Parish Council and other Diocesan organisations, a palliative care volunteer with North Coast Area Health, a home group bible study leader and a professed Tertiary in the Order of Saint Francis While studying theology, distance education, through Robert Menzies college Macquarie Uni. with a small group at St Thomas’ Port Macquarie, I distinctly heard a voice telling me to get my finger out an apply myself to study. I was coasting along completing two subjects a year, then five the next year, completing requirements for Theology and for Ministry.
The journey to priesthood was not easy, being a female, an older person with apparent success in the secular world and someone who did not fit the mould, considerable sacrifice was demanded by those in power, but the burden was easy and the journey amazing because I was now really doing what God had in plan.
I served in the parish of Kempsey, not by outsiders considered to be a place of consequence, but the community there loved and encouraged me in my priestly journey, and I discovered the hidden gems and blessings in that parish from the mountains to the sea and their beautiful All Saints parish church. Never in any dream did I imagine myself at this Cathedral, but when on loan in 2014 for a month from Kempsey I was invited to stay. Sometimes I say to God, this is a fine mess you have got me into. What next? And She reminds me that it is still possible to leap a city wall with her help.
From my experience I ask, “Can you remember how God has expressed his kindness in your life, and then commit yourself anew to trust, love an obey?” “Can you be bold to speak the word of God so that others will know Jesus Christ is not to be feared but is the Prince of Peace?”
“Can you answer God’s call on your life to help others who may be estranged and without hope to be brought near to God while she opens her arms wide to receive them and holds out his hand to save?”
God is calling. Will you answer? Say “ Yes” to the call and you will lead an amazing, exciting, and fulfilling life, with the heart and skills to share your community’s joys and sorrows and the courage to leap a city wall.
The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan TSSF
Honorary Canon Pastor Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
Cathedral Heritage Project Manager