He must increase, but I must decrease

My preach from Morning worship at St Mellitus college 25th June

It’s feels amazing that we’ve got to the end of this academic year, we’ve seen friends leave and become ordained, we seen tutors following their call from God, we’ve seen new faces coming to study theology, and we’ve seen each other change and being formed. 

I feel like college is a bit like that scene in Jeremiah were he is watching the potter form and shape his clay, we are watching our fellow peers being transformed and worked into Christ-like shapes, never becoming the finished product though as we remember that the potter continues to dance with us on the wheel outside of college and beyond.

The process of being formed makes me think of my favourite Gospel story, where Elizabeth who is pregnant with John, meets Mary who is pregnant with Jesus. I love the imagery of John leaping in the womb when his mother hears Mary’s greeting. 

John was fulfilling his calling already in the womb, identifying and pointing to Jesus.

I just love the connection of these two women, both meeting together with the promise of God’s plan literally inside them and in their hearts. “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” 
blessed are we who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to us by the Lord” 

The meeting of John and Jesus before they were born, the way that John is the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus, the way that John baptises Jesus, suggests to me that as we strive to live Christ-like lives, we also strive to live John-like lives.

John’s vocation was to bring people back to God, for them to repent of their old ways to become open to the coming of the Lord. John proclaims Jesus the Messiah, the fulfilment of all prophecy. 

John did all this with no want for glory. The message he proclaimed was authentic, different to rhetoric that was being heard around, people came to listen to what he had to say and then were led to be baptised.

Striving for a John-like life means that we have to become less, so Jesus can be more.

It is amazing that we have finished this academic year, but we could not have done this without God’s help. We could not have written those essays, led worship, preached, prayed, listened, cared, and all the other things we do on our own without God’s strength. 

When we stand here feeling pleased with ourselves because of good grades, delivering a successful sermon, leading some exciting worship, connecting with the poor and destitute, we must remember it is the Spirit that guides us, that all glory is to God, the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of god will stand forever.

When I finished my last session on my BAP, at our final worship the homily was about how we had received a lot of attention leading up to BAP, and now it was time for us to become less so He could become more. It was time to let the spirit lead and wash over, time to repent for fleshy things like ego and pride.

I believe that over the summer break this teaching is important.

We must become less so Jesus can become more.

We must be the voice calling out in the wilderness, the prophetic call to point people to God, to direct them back into His loving arms, it is God’s grace that forgives and transforms, we walk with and point the way with encouragement and witness.

We must bear witness to the truth, to stand up and question, to reach out and hold, to weep with those who are suffering and afflicted.

But through all this, we must become less so Jesus can become more, we shine like the focused rays of the sun through a window, radiating the warmth and healing heat of God through ourselves.

John says these beautiful words as he listens to the stories of Jesus carrying out His ministry, he says,
“The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled.”

I pray that our witness and work in the spirit, our living Christ-like and John-like lives, will fulfil us with joy and keep us pointing and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone we meet.

Speak lord for your servant is listening

Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord

My childhood was lonely. I always felt like I was standing on my tip toes looking over a fence at everyone else. I couldn’t seem to be able to get over the fence and fit in with everyone else. I often retreated into my bedroom and lay on my bed not knowing what I was meant to do in life, or where I was supposed to be.

In those quiet lonely moments it was where I met the love of God. God was my best friend, he listened when I was upset, comforted me when I felt alone, danced with me when I was happy. At night whilst I watched the light drain away from the sky, when the stars took over from the sun, he would be with me until my eyes closed to sleep.

In those years a seed was sown. A seed that lay dormant through my teens and into my twenties. I didn’t know that I had glimpsed the kingdom of God, that the almighty had kept me company, that he had shown me love that I’d never felt before.

Fast forward to 2013 when I had lost myself, I had become a robot, I was working 24 hours a week, as well as raising my five children, I didn’t really know who I was anymore, I didn’t know what I liked, and I didn’t like who I’d become.

It was then that dormant seed was awoken, I felt that it was time to start praying again, to be able to know the love and comfort from my Heavenly Father, the one who had always been the light in the darkness, the voice in the silence.

On that night I had a dream that changed my life, I dreamt that I was walking with the blessed Virgin Mary and she had her arm around my shoulder. She led me into a temple and as we went inside I saw that it was completely golden. The brightest gold that I’d ever seen. She pointed to a statue of Jesus that was so tall I couldn’t see any further than his waist. She then pointed to his feet and a cross began to glow, the golden light began to shine brighter and brighter and soon it engulfed me, and I woke up.

The seed that God had sowed in my heart years ago had began to grow, the delicate fresh green shoots had started to break through the cracked dry ground. 

As I began to explore what this dream and call had on my life, I found myself being led to church to have my children baptised. On a wet dark evening I walked through the door of St James church and knew that everything that God was telling me had started to make sense. 

These whispers of His promise to love me and to guide me had started to help me flower. The vicar in my church saw that maybe the spirit was working something out in my life. And through his encouragement and belief in me, I began to spread my wings preaching and leading. I realised that he was calling me to be a Priest and deep in my heart I knew that this was something that He had shown me as a child.

Jesus says that “the kingdom of god is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow he does not know how.”

I do not know how Jesus called such a sinner like me and watered, nurtured, and cared for me. I wake up everyday thanking God that he did not give up on me and that if He can call me then I am an example to all who may think that God would never call them. 

Because guess what? He does call you. 

God called me outside of church, I was not part of a congregation and I had not regularly attended church before. I didn’t go to Sunday school, I found my connection to church through music and through Him.

God calls everyone, because that seed that is beautifully sewn inside of us is waiting for the right environment to grow. 

It’s waiting for the yes.

It’s waiting for the, well yes God I could but I’m not sure but maybe it could be me but no way can you call me.

That acknowledgment is all that the seed needs. 

God is the greatest Gardener, he tends to us like delicate flowers, watering, cultivating, shielding, pruning, sitting and waiting for our first petals to open.

Today the gospel speaks of the kingdom of god being like a mustard seed, something that begins so small yet grows into something so big the branches can support others and give shade and comfort to others. This process of finding out what God is calling us to includes other people, I’m a firm believer that God brings us the people we need on our journey of discovery, we are not not meant to figure this all out on our own.

When I think about callings and vocation, I think of Samuel, who hears a voice in the night but doesn’t realise it is the Lord calling him. Eli says to him to answer the voice with a simple sentence,
“Speak lord for your servant is listening”

I encourage you all to pray these words, whether you feel God is calling you, or if you want to ask God to show you what he is calling you to.

There are so many different roles that God calls us to, it’s not just ordained ministry, it’s members of the PCC, it’s litter pickers, children’s workers, tea makers, biscuit providers, floor sweepers, hand holders, tissue providers.
We are all windows for God’s grace, because through us He can be seen, as I stand here before you this morning I am not here because of my own merit, I am here because Jesus bore my sins, I am here because the Father forgave me, I am here because the spirit guided me. 

We can be confident because we walk by faith, not by sight, we walk on the journey that Jesus calls us to, the journey that resurrects and transforms us in His holy name. 

God calls us all and he loves us more than we could ever imagine, when we feel that there is only darkness, he shows us the glimmer of light to guide us.

In the night as a child I lay in bed alone, the darkness felt thick, like an inky pool that I could not swim in, yet when I called out he came to me, the spirit comforted me and gave me strength to carry on.

Our faith is that seed sown underground in that very darkness, waiting for the refreshment of the life-giving water that Jesus gave us to help our roots to grow, that moistens the ground so our shoots can break through, the warmth from fire of the Holy Spirit that helps us to bloom and the care and love from the father that opens us up to fullness of His glory.

I want my story here today to give you all hope, that God does and will call people to serve. That He does call people outside of church and He does lead them here. We can be the ground that nurtures those seeds of all who are called. We can send out and grow because He is already doing it right here in Rochdale, let us take strength and courage from this knowledge.

I pray for you all here today that we may grow in His care, that we will open in flowers of joy as we serve Him and His people and on the day of the harvest, where we see the full glory of the kingdom of heaven we will sit at the table that Jesus calls us to.