Preparing a way for the Lord

‘God chooses men to be his priests whom he can’t do anything else with’. Bishop Lindsay, who baptized our curate,Fr Joshua, by full immersion in the school swimming pool, once said that. At first that statement does not sound very good; it makes priesthood sound like the last resort. But what he meant is that for some men the only thing that God has in mind for them is to be his priests. After his ordination and especially his First Mass, I hope you will agree that that is undoubtedly true of our Fr Joshua.  

In the church, vocation has been associated specifically with priesthood, but each and every Christians has a vocation, something that God is calling us to do. St Paul reminds us that there is one spirit but a variety of callings. If you obey what you perceive to be God’s will, everything else will follow on. If you get the direction of your life right, the rest will flow from it. And the church will be stronger.

Bishop Norman came back here on Wednesday to confirm four children and a teaching assistant from our schools. Confirmation has been called ‘the ordination of the laity.’ In this sacrament faith is declared and the candidates are set apart. To each of them Bishop Norman said, ‘God has called you by name and made you his own.’ As he laid his hands on them he said ‘Confirm, O Lord, your servant  with your Holy Spirit.’  And as he anointed them with the oil of chrism he saidbe sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit’.

In today’s gospel, Jesus sends out the 72  (some manuscripts say 70 others 72). The number is a reminder of how God set apart 70 elders to assist Moses with the burden of care for the people of Israel, and put his Spirit on him. Jesus had already sent out the 12, he now sends out 72 more and they are commissioned to prepare the way for Jesus. Time is precious. The harvest is plentiful, he says, but a crop needs to be harvested in time, before the crop is spoilt.

Each of us is called to this work to prepare the way for the Lord. Each of us in our own humble, ordinary way is doing that through our words and deeds. We can bring people to the Lord, but we are only making the introduction. It is the Lord himself who will come to them.  In his Letter to the Romans, St Paul writes: How can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? Every day, we are sent out, and we do not know how many people, known and unknown we will encounter. Our interaction with others will have an effect on them, however small, and hopefully it will be beneficial and not detrimental.

Jesus instructs the disciples to be practical in their evangelism, to stay where they find hospitality and welcome, not to move around. Jesus tells them to greet people with peace. Where there is a man of peace, their peaceful message will find a home.

We live in quite febrile times, where change must come and come immediately. We appear to be less tolerant in general of those whose views are different to our own. The role of the peacemaker is needed more than ever, one who will encourage dialogue, listening as much as speaking. This is true in families, in the workplace, and in the public arena. We make a way for the Lord, by bringing his peace, by being unfailingly polite and respectful, even when we do not feel so inclined.

Jesus did not give the 72 any false illusions. He said that he sent them out as lambs among wolves, they cannot afford to be naïve. They cannot expect that their ministry will be welcome everywhere, so they should concentrate on where it is well-received and cut their losses where it is not, wiping the dust off their sandals as they leave. 

On Thursday, as Mayor’s Chaplain, I opened the first meeting of the new council. Before I said my opening prayer, I said what a privilege it is to still be able open the meeting with prayer, and that while for those of faith, this is a prayer to God, I suggested that for those who do not share that faith this be treated as a moment of collective reflection, and the expression of a good wish. So might a potentially stormy meeting be tempered by the bringing of a moment of peace.

There is so much work that the Lord would send each one of us out to do. We should not undertake it alone, but by praying for the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit. With his help, may each of us help prepare the way for the Lord.