Tag: Vocation

The example she set

Sermon Holy Trinity Hurstpierpoint 11 September 2022: Trinity 13
Psalm 51. 1-11 & Luke 15.1-10
Preached at a time of national mourning following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II

For many of us, on our minds and in our hearts this morning is the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and we continue to keep her family in our prayers as they grieve. We pray particularly for our King as in this time of mourning, he takes on the responsibilities of his office and duty.

Our late Queen was a person of deep personal faith, which she expressed on many public occasions. It inspired her leadership and life: a life of great devotion and commitment to the people she served. In this period of national mourning, there will be more specific times to remember, reflect and give thanks for her life.

To avoid saying what has been said or will be said, here, I would like to look at the Sunday readings, and specifically Psalm 51, as a reflection on our late Queen, on kingship, but at the same time as a reflection on how we model our own lives. Because one of the great truths of Christianity is, that when we celebrate a particular life well-lived, we do this in the knowledge that we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body. In the particular, we celebrate the universal.

We read in the introduction to Psalm 51 that it was written by King David. Almost half of the Psalms are attributed to David, and some of them, including this morning’s Psalm, refer to specific episodes in the king’s life. David is celebrated as one of the great Kings of Israel, both in the Jewish and Christian tradition. After Saul, he was the second king of Israel. He was the youngest son of Jesse, tasked with looking after the sheep. After his anointment by the prophet Samuel, he joined the court of King Saul to play the lyre. One of the most famous stories about David is his victory over Goliath, the Philistine – a well-loved Sunday School story.

However, his life was not just one of heroic acts and humble service, and this morning’s Psalm is testimony to that. The Psalm was written after the prophet Nathan had visited David, after the King had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Not only that, to conceal his act, David had Uriah killed in battle, so that he could take Bathsheba, now a widow, as his lawful wife.

We read that the child born to David and Bathsheba dies after seven days, despite David’s pleas to God. However, and we may be surprised by this, after the period of mourning, they have another son, Solomon, who will succeed David as King and become known for his wisdom.

Listening to and looking at this story, we might feel it is not quite right to remember David as one of the great kings of Israel. And some might use this as a reason to criticise religion as it seems to condone and justify these kinds of behaviour. However, looking at Psalm 51 might give us an insight in what is really happening here, and the key words here are repentance and forgiveness.

The Psalm opens with David’s cry to God: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions”. These words both convey a sense of the King’s need for forgiveness, as well as God’s mercy and power to heal. 

When we look around us, particularly when we look at those in authority, we might feel that there are too many who don’t see that need for forgiveness. Who, instead of lamenting their deeds, try to justify their decisions and actions. But what happens when we look at ourselves? What is our deepest prayer when we reflect on those things we have done wrong?

When we pray deeply and truthfully, I suspect that most of us will sense, just like David, a need for forgiveness, a desire to be made clean, to hear the joy and gladness that are hidden by our sin – by the things we have done wrong. 

Here, in this Psalm, we hear that David already realises that real forgiveness can only happen when we know and accept God’s love and mercy. We cannot look at ourselves and the things we have done, unless we look at ourselves through the loving eyes of God. We can only really know our sins, if we know God’s forgiveness.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we hear that Jesus takes that even a step further. The passage we hear this morning is directly followed by the parable of the Lost Son. In Jesus, forgiveness is a given: God gives, even before we ask: God is waiting for us, not to fall down on our knees, but to accept and to live in his love.

It is precisely that knowledge and understanding that makes David one of the great Kings of Israel. Not his heroic deeds define him, but a true knowledge of his dependence on God, and his prayer to live out God’s purpose for his life. In the eleventh verse of this Psalm, David pleads with God not to be cast away from His presence: ‘do not take your holy spirit from me’. I find those words incredibly moving: please God, do not give up on me entirely.

That prayer brings us back to today. Both our late Queen and our new King expressed their belief that it is God’s purpose for them to serve their people: it is not a choice, but a commission. The choice does not lie in whether or not to take up this office, but the choice lies in how to fulfil it. Precisely this is one of the most criticised aspects of any hereditary monarchy, but to me it manifests one of the most important truths of the Christian faith: namely, that we are chosen. Not only some of us, but all of us, we are chosen and have been given a purpose.

Despite our imperfections, our frailty and our limitations, each of us has been given a purpose, which is not ours to choose. Our choice lies in how we live that purpose, and one aspect of that is what we do when we know we’ve done wrong. Do we look away, or turn away? Or do we acknowledge and accept? Do we dare to pray and believe that God’s spirit will not be taken from us, even when we have fallen short and are guilty of what we have done? Do we dare to not only accept the consequences, but also God’s forgiveness, even when others cannot forgive us?

As in the coming week we remember our late Queen, we pray that we may do so with great gratitude for the example she set before us. Not because of her heroic acts, or her perfect life, but because she was faithful to her calling throughout her life. Because she showed us an example of true commitment to her God-given purpose, and we pray that we may have the wisdom and the courage to do the same. Amen.

Expectation or Invitation?

Address Marlborough College Chapel
Second Sunday of Epiphany, John 1.43-51

invitationOne of the things I dislike is when someone tells me what to do, and I am sure that I am not the only one. Here at school there are quite a lot of things you are told to do, and I suspect that some of you feel the same about those things as I, when I am told that I have to do something. There are quite a few things in life you will just have to do. Not only when you’re at school, but also when you embark on your next stage of life and even beyond. Fortunately, there are also a lot of things you are invited to do, and often they have a very different feel to it.

For example, when I was in the last year of my Master’s course in physics, I was invited to go to an annual conference to present the research that I had been doing. It was a real honour to go and to be part of the ‘grown-up’ scientific community and I very much enjoyed the couple of days full of lectures and talks. The next year, when I had started my PhD research in the same field, attending the same conference was no longer an invitation, but an expectation. As soon as my supervisor told me to go, the conference lost its appeal, and I did no longer want to. Although my interests hadn’t changed, nor the topic and format of the conference itself, the fact that I was told to go, spoilt it for me altogether.

Continue reading “Expectation or Invitation?”


A homily for the Second Sunday after Trinity
Galatians 5.1, 13-25 & Luke 9.51-62

freedomThis last weekend of June is traditionally the time at which ordinations take place, as on 29th June the Feast of St Peter and St Paul is celebrated, two of the earliest followers of Christ. In cathedrals across the world, people are committing their lives to a diaconal or priestly ministry, promising before God and others to serve the Church in this particular way. Ordinations are a public commitment to a certain way of life, of discipleship, in a similar way to confirmation and baptism, as well as weddings. What all these services have in common, I think, is that they give everyone an opportunity to celebrate, as well as to reflect on our own unique calling, expressed through the commitments we ourselves have made at various times in our lives.

There are many different ways in which we can think of our own discipleship, often without using that word itself. This morning I would like to focus on one particular aspect, which is also mentioned in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and that is our freedom in Christ. Making a commitment seems almost the diametrical opposite of being free, but I would like to suggest that in reality our commitment to God is what enables us to embrace our freedom.

Continue reading “Freedom”

Try it, just one more time!

Sermon Marlborough College Chapel, 10th February 2019, 8.30am
Fourth Sunday before Lent: Luke 5.1-11

I guess we all know that moment: when we have tried, and tried and tried, and we have reached the point we know we cannot do it. Whether it’s the further maths problem: a proposition impossible to prove, or the perfect short corner in hockey: something that looks so straightforward when you see someone else doing it. We have tried, not once, not twice, but many times, and we’re ready to admit: we just can’t do it.

SONY DSCWhat’s your first reaction when someone then says “Try it again, just once more.”? I suspect that you also, just like me, are tempted to say something better not repeated in Chapel. “It’s not for a lack of trying, isn’t it? There are times when things don’t work, and we need to give up,” is what we’d like to say.

That is precisely, I think, how the fishermen in the boat in our reading this morning are feeling. Frustrated, tired, and ready to give up. So when Peter says to Jesus “We have worked all night, but have caught nothing. Yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets”, we can almost hear him saying: “Yes, whatever” in a similar way we ourselves would do, or indeed have done. But then, a miracle happens: when Peter and his companions let down the nets once more, they catch so many fish that they can’t even pull them back into the boat themselves. Their success, so to say, is beyond imagining.

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Hungry for more?

Homily St Mary’s Marlborough, 8am 5th August 2018
10th Sunday after Trinity: Exodus 16.2-4, 9-15 & John 6.24-35

breadToday’s Gospel reading follows last week’s reading of the feeding of the five thousand. As then, also now, we are invited to reflect on who Jesus is using the familiar image of bread. Last week’s message in many ways was a very comforting one, both for the early readers of the Gospel as well as for us. With God there is always enough and even more. God gathers up what is left over and it is used. Both messages that give us reassurance about God’s loving nature and his care for us. Continue reading “Hungry for more?”

What marks we shall leave upon the snow

A reflection on Charlotte Mew’s Poem ‘The Call’

From our low seat beside the fire
Where we have dozed and dreamed and watched the glow
Or raked the ashes, stopping so
We scarcely saw the sun or rain
Above, or looked much higher
Than this same quiet red or burned-out fire.
Tonight we heard a call,
A rattle on the window pane,
A voice on the sharp air,
And felt a breath stirring our hair,
A flame within us: Something swift and tall
Swept in and out and that was all.
Was it a bright or a dark angel? Who can know?
It left no mark upon the snow,
But suddenly it snapped the chain
Unbarred, flung wide the door
Which will not shut again;
And so we cannot sit here any more.
We must arise and go:
The world is cold without
And dark and hedged about
With mystery and enmity and doubt,
But we must go
Though yet we do not know
Who called, or what marks we shall leave upon the snow.

Charlotte Mew (1869-1928)

Continue reading “What marks we shall leave upon the snow”

Take up your cross

Sermon preached at St George’s Preshute on 25th February 2018
Second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 1.1-7,15,16 & Mark 8.31-38

Jesus said: if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.


It seems a very straightforward message in today’s Gospel reading. What we need to do to follow Jesus is to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him.

However, what does it actually mean to deny ourselves and what does it mean to take up our cross? And even if we have worked out what it meant for Jesus’ first disciples, what does it mean for us, today? Continue reading “Take up your cross”

What am I for?

Sermon preached at St Mary Magdalene Hucknall on 18th February
First Sunday of Lent: Genesis 9.8-17 & Mark 1.9-15

Today is the first Sunday of Lent, the season in which Christians, as individuals and as a Church prepare to celebrate the Easter feast. Through fasting and self-denial; prayer and the study of Scripture; through worship and our daily acts, we try to align ourselves once more with God’s purpose for us.

This morning, we hear two readings that both explain to us what that purpose, God’s purpose for us, may be, so it is worth having a closer look at both of them, and to see how this may apply to us in our daily lives. And so, as we go through these texts, I’d like you to keep the question in mind: What am I for? What is my purpose? Or, most accurately, what is God’s purpose for me?

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Taking Stock

A reflection just before the half-term holiday and the start of Lent

It is the week before the spring half-term, which this year is also the week before the start of Lent. Two good reasons to take stock and see how far we got. Especially for those of us who have started something new at the beginning of the academic year, a lot will have happened since September, and it is good to take some time to see where we are.


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Come and See!

A sermon preached at Sherborne Abbey at the Sherborne School Service
Second Sunday of Epiphany: John 1.43-51

When I was coming towards the end of my time at school, I was thinking what to study. The options were: medicine, theology or physics. So, as you do, I went to visit some open days. Medicine was quickly removed as an option, as it required a lot of group work: something I didn’t really see myself doing at the time. Theology sounded interesting, but visiting the university’s open day, the second youngest student was in her 40s, so it didn’t promise a vibrant student life.


Continue reading “Come and See!”