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Acts 9.36-43John 10.22-30

From today’s gospel reading John 10.29:

What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. John 10:29

The educationalist and popular TED-talk giver Sir Ken Robinson tells the story of Gillian. Gillian was only 8 years old and her school life was a disaster - she didn’t do her homework on time, her handwriting was illegible and her test results were very poor. She struggled to pay attention in class and fidgeted most of the time. Eventually the school wrote to her parents expressing their concern. Her parents responded with speed – they booked Gillian in with a child psychologist to have her tested for any learning disorder or disability. Off they went to some rather imposing consulting rooms where 8-year-old Gillian sat beside her mother while her mother and the psychologist discussed the problems she was having at school. 

After a while the psychologist thanked Gillian for being so patient, but asked that she be a little more patient as he wanted to speak to her mother out in the corridor. On his way out of the room, he switched on a radio for Gillian to listen to. Once in the corridor he left the door to the room ajar and asked to Gillian’s mother to watch what happened. No sooner had the adults left the room than Gillian leapt up and began to dance to the music on the radio. The psychologist turned to Gillian’s mum and said ‘your daughter doesn’t have a learning disorder or disability, she’s just a dancer – take her to dance school…which she did. Gillian went to dance school and practised hard. She got a place at the Royal Ballet School and later joined the Royal Ballet Company, performing all over the world. She met Andrew Lloyd-Webber and choreographed the hit shows Cats and The Phantom of the Opera for him. Gillian Lynne became one of the most accomplished choreographers of our time.

Robinson tells similar stories of school failure and eventual discovery of their life’s vocation for Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, and the Nobel prize winning economist Paul Samuelson.

Many of us struggle to find what it is we are best suited to do with our lives. I’m not of the school that says that there is only one correct outcome for our vocational lives or careers, rather I believe we all process a particular skill-set that we can deploy in a variety of ways, the use of which is intended to enabled flourishing of both ourselves and others.

What’s your skills set? Who were you created to be? When do you feel most alive? There are some great stories of people wrestling with their vocations and identity in scripture. As Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, he undergoes what is often referred to as the fourth temptation ‘If you are the Son of God…’ Dare we become the people we think we might have been created to be?

The author Marianne Williamson speaks to this dilemma directly:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The truth is that many of us shy away from being the people who know deep down we are - it feels too exposed, too risky, and we prefer something a little safer even if it means we live we a slight sense of dissatisfaction about our lives.

But even if we dared, how are we to know what our true skill-set is and how do we discover how to deploy it in honour and worship of God and in the service of others? Well, that’s more complicated. Our vocations, our identities are a combination of different things. 

Firstly, they are shaped by our conscience. What is it in our world or your community that you most think needs fixing, what is it in your life that you’d love to fix? What is that divine dissatisfaction, that divine discontent, that you have been given? Connected to this is a sense of passion – what sets you on fire, what gets you really excited and motivated, what energizes you and enthuses you? In these will lie the key to our vocational life and even our identities, but they are not enough. We also need a vision of how things might be, how that which is currently less than it might be can fulfill its potential. Philosophers call this vision a teleology, management consultants call it an outcome.For Christians this vision is generally shaped by our faith – it is a sense of how things will be fulfilled in the Kingdom. But still conscience, passion and vision are not enough, we need the discipline to put all of this into practice, we need to be able to ensure that our plans can actually take flight – have we the skills, or can we develop the skills to take action to achieve the change we are so desperate to see.

The intersection of where our conscience, our passion, our vision and our discipline intersect is where our vocation truly resides. It is a place of great power because it seems to connect us with some of the deepest aspects of the human spirit, and indeed the Holy Spirit. When we work from this place we work from a deep place within us in a way that fully engages us, but that is not self-centered – it is a place where we are most deeply ourselves and for where we most profoundly service others.

Jesus says:

What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.

And then He goes on to say:

The Father and I are one.

And this is the connection between vocation and identity. Our identity is found in the fact that we know ourselves as children of God. This is this basic ontological truth that shapes everything else – we are first called to be certain kinds of people, to be people of a Christian character, as expressed most clearly in the promises made by parents and godparents at baptism and owned by us at our confirmation – that’s our identity; but then we are called to live the implications of that identity in our day-to-day lives, both our personal and domestic lives and our work or professional lives - that’s our vocation.

The vocation to live the implications of our deepest and truest identity is a great gift, perhaps the greatest of gifts, and once we’ve discovered it our lives are never truly the same again.

So is there something in your life that you feel called to do but that you dare not do? What is the one thing you would like to put right with the world before you die; when do you most feel totally alive, when do you most feel totally you? What would you do if you could conquer your fears? What would happen if you gave God free reign in your life?

I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t say that it is my belief that God gives certain people the skill set to act as guides to his people, to shape and nurture the community of faith, the church, as it tries to live out it vocation of witnessing to its faith in the world. That role of reflecting back to the whole church its true nature, of empowering Christian people for mission and evangelism is the primary function of the ordained priesthood. Demographically the number of active ordained clergy in the church currently dropping considerably as a large cohort of clergy who were ordained between 30 and 40 years ago retire. This at a time when the church desperately needs people who can discern, affirm and articulate its identity and vocation as we witness to the gospel in an increasingly religious illiterate society. There is now a real need to increase the numbers of those going into ministerial training - so if you think that’s where your skill set might be pointing you, do speak to your local clergy or make contact with me.

But the church doesn’t just need clergy – it needs all sorts of people who will live out their faith in the communities in which they live and work. I said that the primary task of the ordained is to reflect back to the people of God individually and corporately their true nature; so it is that having been reminded of this, the laity go out into the world to be involved in infiltrating society with the Christian gospel. It is lay people, with the vast range of their vocations, who should be at the cutting edge mission and evangelism.

So what is it that with your unique identity in God, with your particular gifts and talents, that God is calling you to? What is it that God have given you that is greater than all else? What is your identity in Christ and what is your vocation…now?

Almighty and everlasting God,

by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church

is governed and sanctified:

hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,

that in their vocation and ministry

they may serve you in holiness and truth

to the glory of your name;

through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

Amen.

Questions:

  1. Who were you created to be? What stops you from being that person?
  2. What is the divine discontent God has given you?
  3. Who do you know that you can encourage to more fully live out their vocation? How will you do this?
  4. Who is God calling you to be, and what might God be calling you to do in the next 5 years of your life?