In his first letter to the Gentiles of Asia Minor, who at the time were suffering religious persecution, S. Peter offers them advice counselling steadfastness and perseverance. In I Peter Chapter 2 Verse 9 he writes “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
It is easy to glance over such passages thinking ‘they do not apply to me’ as the language appears deeply exclusive talking of an chosen race and language like ‘priesthood’ has come to refer to those called to a particular vocation: ordained ministry in the Church. As in the cartoon, we certainly seem to pray for certain people and their ministry more than others. Indeed, one of the 'good things' (if we can say that) about the current COVID-19 crisis is that for the past thirteen or so weeks we have prayed for a larger diversity of people in our community.
But S. Peter is actually talking of the gift and call of the Baptism of all believers. This is of course not to say that presbyters do not have particular gifts and talents that suit them to that ministry, but that they are not somehow ‘special’. I recall the Methodist theologian C. K. Barrett preaching on this text once commenting that all the presbyters he had ever met had had noses, but so, in fact, had every person he had ever met.
In what at the time was a ground-breaking document, All are Called published in 1985, the Church of England Board of Education commented because all human beings are made in the image of God, they are called to become the People of God, the Church, servants and ministers and citizens of the Kingdom, a new humanity in Jesus Christ. Though we are tainted by our sinfulness, God’s wonderful grace and love offer us all this common Christian vocation. God leaves everyone free to refuse this call; but the call is there for all without exception.
We continue to discuss issues of inclusivity. We are finally seeing women appointed to senior positions in the Church of England and the Methodist Church in Britain are due to discuss a landmark document about the wider inclusion of gay men and women in the Church. However, S. Peter is clear all Christians are called to work for the enlarged realisation of the Kingdom of God. This begins in the Church but extends to the family, to the workplace and to the community. The young are called, the elderly are called, the healthy are called, the sick are called, those who work for the Church are called and those who work in other professions are called. All are called.
Of course caution has to be exercised when we use this term ‘vocation’ and the former President of the Methodist Conference, The Rev’d. Dr. Roger Walton, has a salient remainder in his book The Reflective Disciple:
In a society where some work is still exploitative and some experiences of ordinary living are degrading, we need to be careful before baptizing everyone’s daily experience with the word vocation, simply because they are disciples. That does not mean that in any of those settings one cannot carry a sense that one is there to work with God, perhaps especially to express love and support, to resist dehumanising, to seek for justice or simply to offer a smile to help strugglers survive.
In much discussion of vocation the emphasis is on choosing a path, a role or career to serve God but the only choice open for some people may be how, not whether, to live in this way. Vocation in this context is the fundamental vocation of all Christians to be with God and in practice will mean owning that it is a place where God shares people’s experience and wants us with him to bring some light and hope.
The imprisonment of the Kingdom of God to a Sunday or to Church building is an attempt to restrict the description of God’s activity to the ecclesiastical sphere of our lives. Christ the King is Lord of the entire world and, as the Good Shepherd, cares for all its people. There has been no better time to reflect on this as when our Church buildings have been physically closed.
With thanks to Mr. Dave Walker of Cartoon Church for kind permission to re-produce the cartoon, A Hierarchy of Vocations.
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.