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TO BE A PRIEST

A HOMILY GIVEN IN THE CHAPEL OF ST. MICHAEL’S COLLEGE, LLANDAFF ON APRIL 28th, 2015 by Fr. Tony Clavier

Exodus 32: 21-34. Luke 6: 12-26

In the lessons appointed we meet Moses and Jesus coming down mountains and selecting groups to carry out their purposes. Moses tell his lot to kill their siblings. Later Jesus will tell his lot that they are to leave their relatives and loved ones behind. In short, they are to travel light. In both cases their job description is deceptively simple. They are to get their followers to the promised land, not a land of their own choosing, one made to measure as it were, but one the Lord had chosen to give them. And notice that neither Moses nor Jesus were going to stick around while this was happening. Moses died on a mountain from which he could see the promised land. Jesus died on a “green hill” and left the disciples to it. True the called ones weren’t to be abandoned. The Israelites would have the the visible Presence in the symbols of God’s glory: the disciples would have the Holy Spirit also made manifest in fire.

The disciples, I fantasize, sat around in the upper room after the Ascension, debating their commission. They were to go tell, go baptize, do this in remembrance, love one another. But they were also to go to the utter most parts of the earth. Lacking a treasurer -Judas has resigned – they must have endlessly debated just how they could afford the camel fare to Lebanon, never mind Italy. They must have debated down sizing the project, tinkering with the structure, debating how they could preserve their positions, their roles, or whether it might be safer to stay within the structure they had, the Upper Room, and perhaps do the evangelizing by correspondence courses.

One of their problems was that of cultural diversity. Out there were Jews of different persuasions, from different places, with different language skills. Out there were Gentiles with a multitude of gods, diets, national entities and allegiances. The apostles were to herald and portray in community something quite different. Paul would later remind them that their own chosen identities had to be given up, just as the Levites had to bump off their family ties, the disciples their places, families, and emotional attachments. “Neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor the boss class” Paul wasn’t talking about inclusivity as the world uses that term. He means that in the Kingdom, those things get you nowhere. What does matter is your oneness in Christ, and thus your unity in mission. The kingdom comprehends “all sorts and conditions of people,” people who have been changed: changed by faith and baptism, transformed by Christ’s continued presence particularly in Bread and Wine, filled with a love which makes human attempts at love and fidelity to be poor shades of the real thing. To enter the Promised Land everyone must learn the language, customs and rituals of that land. It’s all rather like an outsider training to be a priest in Wales.

This band of pilgrims would not create the promised land, not even by evangelical zeal, evocative worship, nor social planning. Indeed the future as described by Jesus and the writer of Revelation is bleak. “When the Son of Man returns will he find faith on earth?” And yet this band of pilgrims is to plod on, generation after generation, replicating the kingdom, honoring the true Lord, Basileus, Emperor, holding on to the notion that “he will come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall know no end.” In short the Promised Land comes from above with its king Jesus and restores the earth to its original perfection.

And this is your calling, you who are being set apart, who have been chosen. Your orders are simple, the same ones that were given to St Tielo and his friends from their mission site near this college. You are lead the people commited to your care to the Promised Land. You are to rely on the simple structure Jesus passed on. Your apostle, your bishop and you are to go tell, go baptize, do this in remembrance, love one another, in a community designed to demonstrate to the world, beset by its divisions, its individualism, its moral bewilderment, its subsequent loneliness just how humans are designed to be. The cost of your discipleship in human terms may be enormous. You will be distracted by diocesan bureaucracy, people fighting about where to place the altar, how many candlestick there should be and how to light them. You may be called away to fix toilets, unlock or lock doors, mow the grass; you can expect to be called at any time of day or night, often for trivial reasons, until you come to believe that God calls those he has a special grudge against. Your vocation may be, can be truly life-giving, as it is now in Iraq, Syria and Libya or in parishes that wear their priest out. Your ministry may look like failure, but in your suffering for the life of the world you are always accompanied by the one who promised, “Lo I am with you, even unto the consummation of the ages.”

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