St Michael’s Workington, 24 June 2018

It won’t come as any surprise that just now, in the Rectory, that one of the words that’s often there, as Peter and I pause between unpacking this box and the next one, is vocation.

We might not actually use the word, but that’s what we’re talking about. We’re exploring something, in an ongoing conversation, that’s been in our hearts and minds for months now.

The question of what God is doing with us, how God is calling us into a future here with you.

Vocation. That sense we often have, that there is a greater purpose to our lives than meets the eye. A purpose that means we know our lives are wrapped up in God. That we are meant to live in response to the God who is love. That our lives are about watching for God’s grace to break through in all situations and relationships, and living in the light of that grace.

Perhaps you already know the story of Job. How he was a rich, comfortable man, with all he ever wanted or needed – a loving wife, ten children, and acres of livestock. A man of deep faith in God. But what would happen if everything he owned or loved was taken from him? Would he still believe in God then? So God allows the devil to do his worst, and he does. Job loses everything, even his health. He is reduced to next to nothing. But never does he give up his faith in God – though he certainly comes close.

Job is surrounded by friends. So-called friends. They are more of a help than a hindrance, really.

But they do enable us to hear a range of arguments, reasons why someone like Job should believe in God, or give up on God. Our reading comes just at the point when God himself has got tired of hearing it all. God bursts in, challenging Job with how little he really understands about the mystery and majesty of God.

Where were you, he asks, when the morning stars sang together? Where were you, when the sea and clouds were brought into existence? God is telling Job that he really has no idea of the greatness of God. God so far exceeds our knowledge that Job – and we – will never comprehend his greatness.

I don’t know about you, but often I’m left without words to describe some experience that happens. Usually it’s when the natural world overwhelms me with its beauty, or its power.

Peter and I walked up the Derwent on Thursday morning. We got as far as Seaton Mill. We were keen to go on, but we needed to get back as the cooker was to be delivered. It was early, and we felt surrounded by God’s blessing. God’s power too, as we looked at the mighty river, and knew where the water had travelled, all the way from Sprinkling Tarn. We saw the work done since Desmond, in 2015.

We talked then about how we could only glimpse God’s purpose for us; how important it is to trust God. That’s what Job has to learn. Job has to learn that he must stop questioning, and trying to understand, and simply trust God with his life.

A sense of vocation is just that. It’s the realisation that the most important thing we do with our lives, is to surrender to God, to live simply in trust that the God of love has a purpose for us, that we might not understand. Indeed, we won’t understand the full depth of that purpose.

Our response to the overwhelming love of God is simply to trust, and let things unfold.

It’s clear, isn’t it, in the Gospel. Again, the natural world is there, a force to be reckoned with. The poor disciples are being tossed here, there and everywhere in the great gale. Jesus – who knows as no one else knows how to trust God – is asleep.

His response, when they wake him, is simply ”Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

It’s the same question that God asks Job. A question that takes them deeper into God. That challenges them into a deeper faith that knows that whatever happens, God is there.

Paul knows that faith, as he writes to the Corinthians. He’s been through it – and isn’t going to hold back. The complacent Corinthians are going to know just what he’s suffered for his faith – to bring that faith in Christ to them – and how he knows the power of God through it all.

Hardships, calamities, sleepless nights, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit – all reveal the greatness of God. So when he’s been treated as an imposter, or unknown, or dying – see, he is alive, rejoicing, possessing everything.

Things are never quite as they seem when we live in response to God’s love.  Always there will be deeper reasons we can’t fathom. Always the hardship, the tough times, will hold reasons for joy. Always God’s love and life will shine through, giving us reasons to hope.

Peter and I have landed amongst you. We are making the rectory a home. We are unsure what lies ahead – as we experience the strangeness of everything new and unfamiliar. You will be wondering what it’s going to be like. Peter is ordained deacon on Saturday. This is a momentous change for him, in his life – at his stage of life. It’s exciting; it’s also rather scary.

But amidst all that – and all the boxes that still need to be unpacked, the alarms that go off in the middle of the night – is a strong sense that this is where we’re meant to be.

That the deeper purpose is sound – that God’s love has called us here to be with you.

It’s Peter’s ministry, and I’ll contribute what I can, where and when it’s appropriate. Together we’re here to be reminders of God’s presence and grace in Church, in the neighbourhood, in the town and diocese beyond. We’re here to witness to God’s love, in all its majesty and mystery.

God’s love is unfathomable. It is deeper than the deepest lake, more powerful than the greatest river, greener than the greenest green, more intense than the strongest wind. It’s the power that holds all things together for the good. It’s the life that sustains all life. So whatever befalls us – whatever calamity or pain or storm in our lives – there is a deep love we can trust that will see us through.

Job, St Paul, the disciples all learned this, as they grew to understand God’s love. Together, we too, will grow in God’s love, as we trust, and respond – all of us, to God’s call in our lives.