What Am I Doing Here? - Michael Tonkin



Today’s Readings

Psalm 16, 1 Kings 19: 15-16,19-end, Galatians 5: 1,13-25, Luke 9: 51-end


We heard in the Gospel reading from Luke, the man who asks if he might first bury his father, something of paramount importance in both Jewish and Muslim faiths, is told by Jesus, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God”.


Perhaps we can understand this apparent lack of compassion from Jesus by turning to Paul, as one so often does, and the reading from his letter to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”.


What Paul is saying to those early followers of Christ in Galatia, is that they must no longer be led by the rules and protocols of the Jewish faith as laid down by the Pharisees and Sadducees, as Jesus by his life and sacrifice on the cross, transcends the law. As Paul insists, it is faith in the risen Jesus, not the Jewish law, that is the badge of membership, the way forward on this new path.


Jesus, in his reply to those who wish to follow him, as told in Luke’s Gospel, is that his announcement of the coming of the Kingdom is so urgent, so unique, that it must be followed then and there, grasped and proclaimed totally, or lost altogether. It is not good enough to be a ‘Sunday morning Christian’, Jesus is asking for our commitment ‘24/7’, to quote the phrase of our time.


So to the burning question of the day, “What am I doing here?” and do I believe that I live up to those very high principles that Jesus was then asking those people who wished to follow him? Certainly the second part of the question is easy for I know very well that I do not come near to what our Lord would wish.


I am a Christian first and foremost because I was born into a Christian family, some of my earliest memories are of both my mother and father kneeling at their bed at night to say their prayers. The many boarding schools I went to were very firmly run on Christian principles, with Sunday Church always being attended, as was Sunday School when at home on holiday. Then ‘teenage escape’ as one left home and started work and independence, but most importantly the ‘seeds had been sown’.


So when I found the right girl to marry and started family life it was always in the knowledge that one’s journey along a ‘Christian Path’ would resume. Then living in the same Dorset Village for forty years both my wife and I became increasingly involved in all the aspects of village life, and after our first ten years there owning the village Inn, I became more and more involved with our own church and subsequently our Benefice of seven further rural churches. For almost twenty years I was a Church Warden as well as being on Deanery Synod for a similar length of time, while my wife was church treasurer for twelve years. At one stage our son was an altar boy in our church and our daughter on occasions played the organ.


Finally when we closed our China Shop of twenty-three years, and there was more time, I decided that I would be of greater help in our Benefice in becoming a Reader, or Licensed Lay Minister as they were known in rural Dorset. as we had only one Vicar and one LLM.


Little did I realise then, that after being selected, this would entail a 4-year course run through Sarum collage to obtain a Foundation Degree in Ministry. So, nearly 40 years after leaving school back to reading many books and writing many essays! If it had not been for my wife’s, support and encouragement I would never have completed it. As I wrote and ‘voiced’ in a short presentation, “ While I believe Licensed Lay Ministers do need some instruction and guidance, I do question whether it its necessary, or wise, to turn them into theological academics”. It is true that my studies made me both question and change my understanding of some of the Christian beliefs I had been brought up with and held to be true.


To me very clearly since that time I have looked to the teachings of Jesus as my own Foundation Stone in faith, with the Bible adding support in part. Religion itself in the form of the established church, both Christian and other world faiths, often, like myself, has fallen far short of being the corner stone of my faith that it might and should have been.


Yet with all its imperfections it remains a powerful and influential factor in millions of peoples lives across the world today. Also, without religion where would our society be, our laws, our art, our music and many more assets of everyday life which we take for granted.


In conclusion I have always seen my role as a reader in being a bridge between the established church and clergy, and the everyday people who make up the living church. As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 10 verses 14 to15, “How, then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” This is my role, the role of a reader, to preach the Word and to bring people to Jesus through faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these three is love.

Amen

Michael Tonkin

Cover image by analogicus from Pixabay