What Am I Doing Here? - Richard Austen



Today’s Readings

Psalm 25:1-10, Deuteronomy 30: 9-14, Colossians 1: 1-14, Luke 10: 25-37


When Melanie asked me several weeks ago to give a sermon on “Why am I here?”, I thought “Oh that will be easy. I will just tell them about my life as far as the church goes and that will be it”. Well, that would be the facts and I will tell you these in a minute, but then I thought I would need to say something about what drives me. So here goes – the factual stuff first.


Life is a journey. My journey started in Shoreham by sea. My maternal grandparents lived next door and my father was away a lot as he was a Ship’s Captain. I learnt something of the variety of worship in the Church of England quite early. On Sunday mornings my grandma would head off to the local Anglo Catholic church to play the organ, my granddad would go to a very low church and we would all head off to one of two other churches that made up the local joint benefice there.


I was always quite religious as a child and in those pre Lego days I would often build churches and cathedrals with my wooden building blocks. I loved RE at school and when it became time to think about University, I decided to study Theology, with the idea of becoming an RE teacher. Three years at Bristol University changed my aspirations, but not my faith, and I was not quite sure then what I wanted to do. I worked in a bank for a while and then decided to apply to the Foreign Office as I wanted to travel and had always been interested in international relations. I spent thirty two years in the Foreign Service and worshipped in many different churches and in places where there was no church at all.


In The Gambia, for example, the church was literally the other side of the garden wall, not twenty yards from my bedroom. I overslept one Sunday morning and was woken by the opening hymn. Too late to go, I joined in the hymns from my bed, but that was not a regular practise I might add! In Mongolia there was no Anglican church. My dear Vicar friend Sue came to visit with her husband and, before they came, I asked if she could celebrate Communion for the tiny Anglican community there. We made some enquiries and discovered that Mongolia was part of the Diocese in Europe. The Bishop gave permission and we had a good turnout. But it got us on the Diocese’s radar and the then Rural Dean of Moscow came to Ulaanbaatar several times to celebrate Communion in my Residence – and drink my whisky!!!


Then it was on to Panama and there the Bishop of Panama asked me if I would be prepared to train as a Reader – or a Diacono Laico as they call them there. I agreed and, as I already had the Theology degree, the course was not all that long. That Bishop, Julio Murray, is now Archbishop of Central America and I had hoped to have the joy of seeing him again at a dinner in Bishopthorpe Palace in York just three days ago, but sadly he went down with Covid and could not travel.


Then it was home and when I told Father Peter about my Panamanian licence, he asked Bishop Christopher Chessun, if he would accept it, so that I could become a Reader here. Bishop Christopher agreed after making enquiries in Panama and I have now been a Reader here for several years now.


That’s the facts, why the motivation?


There are many reasons, but there are two things that I will focus on now as always having motivated me particularly in the faith. One is the parable of the talents and the other is the prayer of St Richard. God gave me wonderful advantages in this World and it is my duty to work hard to make sure that, when I stand before him on his Throne of Grace, I can say I have done my best to try to serve him, to use what he has given me for him. Whether I will manage to return ten times what I received remains to be seen, but I will continue to try.


I will finish with the prayer of St Richard in a minute, but its emphasis on trying to get closer to God, to be more Godly, has always been important to me. And it reminds me how often I fail.


Before I finish with the words of that prayer, I wanted to share a story that reflects the Gospel today, The Good Samaritan. I remember when I had just started Primary School - over sixty years ago. It was a lovely summer’s day and my mum collected me and my older sister from school for a quick trip to the beach before tea. We crossed over the old, narrow Norfolk Bridge in Shoreham on our way to the beach. In the middle of the bridge was what looked like a pile of rags and all the other cars were driving round it. As we approached, we could see that it was a person – a tramp as he would have been referred to then - lying in the road. My mother stopped that car as soon as we were off the Bridge and ran back. Somehow, she managed to get someone to call the emergency services in those pre mobile days and she stayed with this poor soul until help came. We in the car were in no danger as she could see us. But by the time this was all over it was too late to go to the beach. We whinged and moaned, but she told us that being a Christian was the most important thing in life and she suggested we look at the main stained-glass window in our Church, St Mary’s which was of the Good Samaritan. My mother died thirty years ago, but over the years I have returned to St Mary’s many times, and I always think of that long ago afternoon as I look at the stained glass window and think how blessed I was to have had such a mother.


Now before I start getting emotional, let us pray the prayer of St Richard.

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ

For all the benefits that thou hast won for me

For all the pains and insults that thou hast borne for me.

Oh, most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,

May I know thee more clearly,

Love thee more dearly,

And follow thee more nearly,

Day by Day,

Amen

Richard Austen

Cover image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay