Sermon for the ordination to the priesthood of the Grant Naylor
Posted on the 1st Jul 2012 in the Category - Sermons
The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me for the Lord has anointed me.
Isaiah 61 v1
A new priest soon discerns that just about everyone knows exactly how he should be spending every moment of his time. It is made even more unnerving when the new priest quickly learns that everyone also knows that, by some wonderful miracle, he has at least thirty hours in every day of his life rather than the modest twenty-four allotted to us by God in His wisdom. And, cheer up Father Grant! When and if you come in due time to be a parish priest you will soon find that the expectations placed on your new ministry continue to be as vast as they are unrealistic. Be consoled, though. It seems highly likely that Jesus suffered from the same kind of false expectations. People everywhere long for a Messiah. And, by a Messiah, men and women usually mean someone who will meet their own personal agendas and give them everything they happen to want. If anyone doubts me, just think how we are eager for every new government to bring down taxes, improve education and the health service, deliver a higher and higher standard of living, and all that must all cost us nothing! The folk of Jesus’ day knew exactly what they wanted. Jesus stands up in the Temple and, instead of giving people what they want to hear, He puts on His own lips the words of Isaiah, spoken some five hundred years previously. Now, as in the time of the Prophet, there is good news for everyone. There is to be no protected or privileged group. People everywhere are now to be free to be their true selves. If, by any chance, there were to be a group of people who are more favoured then others then Jesus repeats Isaiah’s words. It is the marginalised in society, those who have least, those who are captives, those who are sick; those are the people who are to have first claim on Jesus’ ministry. With the coming of Jesus it is potentially open house for everybody in God’s Kingdom.
Father Grant, your first responsibility as a priest is to stand in Jesus’ name, making your own that message of Isaiah, just as Jesus did, but with an added dimension. Jesus told his hearers that:
Today in their midst this reading has come alive.
Here and now people can begin to enjoy the Kingdom of God because Jesus is present among them. You, Father Grant, are sent as Jesus’ minister, both to tell people of the presence of God’s Kingdom and to help them experience it. As long as you remember that you personally are not the Messiah but one sent in His name and totally dependent upon Him, then you will not let this awesome responsibility go to your head! The Spirit of the Lord is truly given to you this day and that should provide appropriate confidence for the task.
Remember, Father Grant, that if you are to bring people to God you must first do what Jesus does. S Paul tells us in our second reading today that Jesus, the Lord who ascends to glory is also the one who descended right down to the lower regions of the earth. Not for one moment are we saying that to be a priest in West Auckland is to be especially placed in the ‘lower regions of the earth’! S Paul is reminding us that Jesus is completely identified with this world He comes to save. Jesus is found time and time again in the Gospel story giving His friendship, His time, and His attention to those who are at the margins of life, both in terms of the class system and of the religious life of His day. The character we have come to know as the Good Samaritan is hardly one who would have been found in the front row of worshippers at the Temple; indeed, he would have been refused entry. Remember, though, that even within our own church congregations most of us carry, deep down, our shame, our sense of guilt, our feelings of inadequacy, our uncertainty about the Faith. We all long, too, for that one who will descend to us in the lowest parts of our being and then lift us, once again, upwards with Him into the security of God’s Kingdom If that is an uncomfortable place to be then every priest need remind himself, from time to time, that it is the uncomfortable place to which Jesus goes before us. The more we know something of the pain of the One who sees this world both as God intends it to be and also as what it has become, then and only then can you and I dare to talk about the priest as the one who is especially identified with Christ as the one who suffers specifically for others.
The tools for such a ministry, Father Grant, are those given you by Our Lord and Master. You are to preach and to teach as enjoined by Our Lord in tonight’s Gospel. Take that responsibility seriously. Remember, though, S Francis of Assisi’s profound advice about preaching Christ: Use words, if you must. What you are, Father Grant, what you are open to becoming, what you do and your motivation for your actions, will speak just as eloquently of Jesus as the message you rightly put into words.
Above all, be a faithful minister of the Sacraments. Jesus encounters people today as healer and as reconciler in the wonderful mysteries entrusted to you to preside over in His Church. When people long to know they are God’s children, it is the Sacrament of Baptism that will powerfully convey that truth; when people need healing or reconciliation they will need your special ministry. The men or women sick, in pain, depressed, may hear all the comforting words you and I can offer, but a tangible sign of God’s presence in anointing or in receiving absolution will speak to them far more powerfully than anything you or I could put into words. The Sacraments are visible guarantees of God reaching out to enable His Kingdom to break in on people’s lives. It will ever be both your duty and your joy to provide such a ministry to those entrusted to you.
Greatest of all duties and privileges, Father Grant, will be that of offering the Mass. In the Mass the one, full, perfect satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, Jesus Himself, is once more present with us, and for us, offering Himself to the Father and carrying all of us with Him in that offering. You will literally take the place of Christ every time you, as a priest, offer the Mass. Yes, such an experience may well be overwhelming for you and so it should be. Remember, though, that this ministry is entrusted to you so that others may know, at the deepest level, what it is for God to reach out to captives and to humanity, wounded in so many ways, yet lifted into the healing presence of God Himself. You are to offer the Mass also for a world which does not yet know God, for it is only Christ whose sacrifice will ultimately bring the world to the fulfilment of His purpose. The child has little if any understanding of the sacrifice made for him or her by parents and many others. Still, those sacrifices are made. There, perhaps, you and I have a glimpse of what it might mean that, in every Mass, Christ’s once-and-for-all offering is yet again present for all of us who, in this world at least, will never fully grasp the point. Offer Mass regularly and you will be drawing both yourself and the wider world more deeply into that mystery of God’s self-giving love.
Dare you do these things? Only because The Spirit of the Lord will be given to you. He will anoint you. So now it is to that giving of God’s Spirit in ordination that we will turn.
Sermon Preached at Father Stephen Locke’s Silver Jubilee Mass
Posted on the 29th Jun 2012 in the Category - Sermons
I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Matthew 16, v19
What a joy and a privilege to be here tonight for Father Stephen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations! It has been my good fortune to see something of the fruits of Father Stephen’s priestly ministry, with Vivien alongside him, since I became Bishop of Burnley some eighteen years ago. Then Father Stephen was vicar of two tough urban parishes towards the centre of Blackburn, helping folk as familiar landmarks changed, houses were demolished, and many moved away in order to be re-housed. As the Church set out to foster good and happy relationships with our many Muslim neighbours, Father Stephen and his people were at the forefront of that work, even raising funds to help the local Mosque’s efforts to send relief to the suffering Muslim community in Bosnia. Then came the call to chaplaincy among the deaf community; some deaf Christians had been using Father Stephen’s course for worship, and Father Stephen had learned something of their sign language. He willingly embarked on a course that would make him fluent in that language and able to serve as chaplain throughout the diocese. No wonder, then, that when it reached my attention that Father Stephen was due to move on from the chaplaincy, I suggested he might be the right man for Owton Manor and, as the cliché goes, the rest is history.
I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.
You will pardon the pun; but is there any better theme to preach on than the power of the keys, for the silver jubilee of someone whose surname is Locke?
For the past twenty-five years Father Stephen has been seeking to set people free. We know, all too well, of those parts of the world where people still live under tyranny, literally wondering whether they might survive another day. Just as now we worry about the people of Syria, so in those early days of ministry in Blackburn, Father Stephen was concerned about the people of Bosnia. But freedom is not only about distant places. Freedom is not only about not being locked away. Freedom is the capacity to become the person that God wants each one of us to be. Our new baptismal rites quite rightly contain the words of exorcism, of praying that God cast out from those who come to be baptised all that inhibits their growth into full and free human beings.
In our first lesson this evening, S Peter is miraculously set free by God’s angel. Peter is physically free. That, though, is not an end in itself. Being physically free only offers Peter the chance to do more to enhance both his and others’ freedom. That great hymn writer and, we might add, fellow Anglican priest, Charles Wesley, told the true meaning of the story when he wrote in his famous hymn And Can It Be?:
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom. Father Stephen and all of us who share in the priestly ministry, following Peter, are charged with that same ministry of unlocking every door that would bar people from the Kingdom of God.
I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Father Stephen, as a priest, you are entrusted with providing the ministry of unlocking. You must start, of course, with yourself. Before ever you are called to do anything as a priest you are called to be someone. You are called to be someone who knows he is loved and set free by God, someone who nurtures that love and freedom, ever-encouraging these gifts to expand with Him. One of the great challenges to those who, nowadays, have various of their body’s joints repaired, is the challenge of walking again. Those of us who can still recall learning to swim will perhaps remember the amazement of trusting that water can actually keep us afloat rather than swallow us up. You, Father Stephen, and every priest, must first and foremost be someone confidently free to be yourself under God. You must constantly keep within yourself the knowledge that God keeps you buoyant in this just as truly as the ocean is able to keep afloat a vast liner built of heavy metal.
And then, Father Stephen, as would every priest, you will want to share that good news that unlocks the Kingdom with other people. Yes, you will want to speak about the freedom that God brings. You will want to campaign for it. Yet, as might every priest, you will heed the great advice of S Francis of Assisi: Use words, if you must. Jesus, as the Gospels portray Him, is arguably one of the greatest speakers of all time. Yet it is in His manner of living and of dying that Jesus speaks most poignantly to the world. It is where we priests give of ourselves in love, where we handle seemingly unlimited suffering, where we give sacrificially of ourselves; that perhaps we most effectively witness to the pathway to freedom, that we would encourage others to follow.
I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Two very special keys hang from the keyring with which God has entrusted you, Father Stephen. Deep down many people are desperate to know that they are right with God. All of us, priests and people, and of course I include bishops, seem to have two emotions constantly at work in us. On the one hand we are, at heart, so uncomfortable with what we are, the compromises we make, the anger we show, and so on; in fact, all those ways of behaving that put us miles away from being the kind of person Jesus holds out to us as being ‘blessed’ in His Sermon on The Mount. So we seek to live with ourselves by trying to deny the reality and to sit lightly to the kind of person deep down we know all too well that we are. And, at the same time, whenever we glimpse the reality, we want to be set free of it. We want to know we are loved, forgiven, accepted by God. Part of us comes out to make our confession. You, Father Stephen, as is every priest, are entrusted with helping folk to come to an honest appraisal of themselves, to stop the denials. Then you are to be generous is assuring people they are forgiven. God loves us all and the Kingdom is open to us all. God trusts his priests to turn the key in the lock that makes such assurance possible.
There is, though, one key that hangs on the keyring that God entrusts to his priests that seems larger in size than all the others. Jesus entrusts to you, Father Stephen, and to every priest, the privilege and duty of celebrating the Mass. Every Mass remembers Jesus. Re-membering is putting back together, making present here and now among us the sacrifice of Jesus who is ultimately the true key to God’s Kingdom, in whose ministry we are all called to share. Every time you celebrate Mass all of us have the opportunity to be brought into this wonderful action in which we are made one with Jesus, offered, imperfect as we are, by the one we hold as perfect and counts us as being part of Him. Here in this Mass we have a foretaste of what it is to be fully set free to be the persons God has planned for us to be for all eternity. Here in the Mass the key is turned that opens a doorway into heaven.
Father Stephen, that is the ministry you exercise for tonight. We praise God for your exercising of the ministry of the keys across the past twenty-five years. We entrust you to Him as you now go forward with us further into God’s glorious future.