Sermon by Archbishop David Hope at Consecration of Glyn Webster
Posted on the 25th Jan 2013 in the Category - Sermons
York Minster - 25 January 2013
'You shall go to all to whom I send you and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord'. (Jer:1.7-8)
A pretty daunting charge by any account, as not only the prophet Jeremiah was to discover to his cost, but also the one whose Conversion we celebrate today - St Paul - and indeed many others similarly commissioned in the Lord's name to speak to His word to His people. And now today Glyn this somewhat awesome and forbidding charge is laid upon you as you are ordained bishop in the church of God.
So the question might well be asked - well what actually is the work and office of a bishop? It was such a question posed around the dining table at Framley Parsonage - a novel by that well known 19th century writer on church affairs of the time - Anthony Trollope. And the answer comes directly from the Archdeacon - 'Why he sends forth to his clergy either blessings or blowings up according to the state of his digestive organs!' Would that it were just as simple and straightforward as that!
What a contrast then with the 'job description' if I may so describe it which the Archbishop will put to you in just a few moments now. Indeed every time I read it or hear it I begin to think what an impossibility, who on earth can be expected to be and to do all these things - leadership, oversight, pastoral responsibility, maintain the unity of the church, minister discipline; promote the church's mission, proclaim the Gospel boldly; confront injustice, have a special care for the poor and needy, to know and be known by your people; to be the principal minister of word and sacrament, to baptise and confirm, to be diligent in prayer and the reading of Holy Scripture - and so the list goes on and on and on.
So just where might we begin? Well I think Richard Holloway, that somewhat 'rogue' bishop of the Scottish Episcopal church puts his finger on it when he writes in his autobiography - ' The bishop is pastor pastorum, pastor of the pastors, and it’s the best thing about being a bishop. It means keeping in touch with the clergy and their families, who are far from immune to the problems that afflict the rest of humanity, but may be disposed to pretend that they don’t happen to them because of the expectations that are imposed on them by their parishioners'. He mentions too his delight in the numerous visits he made to parishes throughout the Diocese. Its precisely the same thing which that declaration I mentioned a few moments ago set out about the bishop knowing and being known both by clergy and laity - and indeed by many more in a wider context altogether. In other words when there is so much and so many demanding of our time - at the end of the day the office and work of a bishop is and must be personal - those personal relationships, networks and interactions which make for the wholeness and well being of family, community and society - and not least of course the household of God, the church itself. And in this I know that you Glyn are singularly well equipped - your ever generous hospitality, your gift for friendship, your love of kitch and the fact that you are so well known by so many both here and here abouts - and more widely too - your pastoral abilities and gifts for church and non church alike, in fact your sheer basic common sense (and just remember by the way he's no pushover either ! ) - your ready availability, to the extent that, as my mother used to say, you are about as well known as the bellman!
But then, as Holloway rightly goes on to comment – ' It's not all fun and dancing in the aisles….The church is a bureaucracy and bishops are bureaucrats who spend a lot of time in meetings, which come in layers of ever deepening complexity….this involves the manufacture of many committees, the universally practised displacement activity for people who are not quite sure what they are supposed to be doing or where they are going…' never a truer word spoken I say. Look at the Gospels - did Jesus ever form a committee, set up a working party, dream up a Synod? No - he simply met people where they were - Peter and James and John - and called them - 'come follow me'; an invitation to discipleship - later to become an appointment to apostleship. He met Mary Magdalene and the other women and invited them to walk with him too - Mary Magdalene becoming the apostle to the apostles. How the church today needs urgently to shake off the disabling shackles of hierarchy and bureaucracy so that it can be free to travel light, to embrace an altogether new asceticism - a theology of 'enoughness' as Lambeth 1998 puts it, to live the gospel so that the light and life of Jesus may be the more manifest to all and for all.
Now then Glyn - whilst you are being ordained bishop to serve a particular constituency in the church you will need to remember that you are a bishop to and for the whole church and will need therefore to keep not only your own horizons wide and your vision large but also that of those whom you serve and to whom you minister. And here I would suggest another aspect of the ministry of any bishop becomes particularly relevant - that rather grand sounding title - 'pontifex' - which actually means 'bridge builder' - a ministry so urgently necessary in our church today. It will mean that as bishop, yes you will have your own views, just like any one else on controverted issues of the day. You may hold them fervently and passionately, yet you are still called to maintain, even further, the unity of the church. And this will mean that as well as speaking out - and yes you will constantly be leaned upon to speak out about this that or the other thing - you will need to learn too when to hold your tongue - a time to speak and a time to shut up ! Remember the comment of St Ignatius – 'A bishop is never more eloquent than when he is silent'. Quite a challenge for those more loquacious among us!
Where there are differences and disputes, instead of acrimony there ought to be sensitivity, a readiness to listen deeply and carefully to the one with whom we differ. A fine phrase of the Chief Rabbi is I believe so relevant and pertinent here - we need to recognise what he describes as 'the dignity of difference'. And of course in view of the recent decision in the Synod with regard to the Ordination of Women to the episcopate everyone, whatever their views will need to exercise particular care in ensuring that their sometimes strongly felt and strongly held views in this matter, as indeed in others, are expressed with care and understanding one towards another – and that will be something of your responsibility Glyn as a bridge builder bishop to ensure that the channels of communication and dialogue remain open, constructive and above all courteous - that word so beloved of one of John of Beverley's devotees - Julian of Norwich - and in so doing, whilst not compromising your own views, seek to interpret as impartially as you can the one to the other. Indeed it is Paul himself who urges us - 'Bear one another's burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ'.
Thankfully the unity and communion we have and share is not ours by right, it is the gift of God's amazing mercy and grace, given us all in baptism where indeed quite irrespective of our views about particular issues, gender or race, colour or creed, ordained or lay, we become one with Christ in his death and resurrection - a beloved child of God - hence the regard and the care we ought to have the one for another and not least where there is difference and dissent - 'honour the dignity of difference'.
Now whilst both the expectation and the temptation will be to concentrate your endeavours on those to whom you are specifically directed to minister - and yes they will need all the support and encouragement you can give, not least in uncertain times and sometimes hostile times, remember too there is a world quite outside and beyond the church. Many of the parishes you will serve are in urban areas right there in the thick of it, in the thick of the challenges and upheavals and struggles of local people and where the church's influence in its prophetic service together with other agencies both voluntary and statutory are deeply committed to making those words of Jesus a reality - 'I came that all may have life - life in all its abundance'. It's both a costly and costing ministry on the part of the clergy and their families as well as the members of their congregations.
And if there is one single issue at all to be addressed it can never be only that which arises from being obsessed with the internal agendas of the church – the one single issue which ought to be occupying all our endeavours - the one thing on which surely all can unite is our commitment to evangelisation - the challenge in the world of the super highway, in a nation where there is anxiety for the present and fear for the future on the part of so many, is how we communicate effectively and convincingly and without compromise the astringent message of God's love for us and for His world given us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, celebrated here and at every Eucharist in this mystery of our salvation, and from which we are sent out and sent forth to be the light and love of Jesus Christ for all. And in this there is no place for discrimination of any kind.
Minorities matter – yes, they can be irritating and exasperating, (and don’t I know it!) but often their confidence, their doggedness and determination is also a potent sign of their commitment to the same Jesus Christ quite in spite of differences with the majority - a different reading and interpretation of scripture and the tradition maybe, yet equally a protest for the things of God and where space and distancing can in the end be both necessary and healing for all.
'You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.'
But then when all has been said and done, as that great missionary bishop Lesslie Newbigin wrote - the bishop 'is to be both an evangelist and a shepherd, but first he must be a disciple. His effective authority….will be in proportion to the closeness with which he follows his Lord….One might define the ministry of a bishop as 'so following Jesus in the way of the cross that others find it possible to follow too…It is true bishops have functions, but these are secondary. If I may put it in pictorial terms, he is not so much facing towards the church as facing towards the Lord and his ministry is to encourage others to go the way he is going'.
So then Glyn – indeed all of us – be on your guard lest as St Paul puts it in preaching to others you yourself become a cast away. In other words eschew paper for people – and above all for the One who has called you, as with and for us all – ordained or lay, bishop, priest or deacon – we are all in it together, as the saying goes, brothers and sisters in that fellowship of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church throughout the world and down the ages. Never become so busy or so immersed in the clamour both of the church and the world that you do not and cannot make the time daily to stop, to be still, to be silent - simply to be with Jesus - to watch and to pray.
With this in mind, and having started out with Anthony Trollope, I conclude now with a cautionary tale tinged with a gentle humour recounted by William Dalrymple. It comes from one of the fifth century monastic settlements in Upper Egypt and it concerns a novice 'who was very careless with his own soul'. When the novice dies, his teacher is worried that he might have been sent to Hell for his sins, so he prays that it might be revealed to him what has happened to his pupil's soul. Eventually the teacher goes into a trance, and sees a river of fire with the novice submerged in it up to his neck. The teacher is horrified, but the novice turns to him saying,' I thank God, oh my teacher, that there is relief for my head. Thanks to your prayers, I am standing on the head of a bishop'.
So, Glyn, may Mary the Mother of God, St John of Beverley, St Paul and all the saints pray for you this day before the throne of grace; and for all of us, pray for your bishops, pray for each other, for the whole church that each and every one of us may daily so follow more faithfully, gracefully and joyfully in the way of Jesus Christ crucified and risen that many others yet find it possible to follow too - Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and for ever. All praise to His name!
Some photographs of the Consecration can be viewed here:
Sermon Preached at the Northern Provincial Festival 2012
Posted on the 15th Sep 2012 in the Category - Sermons
Those who have listened to my preaching across the years will know that I have one abiding hope. It is that Bristol Rovers might one day win the FA Cup! Before anyone laughs too much remember that, statistically speaking, there is more chance of that happening that of anyone of us winning big time on the Lottery. And, unlike playing the lottery, my particular fantasy costs me nothing.
All of us, in one way or another, have our dreams for the future. Following the recent royal wedding a little girl told me just how much she wanted to be a princess. The hard-pressed parent who spends her last pound on a scratch card desperately hopes that this will be the win that solves her immediate financial worries. It is a hard lesson for some of us to learn. Games of chance can only truly be great fun when, from the very first, we never seriously believe that we are likely to win. You and I might hope for a better summer next year than this year's. Nothing, however, can be done about it. We just have to hope and then wait and see. Compared with such hopes for the future the subsequent fortunes of Bristol Rovers begin to look a little better every time I consider them.
We Christians, though, are called to understand hope in quite a different way. Hope, for the Bible, is not to be thought of as longing for something that might just turn up. The Bible calls us to a faith that speaks of confidence in the future. The Bible talks the language of backing an absolute certainty. Jeremiah tells us that, even where God's own people are bent on ignoring Him, those who continue to trust in the Lord will be held as securely as a tree that sends its roots ever more deeply into the ground; roots that are sure of finding the water that eventually will provide the necessary nourishment. Jeremiah's confidence that God will look after the future, even as the present is falling apart all around him might well be a feeling that many of us gathered here today recognise all too easily. Yet, even Jeremiah's confidence is as nothing when viewed in the light of Easter Day. God shows us, then, that nothing whatsoever can defeat the love Jesus has shown on Good Friday. Even death is not going to have the final word. If there is one thing above all others to underline in every preparation for Baptism or for Confirmation it is that great truth. Nothing is going to defeat God's purpose. Jesus' death and resurrection are, as it were, the seal, the rubber stamp, on God's promise never to give up on us or to let us down. The First Letter of Saint Peter, our second reading today, might even have come originally from a sermon preached to folk as they were about to be baptised and confirmed. The very first thing of which those new Christians are reminded is that in their new birth, that is their baptism, they are going to share a living hope. A living hope is one certain that all the negativity with which you and I meet in our world will never have the last word. Ruth Etchells, that great theologian from Durham, only recently died, used to speak of her father's constant reassurance during wartime. Whenever Ruth would express her fears as to how the war might end, even in the darkest moments of such times as Dunkirk or the Blitz, her father, immediately and confidently, would reassure her that eventually Hitler would be defeated. God offers a similar reassurance to you and me. Anything that stands in the way of God's loving purpose will eventually be swept aside. If you or I should doubt it, all we have to do is turn once again to the message of Good Friday and of Easter Day.
Yes, we Catholic Anglicans do live in difficult times. Some within our church still seemdetermined on backing away from the promises made to us in the Nineteen-nineties. We view,with some concern, the outcome of the recent House of Bishops Meeting. We fear a retreat from the recent proposals that seemed to throw us a lifebelt even in these latter stages of the debate about the rightness or otherwise of women bishops. Many of us here today could probably offerlong lists of seemingly unfair treatment we have received in the past, not to mention our fears for something even worse in the future. We Catholic Anglicans, though, are not to reconstitute ourselves into some kind of society for the promoting of despair. God is in charge. The Church is Christ's Body. Christ is the Church's head and no-one else. You and I need, perhaps, to see both ourselves, and our present situation, just a little more in proportion. God, in the words of the famous hymn, is working His purpose out. You and I have a living hope. We do not need to use up so much of our energy in worrying about final outcomes. T S Eliot wrote these famous lines:We had the experience but we missed the meaning. I sometimes fear that you and I are so busy seeking the meaning amongst the arguments that at present consume our church that we then lose out on the wonderful experience of what it is to live, trust and hope as a Catholic Christian in the first place.
Christ is Lord of the Church. It is His will that is going to prevail in the end. That ought to give you and me a little more confidence to live with some untidy anomalies as we wait for God's will to prevail. How strange that so many of those who wish radical1y to alter the Church's age long practice as to who might be ordained, claim, almost in the same breath, that anything that would allow a proper accommodation of our needs, would be a gross breach of Catholic Order. You and I can only hold to a doctrine of open reception on this issue because, ultimately, we believe, it is Christ, Lord of the Church, whose Spirit will lead us into all truth. We must now have the courage to go forward in such trust. It is not unreasonable, though, to seek the same humility in those who see things differently from us.
The lives of many of us here today have been overshadowed, for the past forty or so years, by the wonderful work of ARCIC, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. That great work is only going to be finally brought to completion when our two churches are once again united. If ever that great day is to come, there must first, surely, be a consistent and determined group of Anglicans who hold to a Catholic understanding of the Church and are determined to win around the rest of our Church to that same viewpoint. Conviction politicians do not give up when they are losing in the polls. They seek, rather, to hold their ground and fight for a comeback. Unless, or until, the Church of England should take from us the guarantees of a true Catholic ministry, refusing us genuine bishops, we should be seeking to hold firm and to fight the battle confident in our living hope, Jesus Christ. And, dare I say it, even if, as we sometimes fear in our worst moments, there were eventually to be no honourable place for us within the Church of England and you and I had to go, we would do so without bitterness. We would still remain confident in Christ, our living hope, who would in His own time and His own way, resolve the situation.
Movements within the Church rise and fall. Even Bishops of Beverley come and go! This particular Northern Festival, for me, of course, is overshadowed by the fact that it will be the last I share with you as Bishop of Beverley. The future, though, belongs to Christ; not to any of us, no matter how important we might think ourselves to be.
When the General Synod was meeting in February a young Anglican rightly asked us to start talking about Jesus and not of such items as the ordination of women to the episcopate. How right she is; save for one thing. The Church is Christ's Body. The ministry within it is Jesus' ministry. You and I seek nothing more than to proclaim Jesus. Our passion for Catholicism stems only from the conviction that within it we find Jesus most authentically proclaimed. Here today you and I, in this Holy Mass, show the Lord's death until He comes again. Jesus, ourliving hope, is here with us. You and I are caught up, once again, in the timeless worship of heaven. Our living hope is now a present reality. Your concern and mine is to offer that saving experience to our world.
Sermon for the Staff Mass prior to the commencement of General Synod
Posted on the 6th Jul 2012 in the Category - Sermons
For I came not to call the righteous but sinners.
Matthew 9, v13
It seems basically to be the same agenda. There are concerns about public life and civil disorder. People wonder how to bring lasting peace to the world. There is an immense dispute raging over the right understanding of ordained ministry, where power ultimately resides when it comes to making hard decisions and how far dissenters can and should be accommodated.
No, I am not talking about the agenda ahead of us for the meeting of the General Synod but of the issues pressing in upon the national Church in the middle years of the reign of King Henry VIII. It was on this day, 6th July 1535, that Thomas More was executed, just two weeks after the same fate had befallen John Fisher, the saintly Bishop of Rochester. In my more unguarded moments, something that gives me some consolation as I look through the names of the many Englishmen and women who have had their names commemorated in our Common Worship calendar, is that one of the qualities that so many of them share seems to be an immense capacity for always parting ways with the majority opinion within the Established Church!
Henry VIII’s England was increasingly at risk from civil disorder, not least as he moved against those who questioned his divorce and subsequent attack on parts of the Church. Perhaps, more threatening, as Thomas More, himself, clearly identified, were those who had imbibed parts of the new Protestant theology now gaining ground in mainland Europe. They were busy telling folk that they were free under God to believe what they could discern from the Scriptures without need of reference to either king or bishop. Changes were afoot as to how the Church should be governed. For the minority who dissented, the choice was stark as the fate of Fisher and More demonstrates so clearly. And, as this sad period of history moved onwards, there would be those who thought that mission and evangelisation should rather be the main claim on the Church’s energy. By the time that Henry’s daughters were on the throne, people like Francis Xavier would be proclaiming the Gospel in parts of the world beyond Europe, despairing at a Church that had become so caught up in its own internal struggles.
There is then a real sense in the life of the Church of ‘what goes around comes around’. In this, as in every age, the Gospel is entrusted to us. With that responsibility, though, there ever comes both the demand for faithfulness and also, it seems, the persistent temptation to be distracted from the essence of our mission. You and I rightly are warned, time and time again, of the danger of fiddling while Rome burns; though, perhaps, on this occasion we need to replace Rome with Canterbury!
I came not to call the righteous but sinners.
The first response of any Synod to its Lord must be that of penitence, of a change of heart. We can perhaps draw some comfort from the knowledge that only those who know they are part of an all too sinful Church can then use that self-awareness ever to generate a re-focusing on God and on His purposes. A Synod that cannot do this would be all too like that man in the parable, who was so completely lacking in self-knowledge that he could only stand in the Temple and thank God that he was not as other men are. Penitence is not just about continually beating ourselves up over the state of the Church but, rather, the constant stimulus to address our failings and then to move forwards.
Re-focusing on Christ in penitence can also sometimes lead us to revisit the statements that so easily slip off our tongues and so see them for being exactly that. It is uncritically fashionable at the present time to set the frequent discussion within the Church concerning its right ordering against the pressing claims of the world, whether that be in terms of the Palestine-Israel conflict or the recent disruption that has taken place within some of our own cities. And all that is before we consider the immense issues of world evangelisation. It might just be that before we buy this package too uncritically you and I need to recall that this has not always been the prevailing wisdom.
Think for a moment of another great English churchman whose name has only recently been added to our Church calendar: Bishop George Bell. Bell was passionately interested in world affairs, appalled by the indiscriminate bombing of Germany, and desperate to support the Christian church in that land as it sought to witness against Nazism. It was this very concern that brought George Bell to focus on issues of Church order and to become such a prominent founding member of the Ecumenical Movement. He realised, all too well, that only a Church that was seen as part of a united, greater whole could carry sufficient weight against Nazism and that, in similar terms, only a Church in England that saw the German Church as part of itself would be able to make the right moral judgements in coming to the aid of its Christian brothers and sisters. A common ministry bonding the Church together was an essential ingredient in this quest. We may well take our different positions on the ministerial questions before the General Synod during these coming days. You and I only do so because we see how much those decisions will bear on the future mission of the Church. We should not apologise for such concern; rather we can only thank God for His call to an ever sinful Church to reform itself.
Jesus comes to sinners to make them righteous. The Church, as and other bishops have been reminding countless people at ordination services these past few days, is Christ’s Body. That is something to be taken seriously, so seriously that those to be ordained priests are warned of the punishment that will follow if they do harm to any of its members. In our concern for the Church, you and I are concerned authentically to radiate Jesus Himself, sinless, completely integrated and seeking to bring the whole world within that integration. Perhaps it is time to stop at least some of our apologies for giving time to the Church and its ministry. It is all part of seeking to maintain the Church as one so that the world might believe. Unity and mission are inseparable.
Many years ago, when the film A Man For All Seasons was first being shown, I enjoyed a meal with my with local GP. A good and pragmatic lady, she remarked to me of Thomas More: “I could not help thinking he could have saved himself a lot of trouble.” But even the pragmatist must base his or her pragmatism on some principles. More said that ultimately, if the world were to grasp the true faith, then the ministerial issue, in his day the one of papal or royal supremacy, mattered. The integrity embodied in Jesus had to be something both witnessed to and offered by the Church.
It is in allowing that process to be done and done well that those who service the work of General Synod play such an essential part. I believed it when I once worked in Church House. I believe it even more having experienced that work through the eyes of a Synod member. As long as you and I do not forget that we are but sinners in need of Christ and being sought by Him, we will all be genuine agents in ever seeking to bring the Church into greater conformity with His will. And, now, in this Eucharist, we enjoy a foretaste of that perfect Church which is completely one inChrist.
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.