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.

Catholic Bishops' June 2012 Pastoral Letter

Posted on the 20th Jun 2012 in the Category - News

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