Sermon given at a Eucharist with the Ordination and Consecration of The Reverend Richard Jackson to be Bishop of Lewes in the Diocese of Chichester
14 May 2014 at 11:00 am
Martin Cavender, Director, ReSource
Isaiah 22:15-25 - Psalm 15 - Acts 1:15-26 - John 15:9-17
I wonder, what is the essential word in your life? The Roman Catholic author Mary Jo Leddy opens her fine book ‘Radical Gratitude’ with this paragraph,
“I believe that each one of us has at least one significant word to say with our lives. This word is who we really are, who we are meant to become, our calling in this world. Within this word lies the secret of our happiness, the source of our power and the mysterious point of our being. Through this particular word of our lives we bring the one thing still wanted and awaited in the world, the one thing necessary that no other can give. A particular grace.”
That begins to put flesh on St Paul’s words, “this mystery .. which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”. It has an echo of the Book of Deuteronomy, “…the word is very near to you ; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe”.
That’s the personal word, unique to everyone on earth. But then there’s a community word, the word spoken by the Christian disciple, an apprentice in an intentional community ; it’s the disciple’s testimony - ‘Jesus Christ is my Lord’ (1 Cor 12:3, Rev 12:11). I sometimes ask three questions first coined in prayer ministry under the trees in Zambia, and since used many times in this country and other places, questions not intended as a test but to establish with whom I am being asked to pray – Have you repented of your sins? Is there anyone you have not forgiven? Can you repeat, after me, ‘Jesus Christ is my Lord’?
I have found an echo in the advice of the WHO to medical practitioners – it is important, they say, to ask questions about the physical, social, personal and spiritual life of the patient – as a senior psychiatrist said to me, ‘How can I help you physically and psychologically if I have not first discovered who is the Lord of your life?’. I asked her if any patient had come back to her and asked who was the Lord of her life. She answered with a quiet smile that she kept being invited to the Church baptisms and confirmations of former patients.
As the passage from the Acts reminds us, this is St Matthias’ day – Matthias, chosen from among the witnesses of the resurrection, chosen from among those who could say ‘Jesus Christ is my Lord’.
What are you called to as a disciple of Jesus now, and soon to be Bishop, Richard? Well, first to discover and express your own unique and personal word of life, and then your own testimony. Those are the starting place.
Then you are called to leadership. Church Growth research says that means motivating, envisioning, innovating. Leadership is essential to growth. These are not days for pussyfooting about or tiptoeing on diplomatic eggshells, they are days to be prayerful, clear-minded, strong-minded, strategic under God. Theological Colleges training Vicars to care for the flock is fine when the flock is available, but today we need pioneers and mission priests as well as caring pastors. Small wonder the Revd Adam Smallbone is confused. The ‘national’ Church is morphing into the ‘committed’ Church, and some people seem not to have noticed.
Leadership means leading in renewal, mission, evangelism, re-sourcing the Church in the Holy Spirit of God, pointing always towards Jesus Christ, and naming him in all you do and are.
Alongside that, you’ve heard this morning’s readings, the lectionary’s markers for a new Bishop. That clear Isaiah passage about stewardship, the Psalmist laying out a description of a true disciple, including that great line, ‘Those who stand by their oath, even to their hurt’. There’s a blissful, ‘living sacrifice’ clarity about all this – I am reminded of Rwanda in 1995 and a woman in Kigali, a wonderful disciple of Jesus, who had lost all her family, including her five children, killed in the genocide ; and told us she had forgiven the killers. You could see she had. She could say “Jesus Christ is my Lord”. This morning we shall sing, ‘I cannot tell … but this I know …’, and that just about sums it up.
This is serious stuff ; but I know you also know that we worship a God who has a sense of humour, and reminds us that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. Working in Portsmouth Diocese recently I was told a story of the Falklands War by a former Naval officer, now ordained. A friend of his had had ‘a good war’, been decorated for bravery and promoted. In full uniform he was in London after the War, travelling by Tube to an appointment. Stepping off the Tube he was confronted by a man sitting on the floor with a cardboard notice, ‘Falklands War veteran’. He couldn’t just walk past him, but had on him only a £50 note; so he dropped it into the man’s hat. …. (punch line) … I have an image of Jesus, just along the platform, falling about laughing.
The Gospel reading says something of this life-bringing God. Jesus moves it all up a gear and underscores the joy in the loving, shifts their understanding from servanthood to friendship.
You’re called, Richard, to the laughter and joy of this ‘cure of souls’; to help every person on earth, and certainly in the Diocese, to discover the word God has planted in each of them ; to call every member of every church to become a disciple of the living God, that they may say with integrity, “Jesus Christ is my Lord”. The plural of disciple is (after all) church, as we discover from the letters of Peter, Paul, James and John. You are called to help this bride of Christ, this beautiful Church grow and fly and transform the world.
In all these things, remember the words of St Anselm – “Whom He calls, He empowers”. May God bless and empower you and Deborah and your family in all you do and are.
I’ll finish with the words of a prayer written to me last week by a friend who is currently ‘detained’, banged up in Dartmoor Prison. He is part of what he tells me is a fine Christian fellowship in the Prison. He knows the personal word that God has written into him. He knows who he is in Christ and can say with every fibre, “Jesus Christ is my Lord”. This prayer was a gift to me as I prepared this sermon, and I offer it for us all. Perhaps we could stand -
‘Living loving father, God my rock, my shepherd, lead me today in a listening and learning way, to lighten the ambiguity of my heart until love is the only song of my soul ; to stand firm against Satan in the armour of light and follow your word in the power of the Spirit ; to live my life in discerning balance and to use your gracious gifts with joy ; To forgive until forgiveness is like breathing so that barriers fall and heart wounds heal –
‘My redeeming saviour … God of mercy … forgive me so that I may rejoice in your eternal covenant. I yearn for the day that I dwell in your house. You are the true vine. Today may I walk with you in the warmth of your cherishing love. -
‘Here I am Everlasting father, Prince of Peace. Send me. I will go … Amen’
(copyright - Martin Cavender, ReSource, 13 Sadler Street, Wells, Somerset BA5 2RR - www.resource-arm.net)