Sermon Preached at my farewell Service today at Exeter Cathedral
Isaiah 43:1-3a and Hebrews 6:13-20
They told me it never snowed in Devon! It is hard to believe that just over a month ago we were snowed under and I would like thank the Dean and the cathedral for having re arranged today.
It is been a privilege to have been in Devon and I know that it has not been long enough – just as it was said that it never snowed in Devon they also said they were not going to appoint a women to be Bishop of London. We have a God of surprises and a God who is doing a new thing.
I am grateful for the privilege of sharing ministry here and particularly with Bishop Robert and Bishop Nick – thank you. I take with me memories of playing football in Bethlehem, of a dancing bishop in Jerusalem, baking in the Cathedral, praying on trains to Exmouth and the red mud of the Mid Devon Show. But most importantly I take the people of Devon with me because I am different because of my time with you.
Although there are many differences about Devon and London there are many similarities. People and their concerns are the same world over.
It would be easy a few months into 2018 to sound a bleak note. The weather has been challenging; there is political tensions across the world, chemical warfare has come knocking at our door, plastic is gunking up the seas, marine life and possibility our own bodies; Brexit negotiations seem to be struggling, the NHS is crumbling for lack of money and many headlines speak of the demise of the church. It can be easy to create communities of negative thought.
At the beginning of this year the Washington Monthly published an article by Roger McNamee. Roger McNamee has had a long and existing relationship with Facebook. He says that the best advice he ever gave was to Mark Zuckerberg not to sell face book in its early days.
In the article Roger reflects on the way in which Facebook and other social media are developing algorithms to encourage you to make contact with those who hold your values and views. These algorithms encourage the link more between negative values than positive – fear and anger produce much more engagement than joy. Last month we saw Analytica in Cambridge hitting the headlines as they used these algorithms in the run up to elections.
It has been suggested that the echo chambers of social media tap into those deep yearnings which lie within us and are at the heart of our insecurities as to who we are – the whispers within our heads, which is why we may be seeing a growth in social, economic and cultural insecurity and the fear of the other.
In the midst of all of this we risk missing the good news and there is good news. Today we celebrate Her Majesty the Queen and her wonderful public service and we mark the Commonwealth with its wonderful diversity – signs of hope.
Since I have been in Devon I have seen much which has given me encouragement; The way in which the farming community protect and enhance our environment, the stories of excellent care which come out of the NHS and we have a Church which is showing signs of life.
We should be encouraged and people of hope.
Across Devon the Church remains at the heart of many of our communities – churches at Christmas and Easter were full of people from their villages, churches are providing activities which are reducing loneliness, and churches are supporting food banks and credit unions. 28,000 children attend one of our church schools and I have seen children praying and leading worship with confidence and with faith. Small rural churches are not failed big churches when their participation rates are much larger than many urban convocations. Our urban churches are often the places where we see cross generational participation and who reach out to those on the margins. Chaplains across the diocese are engaging with people who have no faith but are still spiritual.
And whilst the Christian faith may no longer be peoples default identify people continue to choose to follow Christ and it has been a joy to confirm so many people while I have been in Devon – individuals of all ages affirming their baptismal vows – declaring that they are following Jesus Christ.
We should be people who speak of the hope we see. I have seen hope in the stories of those I have confirmed, in the stories of those I have met who have used food banks and in the stories of those who have been befriended by their local church. All demonstrate the hope of Christ breaking though. They are signs of what more we can and should hope for.
There is a risk that as we see people no longer seeing Christianity as an inherited faith and with the pressure on our churches grow we act out of fear.
I observe that people want the church to grow but fear change. We want to see children in church but fear what that might mean for us.
In the bible people are often told do not be afraid. Sarah caught eves dropping on the visitors, the shepherds at the nativity, the disciples at the transfiguration and the disciples when Jesus walks on the water all told not to be afraid.
We are told that we should not be afraid. When we pass through the waters he will be with us and when we pass through the rivers they will not sweep over us.
Do you recall that wonderful occasion when the fishermen were in the boat and Jesus walking on the water passed them by and they we afraid – what did Jesus says? ‘Take heart it is I: do not be afraid’
Peter with his wonderful have a go character stepped out of the boat – then losing sight who Jesus was for him began sinking – and what did he find – Jesus’ hand there for him. We are so similar having stepped out of the boat in faith we too lose sight of who God is for us and the waters threaten to overcome us but we need to remember that God has summoned us by name and we are his. Just like Peter we will find his hand there for us.
To act out of fear risks us not giving enough time to being open to God and his kingdom and the spirits presence. To act out of fear means we focus on the tasks and not on God. We need to know that God has called us by name, wait on God, deepen and grow in prayer as we listen to God as we understand what the spirit is calling us to do.
Then focusing who God is for us and his commission for us we should have courage and share the hope we have found and in doing so we will find confidence to make new disciples and demonstrate Gods love as we serve the people of Devon with Joy.
The growth of the kingdom of God is in God’s hands we must not act out of anxiety and panic but out of trust whole hearted reliance on God. Confidence in ourselves must be bounded by our confidence in God.
Now I am someone who is very self- conscious, measured and risk adverse but there is something about growing the kingdom of God which requires us to be fearless and reckless in what we do.
Do you remember the farmer who sewed generously and recklessly where seed fell on the path, the rock within the weeds and on the good soil (he wouldn’t cut the mustard with Devon Farmers) but that is the nature of the Kingdom of God and we will watch while we see the seed snatched away, burnt up in the sun chocked by weeds but we will also see it grow first the blade, then the ear then the full grain in the ear.
So be of good courage the God who has called us is faithful.
To the clergy of the diocese I would like to leave four lines of a poem I was reminded of recently which over the door of the Eden Project:
“Dance like no one is watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like no one is listening,
Live like it’s heaven on earth.”
And may the God of all hope give you joy and peace in believing. Amen