Sermon not preached by The Rt Revd Sarah Mullally Bishop of London
9th April 2020 Chrism Mass and Renewal of commitment
1 Samuel 3.1-10
The call of Wisdom
Will Todd (b1970)
Michael Hemple (b1967) after Proverbs 8
Lord of wisdom, Lord of truth, Lord of justice, Lord of mercy;
Walk beside us down the years till we see you in your gory.
Striving to attain the heights, turning in a new direction,
Entering a lonely place, welcoming a friend or stranger.
I am here, I am with you. I have called: do you hear me?
Silver is of passing worth, gold is not of constant value,
Jewels sparkle for a while; what you long for is not lasting.
Rulers govern under me with my insight and my wisdom.
Those who know me know my love, those who seek me find their answer.
God the Father and the Son, Holy Spirt coeternal.
Glory be ascribed to you, now and to the end of ages.
A year ago, I returned to The Old Deanery after last year’s Chrism service and the builders who had been working on the building had watched us pour out of the West End doors of St Paul’s Cathedral. They said to me ‘So that’s what you do!’ I spoke to them with great pride about what you do – the clergy and people of the Diocese of London.
Thank you for your ministry. The bishops of this diocese have the deepest appreciation for all you have done in another year of ministry and especially this year: appreciation for everything you have done as confident disciples – advocates for belief in God and trust in Jesus Christ; appreciation for the encouragement and nurture you have offered to people in their journey of faith; appreciation for the compassion you have shown to the people that has been entrusted to you in God’s name – laughing and weeping with them; appreciation for how you have contributed to the growth in depth and numbers of the church and for your forbearance whenever you find yourself doing things that were never on your list of why you were ordained or licensed, nor on the syllabus of your training.
Thank you for your kindness and generosity to your bishops. A special word of thanks to those of you who have arrived in the diocese, or begun a new ministry, during the last year; and of course much appreciation to the families of all of us in public ministry, for your support and for being ready to share your life with us – we may sometimes be off duty but nevertheless always still have ministry running in the background. Thank you for all that you have done and endured in the last month together. Thank you.
Until three weeks ago London was alive with the sounds of humanity. The rumble of the tube. The piercing ring of a siren. The drilling. The shouting. The honking. And even now after the lock down, the bells of St Paul’s on every quarter hour – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These are modern sounds created by a 21st century society, and whilst noise has reduced it is still there and noise pollution isn’t a modern trend.
According to Peter Ackroyd, a novelist and poet, 18th century London “rang with the hammers of artisans and the cries of tradesmen”, producing more noise than anywhere else in the country. Industrialised London was the noisiest city in the whole world, according to Walter Besant. Hogarth translated the maddening sounds of London onto canvas in his 1741 painting, which depicted an enraged musician despairing at the cacophony of sounds around him.
We risk in a world full of noise not perceiving the whisper of God. In the words of the anthem by Will Todd ‘I am here, I am with you, I have called: do you hear me?’
David Runcorn, in his book Fear and Trust, suggests that when we don’t hear God it is not as if we hear nothing, it is more that we start to hear everything.
We are told in our Old Testament reading that visions were not wide spread and for Samuel’s storyteller the word of the Lord is nothing less than the sustaining and renewing source of the world’s life and this absence describes a life out of touch with its true meaning and calling. Deaf to what is most needed.
In a world full of noise when we fail to hear properly listening above all else is about the capacity to be faithful to the presence of God.
The bible is full of calls to hear, not least in the teaching of Jesus himself ‘’let everyone with ears listen’ Matthew 11:15
A capacity to hear the word of the Lord, involving a willingness to be present, is central to the story of Samuel. Eli is a priest on the edge, an isolated figure, lacking discernment, who completely misreads Hannah’s distress before God. He is a wooden figure in comparison to the passionate immediacy of Hannah’s faith. He lacks the ability to be present.
Under Eli the word of the Lord has grown scarce; a vocation has been betrayed and this will lead to decline and death. The focus switches to the arrival of a young Samuel at the temple, as promised by Hannah, to begin his lifelong vocation to minster to the Lord. He will learn to hear the voice of God and through him the word of the Lord will sustain and guide people.
Samuel is lying down in the temple of the Lord and the light of God has not yet gone out. These are dark times, but the light of God’s presence is not extinguished. After a long silence God speaks in the darkness and Samuel responds ‘Here I am Lord’.
People often ask me if I miss Devon and I will briefly reflect on the joy of the farming community and the joy of the space for creation but my joy of ministry here means that although I miss them I do no yearn after them.
What I don’t miss are the sea gulls. Sitting on the sea front at Ilfracombe, fish and chips in hand, without warning a sea gull came into sight and on leaving had stolen my fish. Sometimes without warning we can find our vocation – our calling- snatched from us and the word of the Lord seems that it has becomes rare. But we need to know even then the light of God has not yet gone out.
David Runcorn in his book Fear and Trust talks about the ‘ison’ – not the Dean (David Ison) but the continuous bass note in ancient Byzantine worship. The bass note held in the background by the choir.
The cantors improvise and weave into the worship and prayers of the church and words run around the ‘ison’. David Runcorn suggests that theologically the ‘ison’ represents the sound of God – the divine song that holds all creation in being, makes all other songs possible and gives them their freedom. It is the note which is there even if we do not discern it.
R.R Thomas writes:
It’s not that he can’t speak…
it is just that he doesn’t,
or does so at times when we are listening,
in ways we have yet to recognise as speech.
The women stood behind Jesus at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
She recognised what those around her didn’t and in a counter cultural act she poured out herself at Jesus’s feet. If only we, like her, are to find an ability to sense the moment, to hear the ‘ison’ and develop the ability to distinguish signal from the noise – but that requires us to return to the Lord and be truly present to ourselves, the world and to God. And what does God say? ‘I have called you by name and you are mine.’
There is a risk that in this strange time as the noise of the city is dulled that we fill the silence with other noise. I pray that during this triduum you will hear the ‘ison’ and hear God saying ‘I am here, I am with you. I have called: do you hear me?’