Launch of the Crossroads Mission

Welcome to the Archbishop, to all of our visiting bishops and their teams on behalf of the whole Diocese of Sheffield.

We are delighted you are here.  We look forward so much to working with you and to your encouragement and friendship in God’s mission across this Diocese.

I want to invite all of the home team to express the warmth and appreciation we feel to those who have come to join us.

This Crossroads mission was born in prayer as the bishops met on Holy Island and prayed together for the north of England.  God willing it is the first of many, a symbolic new evangelization of the north.

Our hope for these four days is that we will together sow the good seed of the gospel, the word of God, in many different ways and many different places.  Through what we say, through listening, through the love we show, through being there.  In the scriptures we offer, through the text messages we will send.

We want to sow that living word with compassion, with gentleness, with courage, with imagination to many thousands of people across this Diocese.

This world God loves is indeed standing at the crossroads and so are many hundreds of thousands of people across this region.  Our task is to point them to the ancient paths, the forgotten wisdom of the Christian faith which lies deep in the rock and soil and history of this land.  Our task is to uncover the good way again and encourage people to walk in it and find rest for their souls.

We do well to remember as we go that the word of God which we sow is living and active.  God created the heavens and the earth through his word.  The promise of scripture is that God’s word moves heaven and earth still, especially when that word is proclaimed in the public square.

This seed we bear holds immense potential for life.  It will seem a small thing to hand someone a beermat, or offer them a gospel, or speak to them after an assembly or listen at the Show.  But that one text or conversation may be the turning point for the whole of their life and the life of their family.

As Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is like mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all the shrubs and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade”.  Who can know what will happen because of our work together over these next few days.

All of us, the home team and the away team, are bearers of the gospel.  Paul writes these words to the Church in Rome and to the Church down all the ages.  Let his words echo round this cathedral today as we go out in faith:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel.  It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith”.

In this mission we are saying together, Amen.  We are not ashamed of the gospel we bear.  We will carry this message to all whom we meet.  It is the message that the word of God, God’s very self, took flesh and became a man, Jesus Christ.  It is a message of his life and ministry, a message of love.  It is the message of his death on the cross for our sins.  It is the message of resurrection and new life and Easter joy.  It is the message of the gift of the Spirit, the transformation of human lives and the birth of God’s new people, the Church of Jesus Christ.

Thus says the Lord:

“Stand at the crossroads and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls”.

May God bless each of us as we go and carry this good seed, the gospel of God, to many, many different places.  May God bless these communities which we love and serve.  May God by his Spirit cause this seed to grow in many different lives in the months and years to come.

Amen.

+ Steven

 

The Prime Minister will not be short of advice as he appoints the Cabinet and prepares the Queen’s Speech.  There is a particular bible story about accepting and weighing advice that I would suggest it might be helpful for him to read and ponder in the first days of the new government.

It’s a story about transition.  King Solomon has died.  All the tribes of Israel have gathered to make his son, Rehoboam, the new king.  But there is widespread discontent.  A delegation comes from the northern tribes, requesting an easing of their burdens.

Rehoboam has a choice to make and he asks for three days to reflect.  He consults two sets of advisors.  The first group, his father’s counsellors, advise him to listen to the people, to be their servant, to reach out to the disaffected and lead from this foundation.

The second group, his own contemporaries, give opposite advice.  Discontent should be met with harshness.  The burdens on the north should be increased still further.  The new government should start as it means to go on.

Reheboam makes his choice.  It is a fateful one.  He listens to the younger, harsher, more strident voices.  A few years later, the kingdom is divided, at war, impoverished and in chaos.

I have no doubt that David Cameron will receive both sorts of advice in the coming days.  There will be those who counsel him to reach out to the whole nation, to connect with the disaffected, to listen to the people and to be their servant.  But there will be those who see the Conservative majority as a mandate to fulfill and go beyond the manifesto commitments, blind to the risk of increasing the burdens of those who already bear the heavy load (of sickness, disability or the struggle to find sustainable employment).

The Prime Minister’s speech on the steps of Downing Street on Thursday moved clearly in the first direction.  David Cameron spoke of one nation and sought to connect more deeply with those who had voted for other parties, with the people of Scotland, with the regions.  He promised to bring our country together, to help working people and give “the poorest people the chance of training, a job and hope for the future”.

Much of this rhetoric is encouraging but now it needs to be supported and backed up with action.  That action needs to be taken swiftly to begin to draw the United Kingdom back together again and begin to build for the future.  The choices made in the next few days about priorities and plans for legislation in the next year are critical.

So here are some suggestions for a big, open offer from Mr Cameron to every part of the United Kingdom, and especially to those who voted for other parties.

  • Make an early, concrete and clear commitment to safeguarding the environment and to leadership in the key climate conferences this year through the appointments you make and in the Queen’s Speech.  Action on climate change is integral to economic growth.
  • Abolish the bedroom tax.  It hasn’t worked.  It has generated more resentment than revenue.  Repealing it would demonstrate a capacity for change and to think again.
  • Promise an early review of benefits sanctions as part of the ongoing reform of welfare.  Sanctions cause massive hardship.  They are responsible for a significant number of people needing foodbanks.  They are tangential to the main welfare reforms.  In the meantime suspend sanctions for families with children and people suffering from mental ill health.
  • Encourage the Living Wage as part of growing a sustainable, strong national economy.
  • Take a long view of constitutional reform.  Acknowledge the concern revealed by the election outcome.  Entrust it to some kind of independent commission which has time and space to think.  Don’t rush the key decisions which will affect the whole future of the United Kingdom.
  • Revisit the Big Society ideas, if not the language.  Place active partnership, between national and local government and the faith and voluntary sector, front and centre again, not as a replacement of government initiative but complementary to it.  Make sure there is clear leadership for these ideas at Cabinet level.
  • Accelerate the provision of truly affordable housing and prioritise this as part of investment in the future.  Protect and strengthen social housing provision to ensure that everyone has access to a decent home at a price they can afford.
  • Reach out to the English regions as well as to Scotland in swift and tangible ways.  In particular make investment in the northern powerhouse a key priority for the first two years of the new government.

The word Minister means servant.  A Prime Minister is called to be one who serves the whole nation.  If Reheboam had listened to different advice the whole story of Israel would have been different.  I hope that David Cameron will take a moment to read and ponder his story: to listen to all the people, to lighten burdens, and to build one nation, for the benefit of all.

+Steven Sheffield

(The story of Reheboam’s choice is told in 1 Kings 12)

leading-gods-people-book-coverIt’s not often I read a book and then go straight back to the beginning and start again. I have a small number of contemporary books on leadership which (I think) should be on every minister’s shelf.  Leading God’s People has gone straight into my top ten.

Leading God’s People explores wisdom for pastoral leadership from the early church fathers and mothers.  It’s a short, accessible guide to the main themes and draws out the importance of good pastoral leadership, its essential shape and the lessons for leadership today.

The book is ideal Lent reading for clergy, readers, ordinands and anyone who wants to understand more of the distinctly Christian tradition of leadership.  It’s a book which speaks across traditions and denominations.  The author, Christopher A. Beeley, is Professor of Anglican Studies and Patristics at Yale.  The book was published in 2012.   I came across it until a few weeks ago whilst preparing for our new leadership course, Leading Well.

  • St Gregory Nazianzus (329-390):
    On the Priesthood
  • St. Ambrose (339-397):
    The Duties of Leaders
  • St. Augustine (354-430):
    Christian Teaching
  • St. John Chrysostom (347-407):
    On the Priesthood
  • The Rule of Benedict
  • St. Gregory the Great (540-604):
    Pastoral Rule

The early Church reflected deeply on leadership and that reflection is captured in a series of key texts (see box).  All of these texts are (in turn) reflections on what the Bible says about leadership in communities.

Earlier generations of ministers read and studied these texts as a normal part of their preparation for ministry.  But now they are not as well known or understood.

Beeley’s short book has five sections.  In the first he explores the leadership of the Church.  Good pastoral leadership is vital for the Church and the wider community.  It is grounded in service with authority.  It is grounded in Christ.  It is immensely difficult but immensely fulfilling.

Chapter Two explores the spirituality of leadership.  Beeley writes: “The most powerful and practical resource that church leaders have at their disposal, week in and week out, is their own knowledge and experience of God”.  Worth pondering.

Chapter Three explores the Cure of Souls, Chapter Four is on Scripture and Theology and Chapter Five is about The Ministry of the Word.

These are not the normal headings you find in contemporary books on leadership but they are faithful to Scripture and the great tradition and deeply refreshing .  Pastoral leadership in Church and community is different from every other kind of leadership.

If you haven’t yet decided on your own spiritual reading for this Lent (or even if you have) I encourage you to invest in a copy of Leading God’s People.  Read it slowiy and carefully over the coming weeks – and be refreshed and inspired in the leadership you offer.

Leading God’s People, wisdom from the early church fathers by Christopher A. Beeley is published by Eerdmans in 2012.

This evening between 500 and 600 Christians from across Rotherham gathered in the Minster in the heart of the town to pray together.  It was a remarkable gathering.

Nine days ago an independent report was published.  The report revealed over 1400 instances of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2003.  The town is in shock.  People feel dismayed, ashamed, perplexed and angry.  The effects will be felt for years to come.

This evening the Churches came together simply to pray and to begin a process of healing and rebuilding.  There were two separate gatherings earlier in the evening in one of the local parks and outside the offices of Rotherham Borough Council and people walked from there to the Minster.

The ancient church at the heart of the town was full with standing room only.  Every stream of the Christian church was there: Methodists; URC; Baptist; Pentecostal; Black Majority churches; Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Coptics and Community Churches.

The gathering was not a service in the normal sense.  There was no singing, no sermon, no formal readings.  Groups of priests and ministers from the different churches led prayers from the heart in a whole variety of styles.

There was a whole range of emotion in the prayers.  People expressed anger, disbelief, compassion for the victims, care for the whole community, and questions of different kinds.  We prayed for the police and the local Council.  We prayed for community cohesion and for the Muslim communities.  We prayed for the welfare of the whole of Rotherham.  We prayed (movingly) for the victims and yet also for the perpetrators.  We prayed for a change of atmosphere across the town.  We prayed for the ministers and pastors who will lead their communities forward.  We prayed for the safety and security of children and young people.  We prayed for a new beginning.  We prayed.

Those who came were young and old, women and men, from different races and cultures and backgrounds.

This was the largest prayer meeting I’ve been in the five years I’ve been Bishop of Sheffield.  It was also the most heartfelt and passionate.  There was urgency and sorrow and hope.

It’s just a beginning, of course: the beginning of a long process of rebuilding.  On Tuesday the Minster will be open all day (as it normally is) but with an invitation to all the people of Rotherham to come in and sit for a while and pray and reflect on what has happened.  We will dedicate a special prayer space as a focus for the months to come.

It’s just a beginning but after nine days of reflection on these appalling events, it was a small sign of grace and hope and a willingness to see things change.  Please pray for Rotherham.

The Diocese of Sheffield was formed in 1914 from the Diocese of York. Today we began our centenary celebrations with a Eucharist in the newly refurbished Cathedral.  There will be seven more pilgrimages in different locations across the Diocese in the coming months.  
 
The theme of the addresses will be refocussing the life of the Diocese on Jesus Christ and being a Christ shaped Church, exploring the great I am sayings of the Gospel of John.  
 
I am the bread of life
A sermon at the Eucharist for the Centenary of the Diocese of Sheffield 8th June, 2014
1 Peter 2.1-10 and John 6.27-40
On Monday, Bishop Peter and I had tea with eight people who were more than a hundred years old.  We were at the Mansion House in Doncaster.  It’s a great place to have tea.  All eight ladies were born in 1914 or earlier in the very year the Diocese was formed.  It was a pleasure to listen to their memories of time gone by.
I took a picture on my phone and said I was going to post it on twitter.  I expected to have to explain myself very carefully to one of the guests who was a hundred.  “No”, she said, “ I can’t be bothered with twitter.  But post it on Facebook and I’ll have a look”.
There is so much to remember and so much to celebrate in this last one hundred years of the Church family in this place, for what else is a Diocese except a family.
We remain a very young Diocese, one of the youngest in the Church of England until very recently.
Through the last one hundred years in these places, the Church has proclaimed and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That’s what we celebrate today. There have been seven Bishops of Sheffield and six of Doncaster.  It’s good to welcome some of them here today, especially Bishop Jack Nicholls and we send greetings to others, but a Diocese is far more than its Bishops.
The story of the Diocese is the story of thousands of parish clergy serving in urban and rural areas with skill and courage and faithfulness.  It’s the story of chaplains in hospitals and prisons, universities and schools.  It’s the story of pioneering industrial mission and planting new congregations. It’s the story of faithful, steadfast, gifted lay people giving generously to their local churches of their time and talents and treasure.
It’s the story of prayerfulness and moments of renewal and resourcefulness and love of God and love of neighbour.  It’s the story of countless hours of service offered through the local church to the wider community through food banks and lunch clubs and play groups and scouts and guides and a hundred other ways.  It’s a story of the church’s involvement in education, in social work, in care for the needy, in changing the world.  It’s a story of partnership with our precious sister churches, with other faith communities, with other agencies across the region and we welcome their representatives here today.  It’s a story of the creation and renewal of church buildings like this one.  I want to pay tribute today to all who have worked so hard and given so generously to
the magnificent refurbishment of this Cathedral.
The story of this Diocese is the story of evangelism, of passing on the faith from generation to generation.  It’s a story of tens of thousands of ordinary but extraordinary Christian disciples, for that is what you are,  living against the grain and offering their lives back to the living God.  It’s a story of worship offered to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit every single day of those one hundred years in every place across this Diocese to God’s glory and God’s praise.
Whatever your part in that great story, thank you for all you have given and all that you give.  May God bless you for hearing his call, for joining your story to the story of this Diocese in the past, in the present and, God willing into the future as we move forward together.  Thank you.
It’s not always been an easy story.  Bishop David Lunn wrote this in 1982, “Our history is not just a success story….Neither hard work nor vision and insight have always borne the fruit they seem to deserve”.  There have been challenges and difficulties in abundance.  There have been mistakes and wrong turnings and weaknesses and pain, sometimes very great.  We are an imperfect Church and an imperfect Diocese and we will remain so into the future, however hard we try.
So it’s as well then that, in St. Paul’s words, we are never called to proclaim ourselves.  Even on a day like today.  We are not the message.  We are not the good news.  We are not the solution to the problem.  We are not the Saviour of the World.
“For we do not proclaim ourselves;” write Paul,  “We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4.5).
If we focus in our centenary year or in any year on ourselves or our story or our achievements or our significance, very soon we will nothing to offer those around us who are hungry and thirsty for
life.
The Church is called to speak the message of hope and salvation.  But that message is never about proclaiming ourselves.
The Church bears good news only as she speaks of Jesus Christ and bears witness to her Lord, crucified, risen and ascended.  That’s the heart of our message today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow.  We are called to proclaim an eternal gospel in the midst of a changing world.  “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord”.
Where there are things to give thanks for over the last one hundred years and today it is because we have proclaimed Christ in word and action.  Where we have stumbled and fallen short, it is because we have proclaimed ourselves.
As this year unfolds at different events in different places, we will be proclaiming Jesus Christ as the very core of our gospel message.  We will explore together seven remarkable sayings in the Gospel of John where Jesus describes himself in words beginning “I am….”.
In all these sayings, Jesus is claiming here the name and nature of God.  In the Old Testament, “I am” is the very name of God (Exodus 3.14).  That name became so holy to the Jews that it
cannot be said aloud.
When Jesus says “I am”, he is telling us, over and over again, that he is the Son of the Living God, that he bears the nature of God, that he demonstrates the compassion and mercy of the living God, that in him all the fullness of God dwells.
“I am”, says Jesus, over and over again.  Think about it.  In the entire history of the world, no other person has claimed to be the fullness of God in human form.   This is the good news we bear.  This is why we are here.
Jesus’ words speak to us about who Jesus himself is and who God is.  They are sweet and beautiful and profound images.  “I am the bread of life” (6.35, 51); “I am the light of the world” (8.25, 9.5); “I am the door” (10.7,9); “I am the good shepherd” (10.11, 14); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11.25); “I am the way, the truth and the life” (14.6); “I am the true vine” (15.1,5).
A sevenfold window on Jesus.  A seven faced diamond reflecting God’s nature.  A seven course banquet to nourish the soul.  Seven answers to the most important question in the universe: what is God who made us like?  He is like Jesus: bread and light and good and living and true.
And the first answer?  “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.35).
There are whole stories behind that word bread.  The story of the manna which God fed to the people of Israel in the wilderness for forty years and which kept them alive.  The story of the feeding of the 5,000 on the hillside which took place the day before in John’s gospel.  The story of the law given to Moses, which is like bread and wine and milk and honey. God’s word and God’s wisdom is nourishment for the soul.  The story of the Last Supper when Jesus will take bread and give thanks and break it and give it to his disciples as he did on the hillside and when he will say:  “This is my body, given for you”
There are whole stories to explore.  But the point of them all is this.  Here is something greater than manna and greater even than the law given to Moses. Here is the person at the heart of
the Holy Communion which we celebrate today.
Here is a gift beyond price from God to you.  Here is the bread of life who will satisfy you when you are hungry and nourish you so that you can grow, and sustain you in the darkest times, and who will be there in every season of this life and who will call you and draw you into life eternal.  Here is the bread of life.  Here is Jesus Christ.  Come and see. Come and eat.  Come and
follow.
We give thanks today that for this last one hundred years, the churches of this diocese have proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life, in Word and Sacrament, in love and in deeds of discipleship and generosity.
They have proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life in the face of the immense suffering of two world wars.  Within months of Bishop Burrows standing in this pulpit for the first time, the young men of this Diocese were marching to the trenches in their thousands and the world was turned upside down.  Within months of his successor, Bishop Hunter, taking office, Germany had invaded Poland and the world was plunged into conflict.
The Church proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life through the decades of reconstruction which followed.  Imagine the changes of the last one hundred years in technology, in science, in culture, in the roles of women and men, in the waves of migration, in the economy.
Through the women’s movement, through the depression, through the miners strike, through the growth of the universities, through rising and falling standards of living, through poverty and inequality, through migrations, through hardship, through the expansion of education and the health service.  The Church has been present.  The Church has invested.  The Church has cared.  The Church has prayed.  The Church has lifted up the bread of life.
Every age has its temptations and challenges.  In our own age, in our time, the greatest danger of them all is consumerism.
A whole machinery of advertising exists solely to convince men and women from childhood to the grave that happiness comes  from spending money and acquiring possessions.  That message is a lie but it surrounds us every moment of our waking lives.
This Cathedral stands in the centre of this city and Diocese today as a living sign of a different story.  Human beings are spiritual beings.  We are more than bodies.  We need more than material goods to be fulfilled and content.  Greed distorts us.  We cannot live by bread alone.  The unease and unhappiness around us is a hunger for the bread of life but a hunger which cannot always be named.
It should not surprise us that in a world infected by greed, the Christian faith is unfashionable.  To meet in a Church and to worship the living God and to love God and love your neighbour is deeply countercultural in 2014, more so than a hundred years ago.  To be a Christian today is live against the grain of our culture.  To share Christian faith is to invite people to explore a more demanding, more truthful way of living: to live for God and others.  To follow the way of Jesus.  To receive forgiveness through his death.  To receive life through his resurrection.  To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  To be his disciple.  To come and eat the bread of life in word and sacrament.  To be God’s people together in this place.
Though the world does not know it, we are bearers of good news.  The Church is not the bread of life.  Jesus is the bread.  We are called to welcome others to his table, to break open the bread of the scriptures and the bread of the Eucharist, to offer signs of practical love and service.  We are called to point beyond ourselves.  To point to the one who is the fullness of God’s love.  To point to Jesus Christ, the bread of life.
We give thanks today for this last one hundred years.  We rejoice in all God’s gifts to us this day.  We commit ourselves to break the bread for others in this place in this next one hundred
years and to God be the glory.  Amen.

I am the bread of life

A sermon at the Eucharist for the Centenary of the Diocese of Sheffield
8th June, 2014
1 Peter 2.1-10 and John 6.27-40
On Monday, Bishop Peter and I had tea with eight people who were more than a hundred years old.  We were at the Mansion House in Doncaster.  It’s a great place to have tea.  All eight ladies were born in 1914 or earlier in the very year the Diocese was formed.  It was a pleasure to listen to their memories of time gone by.
I took a picture on my phone and said I was going to post it on twitter.  I expected to have to explain myself very carefully to one of the guests who was a hundred.  “No”, she said, “ I can’t be bothered with twitter.  But post it on Facebook and I’ll have a look”.
There is so much to remember and so much to celebrate in this last one hundred years of the Church family in this place, for what else is a Diocese except a family.  We remain a very young Diocese, one of the youngest in the Church of England until very recently.
Through the last one hundred years in these places, the Church has proclaimed and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what we celebrate today. There have been seven Bishops of Sheffield and six of Doncaster.  It’s good to welcome some of them here today, especially Bishop Jack Nicholls and we send greetings to others, but a Diocese is far more than its Bishops.
The story of the Diocese is the story of thousands of parish clergy serving in urban and rural areas with skill and courage and faithfulness.  It’s the story of chaplains in hospitals and prisons, universities and schools.  It’s the story of pioneering industrial mission and planting new congregations.  It’s the story of faithful, steadfast, gifted lay people giving generously to their local churches of their time and talents and treasure.
It’s the story of prayerfulness and moments of renewal and resourcefulness and love of God and love of neighbour. It’s the story of countless hours of service offered through the local church to the wider community through food banks and lunch clubs and play groups and scouts and guides and a hundred other ways.  It’s a story of the church’s involvement in education, in social work, in care for the needy, in changing the world.  It’s a story of partnership with our precious sister churches, with other faith communities, with other agencies across the region and we welcome their representatives here today.  It’s a story of the creation and renewal of church buildings like this one.  I want to pay tribute today to all who have worked so hard and given so generously to the magnificent refurbishment of this Cathedral.
The story of this Diocese is the story of evangelism, of passing on the faith from generation to generation.  It’s a story of tens of thousands of ordinary but extraordinary Christian disciples, for that is what you are,  living against the grain and offering their lives back to the living God.  It’s a story of worship offered to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit every single day of those one hundred years in every place across this Diocese to God’s glory and God’s praise.
Whatever your part in that great story, thank you for all you have given and all that you give.  May God bless you for hearing his call, for joining your story to the story of this Diocese in the past, in the present and, God willing into the future as we move forward together.  Thank you.
It’s not always been an easy story.  Bishop David Lunn wrote this in 1982, “Our history is not just a success story….Neither hard work nor vision and insight have always borne the fruit they seem to deserve”.  There have been challenges and difficulties in abundance.  There have been mistakes and wrong turnings and weaknesses and pain, sometimes very great.  We are an imperfect Church and an imperfect Diocese and we will remain so into the future, however hard we try.
So it’s as well then that, in St. Paul’s words, we are never called to proclaim ourselves.  Even on a day like today.  We are not the message.  We are not the good news.  We are not the solution to the problem.  We are not the Saviour of the World.
“For we do not proclaim ourselves;” write Paul,  “We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4.5).
If we focus in our centenary year or in any year on ourselves or our story or our achievements or our significance, very soon we will nothing to offer those around us who are hungry and thirsty for life.
The Church is called to speak the message of hope and salvation.  But that message is never about proclaiming ourselves.
The Church bears good news only as she speaks of Jesus Christ and bears witness to her Lord, crucified, risen and ascended.  That’s the heart of our message today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow.  We are called to proclaim an eternal gospel in the midst of a changing world.  “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord”.
Where there are things to give thanks for over the last one hundred years and today it is because we have proclaimed Christ in word and action.  Where we have stumbled and fallen short, it is because we have proclaimed ourselves.
As this year unfolds at different events in different places, we will be proclaiming Jesus Christ as the very core of our gospel message.  We will explore together seven remarkable sayings in the Gospel of John where Jesus describes himself in words beginning “I am….”.
In all these sayings, Jesus is claiming here the name and nature of God.  In the Old Testament, “I am” is the very name of God (Exodus 3.14).  That name became so holy to the Jews that it cannot be said aloud.
When Jesus says “I am”, he is telling us, over and over again, that he is the Son of the Living God, that he bears the nature of God, that he demonstrates the compassion and mercy of the living God, that in him all the fullness of God dwells.
“I am”, says Jesus, over and over again.  Think about it.  In the entire history of the world, no other person has claimed to be the fullness of God in human form.   This is the good news we bear.  This is why we are here.
Jesus’ words speak to us about who Jesus himself is and who God is.  They are sweet and beautiful and profound images.  “I am the bread of life” (6.35, 51); “I am the light of the world” (8.25, 9.5); “I am the door” (10.7,9); “I am the good shepherd” (10.11, 14); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11.25); “I am the way, the truth and the life” (14.6); “I am the true vine” (15.1,5).
A sevenfold window on Jesus.  A seven faced diamond reflecting God’s nature.  A seven course banquet to nourish the soul.  Seven answers to the most important question in the universe: what is God who made us like?  He is like Jesus: bread and light and good and living and true.
And the first answer?  “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.35).
There are whole stories behind that word bread.  The story of the manna which God fed to the people of Israel in the wilderness for forty years and which kept them alive.  The story of the feeding of the 5,000 on the hillside which took place the day before in John’s gospel.  The story of the law given to Moses, which is like bread and wine and milk and honey. God’s word and God’s wisdom is nourishment for the soul.  The story of the Last Supper when Jesus will take bread and give thanks and break it and give it to his disciples as he did on the hillside and when he will say:  “This is my body, given for you”
There are whole stories to explore.  But the point of them all is this.  Here is something greater than manna and greater even than the law given to Moses. Here is the person at the heart of the Holy Communion which we celebrate today.  Here is a gift beyond price from God to you.  Here is the bread of life who will satisfy you when you are hungry and nourish you so that you can grow, and sustain you in the darkest times, and who will be there in every season of this life and who will call you and draw you into life eternal.  Here is the bread of life.  Here is Jesus Christ.  Come and see.  Come and eat.  Come and follow.
We give thanks today that for this last one hundred years, the churches of this diocese have proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life, in Word and Sacrament, in love and in deeds of discipleship and generosity.
They have proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life in the face of the immense suffering of two world wars.  Within months of Bishop Burrows standing in this pulpit for the first time, the young men of this Diocese were marching to the trenches in their thousands and the world was turned upside down.  Within months of his successor, Bishop Hunter, taking office, Germany had invaded Poland and the world was plunged into conflict.
The Church proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life through the decades of reconstruction which followed.  Imagine the changes of the last one hundred years in technology, in science, in culture, in the roles of women and men, in the waves of migration, in the economy.  Through the women’s movement, through the depression, through the miners strike, through the growth of the universities, through rising and falling standards of living, through poverty and inequality, through migrations, through hardship, through the expansion of education and the health service.  The Church has been present.  The Church has invested.  The Church has cared.  The Church has prayed.  The Church has lifted up the bread of life.
Every age has its temptations and challenges.  In our own age, in our time, the greatest danger of them all is consumerism.  A whole machinery of advertising exists solely to convince men and women from childhood to the grave that happiness comes  from spending money and acquiring possessions.  That message is a lie but it surrounds us every moment of our waking lives.
This Cathedral stands in the centre of this city and Diocese today as a living sign of a different story.  Human beings are spiritual beings.  We are more than bodies.  We need more than material goods to be fulfilled and content.  Greed distorts us.  We cannot live by bread alone.  The unease and unhappiness around us is a hunger for the bread of life but a hunger which cannot always be named.
It should not surprise us that in a world infected by greed, the Christian faith is unfashionable.  To meet in a Church and to worship the living God and to love God and love your neighbour is deeply countercultural in 2014, more so than a hundred years ago.  To be a Christian today is live against the grain of our culture.  To share Christian faith is to invite people to explore a more demanding, more truthful way of living: to live for God and others.  To follow the way of Jesus.  To receive forgiveness through his death.  To receive life through his resurrection.  To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  To be his disciple.  To come and eat the bread of life in word and sacrament.  To be God’s people together in this place.
Though the world does not know it, we are bearers of good news.  The Church is not the bread of life.  Jesus is the bread.  We are called to welcome others to his table, to break open the bread of the scriptures and the bread of the Eucharist, to offer signs of practical love and service.  We are called to point beyond ourselves.  To point to the one who is the fullness of God’s love.  To point to Jesus Christ, the bread of life.
We give thanks today for this last one hundred years.  We rejoice in all God’s gifts to us this day.  We commit ourselves to break the bread for others in this place in this next one hundred years and to God be the glory.  Amen.

The Lord is Risen A sermon for Easter Day 20th April, 2014 John 20.1-18

It’s a privilege to welcome you today to our renewed and re-ordered Cathedral. The work is not finished yet and will go on for some months.  But it’s a magnificent symbol this Easter Day to see this ancient building made new, to see what it will be like, to celebrate resurrection in this very ancient church which has been made so wonderfully new and contemporary.  And its such a joy to have sound system which works…..

Remember as you come in prayer today that there has been a Church on this site for over a thousand years at the very centre of this city.  Down all the centuries the Church building has been knocked down and rebuilt, adapted and improve.  But through all those years the people of Sheffield have gathered here to pray to the Risen Lord Sunday by Sunday and day by day, in moments of peril and difficulty, in the crises of their lives, at the great festivals of the year.

A congregation gathered on this site in 1066, in the Wars of the Roses, in the time of Mary Tudor, during the Civil War, when Victoria came to the throne, during the Great War.  A congregation proclaimed the resurrection of Christ as we have done this Easter.

In the words of Isaiah, This house is a place of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56.7). It is not just a place for all people – though it is that.  But this house is a place of prayer for all peoples, especially those who do not yet know the living God.  And you are truly welcome this day.

Let’s use the Easter acclamation one more time.

The Lord is Risen. He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Jesus rose from the dead.  This is what we celebrate today.  This is the entire centre of our faith.  Jesus rose from the dead and his rising has reshaped history.

Every time you write the date, you are remembering how many years it was since this man lived and died and rose again: 2014.  We do not date our lives, our history does not begin from the Norman conquest, or the foundation of Rome, or the accession of the Queen, or the invention of the mobile phone.  Our history begins with Jesus.

We date our lives from the year Jesus Christ was born because of his remarkable life and ministry and death and resurrection.  We meet for worship on a Sunday to honour the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on this day of the week.  The first Christians were all devout Jews.  They kept the Sabbath, Saturday as their day of worship as the Jewish people do today.  Something remarkable happened to change their day of worship.  Christ rose from the dead.  Within a generation, the Christian day of worship became Sunday, the Lord’s day, the day he rose.

Walk through any English churchyard and you will see graves packed together.  Walk around this Cathedral and look at the monuments and plaques and burial places.  Why are they here?  People are buried here and around parish churches because Jesus rose from the dead, because of truth of his resurrection, because of the hope it brings to us of new and eternal life with God, because of his promises to those who believe.  Where else would you want to be buried but in the place where new life is proclaimed? Because he rose, death is not the end.  The shroud of death which casts its shadow over all peoples has been destroyed (Isaiah 25.7).

These are not superstitions.   Generations have believed and trusted in the resurrection of Christ in every generation on the earth.  Generations who follow us will do the same.  This faith we share has been tested in every possible way down two thousand years.

The first three hundred years of the life of the Church were years of intermittent persecution.  To profess faith in the risen Christ meant that you suffered discrimination, you could be arrested, you could be killed.  We can forget that the early witnesses whose words we read in the New Testament almost all died for their faith, often in terrible ways.  St. Paul lived most of his life in danger – yet his life and his writings are full of joy.  Why is that? Because of his faith in the risen Jesus. Death is not the end of life. There is hope, there is resurrection, there is meaning, there is a future.

Those early Christians tell us that we should not be surprised by resurrection. We can read the signs in creation. “Day and night declare to us a resurrection”, writes one of them. “The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on” (Clement, First letter to the Corinthians, 24).

The seasons of the year speak of death and resurrection: “The earth receives its instruction from heaven to clothe the trees which had been stripped, to colour the flowers afresh, to spread the grass again, to reproduce the seed” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 22).

The resurrection is written deep in the Scriptures.  This pattern, this event was foretold.  In the Psalms and in Isaiah, there are prophecies of suffering followed by glory (Psalm22, Isaiah 53).  There are deep patterns in the stories of Noah saved from the flood, in the Israelites saved from death in the crossing of the Red Sea, in Jonah who spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish but was given back his life, in Daniel and his friends rescued from the fire and from the mouth of lions.

There are miracles of resurrection in the Scriptures: Enoch and Elijah are snatched into heaven (Genesis 5.24, 2 Kings 2); Elijah and Elisha raise the sons of widows from the dead (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4); Ezekiel sees a vision of a whole army come to life again (Ezekiel 37) and of deserts made new (48).

The early Christians took this pattern of death and resurrection from the Scriptures and wove it into Christian worship.  Last night, Bishop Peter and I baptized and confirmed 41 candidates in Rotherham Minster.   It was a wonderful occasion.  All of them made for themselves the promises made at their baptism.  All were confirmed.  Eight of them were baptized at the font.

The traditional times for baptism to happen is Easter because of the pattern of death and resurrection.  We go down into the water.  Our old life dies.  We come out of the water.  We rise with Christ’s new life to live with him and for him and in him and to live for ever.  It was a powerful moment.

Today and every Sunday we celebrate the Eucharist together in this place.  In this Eucharist, in the sacrament of bread and wine, we make a living memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection and we celebrate his call to resurrection life.   We remember that Jesus is alive, that Christ is with us, as we gather in this place, that we can know him, that he lives in us his people, that he has given us His Spirit.

The pattern of resurrection is there in creation, in history, in testimony, in scripture, in sacrament, in experience, in the shaping of our world.

But that pattern begins with a real, actual, historical event, in a garden, in the darkness, as Mary Magdalene comes weeping to the tomb.  She is weeping because Jesus death was a real death, full of pain and anguish, and because Mary loves him, and she is in the chaos of confusion which grief brings.

She sees the empty tomb.  The stone is rolled away.  His body has gone.  The disciples come and see the linen wrappings and the cloth rolled up in a place by itself.  This is a resurrection not a robbery.

That resurrection is an historical event. The tomb was empty. Jesus appeared to his disciples. One writer says: “The empty tomb alone would have been a puzzle and a tragedy.  Sightings of an apparently alive Jesus by themselves would have been classified as visions or hallucinations….However an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together,..” present a powerful reason for faith in the resurrection[1].

Mary encounters the tomb and then she encounters Jesus.  He calls her name: Mary.  There is a turning, a returning, a change of direction, a conversion.  “She turned and said to him in Hebrew, Rabbouni! (which means my Teacher)”.  You cannot believe in the resurrection of Jesus and stay the same.  To believe means to turn, to change, to be converted.

Then in a moment, Mary moves from weeping to turning to witnessing.  Mary Magdalene becomes the apostle to the apostles.  The pattern of resurrection is even written into the story of resurrection.  Mary was the one from whom seven demons were driven out, the woman of no reputation, by tradition a camp follower.  The one whose life was worse than death, who has already been restored, is the one who carries the message of life to others.

Her story is built in John around three words in the original: weeping, turning, witnessing[2].  They describe the pattern of resurrection in every disciple: mourning: encountering reality without Christ, facing the reality of our own death or that of others; turning: encountering the risen Christ, experiencing the power of his resurrection; and witnessing: sharing with others that we have seen the Lord, that he has risen.  Weeping, turning, witnessing: the pattern of Easter.

There is no need to be afraid or shy or lacking in confidence in the heart of our faith or in proclaiming it to the world.  This is the great good news in every age and every will be while the world endures.  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Our Cathedral will be a sign now in this great city of the renewing power of Christian faith and of the Christian gospel and of confidence in that message in the years to come.  Thousands upon thousands of people in this city and region need to hear that great good news.

Let this Easter be the day when your own faith is rekindled and renewed; when you place your trust once again in Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose again, when you follow Mary and move from weeping to turning to witnessing to his love. Let this Easter be the day when the Church in this places embraces a proper confidence in the gospel, to live it and proclaim it in this city and this diocese now and for many years to come.

The Lord is Risen. He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

[1] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp. 686-7

[2] See Sandra M. Shneiders, Written that you may believe, Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, pp. 211-223

The Lord is Risen
A sermon for Easter Day
20th April, 2014
John 20.1-18

It’s a privilege to welcome you today to our renewed and re-ordered Cathedral. The work is not finished yet and will go on for some months. But it’s a magnificent symbol this Easter Day to see this ancient building made new, to see what it will be like, to celebrate resurrection in this very ancient church which has been made so wonderfully new and contemporary. And its such a joy to have sound system which works…..

Remember as you come in prayer today that there has been a Church on this site for over a thousand years at the very centre of this city. Down all the centuries the Church building has been knocked down and rebuilt, adapted and improve. But through all those years the people of Sheffield have gathered here to pray to the Risen Lord Sunday by Sunday and day by day, in moments of peril and difficulty, in the crises of their lives, at the great festivals of the year.

A congregation gathered on this site in 1066, in the Wars of the Roses, in the time of Mary Tudor, during the Civil War, when Victoria came to the throne, during the Great War. A congregation proclaimed the resurrection of Christ as we have done this Easter.

In the words of Isaiah, This house is a place of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56.7). It is not just a place for all people – though it is that. But this house is a place of prayer for all peoples, especially those who do not yet know the living God. And you are truly welcome this day.

Let’s use the Easter acclamation one more time.

The Lord is Risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Jesus rose from the dead. This is what we celebrate today. This is the entire centre of our faith. Jesus rose from the dead and his rising has reshaped history.

Every time you write the date, you are remembering how many years it was since this man lived and died and rose again: 2014. We do not date our lives, our history does not begin from the Norman conquest, or the foundation of Rome, or the accession of the Queen, or the invention of the mobile phone. Our history begins with Jesus.

We date our lives from the year Jesus Christ was born because of his remarkable life and ministry and death and resurrection. We meet for worship on a Sunday to honour the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on this day of the week. The first Christians were all devout Jews. They kept the Sabbath, Saturday as their day of worship as the Jewish people do today. Something remarkable happened to change their day of worship. Christ rose from the dead. Within a generation, the Christian day of worship became Sunday, the Lord’s day, the day he rose.

Walk through any English churchyard and you will see graves packed together. Walk around this Cathedral and look at the monuments and plaques and burial places. Why are they here? People are buried here and around parish churches because Jesus rose from the dead, because of truth of his resurrection, because of the hope it brings to us of new and eternal life with God, because of his promises to those who believe. Where else would you want to be buried but in the place where new life is proclaimed? Because he rose, death is not the end. The shroud of death which casts its shadow over all peoples has been destroyed (Isaiah 25.7).

These are not superstitions. Generations have believed and trusted in the resurrection of Christ in every generation on the earth. Generations who follow us will do the same. This faith we share has been tested in every possible way down two thousand years.

The first three hundred years of the life of the Church were years of intermittent persecution. To profess faith in the risen Christ meant that you suffered discrimination, you could be arrested, you could be killed. We can forget that the early witnesses whose words we read in the New Testament almost all died for their faith, often in terrible ways. St. Paul lived most of his life in danger – yet his life and his writings are full of joy. Why is that? Because of his faith in the risen Jesus. Death is not the end of life. There is hope, there is resurrection, there is meaning, there is a future.

Those early Christians tell us that we should not be surprised by resurrection. We can read the signs in creation. “Day and night declare to us a resurrection”, writes one of them. “The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on” (Clement, First letter to the Corinthians, 24).

The seasons of the year speak of death and resurrection: “The earth receives its instruction from heaven to clothe the trees which had been stripped, to colour the flowers afresh, to spread the grass again, to reproduce the seed” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 22).

The resurrection is written deep in the Scriptures. This pattern, this event was foretold. In the Psalms and in Isaiah, there are prophecies of suffering followed by glory (Psalm22, Isaiah 53). There are deep patterns in the stories of Noah saved from the flood, in the Israelites saved from death in the crossing of the Red Sea, in Jonah who spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish but was given back his life, in Daniel and his friends rescued from the fire and from the mouth of lions.

There are miracles of resurrection in the Scriptures: Enoch and Elijah are snatched into heaven (Genesis 5.24, 2 Kings 2); Elijah and Elisha raise the sons of widows from the dead (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4); Ezekiel sees a vision of a whole army come to life again (Ezekiel 37) and of deserts made new (48).

The early Christians took this pattern of death and resurrection from the Scriptures and wove it into Christian worship. Last night, Bishop Peter and I baptized and confirmed 41 candidates in Rotherham Minster. It was a wonderful occasion. All of them made for themselves the promises made at their baptism. All were confirmed. Eight of them were baptized at the font.

The traditional times for baptism to happen is Easter because of the pattern of death and resurrection. We go down into the water. Our old life dies. We come out of the water. We rise with Christ’s new life to live with him and for him and in him and to live for ever. It was a powerful moment.

Today and every Sunday we celebrate the Eucharist together in this place. In this Eucharist, in the sacrament of bread and wine, we make a living memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection and we celebrate his call to resurrection life. We remember that Jesus is alive, that Christ is with us, as we gather in this place, that we can know him, that he lives in us his people, that he has given us His Spirit.

The pattern of resurrection is there in creation, in history, in testimony, in scripture, in sacrament, in experience, in the shaping of our world.

But that pattern begins with a real, actual, historical event, in a garden, in the darkness, as Mary Magdalene comes weeping to the tomb. She is weeping because Jesus death was a real death, full of pain and anguish, and because Mary loves him, and she is in the chaos of confusion which grief brings.

She sees the empty tomb. The stone is rolled away. His body has gone. The disciples come and see the linen wrappings and the cloth rolled up in a place by itself. This is a resurrection not a robbery.

That resurrection is an historical event. The tomb was empty. Jesus appeared to his disciples. One writer says: “The empty tomb alone would have been a puzzle and a tragedy. Sightings of an apparently alive Jesus by themselves would have been classified as visions or hallucinations….However an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together,..” present a powerful reason for faith in the resurrection.

Mary encounters the tomb and then she encounters Jesus. He calls her name: Mary. There is a turning, a returning, a change of direction, a conversion. “She turned and said to him in Hebrew, Rabbouni! (which means my Teacher)”. You cannot believe in the resurrection of Jesus and stay the same. To believe means to turn, to change, to be converted.

Then in a moment, Mary moves from weeping to turning to witnessing. Mary Magdalene becomes the apostle to the apostles. The pattern of resurrection is even written into the story of resurrection. Mary was the one from whom seven demons were driven out, the woman of no reputation, by tradition a camp follower. The one whose life was worse than death, who has already been restored, is the one who carries the message of life to others.

Her story is built in John around three words in the original: weeping, turning, witnessing. They describe the pattern of resurrection in every disciple: mourning: encountering reality without Christ, facing the reality of our own death or that of others; turning: encountering the risen Christ, experiencing the power of his resurrection; and witnessing: sharing with others that we have seen the Lord, that he has risen. Weeping, turning, witnessing: the pattern of Easter.

There is no need to be afraid or shy or lacking in confidence in the heart of our faith or in proclaiming it to the world. This is the great good news in every age and every will be while the world endures. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Our Cathedral will be a sign now in this great city of the renewing power of Christian faith and of the Christian gospel and of confidence in that message in the years to come. Thousands upon thousands of people in this city and region need to hear that great good news.

Let this Easter be the day when your own faith is rekindled and renewed; when you place your trust once again in Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose again, when you follow Mary and move from weeping to turning to witnessing to his love. Let this Easter be the day when the Church in this places embraces a proper confidence in the gospel, to live it and proclaim it in this city and this diocese now and for many years to come.

The Lord is Risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Lift up your hearts A Sermon at the Chrism Eucharist 15th April, 2014. 1 Samuel 3.1-10; Luke 7.36-50

The Lord be with you And also with you

Lift up your hearts We lift them to the Lord

About two years ago, this particular phrase in the service of Holy Communion began to strike me afresh.

It’s a feature of all good Christian ministry that we get to know one another better over time.  When a priest first comes to a parish or a bishop first comes to a diocese, when a lay minister is licensed or authorized, we do not know each other well.  We are strangers called by God to walk together and serve together in our different ministries.

But, with time, of course, strangers become friends.  This is one of the great mysteries and privileges of Christian ministry. Through listening and shared experiences, through dialogue and sometimes disagreement, through mistakes made and forgiven, bonds of love are forged.  We see the world, a little more through one another’s eyes.  We learn to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

The longer we are in a place, the better we know it. Because of that knowledge it has become more and more meaningful for me to say in many different congregations and contexts, “Lift up your hearts” and to hear the response back: “We lift them to the Lord”.

Lift up your hearts We lift them to the Lord

The focus of my sermon this evening is what it means to say those words and what it is to set those words at the heart of ministry.

Some of us have the immense privilege as priests of summoning a whole community to lift up their hearts in the Eucharist.  But others are called no less to invite God’s people to lift up their hearts in different ways: in the ministry of the word and in the prayers, in pastoral care, in evangelism, as we lead worship or work with children or young people.  This call and invitation goes right to the heart of our understanding of every kind of ministry.  So what does it mean?

The words have a long and wide pedigree.  They go back to the earliest descriptions of the Eucharist in the third century.  They are present in the rites of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches and all the churches of the Reformation as well as our own Church of England.  What does it mean to say “Lift up your hearts”?

The words are biblical, like so much of our liturgy, but they are not an exact quotation. In Lamentations we read: “Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven” (3.41).  In the Psalms: “To you O Lord I lift up my soul” (25.1 see also 86.4 and 143.8).  There is perhaps an echo of Psalm 24: “Lift up your heads, O gates and be lifted up, O ancient doors” (24.7,9).  Colossians 3 says this: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth for your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3.2).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the heart is much more than the physical organ which pumps blood round the body.  The idea of the heart is a big idea.  In contemporary culture, the heart is the seat of the emotions and especially the place of romantic love.   In the Bible it is much more.  The heart is the very centre of our inner life, our spiritual life, our emotions, our character and our will.  The heart is the whole of who we are and how we are.

What is that we are lifting up?  When I invite a congregation to lift up their hearts, I’m asking you to lift your very selves to God.  And what is a priest, what is an evangelist, what is a Reader, what is a pastor except someone who is called to make that invitation in everything we do: in the structuring of worship, in prayers at the bedside, in teaching the faith to enquirers, in the ministry of welcome, in our care of little children.  What are we saying except: “Lift up your hearts”?

There are many layers of meaning woven through those scriptures but let me explore three of them this evening.

First and foremost we lift our hearts to a God of compassion, who loves us, who stands with us, who cares for us in ways we cannot understand, whose Son died for us. It is no accident that these words stand at the head of the Eucharistic prayer.  We make the memorial of Christ and especially of his death and resurrection: his one full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.  We lift up our broken, wounded and hurting hearts and place them into the gentle hands of our creator.

Bishop Peter and I have just finished a series of five residential clergy conferences at Whirlow Grange.  Those conferences were an immense privilege to lead.  It was a particular and moving experience for both of us to preside, in turns, at the Eucharist at each conference, to look around the room at those with whom we are called to share this ministry, and to be able to say: “Lift up your hearts”.

Today as you will know is the 25th Anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy. I went with others to the short service at Hillsborough this afternoon, led by David Jeans who was involved in ministry to the bereaved and injured.  David did not use these exact words, but his message to those who are grieving today is the same: “Lift up your hearts”.

It is likewise an enormous privilege to stand before any congregation in this diocese of faithful disciples and say these same words: to those who are rejoicing, Lift up your hearts.  To those who are cast down: Lift up your hearts.  To those who are quarrelling: Lift up your hearts.  To those who are broken: Lift up your hearts.

In our gospel reading, Jesus’ long speech to Simon is a speech of such gentleness and love for the woman who has brought oil to anoint him, who has bathed his feet with her tears, who has dried them with her very hair (Luke 7.36-50).  Jesus has created safe space in the midst of a hostile room.  By her actions the woman has said to him:  “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul, O my God in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame” (Psalm 25.1-2).  Through his words Jesus has replied: “Lift up your heart”; “Your sins are forgiven, your faith has saved you, go in peace”.

We must grasp the love and mercy of God afresh especially in this Holy Week.

But in second place, we lift our hearts, as God’s forgiven people, to a God who calls us to holiness, to sanctification, to be transformed and made new.

This is the context of the verse in Lamentations:

“Let us test and examine our ways and return to the LORD. Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven. We have transgressed and rebelled and you have not forgiven” (Lamentations 3.40-42).

It is sobering to remember the first reference to human hearts in the Bible is in the preface to the story of the flood:  “The LORD saw that….every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Genesis 6.5).  According to Jeremiah the human heart is devious above all things (Jeremiah 17.9).

It is sobering to remember the call of Jeremiah and Ezekiel that humanity needs a new and radical transformation.  To be in a covenant relationship with God we need a whole new heart – a complete change (Jeremiah 24.7; Ezekiel 36.26)

It is sobering to remember that, according to Jesus, “Out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15.19).  It is sobering to remember the hardness of heart which afflicts even the religious, even Simon the Pharisee, who is blind to his own corruption and so blind to the great love of God for both him and the woman he knows as a sinner (Luke 7.36-50).

Whenever we lift up our hearts to the Lord, we lift them up in the hope and prayer that these poor, small, sinful hearts will be made new and transformed and reshaped and made clean again and enlarged so that we may love God and love our neighbour more faithfully and with deeper integrity.  We are praying that our hearts of stone will become hearts of flesh again.

We come here as Christian ministers seeking to be transformed in this Eucharist and in every Eucharist including those in which we ourselves are ministers of word or sacrament.  For us and for all God’s people, the Eucharist is a converting ordinance for the transformation of our lives.  The oils we bless today are for signs of healing, for wholeness, for transformation, for the changing of the heart.

“As we recall the one perfect sacrifice of our redemption, Father, by your Holy Spirit, let these gifts of your creation be to us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; form us into the likeness of Christ and make us a perfect offering in your sight”(Common Worship Order One, Eucharistic Prayer F) [1]

To lift up our hearts, to offer God our inmost lives, is to invite God to change us and through us to help transform God’s world.

We lift up our hearts to hold them in God’s love.  We lift up our hearts so that God will, through his mercy, change them, soften them and enlarge them.

Finally we lift up our hearts and we call others to lift their hearts in worship, in adoration, to the things of heaven, to the things above.  As bishops, as priests, as deacons, as lay ministers, our calling is to invite others away from the business of earth to the business of heaven: the adoration of the Trinity.   For these few moments in the week we are indeed called to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use: lost in wonder, love and praise so that we might bring that vision of heaven into all we do on earth.

“Set your mind on things that are above, not on the things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3.1).

Lift up your hearts means to be caught up in the worship of heaven, in the song of the angels, to join with angels and archangels as they proclaim God’s glory without end:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest.

St. Augustine says this in one of his sermons:

The whole life of true Christians is “Lift up your hearts”, not that of Christians in name only, but of Christians in reality and truth. Their whole life is “Lift up your hearts”. What then is “Lift up your hearts”? It is hope in God, not in yourself, for you are below, God is on high. If your hope is in yourself, your heart is below, it is not on high. And so, when you have heard from the priest, “Lift up your heart”, you answer, “We lift them to the Lord”. Make sure that you make a true answer.[2]

To live well in this earth we so need the perspective of heaven.  We need to set our minds on things that are above not on things that are on earth for you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.

In this Eucharist and in every Eucharist, lift up your hearts.  Lift up your hearts as you renew your commitment to ministry. Lift up your hearts as we dedicate these oils as signs of God’s grace.  Lift up your hearts as we remember his great offering of himself.

Let us lift up our fragile hearts to the mercy and tenderness of God who loves us with a passion beyond telling.

Let us lift up our stony and deceitful hearts and invite God once again to transform them by his gracious Spirit.

Let us lift our earthbound and fragmented hearts to the worship of heaven and the adoration of the one true and living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

In the words of Hebrews:

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12.22-24).

Lift up your hearts We lift them to the Lord.

[1] See also Prayer A: “Renew us by your Spirit, inspire us with your love and unite us in the body of your Son Jesus Christ”; Prayer C: “Grant that be his merits and death and through faith in his blood we and all your Church may receive forgiveness of our sins and all other benefits of his passion….Do not weigh our merits but pardon our offences”; Prayer G: “form us in the likeness of Christ and build us to a living temple to your glory”

[2] Augustine, Sermo 227.  I have changed the translation from “Hearts on high!”, the literal translation of “Sursum Corda” to the more familiar English, “Lift up your hearts”.

On Wednesday this week, it was my privilege to institute the Revd. Gary Wilton as Vicar of All Saints, Ecclesall, to the south west of Sheffield.  Like all institutions it was a big occasion for the parish and for Gary who comes to this new ministry from Brussels where he has been the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the European Union and a Canon at the Pro-Cathedral.

Gary chose as the New Testament reading the profound passage from 2 Corinthians 5.16-21 which sets reconciliation at the heart of the gospel and at the heart of Christian ministry. This is a slightly edited version of the sermon as preached on Wednesday. Reconciliation

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

It is very good indeed to be here this evening and to share in this service for which we have waited for a considerable time.  It is good to celebrate a new beginning, a moment of new creation for All Saints, this wonderful church community, and for Gary.  The moment is pregnant with possibility.

It is good to take time to reflect this evening on the wonder of the Christian faith we hold and celebrate.  It is good to reflect on how much that faith is needed in every life, in every church and in every part of God’s world.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

We need no reminder this week that our world is full of conflict.  Enmity, hatred and hostility are on the front pages and at the head of the news bulletins.  All of us will have been moved by the civil war in Syria and the terrible consequences for those who have died, for the injured, for the refugees and especially for Syria’s children.  We share a horror at the effects and use of chemical weapons and we condemn them.  All of us will have prayed for peace.  Most of us will have wrestled with the question of whether armed intervention is right or wrong.  If, like myself, you believe it to be wrong in this case, there is some relief at the decision taken by parliament last week.  But there  remains a wrestling with the dreadful dilemma of what the world can do to help the people of Syria and the region at this time.

The conflict in Syria is simply the worst of a number of conflicts around the world– though it is the worst by a considerable margin.  There is hostility and conflict across north Africa and the Middle East; in Iraq and Afghanistan; across many parts of Africa; between north and south Korea.

We look and we wonder.  What is it that drives people to enmity and war?  What is it about the human condition that divides us and makes us hostile to one another?  We see the evidence of division in our history, in the great conflicts of the world but in bitter disputes within our own nation.  Racial and religious tension is part of life in our own nation. Hostility and indifference to others scars many communities.

The anger and sometimes the violence are the symptoms of the deeper problem.  All of us will be aware of families scarred by deep feuds and divisions and hostility often over many years.  We will know of marriages which end in bitterness, whether or not they end in divorce.  We will know of parents estranged from their children, siblings who do not speak, homes where is hatred rather than love.

Even the Church does not escape the quarrels and divisions which are part of the human condition.  We too easily divide into our tribes as we wrestle with the great questions of the day. Most local churches struggle at some point with disagreement and difficulty and such moments are intensely painful but not, I am afraid, unusual.

Everywhere we look, it seems, there is division and hostility, even when we look inside our hearts.  So let’s listen very carefully to Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians:

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

Ponder that phrase: entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation.

Paul describes a new vision of humanity and of the world, a way to see things differently. That new vision arises only and directly from the death of Jesus on the cross.  Jesus died for all, he writes in verse 15.

“From now on therefore we regard no-one from a human point of view” (verse 16). Our perspective is changed completely. There is no them and us because Christ died for all.

“If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation, the old has passed away; see everything has become new”.

Because you are in Christ, you have been remade by God and that includes your vision of the world.  The world itself has been remade and is being remade by God in Christ.  That profoundly changes our perspective.

That change of perspective sets the scene for one of the deepest passages in the whole of Paul’s writing about the importance of the gospel for the world.

“All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the message of reconciliation”

Enmity and hatred and hostility are at the heart of the human condition and in our own hearts. As individuals, left to ourselves, we are estranged from God.  God has come to us in Christ.  God has made peace with us through the death of Jesus on the cross.  Reconciliation is God’s gift to us.  Peace is made with our creator deep within our hearts as a person received God’s gift in Jesus, as we repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ.  This is the great mystery at the heart of our faith.

But there is even more.

“All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the message of reconciliation”

Even as we become reconciled to God through Christ, so we are entrusted with the message of reconciliation to others.  Just to make sure we have received that message Paul repeats exactly the same thought in the following verse:

“that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself….and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us”.

Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian gospel and of the Christian faith. Reconciliation between people and God and reconciliation between different people and different groups of people.  The invitation has gone out from God, because of Christ, for all people to be reconciled to him in and through the cross.  As we are reconciled to God so we are reconciled to one another.  As we are reconciled to God and one another so we become bearers of the message of reconciliation to the world.

There is similar language in Ephesian, words we use in the Eucharist:

“For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both Jews and Gentiles one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us……”

“[his purpose is] to create one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross” (from Ephesians 2.14ff).

In Christ we have been reconciled to God. In Christ there is the place of reconciliation between human kind.  In Christ we have become bearers of the message of reconciliation.

In a few moments time, I will formally institute Gary as Vicar of this parish. He will kneel in prayer to God as I read the license which is the warrant for his ministry.  I will then give the license to him with these solemn words:

“Receive the cure of souls which is both yours and mine in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

This cure of souls is not the ministry of being nice to those who come to Church. The cure of souls is the ministry of reconciliation to be exercised among the 20,000 people who live in this parish and the half a million people who live in this city.  The cure of souls is the healing of enmity and division between people and God.  The cure of souls is the reconciliation of families and factions and cliques.  The cure of souls is the proclaiming and living the gospel of peace and justice in God’s whole creation.

The cure of souls is formally entrusted to Gary as your Vicar but this ministry of reconciliation is not his alone.  It is entrusted to the whole Church.  Each of us is commissioned to carry that message, to work for peace, to be an agent of God’s love in the world, to bear Christ in our communities.  Each of you is called in this place to create a community of reconciliation in this parish church in which, God willing, many men and women and children will be reconciled to God through Christ.  Each of you is called to create a community of reconciliation which will influence and shape this parish and this city and, God willing, the whole world.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

Paul ends this part of his letter with a strong appeal to the Church in Corinth: “So we are ambassadors of Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God”.

Gary is leaving one ministry of reconciliation in his ministry to the European union: a project whose aim is create a single society and community out of diverse nations. He is beginning today a new ministry of reconciliation, building up the body of Christ in this place  for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

This ministry of reconciliation has never been more needed than it is today.  God needs you to be people of peace in the Church, in the wider community and in the world.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

Amen.