A sermon at the Chrism Eucharist

Yesterday I was in St Peter’s Tankersley, one of the oldest churches in the Diocese.
kitchenMy reason for being there was to dedicate new building works.  There is a new heating system, a new kitchen and space for children, a new organ, more flexible seating in the north aisle and a church extension to make room for a toilet.  I always enjoy the blessing of a new water closet.

It’s a great re-ordering.  But what inspired me most was the vision which shaped it.  Eight years ago, Mr Charles Round, a member of the church then in his eighties, wrote this to the Rector, Keith Hale.

“The lead theft and the unfortunate resulting water damage to the organ may be a blessing in disguise which opens the door to a better use of the considerable space which the present pipe organ occupies.  May I put the following ideas for your consideration? Instead of repairing the organ, clear out the organ loft and install a new electronic organ.  The created area would provide a versatile and much needed space for our growing Sunday School….I feel it is time for objective, unemotional and realistic forward planning in order to assure the future continuous growth of our congregation and its influence in this parish of Tankersley”.

Charles is not in good health now and was unable to be present yesterday.  But if he had been, he would have seen as I did, a wonderful new facility, filled with young children and a church ready to welcome the next generation.

“Enable with perpetual light

The dullness of our blinded sight”

Where do these words come from? We sing these words at every ordination service.  They are part of the great hymn to the Holy Spirit.  They echo the prayer of blind Bartimaeus: “My teacher, let me see again”[1].  They flow from the words of Jesus in Luke 4:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”.

We gather together this evening to renew our commitment to ministry as lay ministers, as evangelists, as deacons, priests and bishops and as the whole people of God.   Our prayer as we come, I suggest, should be the prayer of Bartimaeus: Lord, let me see again.  For a vital part of the ministry we offer is vision: the ability to see a better future for the people of God and for God’s world.

“Enable with perpetual light the dullness of our blinded sight”.  May the Lord help us to see again the purposes of God, the calling of the Church, the vision for our Diocese, the better future for our communities.

My God open our eyes and help us to see again a vision of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, at the centre of our life together.  In the routine exercise of our ministry, we become blind.  Like the Church in Laodicea we come this evening to ask for ointment for our eyes so that we may see Jesus afresh in this Holy Week and understand again the depth of our salvation even as we proclaim it to others.

Where is the vision for our ministry?  Have our eyes become blind and our sight dull over this past year?  Where will we find our healing?

The Book of Numbers tells the powerful story of twelve who were sent by Moses to spy out the land.  It’s a cautionary tale.  God has brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.  They have passed through the Red Sea.  They have received the law.  They have travelled through the desert, guided by the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire and sustained by daily bread from heaven.  Now they stand on the threshold of the promised land.

Moses chooses 12 leaders, one from each tribe, to be the first to enter.  Their task is clear.  They are to see.  They are to catch the vision of a land flowing with milk and honey.  They are to witness the goodness and fruitfulness of the promised land.  They are to come back and inspire the whole people of Israel.  The land is good.  God is leading us on.  It is worth persevering.  There is an immeasurably better future than slavery in Egypt.  There is an infinitely richer life than wandering through the wilderness.   Keep going.  Press forward.

But that is not what happens.  These twelve, “every one a leader” of the people lose their vision.  They spend 40 days spying out the land.  They return and speak to the people.  There is indeed a rich land ahead, flowing with milk and honey.  See, the fruit is good.  But fear has gripped the spies.  Their hearts are poisoned with despair.

Listen to what they say. The inhabitants of the land are giants.  Their cities are large and strong.  There are too many obstacles in the way.  This is the most telling phrase.  “To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers and so we seemed to them.”  Fear has corroded their perspective and their very identity.

Only two, Caleb and Joshua, sing a different song.  They plead with the people to hold onto hope and a better future.  This people have seen God do so much. This is the generation which saw the plagues in Egypt, the Passover, and the Red Sea.  They have seen water flow from rock.  But now they are gripped by fear.  Rumour and terror and despair are infectious.  They sap our courage.  They prevent all forward movement.

The failure is a failure of leadership and vision.  Disaster follows.  The people rebel against God.  They cry out to return to slavery in Egypt.  They plead to be able even to die in the wilderness.  The present reality, a parched desert, becomes more attractive than the future hope.

God in his mercy grants their request.  This is a moment of judgement.  For forty more long years they will wander aimlessly in the wilderness, a people going round in circles, until a whole generation have died.  Only Caleb and Joshua, the leaders the keepers of the vision, will survive to lead the people into Canaan.  Moses himself will come only to the threshold of what is promised.  Why?  Because the vision of the leaders of God’s people failed.

So let me ask you this as you come this evening to renew your commitment to the ministry to which God has called you.  I ask myself the same question I ask you.  What has happened to your vision?  What has happened to your hope?  How are you passing on vision and hope to the people of God in your parish and deanery and to one another?  What are you doing to rekindle faith, to lead God’s people into a better future?  Are you with Caleb and Joshua? Or with the ten who spread despair and counsel God’s people to be content with slavery and satisfied with the desert?

Every priest is called to be a person of vision.  In the words of the ordinal, priests “are to proclaim the word of the Lord and to watch for the signs of God’s new creation.  They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord.”

What are you doing to nurture the vision of God in your own life and in the life of your community?  The God who has called you is the maker of heaven and earth, the God who breathes life into creation, whose very nature is love and compassion and mercy.  The God who has called you is Jesus Christ, the wisdom and love of God made visible, Jesus Christ who lays down his life for the world, whose passion and death brings new life to humankind.  The God who calls us is the Spirit, brooding over the universe bringing about the new creation.

What are you doing to nurture a new vision for God’s world in your community?  A vision for which the world cries out: a vision of peace, of justice, of freedom from slavery, a vision of a world in which children do not die, old people live in dignity and people enjoy lives of purpose and the fruits of their own labours?

What are you doing to nurture and catch a fresh vision for God’s church?  A vision which is richer and deeper than a group of people growing old together.  We are called to be a church filled with God’s new life, constantly seeking ways to model our life on the character of Jesus Christ, continually striving to proclaim the faith afresh in each generation.

Each of us is called to different ministries.  Each of us has been given different gifts.  Some to ordained ministry and some to lay ministries.  Some to be evangelists, pastors and teachers.  Some to be deacons, priests or bishops.

Yet all of us are called to be women and men of vision, called to see a different future for the Church, called to watch for signs of God’s new creation, called to a vision of God at the heart of all our living.

As we come this evening to renew our commitment to ministry, as you come before God in the silence in these coming days of Holy Week, as you perhaps are led to seek prayers and anointing for healing, let this be the focus of our prayers: the renewal of our vision of God, our vision for God’s church and our vision for God’s world.

“Enable with perpetual light

The dullness of our blinded sight”.

“My teacher, let me see again”

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

+ Steven Sheffield


[1] Mark 10.51

muservcieThis morning I commissioned the new President of the Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Sheffield, Pauline Reynolds (on my left in this photo with the rest of her team). This is the sermon I preached at the service. I focussed on the second of the Mothers’ Union’s five objectives and asked every branch and every member to reflect on what I said in the coming months. The Bible readings were the story of Samuel’s call from 1 Samuel 3 and Jesus’ meeting with Mary and Martha in Luke 10.

“One of my favourite television programmes as a child was Mission Impossible. I continued to like the more recent series of films. I love especially the part at the beginning where the team are given their clear but difficult task. The message always contains the words: “Your mission if you choose to accept it”. It always ends with “This tape will self destruct in five seconds”.

It is very good to be here with you in the Cathedral today for this special service. I would offer my sincere thanks to Sheila Wood for her leadership of the Mothers’ Union in this Diocese over the last three years. I am thankful for the gifts Pauline Reynolds will bring to this role and assure her of my prayers and support as she takes up this office today. My thanks also to the outgoing team and to the new team who will be commissioned later in this service.

And my thanks and appreciation to the Mothers’ Union for all that you do across the Diocese to serve others and to fulfill your objectives.

In the light of the readings you have chosen, I want to say two things to Pauline and to all of you as you look ahead over the next three years.

The first one can be said quite briefly, but I think it’s important. Don’t worry about your membership numbers and recruitment to the Mothers’ Union.

I say that not because Pauline is particularly concerned about this but because the Mothers’ Union generally, in my experience, can be more concerned about numbers and recruitment than about fulfilling its objectives. This is understandable. But I believe it is mistaken.

A smaller, active Mothers’ Union working towards the five objectives is worth more in a parish or in a deanery or in a diocese than a large Mothers’ Union which has a lot of people at meetings but does very little. A Mothers’ Union which is outwardly focussed and working on these five objectives together will attract far more of the right kind of members than a Mothers’ Union which exists simply to hold monthly meetings. A Mothers’ Union which is outwardly focussed and working on these five objectives together may not need to hold many meetings at all. The meetings they did hold would be focussed very tightly on these aims. But they may do a power of good in all kinds of ways.

So what are your objectives? What is your reason for existing? In different language what is your mission?

Your five objectives are listed on the inside back page of the service booklet. They are clear and vitally important for Church and society and for many individuals within it. They should be the reason people join the Mothers’ Union and the reason people hold office within it. Perhaps I should have arranged for the Mission Impossible theme tune to play at this point in the sermon.

You are committing yourselves today:

• To promote and support married life
• To encourage parents in their role to develop the faith of their children
• To maintain a worldwide fellowship of Christians united in prayer, worship and service
• To promote conditions in society favourable to a stable family life and the protection of children and
• To help those whose family life has met with adversity.

This is your mission if you choose to accept it.

I hope these five objectives are read regularly at Branch meetings and Committee Meetings and special events. I hope they shape your work. If it would be helpful, I would gladly spend some time working through all of these objectives with you as part of my own support for what you do.

Don’t worry about how many members you have. Read the story of Gideon’s army. A small committed group will always accomplish more than a large group that does not know what it is for. Focus instead on your unique mission – as you do that I believe the right people will want to join you.

Second let me say something to you at the beginning of this triennium and to your new President about the vital importance of the second of your objectives: your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to encourage parents in their role to develop the faith of their children.

There is no greater gift that we can give the children in our families, in our churches, in our schools, in our wider society than the gift of faith. The whole course of a child’s life will be affected by developing faith in childhood. What an immense gift it is to know that you are loved by God, the maker of the universe; to know that you are called to a lifelong friendship with your creator; to know that you are part of a worldwide family; to understand the great gift of prayer; to receive God’s guidance at life’s great crossroads; to develop Christian character; to become all that you are meant to be. All of these gifts and more are given through the development of faith in children. Lives are saved, deepened and enriched, families are transformed and the world is changed.

Samuel is nurtured in faith as a child through his mother Hannah who prays for him and prays with him. He is nurtured in faith as a child through Eli who instructs him in prayer and in listening to God’s voice. Samuel will go on to lead Israel and change his nation. But the foundations of his life and his friendship with God are laid in childhood.

Mary and Martha grow up in a home where they learn both to work and to pray. They are sisters. The foundations of their love for God have been laid in childhood and laid in the home. It is true that for one, Mary, prayer becomes her focus and for another, Martha, action takes priority. We know from the story that Mary has chosen the better part. But prayer and action both are needed. Our strength is born in God. Our faith is lived out through what we do.

Why do I focus on this objective today? Sadly, because your work here is urgently needed. The evidence is that Christian parents today are not developing the faith of their children.

These statistics were in research published last year . Anglican parents who say that religion is very important in their lives were asked these questions.

Is it important that children learn good manners at home?
94% said yes.

Is it important that children learn tolerance and respect at home?
83% said yes.

Is it important that children learn religious faith at home?
How many do you think said yes?
36%.

Let that sink in a little. Only one in three committed Anglicans believes that Christian parents should develop the faith of their children. As a Mothers’ Union that should disturb you as it disturbs me. I wonder what we might do about it?

Let me offer four things that you can do and can encourage yourself.

The first is to become more like Mary and Samuel. Set as a priority the developing of your own relationship with God, to listen, to be sustained, to draw apart often. A relationship with God is caught, not taught. It can only be taught from someone who is growing in that life of prayer themself. Set aside time each day to pray, discover how if you do not know how, go deeper into God. Weave that prayer into daily life, especially the saying of grace at meals.

The second is to teach the faith within your own family, to your children and to your grandchildren. Every Mothers’ Union member at least should be seeking to develop faith within their own children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, members of our extended families. We do that through our prayers, through conversation, through encouraging the parents, through providing gifts and resources, by inviting children into the family and fellowship of the church in different ways.

The third is to campaign together to ensure that every church which has a Mothers’ Union branch is friendly and accessible to children and families. I want you to be my allies here – God’s secret agents in support of parents and their children. I want to enlist your support in ensuring that every church which has a Mothers’ Union branch also has crèche facilities, a toddler group, a place where children learn on Sundays, family events at festivals, groups for young people, Messy Church, people who will befriend young families.

And the fourth is to campaign together to ensure that every church which has a Mothers’ Union branch is also teaching faith to the parents so that they can develop faith in their own children. The number one reason, I think, why parents do not pass on their faith to their children is very simple. The parents themselves don’t have the confidence to do so. They have not been taught. Will you work with me to ensure that in every church where you have a Mothers’ Union branch, there is an opportunity every year for adults to learn the faith from the very beginning .

Here are four things you can do to fulfill your second objective: to encourage parents in their role to develop the faith of their children.

1. Deepen your own faith
2. Develop faith within your own family
3. Ensure every church is friendly and accessible to children and young people
4. Ensure every church is teaching the faith to adults

I will provide Pauline with a copy of this sermon. I would like you to discuss it at your next branch meeting and decide what you need to do to fulfill this objective in the coming year.

The Mothers’ Union has a vital mission. Focus on what God has called you to do. May God bless you in all your service in the coming years”.

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.