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Sermon at 2015 Chrism Mass

by glynch — last modified 08 Apr, 2015 03:40 PM

This sermon was preached by the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, at the annual Chrism Mass in Salisbury Cathedral on Maundy Thursday, 2 April 2015.

Texts for the Sermon: Isaiah 42.5-9; Colossians 1.15-23; John 12.27-36.

What do you pray for?
Whom do you serve?
How will you grow?

They were the questions I asked every Christian and every Christian community during my 19 Deanery visits between Epiphany and Passion Sunday: Renewing Hope – Pray, Serve, Grow.

Thank you for helping to gather people and make those visits enjoyable. I met nearly 2,000 people, an average of over 100 people per meeting. There was plenty of evidence of life, thank God. In most Deaneries there was a lot of energy and engagement. People mostly recognised the problems and wanted to rise to the challenges.

This is such a diverse Diocese. Parish size varies from populations of 10 to 23,000. 50% of the population live in 8% of the parishes (and the other 50% live in 92% of the parishes). We are urban, suburban, small town, rural and deeply rural where a small church isn’t necessarily a failed big church. There is no blue-print that will work everywhere. The task is to turn aspiration into reality and shift from decline into growth. We want a thriving Christian presence in every community.

So I left the questions behind and asked you to think, talk, work on and pray them; to make something of them. If you want to let me know what you are doing, fine. I’d be glad to know but church life needs working out in the local context, priest and people, congregation and the wider community. Mind you, I have enjoyed the early responses. They have been interesting and encouraging, sometimes challenging. So if you have said or sent them, thank you.

God has been extraordinarily generous in the provision of ministers within this diocese. Look around see. Yet because of our age profile we need to increase the number of vocations, lay and ordained, if we are to sustain our present patterns of ministry. We need to care for proper sowing and the nurturing of disciples. The early signs are good. A Diocesan vocations day 2 weeks ago had 25 attend when we normally expect 8 or 9.

In Renewing Hope just about everyone recognised the difference between hope and optimism and that hope can be renewed by facing difficult things honestly and well.

What do you pray for? People said the good but fairly obvious: Thy will be done, not mine. We pray for our neighbours, not just ourselves; for peace and justice.

I don’t remember anyone quoting Jesus,

"Now is my soul troubled. And what should I say – Father, save me from this hour’? No it is for this reason I have come to this hour. Father glorify your name." (John 12.27,28)

Serving in the manner of Jesus Christ is demanding but it is life-giving – the more you give the more you get.

For those who are called, Christian ministry it is the most rewarding vocation, but ministry, like life, can be difficult. This week two friends have been diagnosed with secondary cancers. Is their case hopeless? No! But it is difficult and painful for them and for those who love them. Clergy get this day in day out. Writing about hospital chaplaincy, Stanley Hauerwas says the temptation in the face of untreatable illness is to flee. The chaplain’s task is to be present, really present, attentive to the person. Being with people and communities demands our all. Hauerwas calls this, ‘Suffering Presence’ and it is transformative. How often do we feel that someone has been really present to us? God renews our hope by being with us, in Jesus Christ, by the breath of the Spirit. That’s worth giving your life for.

This Lent I’ve had a really interesting experience of this. As the bishop who has been asked to lead on the environment for the Church of England I went to a conference called by the Archbishop of Cape Town. In a number of ways it fitted with what we observed in Renewing Hope. Healthy churches are connected to the wider church, face outward and serve the community. Renewing Hope can happen when we face difficult realities honestly and well.

Scientists are more than 95 per cent certain that human activity is the main cause of current climate change. The burning of fossil fuels is the biggest source of the problem: as CO2 increases, so does temperature. Although the increase has flattened, since 2002 we have had 8 of the 10 hottest years on record.

Over the last 50 years, the warming of the oceans has caused average humidity to increase by 4 per cent. The consequence is greater floods and storms.

In the last 150 years we have burned fossil fuels that it took a billion years to lay down in the earth. Our current use is equivalent to releasing the energy of 400,000 Hiroshimas every day.

At the Conference 17 bishops from around the world listened to one another. Bishop Jane from Edmonton, Canada not North London, is from a region in which the economy is very dependent on the oil industry. Bishop Jon from Davao showed us the impact of one of 4 typhoons in 3 years to destroy communities in the Philippines. Bishop Ellinah from Sawziland said her country has rich deposits of high quality coal. She asked if those of us from the developed world who have had the benefits of coal were saying they should leave their coal in the ground? Bishop Api from Fiji, where rising sea level is threatening to submerge Pacific islands, said economic justice and climate justice go together. Bishop Nathaniel from Namibia said, "We want God’s justice" and then asked, "Whose justice is that?"

Responding to climate change is difficult technically, politically and economically. It is the greatest moral problem we are facing. And do you remember the Director of Christian Aid, Loretta Minghella, at the Clergy Conference last July? She said that the rule of law does not always deliver justice for the poor. That’s interesting in this year when we are celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

It was a welcome surprise last month that David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg pledged to work together across party lines to address the challenge of climate change. In a joint statement, they agreed to work towards a new international deal on climate change, to agree UK carbon budgets in accordance with the Climate Change Act, and to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy and end the use of unabated coal in power generation.

Yet globally there are 1200 coal fired power stations commissioned to be built, mostly in China and India. We need the UN Climate Change summit in December to be significant and the faith communities will want to pray and resource those who are attending it.

Increasingly I see this as a spiritual problem. The scientific, economic and political evidence points in one direction but we haven’t yet found the collective will to act together. It’s a classic example of what St Paul wrote in the Epistle to the Romans: "For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do".

At the environmental conference of bishops the Eucharist proved to be a key. We recognised we have been careless with God’s creation. So the turning around of repentance to new life begins with confession and absolution, with listening to the Scriptures, as today.

Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it. (Isa 42.5)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1.15)

In the Eucharistic Prayer we give thanks for the whole of creation and for our redemption in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Together, at the start of the great three days, with the renewal of ordination vows and the blessing of oil for the sick and dying, for baptism, and chrism, God is renewing hope in the Church for the sake of the world. The glory of God is here in Jesus the light of the world for whom there is no crown but the crown of thorns, no throne but the cross, and in whom we see God’s glory raised up on the cross for all. To him we give our life and receive life abundant.

I hope you and those whom you serve will have a great three days and a joyful Easter.

Prayer for Renewing Hope: Pray, Serve, Grow

God our Father,
renew our hope.

By the Holy Spirit’s power,
strengthen us to pray readily,
serve joyfully and grow abundantly

rejoicing in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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