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Sermon at the Consecration of the Rt Revd June Osborne

by Gerry Lynch last modified 17 Jul, 2017 02:30 PM

Bishop Nicholas preached at the Ordination and Consecration of The Rt Revd June Osborne as Bishop of 72nd Llandaff in Brecon Cathedral on 15 July 2017

Texts: Isaiah 43. 1-7; Psalm 25. 1-10; 2 Corinthians 4. 1-7; John 21. 15-19.

“Thus says the Lord…. ‘I have called you by name, you are mine’.” Isa.43.1

Last Sunday at Evensong in Salisbury Cathedral June Osborne laid down her responsibilities as Dean. Standing in front of the high altar she was divested of her cope. The Te Deum was sung as she stood before God with a very large congregation in a cathedral where she had served for 22 years as Bishop’s Chaplain and Canon Treasurer, and as Dean. For her, for her family and for us who had gathered to say thank you to God for her and farewell, it was a deeply emotional moment. In the speeches afterwards June was able to say that she had been in the best job in the Church of England and that she is going to the best job in the Church in Wales. Actually, I hope that is true for every priest, every bishop, every Christian, that each of us feels we are in the best job in the world because it is what God wants us to be and do. It is true when we have found our vocation.

Let’s be upfront. June’s appointment has been controversial, partly because none of the original candidates received support from two-thirds of the electoral college in the sacred synod. Much has been written in the Church press and by the Twitterati. It is true: she is 64; she is a woman; she has views; she does not speak Welsh, yet. It is also true that she has been an exceptional Dean of Salisbury and for a generation one of the Church of England’s leading woman priests. She and I also worked alongside each other in the 1980’s when we ministered in Tower Hamlets, in London’s East End. There was controversy even then. The Osborne Report, written by a group chaired by June for the Church of England’s Board for Social Responsibility, was probably buried by the Church of England because it was too close to the views now associated with Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans, an exceptional priest, theologian, teacher and friend. In the Church of England June was among the first women deacons, first women priests and now in the Church in Wales she is to be the first woman Bishop of Llandaff.

Bishop June, God has called you by name.

The way between Wales and Salisbury has been travelled before. Having also previously been the Bishop of Salisbury’s chaplain, in 1803 Thomas Burgess became Bishop of St David’s, a position he occupied for 22 years. In earlier life he also had written a controversial book, Considerations on the Abolition of Slavery, in which he had, rather shockingly at the time, advocated their gradual emancipation. He founded St David’s College, Lampeter, where my father lived in Bishop Burgess Hall in the years on either side of the Second World War. In 1825, at the age of 68, “after 22 years of faithful and unremitting labour”, he was translated to the see of Salisbury, where he died in 1837 still in office, aged 80. His memorial in what is now Salisbury cathedral’s choir vestry, also says that, “the principal employment of his life, from its earliest to its latest period, was devoted to the elucidation and to defence of scriptural and catholic verity… His love of primitive Christianity was deep and unalterable. He had imbibed the great principles of the English Reformation; and was firmly persuaded that their maintenance in all their original purity and integrity, was inseparably connected with that of constitutional freedom, and of true religion. His manners were simple, yet dignified; his temper singularly sweet, placid and equable; his spirit generous, candid and disinterested; his charity liberal and diffusive. His faith was sound and unwavering; his life pure, and unspotted from the world.”

June, “God has called you by name” to serve in that same Spirit which draws from the treasures of the past and is open to God’s creative possibilities in this generation, working for the gradual emancipation of all people in the freedom of the love, light and glory of the risen Christ.

Today’s Gospel reading was from the last chapter of John, the Gospel which has a magisterial Prologue, familiar particularly from Christmas Midnight Mass:  

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

The end of the John’s Gospel is clearly chapter 20 verse 30:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”

Full stop. End of book.

 

And then there is Chapter 21, a wonderfully energising Epilogue to balance the Prologue:

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias…..

We are back in the place where it all began with the call of the disciples but this time Jesus is gathering the community of the resurrection. The  twelve are not all there, only seven, and two of them aren’t named:  “Simon Peter, Thomas called The Twin, Nathanial of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee [James and John, who were known as the sons of thunder, so probably not the easiest members of the electoral college and sacred synod], and two others of his disciples.”

There are echoes of the fisherman being called for the first time but this time it’s different. Having caught nothing by night, just after daybreak Jesus stood on the beach and told them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. This is a resurrection story, the dawn of a new day. We are not coming by night but in daylight.

I have no idea why Peter put on some clothes to jump into the sea. Jumping into water is baptismal. Maybe he is clothed for a new life, like Bishop June today? 

Dragging a net full of fish – how the Church in our times longs for this - they came to shore where there was a charcoal fire, as there was in the courtyard of the High Priest where Peter denied he knew Jesus three times. How the Church in every time has known the reality of this.

After breakfast of bread and fish Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me more than these” - more than this fishing and his old occupation, or more than these other disciples? Maybe John meant both.

Jesus asked, “Do you love me more than these” using the word for love, agape, but Peter replied, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you” only Peter’s word for love was philo, the love of a friend.

A second time Jesus asked “Simon son of John do you love me” no longer more than these; just do you love me?  Peter replied again, “Yes Lord you know that I love you”, again for Peter love is philo. Jesus was asking for something bigger broader deeper, altogether more demanding and Simon Peter replied again with the love of friends.

The three questions are as if cancelling the threefold denial by Peter but the third time Jesus asked he used Peter’s language, “do you love me?” as it were accepting what Peter is able to give, philo, the love of a friend. It is one of those moments when we hear how Jesus comes among us, abides with us, takes us as we are and accepts what we can offer, “God in ordinary”.

The epilogue to John’s Gospel is our call to ministry and mission in the resurrection. Do you love me? Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my lambs.

June, God has called you by name to be Bishop of Llandaff, called you with all your gifts, insights, abilities and skills; and all your limitations, imperfections and failings. As St Paul said in the epistle, “We have this treasure in clay jars so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Cor 4.7) God will use you, all of you, and you, like Peter, are being called to follow in the way of the cross which is also the way of life in all its fullness.

In some ways the Church in the UK is having a difficult time, in Wales particularly so, but I doubt it was easier for Simon Peter and those seven disciples on the sea shore? The Church is always only a generation from extinction, yet its enduring presence means we have grounds to be hopeful. The Church in Wales is also one of God’s small miracles. It’s one of the paradoxes of the Christian life that if we get anxious about ourselves and our survival we will miss the point of the Gospel. Live as people who love God and love our neighbour as ourselves and we will have life abundant.

John’s Gospel sets the good news of Jesus Christ in the biggest possible framework. God did not send his son to save the Church in Wales, nor even the Church of England, but to save the world. The Church bears testimony to that and is called to live in response to that reality.

As chief pastor and teacher, one of Bishop June’s tasks will be to keep the Church open to the big picture of what God is doing in the world, not just the Church.

How do we belong together? Young and old, rich and poor, Welsh and English – and British, European and citizens of the world.

What are we to do in the face of terrorism that seeks to destroy trust and divide us? How are we to show what it is to love God and love our neighbours?

How are we going to address the issues of climate change which press upon us all but especially on the earth’s poorest. Churches can take a lead in the care of God’s creation. The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.

What are we to do with the extraordinary inequalities of income? The current dispute about bonuses in Tata Steel is just a local example of a much wider problem. I have yet to find anyone who thinks pay differentials in an organisation should be more than the best paid receiving 25 times the lowest paid. Research shows the happiest and healthiest societies are the most equal. Yet the average FTSI 100 company 3 years ago paid its top people 232 times more than its least well paid and since then that gap has got wider.

How are we Christians to live in a confused and confusing secular, post-Christian, pluralist age and to live as people who assert the primacy of love, the importance of being about the truth, of seeking to live in the light of Christ, as people whose lives are bound together and who cannot seek to put ourselves or any self-centred group first?

June will be a pastor and teacher in the diocese of Llandaff and the Church in Wales. She will care for the width of the Christian community and long for the whole Church to flourish. She will work ecumenically. She will be strategic in the organisation and leadership of the Church. She will encourage you to keep the Church’s doors open and the Church outward facing for the love of God and neighbour. Like the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias she has heard the call of the risen Lord.

June, God has called you by name, as God calls each person here. God will be with you through the deep waters and consuming flame because you are precious. Do not fear.

“Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Do you love me?’… ‘Feed my sheep’… “After this Jesus said, ‘Follow me’.

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