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Home Who's who Bishops The Bishop of Sherborne Sermons, articles, and media Sermon Preached at Sherborne Abbey, 6 March 2016

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Sermon Preached at Sherborne Abbey, 6 March 2016

by Gerry Lynch last modified 30 Apr, 2018 02:16 PM

Bishop Karen preached at a special service of Choral Evensong to welcome her to the Diocese, at Sherborne Abbey.

Texts
1 Samuel 1:20-end
Ephesians 3:14-21

Thank you for your welcome. It is good to be here at last. For those who have read what I have written about myself elsewhere you can fill in the gaps for those who have not, but in summary, this Bishop comes via God’s great adventure in a round-about route from Essex to Wessex, and I look forward to getting to know you in the years ahead.

It is good too to have the Lenten window of Mothering Sunday to mark my arrival, however it is also quite a daunting moment to be here in the pulpit preaching, as there is always a sense of expectation, I know, to see how the new Bishop sets out her stall, or what she chooses to say or not say... it is as if the eyes of Dorset are upon me now!

I have had some interesting experiences over the last few months, preparing for my consecration and they have demonstrated in a way how churchy it all is! A man who supplied me regularly with fish, exclaimed when I told him that I was moving to be a Bishop, 'that sounds important I think I should say congratulations', my hairdresser exclaimed ‘that’s nice.’ and the best comment came from someone in the telephone centre at Southern Electric, who asked me, when I gave him my title 'right reverent' quite seriously 'is there such a thing as a left reverend!'

So how can what we do in here, have every relevance with what happens out there? More important how can all those outside the church catch something of what is in here, our hearts?

That's the thing we are going to help one another with I hope. How we do it is in two ways – as churches, and as individuals.

One thing I have quickly learnt about driving in Dorset is that it's not easy to see what's around the corner. There is always an element of surprise - so far I have met a deer, a tractor, a hedge cutter and someone walking along eating their lunch!

However the element of surprise is often wonderful, as down the bottom of a high banked narrow road you find the best pub for miles and the most fantastic church building. In Buckinghamshire from one of the Chiltern hills overlooking Aylesbury vale it is possible to see ten churches or more. Like many I am enjoying Tim Peake's pictures from the space station and wonder what a marvellous display it would be if all the Anglican churches were highlighted. We would see just how many and how significant they are. Signs along the way not only of  ancient places of prayer and worship, but living stones of life today. In a way our churches act as punctuation marks in our landscape, places of refreshment, of equipping - places to pause, take breath, take stock in the journey of life.

But I want to challenge my own kind of perhaps too complacent an image - our churches are in fact powerhouses, be they old or new, large or small. If we truly believe that God in Christ can make all things new, what goes on in our churches must be the charging up of each one of us to go out and be the people God wants us to be. The potential is enormous and we underestimate the power of God's Word, the power of the sacraments, Jesus in bread and wine, and the power of human encounter with God's Spirit if we think otherwise.

So today I want to encourage us to see each Christian community, be it a church, a chapel, a house group, a chaplaincy, a school, college or Christian union, anywhere Christians come together for worship and prayer, confidently declaring their faith, as vital power houses for the work of God in the world. Places to which we belong, priests and people together, expectantly knowing that there we will be resourced, equipped and given courage to go and partake in God's mission.

So one of my tasks I see, is to encourage the local church or Christian community, to be what God has called it to be, an effective and confident body, for the celebration of God in our midst and the equipping of the saints. Power houses where change is not feared, but expected because of Christ's renewing power.

These powerhouses are already making a significant difference to our communities, as transformation takes place by our activities, our community involvement, by our bringing about change together.

However the Christian faith is also about personal transformation, and so the essential work of any Christian community is to equip those who are part of it, be they children in our schools, members of a local church, families meeting as part of Messy Church in the week, whatever, to live out lives of transformation wherever they find themselves.

Witnesses to God’s love and grace; who transform, by our words and actions; by our whole being, the world around us, and so I also want to encourage to all those individuals I meet as I go about Dorset, and further afield to be real transformers.

Our reading tonight from St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians focusses us on the inner life. It is Paul’s prayer for the church, and my prayer for us all that we be rooted and grounded in love, and walk in the power of God. Paul uses a variety of metaphors – ‘rooted’ is horticultural, denoting a firm bed in which plants are set.  ‘Grounded’ is architectural, and ensures a strong base on which a structure rests and rises. But it is love that lies at the heart of God’s nature and purpose and human love is the churches answer to it. That we be transformers by how we love, live, move and have our being.

In the summer I decided to sneak into this Abbey for a look around. I knew I was going to be interviewed and wanted to see the Abbey as a visitor. In the chapel behind the high altar where people are encouraged to pray I found these eight words:

Talk quietly
Walk gently
Think deeply
Pray faithfully

And it struck me then as it does now, that if we live like this, and more we will be people of transformation. As it is as much in the way we live our lives, by our being as well our doing that we will open hearts and make a difference. Let’s think about them for a moment. 

Talk Quietly
The world is full of noise, and a great deal of discord, from which the Church is not immune.

We can do a lot with our words –  as well as heal or work for peace, we can also damage, and shout down, we can boast and lie, we can discount and we can blame, we can overpower and we can abuse.  And often we can do some of this unknowingly or unintentionally.  I know many people who talk first and forget to listen, who talk loudly as if there is no other opinion allowed, who talk down or talk up. So, it would be my vision for us in Dorset and in the Diocese of Salisbury that we are the people that, talk quietly, that listen to one another, particularly those who we seldom hear, people that take time to come alongside, that have real conversations and not arguments. Oh how the church needs to demonstrate that… And then we might well discover the breadth and depth of God in all sorts of places, and we might be able to transform the places where God has put us by the power of our talking, which will be more generous, and Godly, and gracious than it might otherwise be.

It was wonderful a few months ago to visit Routes to roots in Poole and to see the difference it made when Christians got alongside the homeless and I look forward to being part of other ventures I know are happening across the county.

Following my appointment I have already talked a lot about stories, knowing that Dorset is the story place of Thomas Hardy and Enid Blyton, and Broadchurch, but more than that it is full of stories of faith, from St Aldhelm, to St Candida, through to you and me.

Stories of how God has transformed us. And talking quietly means sharing our stories of faith with those we meet, sharing real stories of Jesus. And where best to start, with those we love, starting first with our children and our children’s children.  It’s not easy, but together we can encourage and equip one another.

Walk Gently
And how often do we put our foot in it too?  Maybe treading where we should not tread, maybe riding roughshod over other people, maybe wearing ourselves out in the process of doing things too quickly.  There is a wonderful prayer in the Common Worship marriage service which speaks of us being tender with one another’s dreams and healing of one another’s wounds’. What a wonderful vision of how we should be as Christians. Walking gently means taking our time to absorb what we are passing, being attentive to those who walk with us, giving others the chance to walk ahead and learning from them. And walking gently also means not leaving too many footprints on this planet of ours, taking care of God’s creation and doing our best to preserve it. It’s great to see some wonderful environmental projects, including the Queens 90th litter pick which has taken place these last few days. I look forward to walking gently with you over the coming years.

Think Deeply
We may not all be academic in our thinking, but thinking deeply means thinking that little bit more about how we live as God’s chosen people, God’s transforming people.  How and where do we or can we bring transformation? By our words and deeds; by our careful thoughts? By our attitude?

Thinking deeply indicates a rhythm of life, where there is room to pause and ponder. It means being intentional about what we do with our time, our talents, and how our words and actions affect others.  I look forward to getting to know what you think about, what your concerns are, what your vision is, so together we can bring about that transformation.

And Pray Faithfully
In our first reading, the one set for Mothering Sunday we have before us the answer to a mothers prayer. Hannah's prayer found in the first book of Samuel has been described by some commentators as the prayer that changed history, in that it changed the course of a nation. Hers was a real prayer which came from the real heart of a real person. It was a cry of anguish, of a woman who had not borne children, but Hannah trusted God for the answer and in our reading we read how Hannah now brings her newly weaned Son before God. 

The reading is about Hannah’s ‘yes’ to God, but it encourages us to pray faithfully too because the reading is also about God.  Our God who hears us and remembers, what was hopeless is now the future, and now the one asked is now given back. Hannah is faithful, God is powerful, and Hannah is grateful resulting in trustful worship. 

This is to be a pattern for Israel and for us today, life has everything to do with the power and fidelity of God – prayers uttered, vows made, gifts received, thanks rendered and worship enacted.

Hannah’s faith transformed the course of Biblical history as Samuel came into the world, in the same way that Mary’s faith did centuries later, when she too followed the pattern of Hannah in praising God ‘My heart exults in the Lord, my strength is exalted in my God.’

And so prayer, real prayer needs to be central to all that we do.  It starts with our heartfelt and realistic cries before God, knowing that God remembers….

And so we need to pray for energy, for ideas, for leaders, for vision, for our neighbours, for faith, for finance, for every little thing we do to make a difference, for confidence, for those who are struggling, for our communities, for our world, for our words, for miracles.

We have all the tools before us to be people of transformation, those who make a difference to our communities, to our world, to our neighbours.  We just have to grasp them, and encourage one another in their use – talking quietly and sharing our stories, walking gently and bringing change, thinking deeply and bringing wisdom, and praying faithfully and celebrating God’s faithfulness.

There was once a sculptor working hard with his hammer and chisel on a large block of Portland stone.  A small child who was walking by saw nothing more than a large stone and small pieces of stone falling away left and right. They had no idea what was happening. But when the child returned to the studio a few weeks later, they saw to their great surprise a large, powerful lion, sitting in the place of where the large rock had stood.   The child ran to the sculptor and said ‘tell me, how did you know there was a lion in the stone?’

The presence of Christ dwells in all who we meet, they may not know it, but we do.  The presence of Christ exists in all our villages, our towns, our urban areas. The presence of Christ inhabits the familiar and the strange, the expected and the surprise, the presence of Christ hides in the least and the best.  We just need to use the tools we have been given and go on receiving, to go and find Jesus, to help others discover Jesus, to discover more of Jesus ourselves, and in doing so transform our world into the creative wonder God wants it to be.

That is something Bishop and people do together, and together that’s how we make what we do in here have relevance outside.  So I end with words of a familiar prayer:

May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life
We who drink his cup bring life too others
We whom the Spirit lights give light to the world
Keep us firm in the hope you have kept before us, so we and all your children shall be free,
and the whole earth live to praise your name.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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