Skip to content
Home / News Stories / The Bishop of Lincoln’s Chrism Eucharist Sermon (2024)

The Bishop of Lincoln’s Chrism Eucharist Sermon (2024)

I shake my head when I hear people blithely say that the pandemic is over, sometimes with people in masks among their hearers. Mercifully, most people have recovered from obvious physical symptoms; but the lasting consequences of Covid-19 remain partly mysterious to us.

We have a good story to tell about imaginative pastoral mission and good worship all on line. At the same time, there is a story to tell of people changing their Sunday habits, of accelerated ageing of previously unstoppable older disciples, of deeper poverty even before the cost of living crisis, itself a product of the pandemic. I am not a great Bob Dylan fan, but these lyrics hit home to me:

Broken bottles, broken plates,

broken switches, broken gates,

Broken dishes, broken parts,

streets are filled with broken hearts.

Broken words never meant to be spoken,

everything is broken.

I am not a catastrophist myself; but I do acknowledge real stress points in the Church at large over sexuality and gender, over racial inequality, over what parish ministry should look like.

Within the diocese I observe a serious engagement with Time to Change Together; but there are still lots of questions and a genuine concern about the number of clergy and their well-being. There is a deficit of trust. Did I know all this before I came? Yes, I did. Did I make a mistake in coming? No, I did not. Am I downhearted going forward? Only on the twenty-ninth of February, which next falls a few months before I retire.

I take great heart from my visits to incumbent clergy in their homes, from my group meetings with self-supporting ordained ministers and a range of lay ministers. I thank God for all the evidence of creative and sacrificial service and evangelism, often in challenging circumstances or on a challenging scale.

As we read in Luke Chapter Four, Jesus identifies himself with the human agent of Yahweh in our reading from Isaiah as his ministry begins. Through the anointing of God, the Chosen One not only announces but brings about radical transformation which is theological, cultural and economic, redressing inequality and relieving despair and the dissolution of community.

The powerful rhetorical use of the infinitive verbs underscores that in proclaiming and releasing the weak and the marginalised are restored in a community of well-being and joy.

They will be awarded a garland rather than ashes, the mantles of praise rather than a faint spirit. Oaks of righteousness are clearly people who are robust, named for trees which last generations of vicissitudes, in this case all the adjustments of emerging Judaism after the Exile.

The promise to Israel is based on their efforts, of course, but much more upon God’s resolve to see this happen. Seeking to be collaborative in the diverse ministries across local mission partnerships will, I hope, raised up new focal ministries and forms of service. Some of the people who come forward will challenge our traditional ways and we should be glad of this.

Of course, there are risks. After Jesus stood up in the synagogue and spoke people wanted to kill him. He sets the course of his whole ministry here. We are called to follow. As a bishop I have been called and sent by God through God’s church at least four times, when I was baptised, when I was ordained deacon, then priest and then bishop. All have been significant but based on the first. The Church has discerned a number of strands of vocation in each of us. This vocation is only real if it is dynamic and open to change in the face the needs of the world and the Church.

We are never to be separated from the authority of Scripture and the power of the sacraments but, in the power of the Spirit, what is the Lord teaching us through the facts on the ground now? Time to Change Together is seeking to frame how vocation and role can be matched. Where does the local and the individual come together as a beautiful, effective and integrated ecology of mission and ministry?

As a church of the Reformation, we have long taken to our hearts ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, the reformed church always reforming. Our ministries reflect the faithfulness of God in their continuity; but they are also are always being changed by our readiness to repent and be forgiven as we come daily to the Cross of Jesus. Our penitence is not just individual but corporate about our history which has a lot of mistrust in it, some of it entirely justified.  

Where do we go from here? The disciples on the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion told the stranger who had joined them on the road what they had expected, which had not turned out as they had hoped. This could also be true of older people like me: we had hoped that the Church would continue as we had encountered it when we were young. The truth is that the Church has never gone long periods without both disruption and transformation. Only at times of festival or devastation were our large churches really full.

The travellers on the Emmaus Road had to come to terms with the stranger on the Emmaus road because he turned out to be the Risen Christ, who instructed them in the Scriptures and showed them that it was not a time to remain in grief but to trust in the promise in Jesus’s predictions of his passion: he would die, but be raised again on the third day. Being unprepared for the reality of the death, they could not accept the certain promise of new life.

It is deep in our DNA as Christians that we only enjoy Easter Day because we have come to the cross on Good Friday. We are Easter People through being Calvary’s Children. We are called to die to live. I see nowhere in Scripture which says that we can avoid being broken. However, we trust in the God who never wills Our destruction. It is Yahweh’s resolve that we, the new Israel, should flourish.

We turn to Christ to get a life as adventurous disciples. Everything is rooted in our growing into the character of Christ, being cross-shaped people who have a joyful and playful trust in the risen life of Christ.

Now is the time to reclaim the rich fullness of our faith by putting down deeper roots in prayer, study and celebration so that we can all hear the call of the Christ who comes to us, stays with us and sends us.

Share this story