Archbishop Sentamu and Bishop Paul talk Jesus with people in Durham City (Picture: Keith Blundy)

Twenty five Bishops and their teams from the northern half of The Church of England have been commissioned by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu to ‘Go out and spread the word’ in communities across the Diocese of Durham during a service held in Durham Cathedral today Thursday 2nd March.

The service which marked the start of four days of mission and celebration called ‘Talking Jesus’ will see the Bishops and their team go out into communities in all corners of the Diocese – from the Tyne to the Tees and the Dales to the Sea, talking about Jesus at more than 450 community events across the sixteen deaneries in the Diocese of Durham.

The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham welcomed the visiting Bishops and their teams to the Diocese in sermon / address at the commissioning service. He said: “We have unashamedly entitled the 4 days, ‘Talking Jesus’. We want to make Jesus the topic of conversation and thought. We want to get people thinking about Jesus. We have opportunities galore to meet people face to face. Our focus throughout is to share Jesus.”

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu said:: “We’re in the Durham Diocese for a weekend of ‘Talking Jesus’. Jesus came to bring the very life of God as a gift to all of us. His resurrection makes it possible for us to live the life he lived. The heart of the Christian faith is about having an encounter with Jesus – an encounter which transforms and brings hope and love.”

Bishop Paul added: ”In this Diocese, we’re all about blessing our communities in Jesus’ name for the transformation of us all.  What greater blessing can we offer than an introduction to Jesus? What could be more transformative than coming to know him? Just imagine: one long weekend; twenty five Bishops; hundreds of events; thousands hearing about Jesus and having their lives transformed.”

Bishop Paul’s Sermon

TALKING JESUS OPENING SERVICE
Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus (John 1.42)

INTRODUCTION
I cannot remember who first ever mentioned the name of Jesus to me. It was probably my Dad or Mum in my earliest years, perhaps reading me a Bible story. I do recall the two older women who collected me in their car and took me to my first experience of Sunday School and the CSSM choruses that we sang, ‘By blue Galilee, Jesus walked of old’ – No I am not going to inflict my singing upon you all.
I remember especially John McIndoe’s enthusiasm and evident love for Jesus as he lead the Covenanter class I joined when I was 13. The care and energy too of Dave Shannon, the 6th form leader of Kingston Grammar School Junior Christian Union.
These are some of the people who brought me to Jesus. There have been so many who over the years have been companions on the way. In the most recent years I am deeply grateful to God for you, my fellow bishops, and clergy and lay leaders of this diocese, for you keep bringing me to Jesus.
This it appears from John’s gospel was Andrew’s repeated pattern. He kept bringing people to Jesus; his brother, a little child with their packed lunch, a bunch of Gentile’s wanting to see Jesus.
So as we begin these 4 days together, spread out across this wonderful diocese from the Tyne to the Tees and the Dales to the Sea, a couple of reflections for us on Andrew and introducing others to Jesus.

THANKS
But first some thanks.
Thanks to you my colleague bishops for giving up 4 days from your own settings to come and serve alongside us here. Thank you to the team’s who have come with you. We are deeply grateful to you all for sharing in our seeking to bless our communities with the good news. Thank you too to the students and staff of the Lindisfarne Training Partnership and Cranmer Hall. It is our prayer for you all that these days will be a means of God blessing you.
Then a very big thank you to the home team – especially to the Deanery coordinators for their hard work on the ground encouraging parishes and pulling the local programmes together. Then thanks to the planning team nobly led by Sophie Jelley, and outstandingly administered by Kate Martin. We together, and I personally, am enormously grateful to you for all you have done to get us here.

FIRST
Now back to Andrew bringing people to Jesus.
‘He first found his brother.’ Andrew’s immediate response to what he discovered by following and being with Jesus for a short while was to find his brother and share the news. Now most of you here this weekend will not be able to drop in on a near relative and share, you will mainly be meeting strangers, who might quickly become friends. But I urge on you, as I urge on myself to keep in mind the ‘first’ of this story. The first thing on Andrew’s mind was to share Jesus with his brother. Before anything else his priority was to share Jesus. So I hope we will keep this priority our own over these 4 days. We have unashamedly entitled the 4 days, ‘Talking Jesus’. We want to make Jesus the topic of conversation and thought. We want to get people thinking about Jesus. So we have gospels to give away so that people can read the story. We have opportunities galore to meet people face to face. Our focus throughout is to share Jesus. I urge you to keep this first in mind throughout.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE SMALL
Secondly Andrew demonstrates some tentative faith in the face of apparently impossible odds. Philip sees the cost of feeding so many; Andrew has the willingness to offer Jesus the very small amount he sees as on offer, although he too thinks it an impossible task, ‘What are these amongst so many?’ When regular attendance at Anglican worship across the diocese is less than 1% of the population, and this attendance is largely rapidly ageing. When so many seem content to dismiss Jesus as a myth or more commonly irrelevant then the task can seem overwhelming. There may be points during the next 4 days when it appears that a lot of effort has produced few with whom to talk, or you wonder who might follow up on a conversation. It may all seem a task too far. At these points let us remember Andrew being willing to at least offer, with that little child, the little that they had to Jesus and trust him to do with it what he will. The parable of the Mustard Seed is significant for us here in the diocese; one of the lessons learned from it is simply, ‘Don’t underestimate the small.’ Over these 4 days do not underestimate what the Lord might do with you and your apparently feeble words and offering of service. Like Andrew give that little to the Lord and trust him.

ENCOURAGE
Thirdly Andrew and Philip appear to be quite connected together in John’s gospel. They come from the same small town of Bethsaida. Philip is called by Jesus to follow the day after Andrew has quietly followed Jesus at John the Baptist’s prompting. At the feeding of the 5,000 they are the 2 named actors. At the coming of the Gentiles to see Jesus it is Philip they ask first and he seeks advice from Andrew; together they inquire of Jesus. Philip appears in some ways as the more tentative; Andrew the more willing to step forward. I want to suggest that all of you as team members whether from Cranmer, Lindisfarne or from one of the other great Northern Dioceses need to see yourselves as Andrew to many local Philips and Philippas. For many of the parishes in which you will serve this weekend is a scary venture. In some nothing quite like this has happened in many years. Deliberately planned evangelistic events are new for many – however low key they might feel to you. I recognise that this whole thing might also be new for some of you but that is not how you will be seen. You will be looked to as some kind of leader and guide in this process. You can be Andrew to those who want to talk Jesus to others but are uncertain. You can be Andrew to those who need a little encouragement to step forward. I think Andrew comes across as essentially gentle and encouraging, unlike his better known and more blustery brother Peter. I encourage you to be unblustery in your approach but to be gently encouraging and bold demonstrating how to listen carefully to people and to the Spirit. Demonstrating how to gently but boldly talk Jesus.

CONCLUSION
It is an immense privilege to have you all here and sharing in this adventure. I look forward to hearing in the months that follow stories of people for whom this weekend will have been a significant step in their own walking in Andrew’s shoes to follow Jesus and come and see for themselves just how wonderful He is.
Thank you once again, and may we all like Andrew think first about introducing others to Jesus; recognise in Jesus the one who can turn our small offerings into something significant for God and may we gently encourage others to talk Jesus alongside us so that many might in due time discover just what a wonderful Lord and Saviour he is.

 

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