Bishop Paul gave a very well-received reflection on BBC TEES Mike Hill show today 25th October. The Refecltion is presented below along with a sermon he gave at the installation of Canons in Durham Cathedral this afternoon.
BBC TEES REFLECTION
Did you remember to turn your clocks back before going to bed last night? Every year there are tales of those who forgot. It is easily done.
The passing of time has felt strange throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. Is it really 7 months since we first entered lockdown? Some times the days have dragged very slowly; at others, they seem to have raced by. Well, that happens every year – but somehow this year feels very different, doesn’t it?
Psalm 90 reflects on our lives; ‘The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone and fly away.’ I know what the Psalmist means. On occasions, it feels like only yesterday that I was a university student, or just starting out as a Dad, or in my ordained ministry. Only this week someone expressed surprise that I have been bishop here for 6 and a half years already. Time can seem to fly.
But time also drags. The thought of the next 6 months at least living with very tight restrictions on all our lives feels sad and burdensome. It is though likely.
So how do we approach our time? In Ecclesiastes, we are reminded that ‘For everything, there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.’ The last 6 months have given plenty of times where weeping, mourning, and keeping silence have been appropriate. But we have also needed times to laugh, heal, speak and love. In the Psalm I quoted earlier the writer prays, ‘So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.’ Jesus told us not to be anxious for tomorrow because each day has enough challenges of its own. He taught us to pray for our daily bread, not for overflowing storehouses.
We need to take each day as a gift; a gift from God of life and of opportunity. It will not always feel like this because of the day’s troubles and evils; some days will be filled with tears. Yet each day is a gift. Every day is an opportunity to deepen our relationship with God; to discover more fully that we are loved. Each day is a chance to serve others with God’s love. A day in which to rejoice.
Time is strange the way it drags and the way it flies. May God help us each day to say, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.’
SERMON FOR THE INSTALLATION OF CANONS IN DURHAM CATHEDRAL
Sunday October 25th 2020
Ecclesiastes 11 & 12; 2 Timothy 2.1-7
Is holding responsibility in God’s church an easy calling? Well not according to Paul as he writes to the young leader Timothy. ‘Share in suffering like a good soldier of Jesus Christ.’ The further images of the athlete and the farmer all cumulatively build the image of a calling that is costly and hard work.
So, my sister, Maria, as you become a Lay Canon and take on being a Lay member of the Cathedral Chapter, and as you my brothers Matthew and Paul become Canons of this great Cathedral do not listen to any voices that talk of this as a ‘reward’ for your existing service. No, it is an additional responsibility. Yes, you are called to take on these roles because in your current working life in each of the 3 very different settings that you occupy you have proven to be hardworking, trustworthy, honourable and faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Your ‘reward’ is to be invited to take on further responsibility – to assist in the life of this place. We believe you will do so like soldiers, athletes and farmers, working hard, faithfully and for the glory of God through the worship and witness of this place.
TAKING ON THESE ROLES IN A PANDEMIC
The past 7 months have been filled with challenges for us as a nation, a region, a church and for this Cathedral. Matthew has faced immense challenges in Durham Prison, and no doubt shared in many stories of challenge about schools from his wife as well. Paul has faced deep challenges in leading his parishes, with all their poverty, through this period of the pandemic. Maria will have faced challenges in work and community.
We have all had to learn to live and operate in ways that none of us had ever anticipated. These challenges are certainly with us for months yet to come and will impact us in a wide variety of ways for years to come, probably decades.
All of us have probably had moments, or even rather longer periods of time, where it has felt that ‘All is vanity’. Years of work appear to have slipped through our hands like sand through our fingers. Carefully worked out strategies and work plans have been ripped to shreds before our eyes. We have wondered which way to turn. One thing is for certain that whilst we might all seek to prayerfully reflect and discern the reality is ‘Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.’
I am utterly confident that God is at work in and through this extraordinary pandemic. God is in the midst of it with us. But just what God is working out none of us knows. What we do know is God remains the creator God who makes everything. This at least points us to look to Him for wisdom to know how best to respond. In humility, we need to acknowledge again this is God’s world and we as human beings are not the ones in control. At the very least surely that is one thing God is reminding us all.
And in this place of unknowing; in this position of mystery, the wisdom of the writer of Ecclesiastes speaks to us afresh. ‘In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.’
God is calling us to carry on; to continue with the work before us. God calls us to keep faithfully seeking to work away at producing the good that will enable us and others to live. To seek to find the way forward by testing, experimenting, discovering. At this time of uncertainty and undoubted change, God calls us to get on with life. God calls this Cathedral to continue to be a place of prayer, worship, service and witness. Yes, new ways of doing so might emerge; old ways may have to be left behind. Fresh ideas must be tried; some will not work; others will. The launch today of the Community of Prayer is a great example of the new emerging from the unexpected changes that had to be made back in March and through the following months.
The same is true in chaplaincy ministry, in parish work, and in daily work. In them all God calls us to sow, to not be idle, to keep going faithfully and creatively trusting that God is still creating, still loving, still utterly gracious, still moving amongst us.
So let us this day ‘be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus’. For it is in this grace that we do find true strength. It is in Christ Jesus that we discover all is not vanity but rather that all will be brought to fruition when God will bring all things into judgment and because of Christ will renew all things.