Presidential Address At Diocesan Synod

 The first of several sermons for Easter 2013.

The first of several sermons for Easter 2013.
The Right Revd Mark Bryant Bishop of Jarrow has given his first sermon of the Easter weekend today (28th March) at a service at Durham Cathedral. The sermon was delivered at a service for the renewal of vows for those already ordained within the Diocese. In it, he reflects on what it is to be in ordained ministry asking questions of what that ministry might mean for both his own life and for others that have taken up God’s call to ministry. He said: “I wonder if this morning as we come to renew those vows and promises that we made on the day of our ordination, whether we may want God to show us what as clergy are the deep desires that He has planted within us, what he is most calling us to do and perhaps above all to be for Him through the gift of ordained ministry that He has so generously and graciously given to us.” Bishop Mark’s sermons will all be available via the Diocesan website: http://bit.ly/Easter2013Sermons In addition to the traditional method of delivering the Easter sermons, Bishop Mark, like many other clergy in the Diocese of Durham will be using social media to get his message out. Following on from the successful Christmas tweeting campaign, sermons and other discussion for the Easter weekend will be put on twitter using the hashtags #everthingchanges and #DDEC. A video message for easter will also be published on Easter Sunday. Full Sermon Transcript [SERMON PREACHED BY MARK BRYANT BISHOP OF JARROW IN DURHAM CATHEDRAL MAUNDY THURSDAY 2013 AT EUCHARIST WITH BLESSING OF OILS AND RENEWAL OF ORDINATION VOWS] I once worked for a while with a priest who used to tell the story of his first night at his theological college nearly 50 years ago. The principal assembled the new students together, and he said to them, ‘I wonder why it is that you want to be priests? some of you may feel that you would be very good at preaching, some of you may feel you would celebrate the Eucharist really beautifully, others of you may feel that you have great pastoral gifts, but has it ever occurred to you that God may want to give you the gift of ordination because that is the only way he may save your immortal soul. If I am honest, it has taken me many years to really start to understand that.  And yet more and more it seems to me that there is a real truth in that. – but has it ever occurred to you that God may want to give you the gift of ordination because that is the only way he may save your immortal soul. We might nowadays put it in slightly different language, but one of the ways I think that I have started to understand it, is to wonder if a bit of it means that God has given me the gift of ordained ministry as that is the only way that He can help me to be the person who He has most truly made me to be.  I start to wonder if it through the gift of ordained ministry that I am able to start to become the person whom God has most truly made me to be. I have been very helped in the past year or so by the writings of an American Jesuit, James Martin.  He seems to be rather well known and feted in the USA but still comparatively unknown over here.  In one of his books, Fr Martin makes much of Thomas Merton’s saying, ‘to be a Saint means to be myself’, in other words, what God is truly calling me to be throughout my life is to be most truly myself.  And this is not a piece of self-indulgence from a self-help book bought in a railway station – but a call to holiness. In another of his books, Fr Martin talks about the need for all of us to be in touch with our deepest desires, to ask ourselves for example, when I retire or when I die what would I long  to be to be remembered for.  Not in the sense of being famous but in the sense of knowing that I had done what was in the very depths of my heart to do. On good days, I think by the grace of God some of us are given a glimpse of this.  I was talking the other day to a chaplain and asking him how his comparatively new job was going and he said to me, often when I have been doing the work at the end of the day I say to myself,  ‘ I was born for this’.  And a number of us may have had that experience at the end of a pastoral encounter, at the end of sermon or the end of a conversation, just that sense that by the grace of God, I was born for this. You will know the often quoted saying of St Irenaeus, that the Glory of God is a human being fully alive.  We are called by God to be human beings fully alive, fully in touch with those desires which are in the deepest places of our souls and which, for some of us at least are brought into being through the gift of the Ordained Ministry.  The Glory of God is a human being fully alive, that indeed is Glory. But as we are reminded at the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, there may be glory but there is an awful lot of dust and ashes around and the reality is that our vision is that that vision of ordained ministry allowing us to be fully alive is often clouded. There is the sudden discovery that:

  • the Church building needs thousands and thousands of pounds to be spent on it for repairs,
  • there is the PCC Meeting that does not go in quite the way we had hoped,
  • there are the difficult relationships which despite our best intentions never seem to get entirely put right.
  • there are the perpetual anxieties about money,

and all of these can cloud our vision burden us down, make us forget those deepest desires, we can get tired and dispirited and then perhaps we somehow deal with that by overwork or by not treating ourselves well and that sense of joy and that sense of fulfilling our deepest and most God given desires all disappear. A month or so back I was talking with a wise Christian about life and work and why it is that Bishops keep abandoning me!  And I was trying to explain how I hoped I would cope in the coming months, and listening to my plans she posed the question, ‘so what would threaten that’? And it seemed to me that that was an immensely good and helpful question, – so what would threaten that?  because we need to be aware of those things that threaten our spiritual equilibrium, that threaten our joy, that threaten our attention to our deepest desires for our lives as ministers. And it seems to me more and more that as clergy we need to pray constantly for God’s protection for ourselves and for all that we do because the reality is that

  • the church will continue to need repairing,
  • the relationships may well continue to be difficult
  • and the successes for which we have longed and prayed for may well not come,

but what matters is that these things are not allowed to get to us, that they are not allowed to destroy all that we most desire. The Spoiler must not have his day. It’s very lovely how St John tells us that in Gethsemane Jesus prays to the Father, ‘Holy Father protect them in your name that you have given me… while I was with them I protected them in your name that you have given me, I guarded them and not one of them that was lost except the one destined to be lost… I am not asking you to take them out world but I ask you to protect them from the evil one’. There will be the difficult and un-appetising things to do, that is part of life and I am afraid that I have never really understood or accepted, clergy will say to me, ‘well I’m not doing that because that is not part of my gifting’.  A truly servant ministry will find us in all sorts of pickles, but what matters is that those pickles do not destroy or overwhelm all that we most desire to do for God. So I wonder if this morning as we come to renew those vows and promises that we made on the day of our ordination, whether we may want God to show us what as clergy are the deep desires that He has planted within us, what he is most calling us to do and perhaps above all to be for Him through the gift of ordained ministry that He has so generously and graciously given to us. In Jesus whose priesthood we share, we see one who seems to be completely aware of his deepest desires.  He comes to the synagogue at Nazareth, he chooses the passage of Isaiah, and as he proclaims this we sense that this is not just his manifesto but that it is about his deepest desires, about who he most truly is and what he has most truly come to do, to preach the Gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to give freedom to those who are imprisoned, to enable those who are blind to see what they need to see. This week we are reminded how all of that leads inexorably to His cross and I am struck again and again by those extraordinary words in the Epistle to the Hebrews where the writer speaks to us of Jesus as the One who for the sake of the joy that was before Him, endured the cross and disregarded its shame.  For Jesus this going to the cross out of love for the whole human race is for Him the working out of his deepest desire, for him it is in some extraordinary way sheer joy and the shame will not be allowed to threaten or dislodge His deepest desires. I believe that God has planted in each of us deep desires, they are the key to all that God has called us to be and to do, for some of us to whom God has given the gift of ordained ministry may it be that that gift is the vehicle through which we are in His love and in His mercy to become the people that we are most truly called to be. Amen.

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