The Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham has used his sermon at a service in Durham Cathedral today (Sunday 22nd November) to recognise the gift and labours of everyone no matter how big or small in the foundations of the Cathedral and its on going place in the world.
In his sermon he said:” Benefaction is the work of all God’s people and may well be weighed very differently in God’s eyes from those of our own. We must all remember the widow at the Temple whom Jesus described as having given much more than the wealthy because she had given all out of her poverty rather than some out of her wealth.
“Those who founded this place did so with more than their own needs or desires in view. They had a long view of God’s work in the world. The solidity and the beauty of this place are testament to their long view.”
He said these founders and benefactors had confidence; confidence that it would stand and last. The firm rock underneath helped but there was more than that to it. There was a confidence in God and the good news.
In conclusion he said: “‘Have confidence in God, approach and draw near to him in Jesus, hold fast to your hope in him and so live lives where you stir one another up to ever more love and good works.”
The full transcript of the sermon
FOUNDERS & BENEFACTORS:- Sunday 22nd November 2015
Later in our service we will name many of those who have played a key part as Founders and Benefactors in the life of this Cathedral. It is fitting that we do so. But I also have some unease at this, as I believe should we all.
Everyone who has ever worshipped or stopped to pray in this place is in some sense a benefactor.
Every volunteer who has given hours of service in cleaning, decorating, welcoming and so on is a benefactor.
My unease is that we risk understanding benefaction of this place in the same way that other institutions, perfectly reasonably, honour their benefactors based on the size of their monetary gift, or their title and position in society, or both.
Naturally we are deeply grateful to all who have generously given down the centuries, but benefaction is the work of all God’s people and may well be weighed very differently in God’s eyes from those of our own. We must all remember the widow at the Temple whom Jesus described as having given much more than the wealthy because she had given all out of her poverty rather than some out of her wealth.
Those who founded this place did so with more than their own needs or desires in view. They had a long view of God’s work in the world. The solidity and the beauty of this place are testament to their long view.
We rightly thank God for these founders, and we look to follow their example of commitment to the long term not just the immediate. As we all know one of the plagues of our current culture is its delight in the instant – Instagram, SnapChat, fury that our internet speed is a little slower than usual, impatience that the lights are not green at every junction, and the moving on of the news to a fresh story within hours most of the time all demonstrate this.
This creates real problems for us when major tragedies happen like those in Beirut and Paris just over a week ago. We want some instance explanations, resolutions and answers. We simply struggle to handle situations that are complex, longstanding and for which there are no simple or instant answers. We need a long view. Our reading from Hebrews I suggest offers some help in how we can have the long view of our founders and benefactors.
The first is confidence. Somehow those who founded this place had confidence that it would stand and last. The firm rock underneath helped but there was more than that to it. There was a confidence in God and the good news.
The writer of this letter states that we can have confidence in God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection; although his focus is on the death. These early Christians were facing some tough stuff; some were in prison because of their faith. They were being opposed, persecuted and ridiculed. Yet they can stand firm, confident in the faithfulness of God because it has been seen and demonstrated once and for all supremely in Jesus – and particularly in his death and resurrection. Our forbears who founded and sustained this place will tell us to keep having this same confidence. Confidence in God because of Jesus. In the face of tough and difficult times we should be rooting ourselves in trust in the God who is faithful.
LET US APPROACH / DRAW NEAR
The writer tells us that we can approach God; we can draw near to Him. We all have done, said and thought things which are wrong. We have all lived as rebels against God; rebels often simply because we live as effective atheists trusting our own selves and our own judgments rather than trusting God. But the writer tells us that God cleanses our bad consciences in Christ. We can draw near and approach because God has drawn near to us in Jesus and opened the way into God’s presence.
There is as serious danger that our buildings, and the way that we behave in them communicates a suggestion that we cannot approach or draw near. We put barriers in the way. There are logistical reasons why later not everyone can enter the Feretory and Cuthbert’s tomb, but the danger is many of you will think that it is not a place for you. Nothing could be further from the truth, it is a place for all. The divine presence though is everywhere and we can enter it all the time. Jesus opened up God’s immediate presence for all. Let us approach and draw near.
LET US HOLD FAST
Hold fast to our hope in God. When we look at a world full of turmoil and tragedy; when we wrestle with issues of terror and terrorism it is understandable that people become fearful and lose hope. When people are unsure how they are going to make ends meet because the finances just do not add up, or because finding work just seems so far away it is understandable why people lose hope. But our writer tells us that holding fast to God means we can hold fast to hope, whatever we face.
It is actually I think our responsibility to keep speaking hope into lives. Terror will not ultimately triumph because the future is God’s and his alone.
LET US CONSIDER HOW TO STIR ONE ANOTHER UP
The impact of confidence in God, of drawing near to God, and of holding fast to hope in God in Jesus is that we live inspired by this confidence and hope. It is a life that is fired to be lived out in love and good works. We are encouraged and inspired to stir one another up to acts of love, to doing good. So we will be a people of compassion for those in need; we will be a people who welcome refugees because we have been welcomed ourselves by God. We will constantly be looking for ways, and encouraging each other to find ways of speaking well of others, doing good wherever we can to whomever we can, showing God’s kind of love to all. We will not stir up hatred, self interest or fear but love and good works.
The founders and benefactors whom we honour and remember tonight encourage us as part of the great cloud of witnesses, of which Hebrews later speaks, say to us, ‘Have confidence in God, approach and draw near to him in Jesus, hold fast to your hope in him and so live lives where you stir one another up to ever more love and good works.