Bishop Paul in Durham Cathedral (Picture: Keith Blundy)

INSTALLATION OF CANONS

Durham Cathedral

25th April 2021

Exodus 16.4-15 & Revelation 2.12-17

Libby Wilkinson, Arun Arora, Remi Omole, Anna Brooker

 

INTRODUCTION

‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.’

It is a real joy to have installed Libby, Arun, Remi and Anna today. It is in God’s overruling providence that this has happened on the Sunday following the publication of ‘From Lament to Action’ on Stephen Lawrence Day. Arun chaired the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Task Force that produced this powerful and deeply challenging report. He has faced huge challenges in doing so and I want to thank him for his patient persistence in getting the report out with the content it contains.

Both he and Remi have faced racist discrimination time and again throughout their lives, and sadly within the church. They are examples of seeking to live by the grace of God in the face of some seeking to dehumanise them.

Equally sadly Libby and Anna could tell us tales of how they have faced discrimination as women; and as ordained women. They too are examples of living by the grace of God found in Jesus Christ.

Together these 4 add to the diversity of the College of Canons. It helps send a clear message to the Diocese and the world that we are determined to root out racism and sexism. But if we think that simply appointing people to such roles is enough then we must think again. Far deeper reform and change is required.

As a privileged white, middle class male in a position of authority and power I have to work hard at listening to their stories to try and stand in their place and understand. I can never fully do so but remain committed to seeking to do it as well as I can. This again can only happen by the grace of God.

One feeling and thought that often comes to my heart and mind when I do so is, ‘I would quite understand if you decided you had had enough and gave up.’ Part of what I honour is the endurance and the faithfulness with which each stands.

It was the faithfulness of the people of God in the city of Pergamum that Jesus Christ commends. ‘Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed, where Satan lives.’

All of us as followers of Jesus Christ; every one of us as members of the diverse people of God are called to be faithful; to stand firm in our witness to Jesus Christ. The temptations to give up; to bemoan our lot; to gently compromise will always come our way. They did to God’s people in the wilderness and to the Christians in Pergamum so inevitably they will come to us. We are called to remain faithful.

This is a day by day faithfulness.

God’s people in the wilderness, miraculously delivered from their Egyptian slavery, had the vision of the Promised Land to draw them forward. As God’s people today Jesus has given us the vision of God’s kingdom; God’s way of doing things in all creation, to draw us forward. We look to the day when this reign of God will come in all its fullness. The Christians at Pergamum receiving this letter from Jesus through John soon heard the vision of heaven presented in what we call chapter 4 and 5. The vision where the song is sung,

You (that is Jesus, the Lamb) are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God and they will reign on the earth.’ (Rev 5.9f)

We are pulled forward by this promise of a gloriously diverse and equal people of God. We long to pull this future promise as fully into the present as we can. We trust God to fulfil this promise achieved through the cross.

Yet we are sustained day by day. The manna in the wilderness was only ever enough for the day (or the two days to cover the Sabbath). Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’, a huge big vision. Yet he also taught us to pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ an immediate necessary provision day by day. Jesus is the bread that came down from heaven, the bread of life, satisfying every need we have, yet in the Spirit he gives us this hidden manna day by day not in one huge feast.

With our wealth, our full fridges and freezers, our bank accounts, our savings and reserves we can so easily stop recognising God as our daily provider. We do this as individuals and families; we do it as institutions like Dioceses and Cathedrals. We start depending on our reserves, our strategic plans, our heritage and standing rather than on the living God.

Yet in the big battles with Satan, the evil one, the one out to destroy God’s work there are no such reserves. The structural sins of racism and sexism; those that make us permanently rich as a nation and hold the poorest in their poverty, require fighting with the spiritual weapons God gives us, like the sharp two edged sword and the bread of life. We will only remain faithful by trusting in the daily provision of God.

This is one of the lessons taught me by those who live with being racially abused, or demeaned for being women, they stay faithful day by day. It is a lesson taught me by those for whom there are no bank accounts, no insurance policies, no long term strategic plans in the villages of Burundi and Rwanda, or the poorest communities of the North east. They see the manna on the ground for that day; they take it as gift from God to sustain them through the day, praying and trusting that tomorrow more bread will come. The strength to handle being sinned against comes not in one great lump but in daily provision from the one who is the bread of life.

On this day let us commit ourselves afresh to be faithful to the great vision of God’s glorious diverse people and to relying on him for the bread we need for each day.

 

Lord teach me to both hold onto the great vision of the coming kingdom and to trust you for bread enough for today to stay faithful in following Jesus.

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