INSTALLATION OF SHEILA BAMBER, MARGARET VAUGHAN & ANDREW ROGERS AS CATHEDRAL CANONS
Sunday 18th June 2017, Durham Cathedral
Deuteronomy 10.12-11.1 & Acts 23.12-end
We meet to worship and pray in this ancient Cathedral, with all its signs of worship, prayer, stability and safety in the shadow of the horrific tragedy of Grenfell Tower, in West London. The sight of that 24 storey housing block on fire, and now as charred remains sears our minds. The horror of death, suffering, homelessness and helplessness fills our thinking. Alongside this are a proper anger, questions of authorities, business, regulations and of God. Then there is the sheer hard task of supporting people in the immediate aftermath and the long term work of helping people rebuild their lives, literally from the ashes.
This is the immediate, harrowing backdrop for our nation now. David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, lost a young artistic friend and her mother in the fire. He has highlighted powerfully the reality of the questions this tragedy raises about our divided society and the need to not simply care for the poorest but ensure justice for all in our land, including safe and decent housing for all.
However every time we worship and pray we do so against a backdrop of deep pain and suffering across the world, and in our own land. On Tuesday of this coming week we have United Nations’ World Refugee Day. The event is held to honour the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. In the length of this sermon around 240 new refugees will exist in the world. In total at present there are close to 70 million forcibly displaced people around the globe.
This persistent backdrop of human pain and suffering, in many varied forms, should shape our worship and our prayers at all times. Yet we worship now, as always, in the presence of the God who is ‘God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing.’ (Deut 10.17f)
So installing Margaret, Andrew and Sheila as canons seems a rather domestic and small task against this backdrop. Well, yes it is, but it is nevertheless not insignificant or unimportant. Part of the point of this, and other cathedrals, is their testimony to the constant, ongoing reality of God and his love in the world. This cathedral speaks of stability, faithfulness and presence in the midst of national and global turmoil. A main part of the cathedral’s calling, along with the church more widely, is to daily proclaim and live out the reality of the God who is love, and who has made that love known in and through Jesus Christ.
The Cathedral, as indeed All Saints Stranton, All Saints Preston on Tees, Sunderland Minster and churches everywhere, offer place and space for people to sit with their anguish, sorrow, fears, questions, doubts, joys and delights. This Cathedral is a place of refuge.
Sheila, Margaret and Andrew in being installed as canons of this Cathedral you promise to pray for its life, and to help it, in a small way, to stay true to its calling. You do so with openness to the Spirit of God, zeal for the Christian gospel and with reverence to all.
THE LIVED OUT GOSPEL
So what is required of you as Canons is ‘to fear, (that is revere), the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him and to serve him with all your heart and soul’. (Deut 10.12) It is to ‘love the stranger’ (Deut 10.19). The same is the call on us all as God’s people. The call is to do this in the world and the specific setting where God has placed us.
Our New Testament reading from Acts is a helpful reminder that following Jesus faithfully is lived out in the world. This is the world of politics and civic life. For Paul this was Jewish leaders, Roman governors and soldiers. For us it is in the world of national and local government, of Communities Together Durham, Citizens Tyne and Wear, the Community Foundation, the business of energy production and distribution and the search for a just world and society.
This loving of God with all our being is expressed in the world of family care and loyalty. Paul is helped by his nephew who brings the plot against Paul to his and the authorities’ attention. For us we express our love for God in care for family and friends, and in seeking the wellbeing of widows and orphans, that is, of those most in need in our society. We do not blame them or demonise them but provide for them and help them to play their full part.
The story also reminds us that we live out our love of Jesus in a world of both betrayal and trust. Christians from before Paul, and ever since, have faced those who would seek to undermine or betray them. Opposition is part of the normal Christian territory. For some in our world today it involves severe persecution. Christians are amongst those who have had to flee for their lives and become refugees because of persecution.
Finally Luke’s re-telling of Paul’s story reminds us that we live out our love for God in a world where events sometimes move rapidly and at other times slowly and frustratingly. At all times the story reminds us that we can never be in total control of our own lives; people and events around us mean we have to shape our responses and lives to the ever changing situations. Yet doing so always confident that ultimately God is in control and at work, in extraordinary ways, through the changes, chances and tragedies of life and human history.
So Andrew, Sheila and Margaret thank you for agreeing to serve God, and his church, in this additional way. All three of you serve us in so many ways already, for which deep thanks. Take up this responsibility as an expression of your love for the God who loves you and has saved you in Jesus Christ.
May we all as we enter into this Refugee Week, with the dark shadow of Grenfell Tower looming over us all, renew our commitment to love God with all of our heart and soul. May we do so recognising that the way we express this love for God is by living out our faith, hope and love in every day with all its joys and delights; it’s tragedies and sorrows. May we do so passionate for the care of the neediest in our world including working to ensure the warmest of welcomes to the strangers who enter our communities and that truth and justice really do happen for those most needy in our nation, and in the world. For this is the heartbeat of God.