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Bishop Jane’s sermon from the Chrism Eucharist 2024

The Bishop of Lynn, the Rt Revd Dr Jane Steen preaching at the Chrism Eucharist service in Norwich Cathedral 2024

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On 25 March people from across the Diocese gathered at Norwich Cathedral for the Chrism Eucharist. The Bishop of Lynn, the Rt Revd Dr Jane Steen’s sermon is below.

1 Samuel 16. 1-13a; 2 Corinthians 3.17 – 4.12; Luke 22. 24-30

‘A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.’
It is all too easy to dismiss these words: the disciples have got it wrong – again. And so, we allow the words to stay, if you like, on the page, within the Scriptural narrative.

But as you know all too well, the point of Scripture is not only that we read its words, but that we allow them to read us, as the Spirit searches our hearts. And so, on today of all days as we gather to renew our vows of ordination, we should not let the words stay on the page, but rather ask ourselves what do these words say to us. In the next few minutes, I would like to consider them with you in the context of the whole gospel reading we have heard this morning, for they are but the starting point of a whole spiritual journey.

‘A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.’ Disputes arise in parish ministry all the time, and often about power. People will not let go of a certain office; money is held for certain purposes, denied for others; those in authority belittle others or expect obedience; there are tears and upset, even manipulation. All this may be true of clergy and laity alike. There are excuses: the still-lingering post-Covid tiredness, the difficulty of encouraging everyone to play their part in the life of the Church; PCCs, mission statistics, parish share. All this we know – and then there was LLF. And more disputes arise among us, about who is right, which brings its own superiority, greatness. So I wonder whether we should not hear in these words not only the narrative of the disciples’ misunderstanding, but also a question about our own tendency to argument and division.

This is not a question of what we might think about LLF and the Prayers. It is instead to remember that immediately our reading ends, Jesus says to Simon: ‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat’. A terrifying thought, not least because throughout Scripture, Satan delights to divide the people from God and from each other. This disagreement among the disciples begins the fragmentation which will soon see them flee from Jesus. I wonder, then, whether the dispute in this morning’s gospel sounds a warning, lest Satan seek also to separate us, to lead us further to shatter Christ’s Church. A point to ponder.

Yet I said that this verse is but the start of a spiritual journey contained in our gospel reading, and so it is. The fulcrum, the turn from disagreement lies in Jesus’ words, ‘I am among you as one who serves’. This can be so hard. To serve others is not to turn ourselves into drudges. It is

not to forget the importance of prayer, of boundaries, of rest. It is not to abdicate responsibility for those times at which it is ours to say, ‘This we will do, and not that’. But neither is it to gratify ourselves, or to impose our own will, even when we genuinely believe it is for the best or to get what we want. Service is as much attitude as action, as much courtesy as command, and certainly as much utter honesty with ourselves, as well as with others. It is, if you like, a question of sincerity: for what else is sincerity other than honesty of intention? As for what that looks like, come back with me now to I Samuel and to the anointing of David.

How often are we like Samuel in this reading, grieving over Saul, lamenting over what didn’t work out, over the impossibility of change. But the Lord knows this, for, as the reading tells us, God looks on the heart. Which does not mean that young David was perfect – of course not; only One is perfect, even Jesus. But it does mean that God sees our good desires, hopes and earnest intentions just as much as he sees our weaknesses, our bowing to pressure, our pain, our failings. And yes, I know, the reading tells us how handsome David was: but this too may proceed from the heart, from attitude.

And so, with the Spirit, we search our hearts, seeking to live out of what is best in us, for to search our hearts is to return to the Lord. In the epistle, Paul is clear on this. It is, he says, ‘it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’. That is what is in our hearts, and when God looks, that is what he sees: the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in our hearts. What beauty, what joy, what delight comes from that light shone in us.

And so, we complete the spiritual journey of the gospel reading, for it is this light which makes us those on whom Jesus confers a Kingdom. Our greatness comes not in worldly enthronement or judgment – whatever we might think of different players in our world just now. Our greatness comes only from the imitation of the Lord made possible by God’s grace and insofar as are daily transformed into the likeness of Christ, just so do we participate in the Kingdom even now, a pastoral, prayerful and prophetic people.
We gather here, on the cusp of some of the holiest days of the Church’s year.

We do so as those into whose hearts God looks and in whose hearts God has shone. Of course, we have this treasure in clay jars and of course we will stumble, but Jesus experienced the clay jar of mortality comes to us now in bread and wine, mortal for mortals, God for the children of God. Come now, and feed on him, who loves us so much that he died for us, who shines in our hearts and who prays for us now and throughout eternity.

May you know that in your hearts this Easter, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.