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Consecration sermon for the Bishops of Huddersfield and Bradford

Saturday 18th October 2014

Archbishop Justin Welby preached yesterday at the consecration of the Bishops of Huddersfield and Bradford at York Minster. Read his sermon.

The Revd Dr Jonathan Gibbs was consecrated the first Bishop of Huddersfield and the Revd Dr Toby Howarth was consecrated the Bishop of Bradford in the service at York Minster. The two new area bishops are appointed to serve in the new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales.

The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu consecrated both Area Bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, preached the following sermon:

Isaiah 35.6-10; Philippians 3.7-12; John 6.52-58

Letting go so that we can be transformed is the hardest thing. Yet the possibility of inner change, of transformation of our lives and of our society, requires us to let go in order to receive from God, through Jesus Christ, all that He offers. While our hands are closed clinging to what we currently have, we cannot receive what He is going to give us. Bishops must not only be those who themselves let go distinctively and decisively, but also those who open the way for communities to come into the new life that God is offering.

A bishop is not a senior manager in a convenient administrative unit for putting together administration, payroll, and deployment of staff to necessary outlets. A bishop is above all a shepherd, carrying their pastoral staff, and like Middle Eastern shepherds generally leading the sheep. This is where the image breaks down a bit, because the people of God are not sheep to be herded, but individuals of infinite value to be loved, encouraged, liberated and empowered, themselves to be witnesses to those who do not know Jesus Christ, and to be themselves shepherds wherever God has called them.

But for all that to happen, there has to be a letting go.

The reading from Isaiah looks like good news. It is a story of transformation, transformation of nature and of humanity. Nature is healed and harmless, beautiful and benevolent. God’s people have hope and liberation, a way home to the place of rest, security and the presence of God at all times in His own house, the Old Testament temple.

But, and there is always a but, the question is what will they do with it? Much of the next few chapters of Isaiah is about God speaking to the people of Israel and saying, ‘I have offered you a way home and you are not very happy with it’. From where they were sitting in Babylon, slaves yes, but knowing the situation in which they were, even a well-heeled highway looks slightly like hard work. Bishops can point to the highway as much as they like, but it is still something that will be intimidating until one finds the healing and health that is in it. So what do we do?

Paul provides the answer. We do not hold on to anything, but count it all rubbish for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ. The only absolutely essential qualification for a bishop is that they know Jesus Christ and have cast everything else aside to follow him. And that makes all of us pretty unqualified, because we hold on to things, because we are human. It is called sin. But this wonderful passage from Philippians sets the basis for the journey that we will go on, the pilgrimage in which we as Christians travel, following the call of Christ and drawing closer to Him as we go.

Once again the call looks hard from the outside. It is a call to death, to take such risks and put ourselves in such a place that as Paul says ‘I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like Him in His death’. Again, that looks hard but is the call to be an example, to show others that through the surrendering of all things is new life, and the reality of resurrection. It is a journey to be made, the last sentence of the reading from Philippians shows that, we have not already reached the goal, but it is a journey that the bishop must lead.

So far so tough. Yet, there are incredible resources. At a meeting at the IMF in Washington last Sunday, I was the religious figure, and nervously expecting to have to say something about inner transformation. To my delight, the person on the panel of five who spoke before me, a former head of the Singapore Monetary Authority, and also the Governor of the Bank of England, both spoke of the need for inner transformation and the means being prayer and contemplation. In other words, the capacity to let go and to be those who have died with Christ comes through receiving the strength that He gives as we draw close to Him.

The gospel passage speaks of that strength. It is a current strength, the future bought into our present in the Eucharist, in contemplation of the love and the presence of Christ especially in this service of Communion, we are fed with life. Fed with life, we are able to run the race that is set before us. Fed with life, we are filled with the life of God who lives with us and within us. Filled with that life, the terrifying nature of the journey, the call to set out in the way that lies before us, even though it is promised to be healing and benevolent, becomes achievable. The letting go becomes possible because the treasure before us is worth releasing everything else to hold.

Jonathan and Toby, it is the gift of God to you to be those who show the way in these things. In this service let go, find afresh that life, and begin the process of leading others into the same liberation, not under dominating authority, but in the true freedom of the people of God.

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