The Second Sunday after Trinity 2019
Readings: 1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9: 51-62
Ripon Cathedral Choral Eucharist
The Dean’s Sermon
The Encouraging Work of the Holy Spirit
Friday June 21st: Dirty battle for No 10;
Monday June 24th: Johnson is a coward, says Hunt;
Tuesday, June 25th: ‘Cowardly’ Johnson launches fightback;
Wednesday June 26th : Johnson to pull Britain out of EU ‘do or die’;
Friday, June 28th : Stamp duty to be slashed in Johnson no-deal budget.
Saturday, June 29th? I don’t know! I wrote this sermon on Friday afternoon. And by yesterday I couldn’t bear to download another copy of my daily newspaper.
Yes, these are headlines from a so-called daily broad sheet newspaper. And you thought you had come to the cathedral to escape from a world of chaotic confusion! Well, attempting to escape from the world is never a good motivation for coming to church. But if we have come looking for encouragement so that we can return to the world in hope, then we have come to the right place.
So, how would you go about choosing a new national leader?
“The Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damsacus. When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also, you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.’” (1 Kg 19) It seems to have been so much simpler then!
Remember, just before this morning’s passage, we have that famous account of Elijah encountering the living God in what the NRSV translates as ‘Sheer Silence’; often referred to as a still small voice. The nation was in turmoil – there is nothing new under the sun! Elijah had fled from Jezebel in fear of losing his life. He tells God that he has been faithful and everyone else has fallen away. He’s in a bad place spiritually and emotionally! That’s when God instructs him to go and anoint his successor – the next prophetic leader.
And in this morning’s OT passage we get this wonderful impression of Elijah casually walking by while Elisha was ploughing; and he throws his mantle over him. One could imagine Mrs May wishing she could choose her successor in the same way; walking around the cabinet table and casting her scarf over the one she considers to be divinely chosen!
If we read on a few chapters to the beginning of II Kings, we learn that Elisha was faithful in remaining with Elijah to the very end and was thus rewarded with a double measure of his master’s spirit as Elijah was taken up into heaven in the whirlwind. In trying times when all had seemed without hope, God raised up new, spiritually-inspired leadership. It wasn’t the first time, of course, and it certainly wasn’t the last.
Our reading from Galatians reminds us that centuries later in even more significant and hope-giving ways, God endowed faithful disciples with the gift of their master’s spirit. St. Paul recites the gifts the Holy Spirit brings: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
In our uncertain and disturbing times, generating the sort of newspaper headlines I quoted earlier, we might be forgiven for wondering why God doesn’t intervene with the outpouring of his spirit on his chosen leaders in our day.
Well, surely, those with eyes of faith can see that he does. Yesterday, St. Peter’s Day, in Wakefield Cathedral, Bishop Nick ordained 15 new deacons. And in two weeks’ time, a similar number of new priests will be ordained by the Area Bishops across the diocese. These are all people for whom a calling by God has been discerned in this church and this nation today. They, and hundreds like them, we believe, have been chosen by God and anointed with his Spirit. Is this less significant than the action of the Holy Spirit in the days of Elijah? And in the days of St. Paul?
St. Paul, of course, draws a sharp distinction between the ways of the Spirit and the ways of the ‘flesh’(by which he possibly means something like ‘the ways of the world’). We need to be careful. Yes, the Spirit is alive and visible in the church. But the church is not perfect. Also, we need to acknowledge how the Spirit is at work beyond the church.
First, the Church’s imperfection. The ongoing Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) has shown all too clearly that the church, claiming to be inspired and led by the Holy Spirit of God, has been capable of falling far short of its calling. And the human suffering has been great. But in the most desperate situations God does work for good and bring hope – and so the church is penitent and is investing huge resource to ensure that a change of culture is supported by rigorous safeguarding policies and procedures. Anyone now employed by and volunteering within the church finds, quite rightly, that this is so. Being positive about this, one can see that the church’s penitence itself reveals the Holy Spirit to be at work. But we cannot deny that this is a tragic example of the church’s imperfection.
At the same time, we also understand that while ‘the world’ beyond the church is far from perfect, it also reveals countless ways in which the Holy Spirit is at work within it. Read in the July Newsletter about Ripon Cycling Together – we are attempting, as a city, to cycle to the moon and back. On the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, and in a year when we host both the Tour de Yorkshire and the UCI world championships, we are promoting the healthful benefits of cycling more. This project was launched here in the cathedral and the related photographic exhibition, On Yer Bike, remains in the South Transept throughout July. Also, in that same Newsletter, read about the ways in which Cathedral Community Connected (C3) is helping this cathedral to join in with good Spirit-inspired ventures in the wider community. There is much to encourage us if we are looking for evidence of the Spirit being at work in the world.
On Wednesday, I had the good fortune to attend the AGM of the region’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). Several hundred people from all sectors gathered to hear about entrepreneurial ways in which people are coming together to generate employment and wealth for this region. While accepting the challenges of these politically uncertain days, there is a determination to be positive. There is also what seems to be a universal agreement that to grow our economy we need to be concerned for all. Malcolm Preston of the accountancy firm PWC was quoted, “Good growth is real, inclusive, responsible, and lasting. Good growth benefits everyone…” Isn’t that the sort of thing we would expect to hear from the preacher? And yet we are now also hearing it from our accountant!
Another firm message on Wednesday was that our economy must be circular. That is to say, it should not have a negative impact on the environment. People were veritably evangelistic about the concept of the circular economy.
From a threatened and terrified Elijah encountering God in utter silence and being told to anoint his successor; to the first generation of Christians following Jesus; to new deacons and priest in the 21st century; to a region in the North of England keen to build a prosperous and equitable future for all – from all of this – for those with eyes of faith, the work of the Holy Spirit is clear to see. While being realistic and mature enough to acknowledging the shortcomings of the world, the church and ourselves, let us also be encouraged and, following this service, let us return to the world in hope.