Bishop Steven

Bishop Steven

Inauguration as Bishop of Oxford

Christ Church Cathedral (30th September 2016)

Genesis 12.1-8 and Matthew 5.1-10

May I speak with humility, mercy and joy,

May I speak of Jesus and his ways

May I speak clearly and with boldness now and always.  Amen.

Thank you for your welcome.  Thank you for being here and for the different parts you play in this region, in the Church and in my own life.  This is one of those moments when your whole life flashes before your eyes.

I am in awe of the ministry entrusted to me this day as a Bishop in God’s Church.  I will be able to bear the weight of this ministry only by the grace of God and with your prayers and love and support.  I look forward so much to the journey we will share together and to partnerships in the wider region, with other faith communities and other churches and with the Church across this Diocese.

I come as a learner, a disciple .  I’d love to pin a large L Plate on the back of my cope today.   There is a small one on the inside here – and another one at this side.  I look forward to learning from all of you and most of all from Jesus, whose disciple I strive to be with all my heart and with all my life.

I come giving thanks for the life of the Church of England across this Diocese: for our parishes and schools, for all the ways in which the Church is a blessing to God’s world.

I come with deep appreciation for the ministry my predecessors: of Bishop Richard, for his sharpness of mind and the breadth of his vision; for Bishop John, for his pastoral wisdom and love; and for Bishop Colin who has guided this diocese now through two vacancies and has a deep place in the affections of the Church and of the region.  I look forward to working with Colin and Alan and Andrew and Martyn and the rest of the senior team in the years to come.  I look forward to all that God will continue to do as our lives are offered to God’s glory.

God’s call came long ago to Abraham and Sarah.  Their story is sacred to more than half the people in the world today: to Jews and Christians and Muslims, It is the beginning. At the heart of the story is blessing.

“Now the LORD said to Abram…”I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.

This sacred story has shaped the history of the world and shapes it still.  The story reminds us that God calls us. God loves us and knows us and would walk with us and speak with us.  God calls us to deeper and longer journeys through all of our lives and beyond the horizon of our death God calls us home.

The story reminds us that the LORD  offers his blessing to all who follow that call.  “I will bless you”.  God is good.  God longs to give all people what is good.  In God’s blessings we discover again who we really are.

And the story reminds us that we are blessed by God in order to become a blessing to others. “I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing…In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks everyone will sooner or later need to ask three questions: “Who am I?”  “Why am I here?” “How then shall I live?”[1]

We find the answers in this sacred story.  We find our identity in God’s love, in God’s blessing.  We find our purpose and our way of life in seeking to be a blessing to others.  This holds true for families, for churches and for nations.

If we know longer know who we are as a nation, we will find the answers in God’s grace and blessing.  If we no longer understand our purpose and our role in the world, we will find it again in seeking to be a blessing to others.

Abraham and Sarah received God’s blessing in faith.  They trusted God and followed God’s call.  In time God gave them children.  Their descendants through Isaac and Rebekah became a great nation.  To that nation, God entrusted his greatest blessing, Jesus Christ his Son, born of Mary, given so that all the families of the earth might be blessed.

Jesus Christ revealed God’s love in life and word and deed.  He called his disciples, like Abraham, to leave their homes and occupations.  In the Sermon on the Mount he taught them what it means to be blessed and to be a blessing to others.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who know their need of God.  Blessed are those who mourn, those who are grieved for the suffering in God’s world.  Blessed are the meek, those who long for justice, the merciful and the pure.  Blessed are the peacemakers and those who will bear the cost of their discipleship.

In the gospels, Jesus lives this life of blessing.  He walks closely with God.  His heart breaks.  He speaks out for the poor.  He is merciful to the outcast. He is humble and holy and willing to walk the way of the cross.

Jesus offers his one, sinless and perfect human life so that the whole of creation can be blessed and reconciled to God.  Jesus is crucified that we might be forgiven.  God raised him from the dead so that all of us can enter life.  God poured out his Holy Spirit that we might know in the depths of our being that we are called and loved and blessed in order to be a blessing to all the people of the earth.

In every place in this diocese and across the world, the Church of Jesus is called to be like Jesus.  We are called and blessed that we might be a blessing.

We are a company of pilgrims who know our need of God who ground our lives in prayer and worship and scripture.  We are called to be a community of kindness and gentleness and mercy.  We are called to be a outspoken for justice and for the poor.  We are called to find the paths of holiness, to bear the cost of our discipleship, to recreate the peace of the world, and to walk always with humility before God and others.

We are called to be the Church of the Beatitudes: to know that we are blessed and to seek always to be a blessing to the communities we serve.

There are more than 800 churches in this diocese of Oxford and many more communities meeting in schools and colleges and chaplaincies.

All of those churches bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.  Local churches provide meaning, which help people make sense of their lives and find the paths of salvation and blessing.  In every church we should constantly be offering ways to help adults and children encounter and understand the love of God revealed in Jesus.

Churches are communities which provide deep listening and attention and give value to individuals.  They are places where people are known by name, where people come for blessing at the beginning and end of life and many life stages in between.

Churches draw people together from different backgrounds.  They create networks of relationships and the confidence vital to our prosperity.  Churches offer communities in which people can invest together and create a legacy, They are communities which combat loneliness and isolation endemic in society.  Churches at their best bring vitality and perspective to the whole of life.

Churches attempt great things together with the aim of blessing others.  We attempt great things in the field of education: offering the best possible education with Christian values to more than 55,000 pupils in 282 schools.  We attempt great things through our chaplaincies in universities and prisons and hospitals and the armed forces.  We attempt great things in creative partnerships with local government and the voluntary sector, making life better for all kinds of people. We attempt great things in social action, in building cohesion, in relieving poverty, in campaigns for justice, in our care for the earth.  The mission of the Church is the work of every Christian, of the whole people of God, called and blessed and changed, scattered like salt and called to be a blessing to God’s world.

We are far from perfect.  It is a cliché but it is true.  The biggest room in any Church, the biggest room in any diocese and the biggest room in any bishop is always the room for improvement.  I begin this new ministry conscious of my own weaknesses and imperfections.  As a Church we continue to wrestle with questions of ministry, of sexuality, of protecting the vulnerable, of unity, of the call to change.

Sometimes those questions and imperfections can seem overwhelming. In those moments we need to return to the beginning:  to God’s call to Abraham and Sarah; to Jesus gathering his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount; to the call to rediscover blessing and become in turn a blessing to God’s world.

Who am I?  Why am I here?  How shall I then live?

Who are we?  Why are we here together?  How shall we then live?

We are a people called by God.  We are called to know God’s blessing.  We are called to bless others .

We are the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church of the Beatitudes.

And we are called to be a blessing to God’s world.

Amen.

[1] Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name, Confronting Religious Violence, p. 13