Friday, 21 January 2011

Women as Bishops - Why it's the right thing.

Our PCC has asked me to preach on why I believe that women should be Bishops, in advance of the synod debates. So here's my take on it. It's rather longer than the usual offering and will be preached with overheads. This is in place of the third Sunday of Epiphany.

1 Tim.2:11-15
Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Galatians 3:23-29
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

John 20:11-18
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. Sermon

At our last PCC meeting I was asked if I would speak about women bishops in advance of the debate that we will be having at deanery synod soon. Let me say from the outset that we are going to be having women bishops in the Church of England; that is not in any doubt. The debates at the moment are about how to care for the spiritual needs of those who refuse their ministry.

I believe that my role today is more fundamental than that and is to do with brothers and sisters among us who are still unsure of the role of women in positions of leadership in the church, or who are sure it’s the right thing but not sure why. So what I’ve tried to do with this sermon is to address the most basic issues head on from the point of view of scripture. For many people there is a sense in which not accepting women as ordained priests and as bishops is based on what they believe the bible says.

Now we don’t have time to go through every relevant text, of which there are many, so we going to use just three to establish a principle for how we should read all of the texts. The specific question we’re asking is, are all pronouncements in the Bible absolute, or are some of them specific to a particular context?

So we’re going to look at two texts from the New Testament, together with the Gospel reading, and try and uncover what scripture really does say. But before we do that we need to be honest in acknowledging how we actually use scripture.

You see at the end of every reading we say, ‘This is the word of the Lord.’ Now at its most fundamental level that is meant to say something about how we treat the bible. However I suspect that we all mean different things by that phrase. For some of us there is a sense that the bible is God’s rule book for us and we need to take care to follow every word. Others may feel it is there to be used by the Holy Spirit for specific revelation, and for many there will be a sense of not knowing what the bible really is meant to be, other than something holy and special.

What I want to suggest to you this morning, as our foundation, is that a proper understanding of the bible requires that we acknowledge it to be a story of the spiritual journey of God’s people through the ages. What I mean by that is that there is a progression in revelation as the Lord moves his people from a limited knowledge and understanding to a greater and more complete understanding, and within that journey are a multitude of different cultural contexts and eras, so some of what is written in one place would be confusing if applied somewhere else.

Now for some of us there are immediately going to be alarm bells ringing because this could be interpreted as me saying that some parts of the bible can be discarded because they’re too old to be of value and we’ve moved on. That’s not what I’m saying. But what I do want to underline is that, even if we profess that the bible is all the word of God, we naturally still treat it as a progressive revelation whereby we discard some parts because they were culturally specific.

For example, who likes bacon sandwiches? Deuteronomy 14 verse 8 specifically prohibits eating bacon or even touching it. What about prawn cocktails or crab? Deuteronomy 14 verse 10 says, ‘Whatever (lives in water) but does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.’

Or how about those of you men who married women who were not virgins. Did you stone them to death? According to Deuteronomy 22:21 you should have done. I could go on, but the point is simple; we already treat the bible as revealing a progressive relationship with God that has developed in different contexts and different times. The trick is to understand what is culturally specific and what is universal.

We don’t keep some of those commandments anymore because we recognise that they applied to specific cultural circumstances and that is exactly the point: Culture has grown and changed and some of what was applied in the Bible simply does not speak into our modern situations.

For example, unless we understand the cultural specifics behind the letters St. Paul wrote we risk misapplying them in totally different situations for which they were never intended. So with that in mind let’s look at the first of the new testament passages where St. Paul writes to his dear friend, Timothy, at Ephesus.

First of all let me underline just how incredibly important the cultural context is in which we read this. At first sight to us this seems terribly inhibiting to women. But imagine you were a woman living in a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan and you received this letter from one of your authoritative leaders. What’s the first thing that strikes you?

What are the first four words?

'Let a woman learn...' If you lived in a cultural context in which men did everything, ran everything, made all the decisions and had all the control, this would be the most liberating thing you had ever read; a command from a spiritual leader that the women should learn!

No longer should they be kept ignorant so that they were virtual slaves, condemned to a life of serving the needs of their husbands. Knowledge, one of the most precious gifts in the universe, was to be given. Now you can see just how important the cultural context of understanding scripture is. And there’s more to come.

The skyline at Ephesus was dominated by the temple of Artemis at which only virgin women could serve as priestesses, and where they utterly dominated the men. The reason I mention that is because of the second thing we read in this passage. Paul says that he permits no woman to have authority over a man, or at least that’s what our translations say.

The trouble is, they are translations and there is a huge debate over the Greek word used because in the other contexts in which it is found in the ancient world the word basically means ‘dominate’ not ‘have authority over’. Now that begins to tell us something of the cultural baggage Timothy was having to deal with. Women in the Ephesian church may well have been aping the local context of women dominating men in the Cult of Artemis.

But St. Paul is telling Timothy that they must not copy what is happening in the Temple to Artemis. The women are not to dominate the men. The cultural context seems quite specific; that Christian women should follow Christ in their behaviour, not virgin priestesses from the cult of Artemis.

The next argument from this passage is that St. Paul seems to use creation texts to show that Adam was formed first and then Eve, and so that there is always a basic order intended by God in creation, that the male should be regarded as being first and so women should universally not have certain offices that give them priority over men.

However I don’t think that’s what it can mean because it would mean Paul is being inconsistent. You see in Romans 5:12-21 Paul refers to humanity’s problems stemming from the sin of one man, Adam, beginning with the words, ‘...just as sin came into the world through one man...’ There’s no mention whatsoever of Eve here; Adam is blamed entirely.

In other words Paul is using the creation narrative completely differently. Why? Simples? In Romans he’s making a different point because it’s a different context. To the Romans he’s trying to make a point about how Jesus, one man, could remove the sin that one man, Adam, brought into the world.

In both these cases Paul is trying to make an argument and using a creation text to illustrate what he means. If you try and teach both his metaphors as universal absolutes they contradict each other because in 1 Timothy he says sin came through a woman whereas in Romans he says it came through a man.

The context is everything and when St. Paul is writing to Timothy at Ephesus he is trying to stop the women of that church from bringing the ways of the Temple of Artemis into the worship of the one true God. This also accounts for the childbearing argument.

Again if the priestesses which led the Temple of Artemis were all virgins who dominated the men you can see here that in this context St. Paul is making a valid, if rather radical point, that, again in this context the women may need to marry and have children in order to live a radically different life from the one they once had under Artemis.

Whilst virginity may be highly prized in some parts of the church, in this context it had become idolatrous and was therefore getting in the way of their relationship with Christ.

It’s a little like Jesus telling the rich man that he had to sell all his worldly goods if he wanted salvation. It was not a universal command to us all but a specific one to a man whose personal context was that riches were in the way of his relationship with God. So for the women of Ephesus, the exalted position of virginity, highly prized by St Paul elsewhere, might need to be given up in this context because virginity had become an idol for them.

All of this is a long winded way of me trying to make it as clear as I can that, when we’re reading specific commandments in the Bible we must be crystal clear about the context in which they are made because they were real letters written to real people in real situations and what was needed in one place might be different from what was needed elsewhere.

But, as I said above, some pronouncements in the Bible are indeed universal. One such is our second reading. It is still couched in a particular context, which in this church was the Galatian church which had been infiltrated by those Paul called Judaisers. These were basically people who insisted that if you were going to be a Christian, you had to also keep the Jewish law; all of it; in its entirety. Basically they were reducing Christianity to being just another Jewish sect.

St. Paul was writing to them to try and persuade that in Christ people were set free from the tyranny of trying and failing to keep the law, and instead lived under the grace and forgiveness of Christ. Now clearly for us the verse which is of greatest importance is the one which says,
‘...there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’

I believe that St. Paul was specifically noting here that, if the Galatians went back to the Jewish law, they would have to reintroduce circumcision and put back the divide between men and women, and he specifically wanted to avoid that!!! The societies of that period had treated men and women very differently, with women being controlled by men. The advent of Christ had changed all that and St. Paul wanted to avoid a loss of the freedom that had come.

In the early churches, before we lost our nerve, women did take on leadership roles in the church, and this was clearly intended by Christ by the way he included women. Now I know that some people will say, why then did he only choose men as his disciples? They will say that it proves only men can be church leaders. But that’s rubbish.

You see you could just as easily say that he chose twelve Palestinians who were circumcised and had beards. I only qualify in having a beard; does that disqualify me from leadership? Of course not. The reason the twelve were following him was cultural. Jesus was seen as a rabbi. All rabbis were men.

The disciples of a rabbi were chosen by the rabbi because he felt that they could learn under him to do what he did. Therefore Jesus could only choose men as his disciples; culturally speaking they were learning to be rabbis like him.

But in all other respects Jesus interacted with women in a way that no other rabbi would do. We know that Mary, the sister of Martha, sat at his feet to learn. Women were not permitted to do that, but Jesus positively encouraged it. Women financially supported Jesus and were among his followers, taking an active role, and as we read in our Gospel reading, the first witness to the resurrection was a woman, Mary of Magdalene.

What makes that so specifically important is that under Jewish law at that time a woman was not permitted to be a legal witness, but Jesus chose to show himself first to her. It was no accident. He could have shown himself to John and Peter, but he waited for them to leave the tomb and for Mary to be alone.

What’s more there is plenty of evidence that in the early church Mary Magdalene became known as ‘The apostle to the apostles.’ The reason for that is Jesus sending her, where the word apostle means ‘one who is sent’, to the apostles to deliver her testimony, ‘I have seen the Lord.’ Jesus counted her as the one who should deliver the first news of the resurrection.

So to those who detract from the ministry of women as bishops, I would have to say that, if it was good enough for Jesus to send a woman then with the biggest news of all time, why on earth should we be questioning whether he is sending women now? If St. Paul said that, ‘In Christ there is no male or female,’ shouldn’t we be rejoicing that through Jesus, God is restoring his intended order to creation.

Let me remind you that Genesis 1:27 says, ‘So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ In other words it is only when you have men and women working in partnership that you see the full characteristics of the image of God.

I cannot tell you how much of a blessing it is to work alongside Rachel and Margaret and have a different set of insights on ministry. And when I spend time in the company of women and see how they are more likely to work together than in competition I realise just how much the Church of England needs their ministry as deacons, priests and as bishops.

If God created us in his image as male and female then I would go so far as to say, without women, the house of bishops is biased and incomplete. For the Church of England to grow and thrive we need to follow the direction of scripture which, I believe, makes it clear that God’s plan for us requires men and women to be working together in every part of the church.

And for me, if the next Bishop of Birmingham was a woman, I would be quite content, for if she were God’s chosen minister to the diocese, then I would pledge allegiance to her God-given authority, and from my heart I believe it would truly be God-given. Amen.

J. J. Davis, First Timothy 2:12: The ordination of women and Paul’s use of creation narratives,

L. Goddard and C. Hendry, The Gender Agenda, IVP, 2010.

Women and the Church (WATCH)

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Second Sunday of Epiphany : Names have power


1 Cor. 1:1-9
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

John 1:29-42
The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’.
Some of us may remember that phrase from our childhood. It’s the kind of thing that we might have said in the playground to someone being verbally nasty to us. It was meant to be a way to let someone’s taunts just slide off us. Except that the truth that we all really know is that bones can heal and scars can fade, but persistent unkind words may stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Chief amongst the verbal damaging is the names that someone may call us and the reason for that is that names have immense power, and this is something that we seem to have forgotten in our enlightened secular age. Nowadays the names given to children seem to be influenced by whoever is the latest pop star or celebrity. But names have meaning and I think each of us has at least three or four names, and by that I don’t mean our middle names. Let me explain.

Firstly there is the name that we were given by our parents. That’s usually the only one we think of and often it is just used as a label to distinguish who we mean in conversation. But that name has a meaning. Then there is the name that we call ourselves. We may never actually know it, but the name encapsulates how we think of ourselves and is often dictated by the third name we have.

This third name is the one that other people use when they think of us, or talk to us, or about us. It may be a simple nickname, or it may be the way someone uses our name, the tone of their voice; the set of their face. Whatever it is this third name will undoubtably influence the name we have given ourselves.

Then there is the name that God calls us by. This is the most important name because this is our true self. We may not know it ourselves yet, but God does. It’s quite possible that this name is the name our parents gave us. I know of at least one person who has heard the literal voice of God calling them by name and God used their whole name, not the shortened form that other people use, but it was the name he was named with by his parents.

So we all have names, and those names have power because those names have meaning and that meaning and power runs as a common thread through the readings we have today. If we start with the first letter to the Corinthian church the first word in the entire letter is from the sender, Paul, but Paul is not his real name, or at least it is not the name his parents gave him.

We know from the book of Acts, which is incidentally addressed to Theophilus, which means ‘Friend of God’, that St. Paul began life with the name Saul. Saul means, ‘The one who was prayed for, or the one who was sent as a response to prayer’. It has this sense of asking God to send someone and this is the one who was sent in response. But at some point Saul changed his name to Paul by his own choice. Why?

I’m not sure we can ever be certain of this. Paul was the Latin version of the name Saul, and Paul was a Roman citizen, yet he did not need this new name. I have often wondered whether it has something to do with the meaning of the name. Paul means small, or perhaps humble and maybe has the connotations of. ‘...not all that significant.’

And so I have often wondered whether he chose this name as a mark of repentance for his earlier persecution of the church. After what he had done he couldn’t think of himself as someone that had been prayed for, the name Saul, so he went with Paul because perhaps he felt small in his own mind. That name change could have a powerful effect on who he became.

When we look at the Gospel reading we get several new names. John was known by most people as ‘The Baptizer’. He had been given a new name by those who came to him because of what he did, and that name came from people who recognised what he did as having lasting value in their lives. It was a good name to have. Names have power, and people would have been drawn to him by the new name.

But then John himself gives Jesus a new name when he twice refers to him as ‘Lamb of God.’ That nickname he gives Jesus is such a powerful name that two of his own disciples leave his side to follow this new Rabbi. But why? What was so powerful about the nickname, ‘Lamb of God’? I think it’s because it has powerful sacrificial connotations.

The blood of a lamb was used at Passover to remind the Jews of how they were kept safe from the wrath of God when the angel of death went over the Egyptians. But this name is much more powerful because the name is not the Lamb of the People, but the Lamb of God. It’s no wonder that two of John’s disciples left him to follow Jesus. Names have power.

And then finally there is Simon. Simon’s name means ‘to hear or to listen’, yet Jesus gives him a new name, Peter, which means rock. Of all the name changes this is perhaps the most significant here because it is the only occasion in these readings where we get the most important name, the name given not by our parents, nor our associates, nor by ourselves. In Simon Peter’s case we discover his true name, given by God - Peter, a rock.

What makes this interesting is that it really does encapsulate his nature. You see Simon means, ‘to listen’, yet one of the clearest things we pick up about Simon was that he was not good at listening. There are so many occasions throughout the New Testament where Simon gets it wrong because he doesn’t listen. He gets berated by Jesus for misunderstanding what kind of Saviour Jesus is to be because he won’t listen when Jesus says he must die for the people.

But as a rock he is someone who will get on and do things. I imagine Peter as someone around whom others will gather because he speaks up. I don’t know that Peter would have seen it in himself, but Jesus, who really knows people, saw it in him and gave him a new name that really encapsulated who he was. And names have power. Armed with his new name, Peter would have known what was expected of him, which is perhaps why he felt pain so acutely when he failed.

So what’s your name? Which of the names that you have is the one that has real power over you? Is it the name that your parents gave you? Or has that just become a label? Is it the name that your beloved calls you? The power of a secret loving name should never be underestimated in how much strength it bestows. Or do you call yourself by a disparaging name that you have allowed to steal from you. Let that old name pass away. Let it no longer have power over you.

You see God has a name for you, and in prayer you should seek out what that name is, because the name God gives you bestows great power on you in terms of who he has created you to be, and what he wants you to do. Names have power. What’s your true, God-given, name?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Baptism of Christ: Power vs Love

To help with the context - this sermon was given at St. Mary's, Wythall this morning as they embark on an interregnum. Thanks guys for the welcome!

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then John consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’


Matthew’s Gospel has some unique features in it that are not found in the other Gospels. Today’s Gospel reading includes one such feature as it is the only place where the dialogue between John the Baptist and Jesus is recorded.

What I’d like to do today is focus a little on that to begin with, and perhaps we ought to start by asking why Matthew included this dialogue. I think that there are three reasons; two practical, and one spiritual. Let’s think about the practical reasons first before we get to the more interesting spiritual side of all this.

From a practical point of view we have to get back into Matthew’s culture a little. Those who were there were well aware that Jesus had been baptised by John. At the time the Gospels were written there were still plenty of disciples of John the Baptist and it is quite possible that they were using the fact of Jesus’s baptism by John as a way for them to claim that John was greater than Jesus. By including this dialogue Matthew makes it clear that John declares his feelings that he should be being baptised by Jesus, not the other way around.

The second practical reason is that, once again those who were there may have been suggesting that Jesus felt that he was sinful and needed a baptism of repentance. Once again, John’s verbal deference to Jesus shows that wasn’t the case. However it is the third reason, the spiritual reason, which is the most important one to us, and to understand that we need to turn to the reason that Jesus gives to John.

He says, ‘Let it be so for now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness’. The words Jesus uses here are about an active doing of something in order that something..., that, ‘...all righteousness’, should be fulfilled, and in order to understand Jesus’s baptism and what it means to us, we need to understand exactly what he means by, ‘ order to fulfil all righteousness’.

I spent a long while reading around this, trying to get the taste of it, and I think that Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, puts it best. He says that Jesus’s decision to be baptised, and his description of it as fulfilling all righteousness, meant that Jesus was utterly determined to humbly identify with those who he came to save in every conceivable way.

Baptism is a mark of repentance, of turning away from the old life of doing what we want to do and turning to the Light, to follow God’s plans for us. By being baptised Jesus was, in all humility, sharing and taking part in our penitence, and Matthew includes all of this to show us what kind of Messiah, of Saviour, Jesus truly was and is.

You see many of the Jews at that time were looking for a political saviour; one who would come riding in on a stallion in power, to set the nation free from Roman oppression, but right from the beginning of his Gospel Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is not like that. Instead of coming to have power over his people, Jesus comes to identify with them, to live their life, to represent them, and ultimately to die for them.

Instead of coming from above in power, Jesus comes from within in love. I once heard a preacher draw the distinction between power and love saying that they are mutually exclusive. If you come in power, it is to make people do what you want them to do, but if you come in love, it is to set them free, to be the people they were created to be.

John’s words to Jesus declares him to be the one who comes from above, and John expects Jesus to come in power, but by his reply and his actions, Jesus declares he is one of us, coming in love to save us from ourselves and to set us free. Now before I apply that to our baptism, let’s take a look at what happens next.

Jesus comes up from the water of baptism and the Holy Spirit comes down upon him, like a dove, and a voice is heard from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We also need to understand this in order to apply it to our own baptisms, but I don’t think we need to go into too great a depth.

I have already described how Jesus comes in love, not power, and the dove confirms that, as the dove is a symbol of peace. The words of God, declaring his pleasure in his Son, confirm the words and actions of Jesus. Jesus comes to bring us the peace of God, and the Father declares that this is his will. By coming in love rather than power, Jesus is fulfilling his Father’s will. Now, what does this mean to us?

When we are baptised, we are baptised into Christ. This shows that our baptisms have more than one meaning. Clearly there is the washing with water to symbolise that in Christ we are washed clean of our sins. Also, as a sacrament, baptism is an outward sign, that we can all see, of an inward new reality; that this baptised person is joined to God in a way we might struggle to describe in words, but can experience in a similar way to how a married couple grow to experience each other’s love and presence.

But there is something else too. If we are baptised into Christ, we are also baptised into his ministry, and that is a ministry of love and of service; it is not a ministry of power. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we get so antsy about powerful Christian leaders: there’s something about their pushiness and power that seems at odds with Jesus.

Just as Jesus came to serve, and to love, and to identify with others, so we are also called to do the same. If we are in him, we are baptised with his baptism, and that means that if he identified with others in order to help them to be free to become who they were created to be, then we have the same mission; to help set people free.

Over the coming few months, and maybe more, as a church you will have to look to your own resources and your own gifts. Indeed that’s the great release that can come in an interregnum - that the congregation must look to what they bring to the church. It will give your next vicar some ready-prepared building blocks to begin work with. So as you start to think about what your gifts might be, here’s the question you can use to work out what to do with them. Can you, by the gifts you have been given, do something to set people free?

Or to put it another way, what are you doing to set people free, because that is what your baptism into Christ is supposed to make happen. Some of you are working in industry and maybe in positions of management and leadership. What’s your leadership style? Is it one of using your power to get things done, regardless of the cost to people?

Or do you come alongside your co-workers, valuing them for who they are. Managing people with a servant heart can be very difficult, but it’s not impossible. It can be hard because people can treat that kind of attitude with distain, seeking to take advantage of us. However, some people do respond well to it, because they see us living out the Gospel that we claim has made a difference to us and to how we live.

What about those of you involved in a more local community sense. The same thing applies. How can you be encouraging to those lacking in self-confidence? How can you involve the lonely? How can you, by your actions, help to set free those who have had their sense of self-worth taken from them by those who have had power over them?

If we are baptised Christians, then we are baptised into Christ. His calling to serve is therefore our calling. We, too, can trust in the Holy Spirit to help us, because so many of these things go against our selfish desires and are hard for us, but in Christ and through Christ we have a part to play in setting people free. That is our baptism and it is a worthy cause to live for, and one day I hope that we too will hear our Father say, ‘This is my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased’. Amen.