Sermon: Installation of the Bishop of Jarrow
The Right Reverend Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow
Preached on 16th September 2007
by The Right Reverend Mark Bryant
I would not want you to think that Bishop Tom had invited Victor Meldrew to become the new Bishop of Jarrow, but you will perhaps understand it if I say that there is this afternoon for me there is a sense of "I do not believe it". Inevitably my mind goes back to that rather geeky school boy who looked into this cathedral for the very first time some 40 years ago, wondering if he would get a place at the university here and it really IS rather strange that that distinctly nervous school boy finds himself standing here today in this place and I have to say equally - if not more nervous. Quite simply "I do not believe it"!
But that is about me and that is not we are here about. I can feel my father gently but firmly reminding me "A sermon must be about the Lord Jesus" - and so we must get back on track to Jesus who shows us how deep the Father's love is for us, and to the Spirit who strengthens us to do things beyond our wildest dreams.
But of course that sense of "I do not believe it " is in many ways what the story of Jesus and the Gospel that we proclaim is all about. For the Good News which Jesus brings is about the extra-ordinary power of God to change and transform individuals/churches/communities - so that as people look at their lives/churches/communities they find themselves saying "I do not believe it!" I do not believe that this could have happened"
And my sense already is that this diocese is full to overflowing of those sorts of stories - the stories that make us stand back and say "I do not believe it".
If you had said to some back in the days when the Angel of the North was very first discussed that it would become an icon of the North East; that people who come and lay flowers at its feet and draw back their bedroom curtains to look at it as they said their good night prayers
If you said to one of those who pioneered the building of Sacriston Methodist church in 1898 that one day he would be sharing a church with the local Church of England congregation
If you pointed out to many people in this region that each year 4.1 million hours of voluntary work is undertaken by people from faith communities and that within South Tyneside each week more than 440 grouops are hosted by faith communities - time and agin people would say "I do not believe it".
And there will be stories of individuals - often unknown- who have discovered something of the extraordinary power of God to change their lives so that as they look at how their lievs have changed they too say "I do not believe it"
Time and time again we find ourselves saying "Who could hjave imagined it?"
And that is surely what Jesus is saying as he tells the parable of the mustard seed. Who could have imagined as you look at that tiny seed that one day it will become the greatest of shrubs and become a tree wherein the birds of the air come and make their nests in its branches
And it is of course that sense of "Who could have imagined it" that we must never lose sight of
a.. Bishops come and go b.. Pastoral reorganisation, Health Service reorganisation comes and goes
c.. Chief executives and Vicars come and go but we must never lose sight of that big picture that speaks of the power of God to change and transform individuals and churches and communities
I love the story of the small boy from the days of the building of St Paul's cathedral. He was wheeling a barrow carrying some of the mud and muck from the foundations of the new cathedral. A gentleman stopped and asked him "What are you doing?" To which the young boy replied "I am helping Sir Christopher Wren to build a great cathedral" We must never lose sight of that big picture.
We must never lose sight of that big picture that we exist to serve and proclaim a God who time and time again leaves us gasping "I do not believe it ". And the sad thing is that so often the day to day running of things can make us take out eye off the big picture
In the Health Service the constant - if understandable pressure to make the sums add up means that we too easily forget that what we are really about is creating healthy communities for all
In our schools the need to be up to speed with the latest well meaning governing initiative means that it is too easy to forget that our real task is to equip all of our young people for the lives that lie ahead of them
And in our churches the worry about whether we shall get another Vicar and the anxiety about whether we can make ends meet make it all to easy to forget that what we really here to do is to change the lives of individuals and communities in the power of God
Perhaps one of things we need to find ways to do is to support each other in holding on to that big picture, so that time and again we find ourselves exclaiming. "Look what amazing things have happened - I do not believe it!" And perhaps it is in that area of helping us all to support one another that Bishops have a key role to play. (And if that is the case I am sure you will tell me - and I certainly hope that you will.)
But if as community and church we are called with God's help to create those situations where we stand back in awe and wonder and exclaim "I do not believe it" there are also those situations in our communities where we find ourselves joining with Jesus in saying "I do not believe it " - for surely Jesus must say
I do not believe it that in this nation which is prosperous beyond the wildest dreams of so many there are every night men and women literally homeless and penniless on the streets of this diocese because they are seeking asylum
I do not believe that nations which can rightly express such concern and interest in the abduction of one girl can apparently scarcely notice when 40,000 children die every single day from starvation
I do not believe it that people within one part of the nation can live so much longer lives than those in another part of the country
And surely Jesus must say
I do not believe it that there are so many who live their lives feeling lonely and unloved when I have commissioned my Church to tell them of my love for them
So surely our task together is to work, with God's help, to change and trasmnform the lives of individuals and communities in this part of our nation so that those things that make Jesus say "I do not believe it " become those other "I do not believe it " stories where we stand back in awe and wonder and thanksgiving.
I am thrilled to be allowed to be part of this. And you really do not have Victor Meldrew as your new Bishop of Jarrow.