September 15, 2019
Categorised in: Sermons
Preached by the Right Revd Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester using Exod 32:7-14; 1 Tim 1:12-17 at the Installation of Canon Andy Trenier, Canon Precentor and Sacrist on Sunday 15th September 2019, the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity.
We begin with a quiet moment recalling those who gave their lives and fought for freedom in the Battle of Britain. Welcome to Canon Trenier and many congratulations! When I called to offer you the role you were appropriately surprised, but I also sensed that you were excited by all the new possibilities open to you now. The image of young lad with a new set of toys came to mind. There are, indeed, many treasures here – the choral tradition, this wonderful place and all the many activities. We look forward to working with you and you with us. So welcome Andy, Emma, Hugo, Louis & Max. Also welcome to their wider family and to all who’ve travelled to be here today, especially those from Chingford. Thank you for coming to be with us and to celebrate this occasion with Andy.
I wonder what you felt when you heard the readings earlier? After all, there’s some strong images and statements in both the Old and New Testament readings. The Old Testament reading includes some pretty graphic images of God’s judgement, with God threatening to consume the people in his wrath. The New Testament reading includes Paul’s past-life self-portrait of a violent man who now realises he’s the worst of sinners. You may not react positively to images of judgement or sin. Neither of these are popular images for divinity and humanity in today’s liberal societies. So what do we do with them?
I was brought up on the Book of Common Prayer – the old words come back as soon as I start saying them. But I remember becoming unhappy about the Holy Communion liturgy. I didn’t like the fact that after we’d been forgiven and received the Sacrament we returned again to remember our sinfulness, in the middle of the Gloria. I recall taking this up with my superviser when I was a postgraduate student at Oxford. I was privileged to have Rowan Williams. Rowan brought me back to the priority of God: that it is God who has drawn us into his life, and we must be open to his judgement on how we are living. So what would it mean to start with God’s judgement in this Brexit crisis? – would we not find in God a passionate concern for justice and for the vulnerable? God doesn’t do politics, but politicians cannot not do God (and I too sit in the Lords). God’s judgement is for justice, goodness and reconciliation. A concern for the common good of all is something that requires good judgment and justice.
May I also persuade you to reconsider sin? I think sin is actually good news, if you’re wondering why it is that human beings, who can be so wonderful at times, can also be so horrible. Sin doesn’t explain this, but it does describe it. That’s how we are, even the best of us. Paul once thought he was the best – he says in other writings that he’s blameless according to the Law – but here he calls himself the foremost of sinners. Before becoming a Christian Paul was pretty horrible. He was zealous in his violence against Christians. Unlike Moses, he called down God’s wrath on them. But encountering Jesus he was overwhelmed by God’s grace. Paul’s sin limited him from seeing the bigger God: the God who loves Gentiles; the God who loves all sinners. So because of God’s grace Paul reaches out to Gentiles and gives glory to the only God who is immortal and invisible. [Paul’s life was changed by encountering Jesus – he repented. Each of us could ask where God’s grace is helping us overcome sin. I would want us to consider just what it means for us to live more simply. Our over-consumption is killing the planet.]
So, Andy, what to make of all this and your new role as Precentor and Sacrist? Well, I look forward to quality discussions about the liturgy: to continue my education and improve my understanding, but, be prepared! – I’ve been tuned up by some of the best minds. More seriously, I do hope that you’ll be a resource not only for this Cathedral and its worship life, but also more widely across the Diocese. You come with loads of experience and with a reputation for creative worship that embraces the traditions and includes everybody. My request is that you make the under 35s of this Diocese your top priority.
Also, two things from the readings. First, be like Moses and pray for the people of God with God’s mercy in your heart. If you pray for people like this, amazing things happen and you’ll enter other people’s challenges, but also God’s heart will enter yours. So pray for the Cathedral congregations. Pray for those who are not here but who could be if only they could get across the threshold. Our prayerful welcome is so important. You are charged with building the Cathedral’s prayer-life, drawing us into a pattern of everyday faith: of sharing God’s life.
Second, share the reality of God in your life: what feeds you and enables you to live by faith in God. It’s so easy for those of us who’ve studied theology to stand back with a critical distance from texts like the ones we’ve heard today, and to offer a perspective that is more about us and our modern culture than about the living God who has shared his life with us, and has overcome the reality of sin and the judgement of death. But our academic views do not touch hearts and lives. Andy, feed people with a lively faith that comes from your heart and out of your life. Let others see the enthusiasm that God has given to you, and how it is rooted in God’s grace and overflows for the uplifting of others. You will be a blessing to others, I’m sure.
Lastly, could you please lend your ability and enthusiasm to the Chichester-Winchester Diocesan cricket team. Chelmsford’s loss is our gain. However, your first team is the Chapter, who will welcome your energy and creativity and vision. I’m sure you’ll enjoy working with your new colleagues and they with you, and you’ll quickly come to appreciate the depth, life and humour of Winchester. May the Lord bless you and your family. Amen.