Moving Mountains

February 23, 2020

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Preached by the Right Reverend Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester, using 2 Kings 2:1-12; Matt 17:9-23  at the Installation of New Canons on Sunday 23rd February 2020, the Sunday next before Lent.

Dodie, Mike and Linda, many congratulations. My thanks to all who have travelled to be here today, from within and beyond the Diocese, to celebrate with our new Canons. You are all most welcome.
Do we need ambitious clergy? Yes, we do. But ‘aspirational clergy’ might be a better way of describing the need we have in the Church of England today. We need people who are aspirational in wanting to make a difference. We need those who will face the challenges and courageously commit themselves.
In Matthew we see Jesus, who’s just come down the mountain where Moses and Elijah have appeared, as his glory is revealed to his close disciples. Now he’s with his remaining disciples who’ve been unable to deal with a difficult ministry challenge. He tells them, and the crowd, that they lack not aspiration but faith. Jesus declares that if anyone has faith the size of a mustard seed, they will move mountains.
The sort of clergy we need today are those who see the mountains but, by faith, are not put off: those who see mountains as places where they will meet with the God who moves mountains. What’s the biggest mountain? Death, and Jesus overcame it in his resurrection. Only in the light of resurrection is mountain-moving possible. Only after God has acted to raise Jesus from the dead, is this faith possible. So only after the resurrection are the disciples told they can tell this story of Jesus on the mountain.
What difference does the resurrection make? David Ford, who spoke at our recent Diocesan Conference, summarises the impact of the resurrection: ‘God acts; Jesus appears; the disciples are transformed.’ (Self and Salvation 212). It is the transformed disciples who turn the world upside-down. These are the mountain-movers whose aspiration is based on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
So why did Elijah appear with Jesus? Elijah and Elisha are both called men of God. It’s a term used in West Africa to describe clergy. I remember getting fast-tracked in airport queues as Nigerian officials called out, “man of God coming through!” But the most striking thing about Elijah and Elisha is that they weren’t entirely what you might expect of men of God. The stories in Kings paint them warts and all: there is a moral ambiguity in these narratives. Yet Elijah and Elisha were aspirational not just ambitious prophets. God used the aspiration of Elijah, Elisha and their company of prophets to protect Israel.
Linda, Mike & Dodie, you are aspirational people. We like having you. You’ve looked at mountains and gone about moving them. We know you’re not perfect and yet we need your type of prophetic, Elijah- Elisha ministry. The C of E needs to be more evangelistic and socially engaging; we need greater financial generosity; and better relations with the Communion. We need your example, as aspirational Canons.
Canon Dodie, you have pioneered partnership links between schools in UK and Africa, building up relations between schools here and in Mityana Diocese, Uganda, including teacher exchange. This is a particularly significant piece of work given Winchester Diocese’ commitment to education and Companion Links. We are making Dodie’s programme Diocesan-wide and part of other Companion links. Just this last week a group of teachers were visiting Rwanda. It also happens that the Bishop of Mityana, +Stephen, is going to be the new Archbishop of Uganda. Canon Dodie is travelling with Bishop David and Helen, Catherine our Dean and Robin, for the enthronement service. Our relationship with Uganda is incredibly important.
Canon Mike, you are good parish priest others can look up to. It’s not been easy for you in recent years, but you’ve faced the challenges and not given up. Not only have you served in this Diocese for many years, you have done all sorts of things alongside parish ministry. Most recently I have regularly seen you at Diocesan Advisory Panels where we meet those who believe they are called by God to ordained ministry. I’m grateful for the input and experience you bring to that discernment process. Along with me you have also had the privilege of walking alongside a daughter who has been ordained. As you know, clergy children are the reality check on our ministry, but despite us, they responded to God’s call.
Canon Linda, you carry the wide-ranging responsibility of the united parish of Newnham, that includes Greywell, Mapledurwell, Nately Scures, and Up Nately, within the wider Benefice of North Hampshire Downs. Your vocation came to you later in life and so you represent those who find that God never lets us go but always has something else for us to do. You have worked in the Benefice of the Future project, helping to bring a new pattern of worship, establishing Messy Church and encouraged people to take the Bishop’s Commission for Mission. You also support the England football team – I mean the Lionesses. I’m only sorry we didn’t bring the Cup home but that it went to America. Perhaps that was too big a mountain for now!
Thank you all for your aspirational leadership. You might not be the most comfortable people to have around, but you’ve made a difference and I’m sure you will bring much to the wider College of Canons.