29 Church Street, Hamilton, Bermuda HM CX

The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity

Bishop Nick’s Chrism Sermon

By Bishop Nick

Chrism Worship, 26th March 2024

Thanks for being here tonight in this Holiest of weeks where we are invited once more to renew the vows we all made in following Jesus at our baptism and confirmation, and also made in the fulfilling of our various offices. 

It is sobering that we do this during this week as we follow our master, our leader, our saviour, and Lord on his journey — to do , as he says to God the father, ‘not my own will but yours be done!’ This journey to that place of ultimate weakness and folly in the worlds eyes — that place of execution on a cross, naked and condemned, cursed and forsaken for us. 

Worldly wisdom says you will never accomplish anything by weakness, or by gentleness, or through humility. And yet in God, man’s wisdom and hubris and discernment is thwarted. God’s power works supremely through what we consider weakness.

And it is just as well as we are truly weak in many ways — we stumble and fall over our sins and insufficiencies again and again. Too often we operate out of fear, out of guilt, the desire to please other people, out of pride or hate, prejudice, and self-interest. We may present one face to the world, but inside all of us, if we are even a tiny but self aware should know that we contribute to the difficulties we face in life.  

Our culture today paints us a victims (and that is so convenient) because if I am a victim, the things that go wrong are always someone else’s fault and someone else’s responsibility to solve. But whilst many of us have suffered at the hands of others, we are more so victims of ourselves. And whilst others may be to blame, in part we also are all contributors to our down falls and failures. How blessed it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity! Indeed, but each of us must ask what is the source of our disunity, and we need to ask, how have I contributed to it? As Alexander Solzhenitsyn says, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years.” In our hearts is this shifting line, sometimes good and wonderful, but equally broken and dysfunctional which causes the rupture in our relationships.  

And yet, in his limitless grace and mercy God choses the weak in the world — the low, the despised, the things that are not! When Jesus speaks in John’s gospel of the hour coming when he draws all people to myself, that ‘all’ is so wonderfully inclusive.  

Paul in writing the church of Corinth says, “Consider your own call, brother and sisters…”

And this is what we do tonight — consider our call.

God’s first call on us was not to specific ministerial positions. His first call was illustrated as he walked by the sea of Galilee and invited those first disciples to follow him, “Come…”

Why he chose them? This is known only unto him. 

Why he chose us? Equally so. 

But it is his doing. His selection. His choice. He does not say consider your gifts and skills, your looks and character, for there is nothing there of which to boast. No, consider your call. Boast in the Lord who chose you.

The maker of the universe, knowing every single anxious thought, every single piece of brokenness and fear, called you, none the less. Our identity, our security, our worth is not to be found in our credentials, race, or education. It is not found in holding a Bishop’s license or wearing a robe of office. It is because God saw you and wanted you to be a part of his great rescue mission for this world. He did it not because you are special but because he loved you.

I do not think we fully appreciate what this means. If we did, we would not be so quick to take offense, so quick to run from problems, and so quick to justify ourselves and defend ourselves. We would not be so frightened of rejection or need the praise and recognition of others. We would not hold onto power and our good name. If we understood God’s love for us in calling us we would be quick to forgive, we would take risks in sharing our faith, and we would stand against the tide of this world’s culture that strives to push us into its mould.

If we truly understand this love for ourselves, how different we would be, but equally how humble and grateful and thankful we would be. We complain and grumble because we think too highly of ourselves and because we want significance and comfort. We feel we deserve different.

But if we truly understand this we would also recognize that those to whom and with whom we minister, are equally called, precious, and beloved — and so we would put up with them and seek to love them more. This morning I woke up with a negative head space and was glad to be reminded of the collect prayer — ‘grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility’ Indeed!

And finally, remember it is he who does the choosing. We did not chose God, he chose and called us. Unlike a job for which we apply, work at, and leave at will if it does not work out, God has chosen each of us with a different path, a different purpose, and there is no let out clause. You cannot covet someone else’s situation, gifts or purpose for you have your own. The implication is that we cannot chose who to minister to, or avoid the things that we find uncomfortable or difficult. As they say, ‘If God has brought you to it, he wants to see you through it, and is more than able to do so.’ Therefore, gird up your loins. We may say, ‘I don’t like this, I don’t want this, I didn’t chose this,’ but what does Jesus say in this very week — once more ‘not my will but thine be done.’ 

And all of this is before we even think about the gifts that God has given to us.  

The problem in Corinth is that amongst the growing church in that city were some very gifted people — people with spectacular spiritual gifts, prophecy, tongues, miracles, and people blessed with material prosperity, but they were also childishly competitive about them and exercised their gifts in a haughty, entitled manner — ranking their relative degrees of importance and looking down on those whose gifts were not so spectacular. Therefore, Paul reminds them of the body — and of the choosing and election of gifts by the spirit and that the better way was not giftedness but love. ‘You may speak in the tongues of men and of angels. But if you have love you are…’

This why he begins the letter with this reminder that true greatness is not in having the things that the world considers wise or powerful but to remember that God often chooses the weak and the low — so that when we do the spectacular, when we exercise our gifts and people say, ‘wow’ or ‘thanks,’ or are encouraged, healed or built up — we say, ‘praise the Lord.’ The aim of preaching or pastoral care is not so that people say, ‘great sermon, great person,’ but, ‘what a great God.’ More of him and less of me.

It is a huge and undeserved privilege to be an ambassador of the king, but the way to be truly great is be the servant of all. More of him and less of me.

The way to greatness is not to have great ideas but to allow him to speak and act through you. This happens when we allow him to shape us — when we become not more professional and more competent, but more like him. That happens as we spend time with him, as we contemplate his glory, his beauty, and his majesty. As it says, one day we will be like him, but now we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another as we look upon him — the one who in grace bids us come to follow him and to die to ourselves. 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, do not boast in anything but in him, and though others may see you as foolish and powerless, know that in God’s economy greatness and glory lie in giving it all up, considering it rubbish that you may gain him, then there will be unity as we together gaze upon his beauty. 

But I want to end by reflecting on Jesus and Paul’s conversation on the road to Damascus. ‘Saul, Saul why are you kicking against the goads?’ When we resit God’s call and when we fight against his will, our hearts are restless and we are never satisfied, but when we submit ourselves to his leading, our ways are those of peace, joy, and contentment m leaving us free to love and serve and to know the ultimate and glorious purpose of our existence. I reflect on the conversation between Jesus, John, and Peter at the end of John’s gospel where Peter, having been told that his way was one of suffering, looked at John and asked, ‘but what about him?’ to which Jesus replied, ‘what’s that to you? As for you, follow me.’