The Bishop delivered a sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral to mark the Ordination of Deacons 2015.
There was a one minute silence yesterday to recall the mass murder of British holiday makers in Tunisia. Next Tuesday in this Cathedral Church there will be a service to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the London bombings – no wonder there are calls to introduce anti-radicalisation courses in schools or to ban religion from the public square all together.
But you cannot exorcise the satanic by creating a spiritual vacuum. Other life forms conform, without the possibility of conscious choice, to the laws laid down for them. We humans are shape shifters who shape ourselves and our futures by referring beyond ourselves to some god or more often an idea like success, wealth, power. Sometimes tragically we manufacture a god in our own image, an idol created when a bruised and humiliated ego surreptitiously re-ascends by projecting its own rage and lust for power.
No doubt social and economic factors have a role in incubating religious extremism but the religious element cannot simply be reduced to something else. It is part of being human to worship and if there is no worthy object of worship then the vacuum is filled by something banal or dangerous.
Today there is no doubt about our intention. We are met to worship and adore God who so loved the world that he was generous and gave himself to us in the person of his only Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s communication, his word made flesh and blood. His way of self-giving love, revealed in all its depth on the cross, is the way to participation in the life of God and into building the civilisation of love which is God’s will for the world.
Our 40 new deacons are called to a time when we are menaced by political religions but at the same time people are searching for spiritual depth. Our deacons are being called into service at a time when the distinctive stories of Christian denominations and the history of spats within the Christian family are alike fading. Those who murder holiday makers and kill Christians in Syria and Iraq see us all simply as Christians. It is time we did the same. In this post-denominational world our Church can recover her profoundest identity as a deep church founded on the apostles and prophets; worshipping the true and living God; teaching and inhabiting mere Christianity; under the banner of generous orthodoxy; open to friendship with all members of the one church which Jesus intended and tolerant not because we believe so little about God but because we believe so much.
The best defence against lethal religion is healthful faith in God who so loved the world and membership of an inspired and inspiring community. The growth of the church in London has been encouraging and deeply humbling. From early beginnings in the 1980’s, there have been 62 new worshipping communities established in the Diocese over the past 20 years – representing thousands of new Christians. Our deacons are being called to make their distinctive contribution to fulfilling our Capital Vision pledge of 100 new worshipping communities in addition to our network of parish churches by 2020.
Our deacons are joining a church inspired by a 2020 Capital Vision with its three themes distilled from thousands of conversations and representing the wisdom of our Christian community in London. The themes are confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ; compassion which reflects the love of God the Father and creativity in the power of the Spirit.
Beloved deacons you are being called to play your part in building a confident but not complacent or cocksure church, equipping and commissioning 100,000 ambassadors for Jesus Christ by 2020 and by the same date increasing the number of ordinands by 50%. 40% of the stipendiary clergy will retire in the next ten years and the increase proposed will only keep our numbers of priests at today’s level. We are doing this as a diocese not only to help ourselves but to assist other parts of the Church. This year already, more than 20 deacons from London are being ordained in other dioceses. Will you help the church to achieve these aspirations?
Confidence. Compassion. Jesus said in the gospel “I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” We cannot claim to love God without imitating his generosity. Deacons especially resemble Jesus in their service to our thirsty neighbours. All human beings are thirsty animals. You know that the Hebrew word for a living soul also denotes a throat, nephesh. We are not just blobs of idling protoplasm who feed on material things but creatures, who enter into life in all its fullness by symbols, by discerning a truth and a drama in life and by being “blessed by my Father”. So many of you have served already in the caring professions; some of you will combine your new role as deacons with continuing to work in health, youth work or social care making the connection with the compassion of Christ more visible.
Confidence. Compassion, lastly Creativity. We have artists, dancers, musicians and a lady cement mixer among our deacons. We have plausible recruits for the Diocesan cricket team. Art and sport are among the themes of creativity dimension of Capital Vision.
You will also assist us to sing the Lord’s Song in this new digital world recognising that your bishop may not be the greatest authority on the new opportunities which have opened up thanks to the communications revolution.
I was visiting a church primary school recently and the children asked whether I could remember anything about my time at primary school. I said that I was the ink monitor, charged with a metal can with which I filled up the china ink wells every morning so that we could learn to write with our steel nib pens. They looked totally bewildered and the teacher came to my rescue. “O yes,” she said, “we have just done a project on Victorian England and there is one of those cans over there”.
You will have more advanced skills and I look at you with pride, with love and with hope that in you and in this event the rumour of God in London will be strengthened. But whatever you do I pray that you will, like the boy Samuel, begin each new day and each new task by calling out to the Lord saying, “Speak for your servant is listening”.