Installation of Bishop Debbie as Honorary Canon

July 14, 2019

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Preached by The Right Reverend Debbie Sellin, Bishop of Southampton, using Proverbs 2: 1-8 and Hebrews 13: 7-16 at the Installation of Bishop Debbie as Honorary Canon at Winchester on Sunday 14th July 2019, the 4th Sunday after Trinity.

A few weeks ago, I was at a school assembly. It was in a church school where I have been heavily involved for the last 9 years. And it was a farewell assembly to say goodbye to me – a chance for the children to sing, read poems and share memories of our time together. At the end, as is normal practice, the headteacher invited children to come to the front to pray out loud – on this occasion to pray for me as I moved on. And so four children were chosen, gathered round me and prayed. The last to pray was Joe, an 8 year old and he prayed this:

  • Dear God, please help Rev Debbie to make good choices in her new role as bishop

And at that moment I had a real sense of God’s presence and knew just how important this prayer was.

The Book of Proverbs speaks of the importance of seeking wisdom – the ability to make good choices – and sees this as a fundamental part of our lives and our relationship with God. In fact the writer goes further and states that we should crave wisdom and be restless until we find it – we should search for it as we would for any other precious thing. Why? Because in seeking wisdom, we are seeking God and his will and purpose for our lives.  Our lives are full of choices and opportunities, there are so many good things that we could be doing, but first and foremost, to be effective in God’s mission, we need to seek his call and purpose and pray that we make good choices.

I know that God has called me to be Bishop of Southampton for this time and I am excited about that. And there are many good things that I could do in this role. I won’t be short of diary entries and I know that I won’t be able to do everything that I am invited to do. Yes, I could fill my time with some very good things. But what matters- and what I need to remember – is that my priority is to discover how God wants to use me and where he is calling me to work. To be able to do that, I need to be disciplined in my rule of life and I need to pray daily for wisdom to make good choices, remembering how Joe prayed that for me during that assembly. So if you are praying for me, which I know many of you are doing, then pray for wisdom. And I will be praying that for you. We are all called as his people to walk with him and share in his work in the world. And as we seek to follow God more closely, we experience the precious gift of walking with him, meeting him in every aspect of our lives, finding that he goes before us and prepares the way. He will lead us to the people and places he wants us to be amongst and will show us how we can share the love of Christ with them. What a joy and a privilege!

This is part of what it means to ‘Live the Mission of Jesus’, the vision of our Diocese. We are all called to seek and play our part –  whoever we are, wherever we are.

The readers of the Book of Hebrews were playing their part in living the mission of Jesus, but they were getting stuck which meant they could not be as effective as they might otherwise have been. This letter speaks about the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as the revealer and mediator of God’s grace. His readers were probably Jewish Christians who had not met Jesus personally but had embraced the Christian faith. But they weren’t flying as they could have been – they were being held back by their allegiance to some of the Judaic customs. The author has high hopes for them and wishes them to live fully as the true people of Christ, with a strong message to share with the world. Our passage forms part of the concluding exhortations.

Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God – consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

How we live our lives is fundamental – becoming more Christlike is the journey we are on and as we become more like him we are able to take his light and presence into the places of darkness in the world. We need to shine for Jesus – not just a gentle flicker but a fire that will set things alight. Remember the people who have had an influence on you, says the writer– remember how their example helped you to draw closer to Jesus, even though you had not known him when he was alive– remember their enthusiasm – and imitate them. Inspire others that they may know Jesus for themselves.

The next verse continues to offer hope and inspiration to them and to us– you may have good role models – but the ultimate role model is Jesus himself – who never changes – he is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is our constant role model – his grace, his help, his power, his guidance is available to us permanently. So there is no need ever to lose heart! We can have high hopes and expectations of all that is possible through the life and example of Jesus – let’s dream big dreams and trust in God who surpasses all our expectations. We live with Jesus – the same yesterday, today and forever!

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is complete – no other sacrifice is required – and so the recipients of this letter can unequivocally turn from the old way with its ritual customs and embrace the new covenant. Their spiritual lives  are now nourished through the divine grace of God the father through his son and made real in their lives through the power of the Spirit – as is true for us.

So why would we doubt? Why would we ever hold back? In Jesus we have everything we need.

We may not always feel enthusiastic and full of energy – life is tough and the world can seem a hostile place. But we know the promise of God’s grace and our journey with Jesus is one which is life-giving.

I am so excited to be working with you and among you – and we all have our part to play in seeking God – in making good choices about how we live our lives and minister to others so that they too may know the love of Christ and be released to play their part in the ongoing mission. There will be days where I feel discouraged and where I will doubt myself – but I know that in Jesus I have everything I need and when I walk with him he will sustain me.

And so, as I begin this new phase in my journey I have high hopes and big dreams – I look forward to seeing where God is already at work and celebrating that with you – I’m committed to praying with you as we seek God in the places where that is more difficult at the moment – and I’m excited about the stories we will be able to tell as Jesus is known by more and more people and we see  communities transformed through his love.

I would like to end with a prayer that has been a staple in my own life – it’s attributed to Frances Drake called ‘Disturb us Lord’ and it’s a dangerous prayer – but if you feel able to, I would love you to echo it in your own hearts today.

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when

With the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wider seas

Where storms will show Your mastery;

Where losing sight of land,

We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back

The horizons of our hopes;

And to push into the future

In strength, courage, hope, and love.