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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 04.01.2024

Video for January 4th, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video and a very happy New Year.  I hope the Christmas season has been and continues to be a blessing.

Hereford Cathedral has many distinctions, one of which I believe is it has more Bishops in effigy than any other cathedral in the country.  I’m standing by the tomb of one of my illustrious predecessors, Bishop Atlay – so distinguished he has two portraits in the diocesan conference room.  He was Bishop for 26 years at the end of the 19th century. We recently discovered a biography in the archive. It contained fascinating statistics. In the course of his 26 years he performed 72,000 confirmations. It works out at 53 a week.  The greatest number was 350 here in one session.  To aid with these vast numbers he had a ‘confirmation pole’ This was a useful tool in which a good number desirous of confirmation could grab it at once. Presumably it was made of spiritually conductive material, such that the Holy Spirit could pass from the Bishop down the pole into the candidates.

Nowadays, I probably wouldn’t meet his fortnightly total in a year. But the services are probably all the more poignant for it. I wouldn’t presume to judge what our forbears thought they were doing when they were ‘done’, but I suspect many didn’t have as strong a grasp on what Christian faith was about as the candidates I confirm today.  In Romans Chapter 12 Paul says we should, “not think of ourselves more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”  It’s a hard sentence to translate from the original Greek, but I think Paul is suggesting that faith is not a sort of quantity that we can possess in different amounts, but a measure against which we judge ourselves. When we gather together in worship we often declare what that is in the creed or an affirmation of faith.  This is a corporate declaration of our confidence in a different reality not entirely graspable by our five senses.

‘The’ faith is thus a revelation of what God is like, what he has done in the world, and the implications of that for the way we live our lives. Jesus’ fundamental premise in his preaching ministry was that the new reality had broken into human experience and was visible in his life in the world. He called it the Kingdom of God. Without that reality being true a lot of Jesus ethical teaching makes no sense at all.  It might be admirable to love our neighbours as ourselves and turn the other cheek, but frankly it’s a bit of a daft way to live in a world where people may not be entirely trustworthy. A Roman soldier listening to Jesus say that the poor, meek and helpless were actually blessed by God would have thought he’d gone round the bend. The intuitive way to carry on is to accumulate power, money and influence so one can exercise sufficient control to give oneself as comfortable a life as possible in an uncertain world. Ethical obligations might extend to offspring and clan, but it could be argued that’s just an evolutionary artefact. Obligations to others are just a negotiation to achieve the best possible results for oneself.

But Jesus’ revelation of reality is that there is something deeper and more real than simple enlightened self-interest.  Jesus shows us that self-giving love is who God is, and his finger prints are all over us. He shows us that a relationship with him provides the personal security: psychological, material and eternal to risk living differently. I hope our year of faith will increase our confidence in that reality and thus our confidence to live in the light of it.

At the end of the 19th century a famous tightrope walker called Blondin drew large crowds walking back and forth over Niagara Falls. He performed amazing acrobatics and on one occasion pushed an empty wheelbarrow over the Falls on the wire. On his return to the crowd he asked them whether they believed he could push the wheelbarrow with someone sitting in it.  “Yes!” they all shouted. “Who’s the first volunteer?” he asked. The crowd fell silent. Pushing the metaphor a little, but In a spiritual sense, I hope our year of faith will grow our trust in the truthfulness of the faith that we get in that wheelbarrow with more confidence. As the write to the Hebrews said, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

+ Richard

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