On Friday, I went to York Minster to attend the ordination of someone I know as a bishop. During the service, the Archbishop of York presented him with a Bible. To be honest, I was thinking, ‘hasn’t Glyn got enough bibles?’ When I was ordained deacon, I was given a New Testament. When I was ordained priest, I was given a full Bible with the apocrypha, one which I use every day. But the importance of giving a Bible, even to a bishop who probably has lots of them, is that it is a symbolic act. It is saying to the new bishop, or the new priest or deacon, this is the foundation for your ministry and for your life.
Two of our readings this morning are about the reading of the Bible. In the Old Testament story from the book of Nehemiah, all the people of Jerusalem come to a service held in front of the Temple and Ezra reads to them the law of Moses. Most of these people have returned to Jerusalem from a 70-year exile in Babylon. Going home hasn’t been easy; they have had to rebuild the temple, build homes for themselves, and re-create the structure of their society and how everything was going to work.
So listening to the Law of Moses together, was about reconnecting with the rules and guidance for how their society and culture worked. The old scriptures had to be reinterpreted, and that was part of what was happening that day: the scriptures were read out, and they were explained. I can imagine that after the experience of exile and homecoming, they would hear the scriptures in a new way, and they would need help to understand what it meant for them in their new situation. Because life is always moving on, and you need to engage with the holy writings to make sense of what it means to serve God here and now.
Then in the Gospel story, Jesus goes to the synagogue in Nazareth and is invited to read the scripture. He chooses an inspiring passage from the prophet Isaiah, which he reads, and then he rolls up the scroll and hands it back and, with all eyes upon him, offers his interpretation, which is, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Shockwaves went through the congregation. They knew Jesus as the son of Joseph the carpenter, who had got involved with John the Baptist and started going about the neighbourhood preaching and teaching. And now he is laying claim to God’s spirit and to a mission that rightly belonged to the messiah. Who did he think he was?
I have heard some of you make comments when someone you know is talking or behaving as if they are something better than you know them to be. You hate it when people put on airs and graces.
At Glyn’s ordination in York on Friday, the Archbishop of York said: “Give thanks to God that Glyn has no airs and graces. In fact, David Hope says of him that he is as common as muck.” Glyn is a Lancashire lad and his first career was as a nurse. He would go down well in St Chad’s because he is dead straightforward. He has been working at York Minster for a lot of years now, in a number of different roles, including being Acting Dean twice. He told me that he wasn’t looking to be a bishop, but pressure was put on him, so he’s now the Bishop of Beverley.
But Jesus is making a huge claim for himself. Let’s look at what he says:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
Jesus takes this passage as his mission statement. This is the scripture at the foundation of his ministry. This underpins everything he is going to do: the teachings, the stories, the healings and miracles, dying on the cross and rising again.
It is a picture of what God’s kingdom is like, where the poor receive good news, the captives are set free, the blind receive their sight, and those who are put upon are liberated, and God’s blessings flow.
We didn’t have this passage on Friday at the Minster, but we could just as well have. It is just as much about the ministry of a bishop today, as it was about Jesus’ ministry then. Bishops are also called to bring good news, freedom and liberation, and a new vision. So even Glyn, with no airs and graces, is called to do this. What you may or may not have realised is that, as Bishop of Beverley, Glyn will have a particular ministry to those parishes and priests who don’t hold with the ministry of women as priests and bishops in the Church of England. He will be working in this diocese, but we probably won’t see him here at St Chad’s, though David Hope, the former Archbishop of York, who was preaching at the service on Friday, did say that Glyn was called to be a bishop of the whole church, not just a certain constituency.
But if it’s a statement about the ministry of bishops, it is also a statement about the ministry of priests and deacons. We too are called, under the anointing of the Spirit of the Lord, to proclaim good news, to set people free, to bring sight and insight, to bring God’s blessings.
But my brothers and sisters, it is not just bishops and priests and deacons, you too are part of that calling. Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. And you are part of it. It is the way of life that God longs for us; it is the way of life God calls us to; it is the way of life he wants us to help create.