Tesco, ergo sum: but not in the Kingdom of God
I find it hard to put into words just how I feel standing here today before you. Delighted: certainly; honoured: undoubtedly; humbled: indeed. But amongst a great range of emotions I would also want to say that I feel rather surprised.
Ruth and I have an old friend who we first met here in Cornwall and who, over many, many years, told me that one day I would be Bishop of Truro and I never believed her. Which is why, perhaps, I am more surprised today than she is. But that sense of surprise does drive me back to words of Jesus which we heard in our gospel reading and which I want us to focus on today: while things may be impossible for ordinary human beings, ‘For God,’ Jesus says, ‘all things are possible.’ ‘For God, all things are possible.’
Yes, it is possible, despite my surprise, that I should be Bishop of Truro. But in truth this is about so much more than that; it’s about so much more than me. ‘For God, all thingsare possible.’ All things are possible: for each and all of us personally; for our communities; for Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and our two parishes in Devon; for this country; for this continent and indeed for the whole wide world. For God, and with our God, surprised though we may very well be, all things are possible.
But just how can that be? Perhaps one of the things we struggle with most in our day and age is any sense that things might get better. Optimism and hope are in short supply. One of the joys of recent years for me, in my previous post, was to travel extensively in South America, in Africa and in Asia, and to do so is often to discover a great irony. People in the global South, people who have so little – Christian people especially – often have a great sense of hope and expectation for the future. Whereas we in the West who have so much – Christian people included – often have very little hope that things in the future might be better. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Hope born of faith
That sense of hope in the global South is often born of faith; born that’s to say out of a belief that, although things might be impossible for mere human beings, for God all things are indeed possible. And our more pessimistic attitude in the West is often, born of a lack of faith: born of a sense that things are simply too hard for us to tackle, and that God, if he even exists at all, is distant and not really all that bothered.
Well – and I hope this won’t come as a surprise to you – that is not how I see things. And that is not how I see things because I believe that in Jesus Christ God has done, and is doing, something wholly surprising, something wholly different, and something wholly of hope. What he is doing is nothing less than bringing in his Kingdom. That’s to say he is bringing in the rule and the reign of God – what some indeed have gone so far as to describe as the revolution of God: a revolution because in Jesus Christ, God is turning on their heads so many of the attitudes and aspirations of this world.
And it’s a flavour of that Kingdom, of that revolution, that Jesus gives us in our gospel reading. So, to take just one example, this is a Kingdom in which children are not treated as the lowest of the low, but celebrated as those whom Jesus welcomes and blesses, and who are indeed held up as a model of what this Kingdom is all about. And I believe that in our churches and in our schools and across this county children should indeed be given the honoured place that Jesus says is theirs, as I’m sure they often are. And that is why we started with Bethany quizzing me at the door and acting in effect as gatekeeper for this whole service.
Generosity above acquisition
Then again, this is a Kingdom in which generosity is valued so much more than acquisition. That is why the young man we hear about in this story leaves Jesus in some sadness, because, for all his evident morality, keeping the law is one thing, but giving to the poor is quite another. And the spirit of that young man is with us still. We live in a culture today which all too often knows the price of everything but the value of nothing, whose motto is Tesco, ergo sum: I shop, therefore I am. But it is not so in the Kingdom Jesus is bringing in. This is a Kingdom of different values: a Kingdom in which giving is so much more important than having. And I believe that Cornwall in so many ways already embodies the spirit and values of the Kingdom, not least in a commitment to one another, to ‘One and all’. And we see it manifested in so many ways, in food banks, in night shelters, in street pastors and in wonderful initiatives such as Cornwall Hugs Grenfell.
But equally none of us, I am sure, would think that there is nothing more to be done on that score; that we have done enough of giving and sharing, that there is no more that one can do for all, or all can do for one. And it is to that task in this Diocese and in Cornwall that we must go on giving ourselves afresh.
A Kingdom marked by sacrifice
And then again, this is a Kingdom marked by service and indeed by sacrifice. Why would we think it would not be, given that its King, Jesus himself, gave himself up to death on a cross? So Jesus talks of those who have left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for his sake. And often in the service of the King and his Kingdom, as we seek to give, rather than get, we do indeed, each and every one of us, need to step out of our comfort zones into places which are so much more risky and dangerous in the service of our neighbours. And today we should celebrate and honour those who do just that, not least the men and women of the armed forces, the emergency services and the RNLI; and we continue to remember with sorrow and with pride the men of the Solomon Browne who gave their lives in the service of others on the night of 19thDecember 1981; and we remember many others too who have walked a similar hard road. And that path of service and of sacrifice, of giving rather than getting, is a path that we are all of us, in one way or another, called to walk.
And then again, this is a Kingdom in which normal expectations are stood on their head, in which might is not automatically right, in which the law of the jungle, of the survival of the fittest, simply does not apply. This is a Kingdom that works by different rules, in which, as Jesus says, the last shall be first, and the first last. That is why, incidentally, we have had a minimal number processions in this service and kept the reserved seats to the barest minimum, simply to reflect in some small way the values of this Kingdom for which Jesus calls us to work, in which the last shall be first, and the first last.
And it is to the work of God’s Kingdom in Cornwall, and to the service of its King, that I pledge and dedicate myself today, as in the Diocese of Truro we commit ourselves, as our strapline says, to ‘discovering God’s Kingdom; growing the Church’.
For this is indeed why the Church of God exists: to serve the King and his Kingdom. The Church of God and the Kingdom of God are not one and the same, by any means. The Church serves the Kingdom of God and not vice versa. The Kingdom of God is much greater than the Church. That’s why this service is for all of Cornwall, not just the Church in Cornwall, and for all those who seek to serve the common good. It’s why we are honoured today to have the Lord Lieutenant present with us, representing H.M. the Queen.
The glorious reality of Jesus Christ
But God is bringing in his Kingdom. His church has a specific role in that process and he is equipping it for that purpose. That is essentially the theme of our first reading. In it St. Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, describes how God has given multiple gifts to his church, and called us to various roles and responsibilities within it. And why has he done that? He has done that so, as St. Paul says, ‘we may grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.’ In other words God’s aim is that corporately, as a Church we embody, we express in who we are, something of the glorious reality of who Jesus Christ is. That is our high task and our high calling: to express in who we are just something of the glorious reality of who Jesus Christ is. And we do that so we may love and serve this world to which our God calls us, and to which our God sends us, in the name of Jesus Christ and in the power of his Spirit. Our calling, quite literally, as his people, is to make Jesus’ loving presence felt and known in this, the world that he loves.
I have a specific role and calling as Bishop to shape the Diocese of Truro to that end: that Jesus Christ should be seen and known in and through his church, that through us something of his Kingdom might come. But this is the common task of all who call themselves Christians. It is certainly not for Anglicans alone. And if we are to show forth as a Church something of the wonderful reality of who Jesus Christ is, that will only happen as we work together across every denominational boundary which could so easily divide us – which again is why it has been so important to have those from other churches involved in this service. It is only together that we can give ourselves with any hope of effectiveness to the task of bringing in God’s Kingdom.
Working for the revolution
But how exactly are we to work for the Kingdom of God, for this revolution? It is a tremendously challenging task and we should not underestimate the challenges we face in our day and age here in Cornwall: social challenges; environmental challenges, economic challenges and perhaps above all the challenge I mentioned earlier on: that poverty of hope and aspiration which can be so crippling to us. How can we, mere mortals, work for the Kingdom of God? Why should not we just go away sad, like that rich young man – simply overwhelmed by all that is asked of us?
The clue is in just what Jesus asks that young man to do. He does not simply tell him to sell all he has. In a way that’s the easy bit. He also says, ‘Come follow me.’ Maybe that’s the hardest bit. But it’s also the bit that makes everything else possible. For when Jesus calls us to follow him, he not only leads the way, he also holds out his hand to help us along.
An open invitation
And today I invite you all, as I believe Jesus Christ invites us all, to work for the Kingdom of God, across Cornwall, and to make this place redolent with the values and the fragrance of the King and of his Kingdom: those values and that fragrance that have done so much to shape us in Cornwall across the centuries. I invite us all to work for the Kingdom of God across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly: which means quite simply that above all else I invite each and every one of us to be followers of Jesus Christ: not only to follow where he leads, but to take hold of the hand that he holds out to help us all along the way.
So let us follow him joyfully together. So let us follow him hopefully together. And may we all be surprised by just what he does amongst us. ‘For with our God, all things are possible.’