Launch of St Hild College
14 January 2017, Dewsbury Minster
Sermon preached at the service to launch St Hild College, formed by the merger of the former Yorkshire Ministry Course and St Barnabas Theological Centre, continuing to operate from its site within the grounds of CR at Mirfield.
I am old enough to remember the Beatles. They suddenly hit the headlines and then their popularity soared and soared. They were carried forward on the crest of a wave and the experience for them must have been hugely exciting. There are times when a group enterprise can be like that and the people involved will feel huge satisfaction and excitement with what they are involved in. You see the same sort of thing in a control room when a space probe succeeds in its mission and the scientists cheer, wave their arms in the air and hug each other. It must have been something like that for the first Christians at Pentecost, if we are to believe the Book of Acts. A group of people borne up by a tremendous energy, as it were on the crest of a wave.
Well, the Beatles have come and gone. Space-probes pass on to oblivion. With the first Christians there was something different from normal elation of a human group. This energy came from the resurrection of Christ from the dead and that never dries up.
The launch of St Hild College is an exciting moment, I am sure, for everyone involved. It is different from launching a space programme, or getting into the charts. We know it has to be a response to the sovereign call of God. It will be imperfect, as every human enterprise is but St Hild isn’t a merely human enterprise; it is a Christian one and the dynamic is different. I can give the example of my community, the Community of the Resurrection. It seems to do things which excite a lot of people and there is a buzz about the place but if we, the Brothers, look at each other, we are also conscious of how imperfect we are, of misunderstandings, occasionally conflict and disagreement and things about one another that can be difficult or even exasperating. God’s activity, however, is bigger than us. He seems to do it all despite us. Some of you will know the joke that one of our older Brothers once cracked – that if ever one of us were murdered, the police would have a difficult job, because they would find that everyone had a motive. That is a joke but it illustrates the miracle which Christian community can be. The Gospel has the power to bring everyone together.
The original meaning of the word ‘college’ is of a group of people who are held together. That, of course, is central to the Gospel. The Church aims to hold together the most unlikely people and it expects us all to rub shoulders together; rich and poor, the academic and the labourer, the foreigner and the outsider. All these differences go out of the window and through our life of prayer and worship and rooting in the Scriptures, we receive grace: to be changed from a motley bunch to the People of God.
Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst.
Once you were no people, now you are God’s people.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
All members of the body, though many, are one body.
In a few moments we shall light our candles from the Easter candle; each of our candles lit from one flame. You could say that when we do this, we, being many, are one flame. All these candles carry but one flame. Jesus speaks about this flame in this evening’s reading from Matthew. We are to be a lamp set on a stand.
A lamp does two things: first of all it gives you light to see by. It enables us to see with God’s eyes; to see the world differently; to see people differently. The Christians who help to run food banks or who work to reconcile people in conflict, or who care for the homeless are seeing human beings with different eyes.
This light helps us to see human difference differently. All around us we can see a wrong handling of difference. The needless clashes between nations, the clashes of interest in politics, disagreements within families, racism, rejection of foreigners, thinking ourselves better than others, sheer differences of opinion and of outlook. Jesus calls us to see all those sources of conflict in a different light, the light cast by his lamp and to deal with them in a different way: to be the servants of others, to submit ourselves one to another, to turn the other cheek, to shun tribalisms and parties, to be neither for Apollos nor for Paul but for Christ. The light of Christ reveals everything in a different light .
The second function of the lamp is to guide people in the darkness, like a lighthouse guides ships at sea. Our way of living should draw people to it, as to a lamp in the darkness. Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Jesus isn’t so rash as to say that we are like that automatically: he just says we need to let our lamp shine. Does the church in this country let its lamp shine? What can we say about the people of God in Britain at the moment? We are a temple built of living stones but a temple built of living stones is always going to be a bit wobbly. That’s a sign of life. However, what we seem to see in large parts of the church is something different: a loss of wind.
Many of our lamps seem to be short on oil. Many people struggle with prayer, both laity and clergy. They have a need to learn how to pray. That is an extraordinary situation to be in. There is a problem about commitment; people can easily fall away. We are losing young people. We have financial problems but you have to say on that, that if the wind were in our sails, the finance would look after itself.
So our mission at this moment needs to be twofold. First of all mission to the Church. Faith needs to be rekindled in many Christians and one task of bodies like St Hild College is to build up its students in the treasures of God, so that they can go out into the Church as lamplighters. The church is full of life: we need to help all the baptised to tap into it.
This can only happen if we are also looking outwards. Without looking outwards, renewal of the Church is impossible. We find ourselves by looking beyond ourselves. The words of Isaiah we have just heard are as fresh as they were thousands of years ago: “I have given you as … a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind. To bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness”. We would want to add: to set people free from individualism and centring on self, to enable young people to have a solid foundation to their life, to bring belonging to people who are isolated, to bring to our consumer society a sense of eternal things, to bring justice to the poor and oppressed and the love of God to our society with all its ills. This mission is more than a social programme; it is about the spreading of the kingdom of God.
So we pray today for the prospering of Saint Hild College in all its diversity, bringing together people from many traditions many localities, churchmanships, denominations and backgrounds; the treasures of the Church, to be loved and rejoiced in, because there is a message to be proclaimed, a job to be done and a light to be shone.