Sermon by the Very Revd Andy Bowerman, Dean of Bradford

Now Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

Faith is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.

One of the first steps in building a foundation of faith is to let trust overcome fear. 

‘Do not be afraid, just believe’ Jesus tells Jairus in Marks account as he fears for the very life of his daughter

‘Take heart, it is I (literally it is I am) do not be afraid. Jesus tells the disciples as they see him coming across the water. And For a short while Peter overcomes his fears and places his trust fully in Jesus and ‘he started to walk on the water, and came towards Jesus’. Then he was distracted by threats around him, even then he knows who has the power to save him and he calls to Jesus to save him. Then follows a gentle rebuke from Jesus – ‘You of little faith…why did you doubt’ 

We will return to think about a faith. 

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Fathers good pleasure, it is the fathers delight, to give you the Kingdom’ Luke 12.32

Our Father, God doesn’t need coaxing or persuading to be generous – the invitation to play our part in making the Kingdom evident is clear throughout the scriptures. The challenge of course is that it is an upside down, inverted Kingdom – one where we are all called to be rich to others, where we are invited to share in a way that is costly. A Kingdom where masters will serve slaves because they were found ready and expectant. 

The invitation is to live without fear, to trust the Father, to have faith. 

Many years ago we were in Perth, Australia visiting friends. Myself, our then two small children Sophie who would have been about 6 and Josh who would have been 4 or 5 and our friend Mark went out in a small boat to see if we could find some dolphins to swim with. Now this being Australia the night before we had been listening to news of a surfer and jet skier who had survived attacks from a Great White shark. Including from memory footage of Jet ski with a large bite taken out of it! Obviously the children knew only a little of this, they were going to swim with dolphins, and they were excited….about 45 minutes into the trip out to sea we saw a fin about 10 metres off the side of the boat moving at speed. Sophie saw it first yelled something and Josh jumped in. No fear, no second thoughts, just jumped in…Sophie was close behind…after a few seconds of terror I jumped in after them unsure if it was shark or dolphin. Fortunately it was the latter. My children trusted their Dad. If I say let’s swim with dolphins then that’s what we are going to do. They jump in head first. No fear. But As we get older sometimes the fears come more readily. We get distracted by all the possible threats. The Great White Sharks hidden in the deep overwhelm us.

Do not be afraid, Little flock. 

It is an interesting way of describing the disciples. Little Flock. We know Jesus as the good shepherd, perhaps he is saying they are little because the new flock is currently small in number compared to Israel, perhaps it is because they only have a small faith muscle at this stage, one which will be developed as they themselves become involved in drawing others in. 

We also know that this ‘little flock’ is God’s chosen way for making His son and His Kingdom known. It would become the church. 

For the better part of two decades I have had a complex relationship with the institution called the church. Especially the Anglican part of it. Jesus called her His bride, yet some of my non-church going friends have a very different way of describing her, one which would be quite the opposite and much less complimentary. This duality has led me to wrestle with my relationship with her. I am often haunted by the way she doesn’t look like Jesus and why at times I don’t either. But for better or worse, I have been convinced of the potential that this covenant people of God contains. I stubbornly believe that the church can be a source of hope and reconciliation in the midst of a world of pain and brokenness. 

A place of safety 

A place of human flourishing. 

My love for the church is not entirely naive because I have seen the church be a place of breathtaking beauty, and whilst it is true that some of the scars on my soul come from the church – so many of my deepest joys have been experienced with her too.

So I remind myself of how history shows that Jesus’s commitment to his church is unshakeable. Though we sometimes profane his name among the nations, he retains his passion for us his people. Because it is his Fathers delight, his good pleasure, to give us the Kingdom. 

Jesus is not committed to the church because he has to be, he is committed to the church because he wants to be. God is in love with a woman, and her name is the church. The church can be beautiful again, because grace is beautiful. The church can renew her calling because God loves her with an undying love. Beauty can resist brokenness because of the passion of the groom. The question is, will we respond to Jesus’s passion for us in our generation. And what is it he looking for?

Frank Viola says this ‘ He is looking for a people who will take their stand in Christ without fear. He’s after a people who will dare to believe that they are part of Christ’s beloved bride. A people who will defy what they see through their natural eyes and instead look through his eyes. He is looking for a people who see themselves as He sees them, through the prism of divine righteousness, part of a new creation. This is the necessary beginning to fulfilling God’s grand mission. To take any other view is to serve God out of guilt, duty or ambition rather than out of love’  

Viola from Eternity to Hope. 

So how do we encourage the bride to be beautiful? Not afraid but able to trust her groom in every situation?

Mike Breen former Vicar of Thomas Crooks in Sheffield says ‘ If you make disciples you always get the church, but if you seek to make the church you rarely get disciples’ – I think what he means by this is that if we focus on the stuff of church – on our ecclesiology over what it is to be like Jesus then we can end up with something that does not reflect him at all. 

We build faith, when we build disciples.

It is interesting that often the first step of faith is just that a step…one where we don’t know the outcome we just trust. Abraham is commended by the writer to the Hebrews because he was obedient without knowing where he was going, Peter had to get out of the boat first and would forever be the only disciple to walk on water because he took that step of faith. 

So what about us – what will help us as we take some steps into the unknown over the coming months and years. 

Time with God and time with each other must be at the heart of who we are. If you want to make a strong relationship with the one you love you spend time with them – quality time is favourite phrase of Ali’s. For me I have to do this with intention it doesn’t just happen -so where are you spending time with God, with each other. 

We need to hear the voice of God. 

Yesterday as we remembered the transfiguration in our prayers, we were reminded that God spoke to Elijah in the silence, in the still small voice as the hymn would describe it. Where are you getting away to be still and allowing God to speak. We know for sure that it is through his word that God speaks – so how are you encountering it in a way that both invites and challenges you? Two questions that I often ask that are woven through with invitation and challenge are ‘What is God saying – to me, to His bride and what am I, or are we going to do about it?

Practically here are some areas that you can be praying and trusting God in over the coming months. 

We are in a period of transition. Do not be afraid but believe that God has something delightful in store for us his bride. 

Over the coming weeks the chapter, the Bishop and I will develop some new role descriptions for the residentiary canons to come. We hope that they will express something of the conviction of things not seen. We pray they will help us to deepen our discipleship and enable us to encounter those seeking in our city, with confidence. We will then have a period of advertising and discerning who it is that is called to take a step of faith to join us. Our hope is that they will embody in themselves something of the Church Englands desire to be younger, humbler, more diverse. In the meantime – whilst we wait and pray, we trust. And we get joined by two new interim colleagues who will no doubt help us on our way. Pete Gunstone you have already heard about the other name we hope to bring you in a week or so. And then we get the chance over the next few weeks to honour the faithful work done and the character shown by Paul, Sarah, Mandy and Richard that have helped us during this very challenging period. With Covid. With the death of Bori and our grief.

May they Paul, Sarah, Mandy and Richard know in their souls the words of Jesus himself. ‘Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ 

May all of us know that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. And that therefore there is no need to fear or be anxious. Simply to trust and take the next step.

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