Bishop Guli's Blog, Talks and Publications


Bishop Guli’s Welcome Service Talk, December 2017
 
New life flows from imperceptibly small beginnings

I remember well that day back in February sitting in the Assembly Hall in Church House where General Synod was meeting. We were being addressed by the Bishop of Leicester – one Martyn Snow - about proposals to create a new See – a Bishop of Loughborough. This person would share in the Episcopal duties of the diocese but also, and I quote, “He or she will provide both a role model and a prophetic challenge” to help our churches “better reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of the area”.
I was intrigued by the proposals and wondered who on earth they would find to fill the post. Never for one moment did it cross my mind that I’d be standing here before you today, and what an honour and a joy it is. On the eve of Advent and the start of a new church year, we are together on the threshold of a new season for this diocese - an adventure to be carried out in faith and hope. Two days ago in Canterbury Cathedral, in the presence of those who were gathered there, something was created that did not exist before. Through promises made, the laying on of hands, prayers offered, and by God’s grace you now have your Bishop of Loughborough and I have pledged to serve God and you to the best of my ability.
So what are your expectations? What indeed are mine? We have no Bishop of Loughborough shaped template so where on earth do we go from here. Well, much that I hate to disappoint you this early on let me say right away that I will not fulfil all your expectations. I’d love to, it’s just not going to happen. I will make many mistakes and frequently fall short, I’m sure. I have more to learn than I do to give, I have no doubt. But in the noble tradition of our faith, we are making a covenant today. We pledge ourselves to one another, to work together, to be gentle and generous with one another, forbearing of weaknesses and committed to participating together in the work that God is already doing in this place.
The priest, theologian and writer, Sam Wells, says that “with” is the most important word in the Christian vocabulary. In that spirit, I’m not a bishop for you but a bishop with you. I’m here not just to do things for you, solve problems for you, or even minister to you. Rather, I’m here to work with you and at an even more fundamental level simply to be with you; to get alongside you, journey with you, dwell with you and grow the kingdom of God with you. My priority is to be with God, in prayer and worship, and I intend also to continue being with my family and friends – those who support me, love me and refresh me, but I also want to be with you and I offer all that I am, my gifts and shortcomings, my strengths and my vulnerabilities, my faith and my doubt.
As I was preparing this sermon, agonising if I’m honest, about what I could possibly say that would be worthy of the occasion, the door bell rang with a reminder for me to worry less about perfection and worthiness and more about brokenness and togetherness. At the door was the postman delivering my bishop’s staff – the shepherd’s crook that is traditionally part of a bishop’s apparel. As some of you know, the staff I’ll be using used to belong to my father, but in the frailty of his old age, he had it cut down and turned into a walking stick which he leant on for support. Now it’s been restored to its full height, two pieces of wood crafted together by a metal cuff –  engraved with the words Feed my Sheep - a constant reminder of my role as bishop to be alongside and care for the clergy and people. This is an aspiration I want to cling to for all I’m worth. But the staff, with its two pieces of wood made whole again, will also remind me of my brokenness and need for support; of my connectedness not just with my father and the church in Iran but with the whole church, both in time and space; and of our human frailty and our need to live in relationship with one another.  We need church communities that express something of the splendid diversity of God’s creation - communities where each and every one of us, broken and imperfect, yet beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God, can discover our own individual voices, and joyfully contribute to enrich the whole.
Pope Francis has spoken of promoting a Culture of Encounter – a culture where we deliberately seek to meet people we wouldn’t normally meet. Where we intentionally come alongside those who are different, to be with those who are unlike us, including those who are marginalised and on the periphery. The peripheries are places where people are who don’t have the opportunity to meet or be met by those who have power and are in charge. To make diversity the norm, we must, says Pope Francis, “behave our way out of the impasse” through “the conversion of the feet” – deliberately picking yourself up and moving yourself beyond your comfort zone to be with those who are different or marginalised for whatever reason. And as the encounter begins to happen so it will begin to do its good in us, changing and transforming us, not only because it is the right and just thing to do but because we will recognise how impoverished and depleted we are without it.
And it will be hard and there will be all kinds of obstacles; chief amongst them our fear of the unknown and our fear of change. For we cannot build a Culture of Encounter without a willingness to embrace change and the unknown. But my friends we have nothing to fear. We were reminded in our reading from Romans that nothing can shake our sense of belonging and our rootedness in Christ. None of the most awful events that could befall any human being – hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword; not even death nor any power known to humankind, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, so we have no need to fear. Instead we can move forward with confidence and hope, secure that we are loved and that in encountering those who are different we will become a more complete expression of God’s body here on earth.
And we are not alone. We are in partnership with others - some of whom are represented here today - those from other Christian traditions, other faiths and no faith at all; those willing to participate with us in making this city, this county and diocese a place where diversity is not only tolerated but where all people can flourish and where together we can contribute to the common good. So let’s be wary of allowing our ideologies, our doctrines and our theologies to separate us and deter us from the call to be compassionate and generous towards one another; to be reconcilers and peacemakers. For nothing we say or believe or do is worth a scrap if in the words of our first reading we can’t “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God”. “With what shall I come before the Lord”, asks Micah? Burnt offerings and sacrifices and extravagant gifts? Or in contemporary language, with the certainties of faith, the trappings of church tradition, the finery of episcopal attire? And perhaps I need to be reminded of that too. Last night – on day two of being a bishop - I managed to break my new episcopal ring – the stone fell out and is lost. I trust it’s not some sort of dreadful omen! As it so happens I have my father’s somewhat oversized one of which I’m also rather fond and today is a special occasion so I’m wearing it. But really it is not about these things.  All these are utterly worthless if we lose our sense of humanity, our connectedness and our calling to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly, together, and with God.
So I want to finish by encouraging us to not be anxious but rather to be full of hope. As Christians we are resurrection people who know that new life flows from imperceptibly small beginnings. Out of the south side of this Cathedral building there is the smallest trickle of water that leads from the heart of God into the city and beyond. Imagine that trickle becoming a stream and then a river, going where it will, blind to prejudice and swept along by the strength of its current, producing life on either side and spreading hope. So too let us go from this place, in the power of the Spirit, to gather all God’s children in an uncompromising embrace that changes us and offers new hope for the healing of the nations.
Leicester Cathedral
2nd December 2017, The Eve of Advent
Micah 6.6-8
Romans 8.35-39
 




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