Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

A man who “really does trust God”

Here's the full text of the sermon that Archbishop Philip Richardson preached at the Bishop of Waiapu's ordination.

Sermon at AH ordination  |  19 Oct 2014

Episcopal Ordination

Andrew Hedge

18 October 2014 Napier Cathedral

On Tuesday evening and most of Wednesday of this week I had the privilege of spending time on retreat with Andrew and his retreat partner and friend Damon. Now in order to lull them into a false sense of security I said to them both on several occasions "what happens on retreat stays on retreat", "what gets said on retreat stays on retreat" - well guys I lied.

So what did I learn about this 'soon to be' bishop? This man I have known since his ordination as a deacon and priest?

Well I learned that he really does trust God. Not a bad thing in a bishop!

I learned that he is utterly committed to his family, to Raewyn and their children, Jessica, Caitlyn and Ethan. He deeply honours what you bring into his life. He acknowledges how well you know him. He appreciates more than he can find words to express how willing you are to speak the truth in love to him - even if it costs you and costs him for you to do so.

So hear these things Waiapu - hear these things about your new bishop. He will have to work hard to put those who should be first, first. Help him to do that.

I also discovered that your new bishop has learned to face into himself, he knows himself, his limitations, his vulnerability and fallenness. He faces in to his anxiety and his sense of inadequacy and in doing so has found himself held in God's grace.

These two, Andrew and Damon allowed themselves to be persuaded by me that we should climb a mountain - well a small hill - and then walk back to the monastery - it was not quite Mt Taranaki but by the time we arrived back at the monastery, to listen to the two of them complaining,  you would think we had just climbed Kilimanjaro!!

Truth to tell, they persuaded me, I was the one complaining like the old man I all too often feel like, and Damon and his wife Raewyn have just climbed Mt Kilimanjaro - scarey eh!! 

But on that walk, on a sunny Southern Hawkes Bay morning on a small country road, I had a strange sense of being joined by a companion, unseen and yet clearly present and - in the breaking open of our hearts and the honesty with which we engaged with each other, the risen Christ made himself known to us. 

So I learned again the companionship of vulnerability, and the fellowship of honest engagement.

Your new bishop, Waiapu is an honest man.

So what did I learn of this 'soon to be' bishop? I learned again some things I already knew, some things I had already glimpsed and some things that I had not seen before. Trust, love and loyalty, a willingness to hear the truth in love from those who love him, vulnerability, an awareness of sin and grace, self awareness, and a deep and profound honesty. Not bad resources to bring to bishopping!

The problem with the really familiar is that we can take it for granted or think that we already fully understand it. This afternoon's Gospel reading is a bit like that.

We make much of the basin and towel, it seems the epitome of our understanding of leadership. There is a great deal being said about 'servant leadership' these days. All sorts of leadership guru's are touting it as the newest discovery - it is as old as God.

This God of ours, this love that will not be contained or constrained, this love that flows to the edges, to the margins of the dispossessed, this love that is most present in lovelessness. This God who serves, arms outstretched on a cross of shame and ignominy.

But let's look again for this passage of the towel and basin is preceded by a verse which says;

"Now before the festival of the passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Son of Simon Iscariot to betray him."!!! 

And then after the passage we listened to, is a whole section where Jesus foretells His betrayal.

So the context for the bowel and towel is betrayal and denial and the motive and compulsion is love in the face of all that would deny love. Now that's salutary in the context of thinking about leadership, in the context of the call on your life Andrew, bishop to be!

Let me tell you how I feel about this Church I am called to serve. This Church I love to hate and hate to love, this motley band of miss-fit followers, this cantankerous crew of the beloved. 

Truth to tell in my heart of hearts, not that I would ever admit it publicly - this Church bewilders me. The words of Carlo Carretto echo deep within me.

"How much must I criticise you, my Church and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone, and yet I owe you more than I owe anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me more scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in the world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face - and yet, every night I have prayed that I might die in your arms. No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you. Then too - where should I go? To build another church? But I cannot build another church without the same defects, for they are my own defects. And again, if I were to build another Church, it would be my church, not Christ's Church. No I am old enough. I know better"

The basin and towel is offered in the context of denial and betrayal. The truth of our life together is that we are often inadequate to the task, the very community that we are called into and out of, is flawed and frail, and yet ...

And yet, dear bishop to be ... this Church you are called to lead, this collection of disciples of the crucified and risen, this glimpse of the new community of peace and justice and righteousness, this church we love to hate and hate to love, truly is, through the grace of God, able constantly and consistently to call out the very best in us. This is a community made up of those who know the Joy that bubbles uncontrollably from deep within us, springing up from the certainty we have that God loves us, ... more than this ... that God loves the whole world, loves it to death and beyond.

We are a people passionately responding to the call placed on our lives, we know our need of God, we know our fallenness, we know the reality of God's grace, we pick ourselves up when we stumble, we strive forward because we know the transformative power of love in our own lives and want that simple reality for every human soul.

We are a community, a people who will not be defined by anything less than seeking to re-present that radical love which transforms and renews all that would deny, distort and diminish the human spirit.

There is no better basis for community than this.

At its simplest Andrew you are called to preside over such a community, a gatherer of the people of God from every corner of this remarkable Diocese, around the table to be renewed and sent out. As we will hear in a moment much will be expected of you, but then much is expected of every disciple of Christ.

Rest in your knowledge of God's love for you, never loose sight of your own vulnerability and fragility and be confident that in all that you will face, God's Grace will be sufficient.