Revd Dr Andrew Rumsey - Rector, St Mary's Church, Oxted
During a previous football World Cup, and after that most rare of occasions, an English victory, an England supporter was witnessed spilling out onto the street in Lewisham, South London.
Smartly dressed in a grey business suit, yet deliriously drunk, he reeled around proclaiming the good news, chanting two-one, two-one…and so on. And he did this strange sort of bobbing, footballing walk (like on the News, behind the reporter...).
And, dancing around like this, he bounced up to another fellow, who was wearing an England shirt - thinking, reasonably enough, that he would find a kindred spirit. ‘Two-one’ he chanted again, bobbing around him, at which the man in the England shirt grimaced and edged away looking rather embarrassed. At which our friend in the suit pointed at him and bellowed, so half of Lewisham could hear: ‘you wear the strip, but you don’t beliieeeeve!’
Thankfully that could never be said of any of those being ordained this morning… Having spent the last few days with them I am pleased to report that, whilst they do indeed now wear the strip, crucially, they also believe...
And today is a joyful and significant day: for our candidates as they reach the culmination of this journey to ordination and receive the blessing and authority of the church that comes with it; and significant for you – their families, friends and representatives of numerous churches that have supported them.
And I know our ordinands will want to thank you for the love you’ve given, and the sacrifices you’ve made, as they have worked through this strange calling of ours to become Anglican clergy. Likewise, ordinands, you must know we have a cathedral full of pride in you today!
And as you are released from the captivity of theological training, out, into your natural habitat - the parishes of Southwark Diocese - there is much to take with you from the example of St Peter, the founding apostle of the Church, whom we celebrate this weekend. Let’s hear again the brief exchange between him and Jesus, related in our Gospel reading today: Read vv13-16.
This luminous moment of recognition acts as a kind of hinge in the Gospel story. It is as if the Lord has been waiting for one of his followers just to glimpse this insight, for immediately he blesses and commissions Simon (as he was), renaming him Peter, the rock on which he will build his church, and promising to him the very keys of heaven.
Now Peter, famously, was not the first person you might pick for such responsibility. He wasn’t, so far as we can tell, especially saintly or spiritual: he was impulsive, passionate, prone to fly off the handle; one minute buzzing, enthusiastic, the next deeply downcast. He was all over the place, really.
But perhaps the most significant thing about Peter was not what he was when we first meet him in the Bible, but what Jesus saw he could be in the future. Christ’s belief in Peter preceded and exceeded Peter’s own belief in Christ by a long way.
And, at this hinge point in their lives, it is vital to remember that your dear friends, partners, parents, children and curates, about to be ordained, are no more the finished article than we are; but what potential they carry!
They are being ordained to serve, here in Southwark, at a peculiarly anxious and unsettled time in our nation. A time when we fixate on our differences, yet long for a common life, and where the loss of hope is having such a corrosive effect on our personal and communal wellbeing, not least among young people. At such a time, despite our misgivings about religion, we long for something or someone to believe in: for a hope that will not disappoint us.
Authentic belief (St Paul reminds us) is not about knowing so much as being known. Known and, moreover, loved and understood more deeply than we can conceive. Peter’s flash of insight opens him up to this possibility, and the potential for his life that went with it. Not so much knowing as being known.
Now this turns on its head the assumption - so deeply seated in our culture - that everything stands or falls on our ability, our knowledge. ‘I think, therefore I am’. (And so its no surprise when many of us feel Christian belief is beyond us – how could I ever be that sure?). 200 years ago the Anglican poet Samuel Coleridge turned that on its head and wrote no, ‘I think because I am’; and he then pushed this even further – surely ‘I am because God is’. (We don’t make God exist by believing in him – if anything, it is the other way around.)
And Peter just glimpses this for now. He would only become a rock, interestingly, when the ground beneath his feet gave way and he began to sink.
Like when he tried to walk on water and couldn’t – or when the Lord was arrested and he denied he even knew him. It was then that Peter discovered that Christ was his firm foundation.
So part of your job, friends, is to keep these people grounded (I’m tempted to add ‘by whatever means necessary’...).
To be a minister of Christ does not require you to be perfect: wearing the strip can sometimes play that trick on you (and others). The best, most inspiring clergy are those who know that their plastic collars quickly crack - and that it is all too easy to trip on your robes, especially when climbing into a pulpit.
But when our shortfalls occasion a deepening of our faith, of our humanity and compassion for others, then the light of Christ shines through the cracks; then we can really begin to be of service: to Christ - and to a world in need.
May the Lord richly bless your ministry, now and in the years to come. Amen.