September 28, 2020

Jamaica and Cayman Islands Bishop’s enthronement sermon

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Bishop Howard Gregory’s sermon, (heavily edited) at his enthronement, as the 14th Lord Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, last Thursday (17).

I want to use the opportunity to express my sincere thanks to the people of this Diocese for the tremendous honour, which you have bestowed on me in electing and confirming me as the 14th Bishop of this Diocese.

It is truly a humbling experience, as anyone who has a sense of the awesome nature of this responsibility, will know that no one is ever qualified for this office, and that your decision is as much an expression of an act of faith, as my acceptance of the responsibility, being fully aware as I am, that it is only by the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, and your prayers and support that I will be able to make a meaningful contribution to the life of this Church.

I am fully cognisant that I come to this office, not as a pioneer or trailblaser, but with a deep appreciation and sense of reverence at the fact that I enter into a legacy bequeathed to me by my predecessors, and, if I may use an image from St Paul, I must now do my part to water and to tend the seeds which have been sown, and thus build on their legacy.

The well-being of family and spouse can become a point of focus rather than individual withdrawal. The dying person can now talk freely to those who dare to listen, what is to happen to the children and how they are to live when the dying one is gone, and even if the spouse should re-marry, sometimes even naming who the surviving spouse should marry.

Jesus in His moment of glory prays for His disciples. But what is this moment really about? And this question must be treated with some seriousness as this text is one among various options chosen for Ascensiontide, and which therefore points, in an anticipatory manner, to the departure of the risen Lord in His resurrected state from among the disciples, and His ascension to glory, where He is seated at the right hand of the Father, there to make intercession for the faithful, even as He makes provision for the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit with the faithful. In answer then to the question of the significance of this moment, we may say:

1. It represents a moment of consecration, a dedication of the whole person to the service of God, a setting apart.

Here is Jesus consecrating Himself in the service of God and offering us the benefits, in His sacramental presence in the Holy Eucharist. But this moment of consecration is also a moment of glory for Jesus. It is important that we are reminded of these realities on this feast of the Ascension, because so much of the gospel which is preached is truncated or reductionistic, and by which the Cross is proclaimed without reference to the Ascension.

If you look at the Apostles’ Creed and take note of the section dealing with the person of Jesus Christ, you will see there expressed the fullness of the gospel as preached by the Church.

1. Incarnation — God’s affirmation of human life and the world in the birth of Jesus;

2. Suffering and the Cross — Redemption;

3. The Resurrection — God’s resounding declaration of the victory of Jesus over sin, evil and death;

4. The Ascension — Glorification of the ascended Lord with the Father as He shares in the divine reign;

5. Pentecost — The gift of the promised Holy Spirit, the Comforter and the empowering and enabling gifts which it imparts.

So as we celebrate this feast of the Ascension, let us be aware that it is not just enough to talk about Jesus dying for our sins. That is only a part of the story of God’s salvation.

As I embark on the task of leadership of this Diocese, I am fully aware that there is a primacy attached to my responsibility for the life of the church, in leading in serving and caring for you, the people of God, but also in interpreting the gospel to you through preaching and teaching, so that together we can share in the Mission of God for His Church and for the world.

I am also aware that this is not a solo task, and so all of us together as clergy, churchworkers and lay leaders, must work at the improvement of the quality of our preaching, the exercise of our teaching ministry, and pursue personal development of our competencies in these areas of ministry.

At the same time we must learn how to preach the gospel with power and effectiveness to a world that is desperately in need of the good news, even as it is being bombarded by secularism which, while seeking to undermine religious faith, has nothing to offer in filling the void it is creating in the life of persons seeking to find a sense of meaning and purpose, a feature of human life which St Augustine reminds us can only be found when we rest in God.

One of the greatest challenges facing us as Christians is the extent to which we are a consecrated people, a people who have consecrated ourselves, separated ourselves/stood out from the rest of society in order to be in the service of God. We live in a society which is permeated at every level by corruption, and in which we benefit co-operatively from ill-gotten gain, and not just the acts of corruption, supposedly restricted to politicians and those in the public service.

For example, the inflows into this country from the lotto scam has wide circulation within the economy, and there is not only a culture of silence around it among some persons, but there are many who would suggest that there is nothing wrong with it. When parents can accept the gift of a home from a 15-year-old who is not working, and be contented with it, and when teachers in our schools can tell us of the high school students who own their own substantial three-bedroom house, and multiple taxis plying routes, you know that things have gone terribly wrong in this country, where our values and morality are concerned.

But who do you think are the corrupt people? I venture to suggest that we, members of the Church, are caught up in the corruption or are benefiting from it. Some of you may recall an incident some time ago in which the couriers inadvertently left a million dollars in an ABM booth and a lady who came along and found it, lodged a report to the authorities, who came to retrieve it.

In a discussion programme on radio concerning this development, people were asked what would they do in that circumstance. One man declared that had it been his wife who found that money and returned it he would beat the life out of her. A female caller said that she is a Christian, and if she found the money she would keep half for herself and give the other half to her pastor!

I warn the Church, that the rally card and some of the fundraising activities need to be subjected to closer scrutiny, as they run the risk of bringing drug and other tainted money into the coffers of the Church. Likewise, while the Church seeks to minister to the spiritual needs of all people, we must be careful how we bend over backward to charge fees and to accommodate some funerals that are bashment affairs funded by money of dubious origin.

Christians are being tainted by direct or tangential connections to these activities.

But the challenge to be a consecrated people is not just to parade up and down as persons who are holier than thou, but to be a people committed to love and unity within the body and in our witness to the world.

The basis of unity is love, a love which is grounded in the love of God:

If God so loved us then we should love one another.

As a consecrated people then, we must manifest love in our personal life and in our corporate life within our congregations.

In an interesting way, in Anglican understanding, the basic unit constituting the church is not the local congregation, but the Diocese. We are one unit under one bishop, all other responsibilities and authority being of a derived and shared

As the community of the redeemed, we must become a community where people can find love, acceptance, forgiveness, and support, as they face life’s vicissitudes, and seek to discover where the God of love may be connected to their life and experience. Mainline religious traditions, like our own, are scampering to find ways to grow and to prove relevance to the life of people in today’s world.

Many of our people are hurting at very personal levels as they try to cope with life and try to find and be found of God in the midst of their struggles. They are having financial difficulties, living in fear because of the pervasiveness of crime and violence, they are dealing with brokenness in their family life, and hopelessness, despair and cynicism as they look to those in governance to make a difference to their lives.

We must seek to discern and to find creative ways to respond to the hurts of our people, not just with the application of “Band-aid” and superficial responses, but in ways that assist them in encountering God in worship and in dealing with the challenges of daily living.

We are not short of resource persons in many congregations who could assist young persons in their academic pursuits, but too many of us are wearing blinders when in comes to seeing and responding to the needs of these persons.

At another level, I want to challenge members of the Church and of the society as a whole to re-think the excesses and vulgarity which are attending many weddings and funerals, even as those making such expenditures and displays claim to have nothing to assist needy children and young people in our congregations and society.

As we focus on the achievements of these past 50 years of Independence, we must understand that the struggle continues for many of our people, as the liberation, justice, and equality which are embedded in the aspirations of an independent people have not been achieved for many. There is still not equality for all before the law and in access to opportunities and the collective resources of this country.

We must therefore not fool ourselves into thinking that Independence is a destination at which we have arrived. Accordingly, we must be concerned about the pervasive abuse of our children, human trafficking, poverty, unemployment, crime and violence, social injustices, the protracted delays in the delivery of justice through the courts, the plight of the disadvantaged and marginalised, corruption, the neglect of the environment, the challenges within the educational system of the nation, to name a few.

As your bishop, I shall seek to keep these issues in the forefront of my ministry, and shall do so without entanglement in partisan politics, but with a deep sense of awareness of the reality that these are political issues, and at times will create discomfort for some of the faithful.

We must also be careful that, in the popular definition of the Church as “the moral conscience of the nation”, we understand this as something to be exercised in humility and not in arrogance and bigotry. To be the conscience of the nation is not just to make pronouncements but to be present among the poor and marginalised, the hopeless and despairing, the powerless and the abused, standing with them, working alongside them in transformative ways, and being a voice for the voiceless by way of advocacy, and in challenging the society and those in governance to act justly toward those who are neglected in the distribution of scarce benefit and the struggle for power.

As your bishop I am not the Church, we are the Church, and we must stand together in this commitment to be partners in this mission which our risen and ascended Lord has entrusted to us.

When, therefore, we meet in this fashion today, we give thanks to God for His saving work accomplished in Jesus Christ, who is now seated at the right hand of the Father, where he now intercedes for His Church; for the guidance of His Church through the ages in raising up pastoral leaders for the people of God; for the celebration of His many blessings to us as a Diocese and the peculiar ministry and mission to which we are called as a part of the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

To this end, I commit myself to strive, with the guidance and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, to be a faithful pastor to the people of this Diocese and to the people of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, and invite your prayerful support and participation as we continue on a journey of faithful witness to Jamaica, and to the people of the Cayman Islands.

 

 

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