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Sermon for the Installation of Timothy Goode – The Very Revd Dominic Barrington, Dean of York

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Title: The Installation of Canon Revd Timothy Goode 

Preacher: The Very Revd Dominic Barrington, Dean 

Date: 9 September 2023

But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation

About ten years ago, when I was a parish priest in Northamptonshire, our bishop organized a vast diocesan conference. To keep costs as low as possible, it was scheduled for December. The pressure of carol services and Christmas preparations make Advent one of the busiest – and most stressful – seasons for clergy, and I imagine that the conference centre charges were probably reduced to reflect this.

Racing around my rectory as I packed and got ready to be absent for three whole days and nights, I remembered that I needed to change my voicemail greeting. I had just purchased a new, all-singing, all-dancing phone, which I found absurdly hard to programme. It took me an infuriatingly long time to work out how to change my greeting message, and, with fast-rising blood pressure, I was just recording it when, with very unhelpful timing, the doorbell rang!

Uttering a loud, four-letter word, I slammed down the phone and went to the door to sign for a registered letter. Now – of course – I returned to my desk, and re-recorded the announcement that I was going to be away for a few days, using calm and appropriate language that did not reflect how I was actually feeling… and then I went off to the Hayes Conference Centre in Derbyshire – known to many, many Church of England clergy – where, to my delight, I enjoyed a surprisingly uplifting and engaging conference.

At least, I was enjoying myself until the last morning, when I received a text in capital letters from my organist, asking me what on earth I thought I’d done with my answering machine.

For – in my haste and my stress, and my unfamiliarity with an overly complicated gadget – I had failed to hit the ‘save’ button, and rather than transmitting the calm, demure message that was my final attempt to master this technology, my abrupt, four-letter expletive had been greeting every caller to the Rectory since I had departed some 72 hours previously.

So be ye holy in all manner of conversation…

But, of course, not all four-letter words are bad. Not all four-letter words are harmful or destructive. There are times when the right four-letter word can change things for the better – indeed, there are times when a four-letter word can make for a truly ‘holy’ conversation – just as we heard tell in our second reading.

The scene, of course, is Easter morning. It’s the story of Jesus’ resurrection. But – slightly annoyingly – it is only one half of Saint John’s account of Easter morning. What we heard was the second half of a story – a story of which the first half really hadn’t gone that well…

‘Early on the first day of the week’, we are told, Mary comes to Jesus’ tomb – and she immediately knows that something is up, because the stone had been ‘removed from the tomb’. So she goes and gets Peter and John, telling them that Jesus’ body has been stolen, and she doesn’t know where it now is.

And, as you doubtless recall, the two apostles, the two leading figures of Jesus’ former company of friends and followers, these two men, who clearly understand themselves as being in some way ‘in charge’ – they go into the tomb. And we are told that at least one of them ‘saw and believed’ – saw and believed, even though, at that point, they didn’t understand the Hebrew Scriptures that pointed to this moment.

But what did they do? What did these two supposedly great leaders of God’s people do at this turning point in the history of God’s love for the world?

They went home. Perhaps they wanted their breakfast, or perhaps they just went back to bed. We don’t know – but they didn’t even bother to say anything to Mary. They just left.

But not Mary. That’s not good enough for Mary. Mary clearly knows that something ought to be said and done. She cannot leave the story – the story, so she thinks, of the dead Jesus – she cannot leave the story alone.

And it remains the story, so she thinks, of the dead Jesus, until… until, by the uttering of what has proved to be the most important four-letter word in the history of the world, until the risen and anything-but-dead Christ calls her by name – “Mary”, and, with that four-letter word, commissions her to go and have the ultimate ‘holy conversation’.

And thus, as she becomes the apostle to the apostles, it falls to Mary to announce to the disciples, and – through them – to announce even to us, ‘I have seen the Lord’. And that’s when it all really begins.

But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation

Throughout this service, we have been prodded by holy Scripture – prodded to have the right kind of conversations. Conversations which Peter, in that letter which formed the text for Wesley’s beloved anthem that we just heard, a letter written to some early Christians who needed real encouragement in the face of persecution – conversations which Peter calls ‘holy’. And something which is ‘holy’, of course, is simply something set apart for a divine purpose or function or use.

So in our first reading, at the foot of Sinai, God is having a holy conversation with Moses, to enable to Moses to have a holy conversation with the Israelites. God is setting Moses up for what, in our own time, Tim, we might call ‘congregational discipleship and nurture’. For God wants… God needs the people of Israel to be the ambassadors of a good news that they eventually will come to realize is of significance for all God’s children.

And, in the wake of the staggeringly hopeless failure by Peter and John to engage in any conversation at all about the most significant event to have happened since the very creation of the world, mirroring the events of Sinai so many centuries earlier, Jesus engages Mary in ‘holy conversation’. Starting with one, vital, life-changing four-letter word, Jesus commissions Mary to a ‘holy conversation’ that is going to awaken Peter and John and the other nine of them out of their apathy, and which is going to lead to the discipling and nurturing of… well, of the whole world.

Last November, at the end of my own service of installation here, Archbishop Stephen offered me and the Chapter (those of us with the ultimate responsibility for the life of this cathedral and metropolitical church) he offered us a charge. Acknowledging the vast amount of hurt and confusion there is in the world today, he told us – he mandated us  – to, ‘Keep the conversation going, so that we may talk about the things of God’.

As our new Canon for Congregational Discipleship and Nurture, Tim, I rejoice that you have come amongst us to help us in this task. For, in a place as vast, as complex, and as fast-moving as York Minster, you will find all too quickly, that what Saint Peter thought of as ‘holy conversation’ can sometimes be really quite elusive, set, as it must be, in the context of the all too necessary, but absolutely secondary, distractions of strategic reviews, and tourism and marketing plans, and architectural protocols, and finance spreadsheets, and everything else that is an unavoidable part of the management of a substantial institution such as this.

So, as the one specifically called to the discipleship and nurture of the people of God in this place, Tim, on behalf of us all, I beg you to keep us holy ‘in all manner of conversation’. And you can even use the odd four-letter word, if you need to! Amen.

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