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Sermon preached by The Dean

Thank you so much for the welcome. We have a house full of cards and kind letters and little notes that we have received – including one wishing me a happy retirement! So it is right to start by saying thank you. To Bishop Nick and Linda and the Cathedral for the warm welcome that we have received and the way people have put themselves out to help us; to Canon Andy Williams for his ministry as Acting Dean over the last year and a half, so ably supported by Canon Sam Corley, staff, chapter, council and members of the congregation; to those who have travelled, sometimes significant distances to be here today; to those from the Diocese and City of Bradford who have given up a summer Sunday afternoon to be present; to those who have spent time preparing for this moment; thank you to you all.

In designing this service the thought did go through my mind that there should be a liturgical moment when I lay down a Nottingham Forest scarf and take up a Bradford City one. What a fantastic season the Bantams have had. Wembley has become a home fixture! Sporting achievement, we know, even from the last two weeks lifts people, makes them feel differently about themselves and Bradford City has certainly rewritten the narrative this season. Last year I attended, with many others, the exhibition of David Hockney’s paintings at the Royal Academy. Huge canvases with vibrant colours capturing beauty of nature in different seasons in Yorkshire. The exhibition was called ‘A Bigger Picture’ and by their sheer size the paintings challenged you to stand back and see the whole.  This week I had an electronic sneak preview of the Cathedral’s new altar frontals that are rooted in the story of Bradford’s wool and textile heritage. They are exciting pieces of design that recognise the glory of the past and point to a hopeful future.

Sport and the Arts are a very significant part of healthy community life – they help us to experience belonging; celebrate and critique culture; and they put us in touch with a bigger picture which can spur us at times to reflect on the kind of world we desire. The opening ceremony of the Olympics perhaps brought them together in a most memorable way.

Both our Bible readings today are about the Bigger Picture. They are ancient writings of prophetic imagination aiming to energise and enable human beings to flourish. Both are about city life – although interestingly Jeremiah includes the environs of Jerusalem and John’s vision of the City of God manages to hold together urban and rural in the one place. Both are written to communities experiencing disruption and the challenge of change. 

Jeremiah lived at a very difficult time in his nation’s history. They were surrounded by superpowers who played with smaller nations like a cat with a mouse and who could, and eventually in his lifetime, did, destroy the beloved capital city, Jerusalem. Immediately preceding our reading we have a deeply depressing picture of economic life in free fall, an ecosystem that has broken down and trust and honest speech in the public square ceasing to exist. The prevailing wisdom seemed to be based on people boasting about their techniques for manipulating life in their favour, their acts of heroism and wealth. Jeremiah is overwhelmed by what he is witnessing around him. O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people! 9:1-2. And there are times when he is tempted to give up. But there is a light that pierces this darkness, a wisdom that Jeremiah knows and finds irresistible. The Lord… who acts with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight. This is the Bigger Picture and Jeremiah is caught up in the agony, commitment and yearning of God for the city.

John’s vision of the City of God is an altogether different proposition. It feels like a description of divine town planning. This city is marked out by its hospitality – the gates are always open and it is welcoming to all nations. You cannot help but reflect on the parallel here with this city where people have come from the Caribbean, Ireland, Eastern Europe, South Asia, Far East and East Africa. The next mark of the biblical city is that it is a vast and spacious place so no-one is cramped. There is green space in the city centre and food is even grown there. The river of life (God’s gift to city) runs down the High Street where there are trees with leaves that are for the healing of the nations. So, this is a place of meeting, of discovery, learning and reconciliation. God is at centre of this city, not locked away in a building but ever present. And the tour concludes with reference to God’s servants who offer worship to God and the Lamb, who is Jesus Christ. At the heart of the city is worship and a community, caught up in God’s ministry of reconciliation to all nations. It is a wonderful picture of the flourishing life.

A cathedral is the seat of the Bishop and a centre of worship and mission. We are here to witness to the wisdom of God in Christ by serving this City, District and Diocese. And like Jeremiah and John that service is to be marked by a commitment to people through a focus on justice, hospitality, bridge building, reconciliation and sharing the living Christ as our way of life. This is our prophetic vocation.

There is an ancient story of a passer by asking three stone-masons what they are working on. One says ‘I am sanding down a block of marble,’ another says, ‘I am preparing a foundation,’ and the third one says,’ I am building a cathedral.’ The third one has the big picture, the others are into detail. It’s a reminder that the big picture is essential but never enough on its own. It needs to become an earthed reality in the detail of our lives.

So God’s vision for human flourishing is expressed through this cathedral as we pray for Bradford and the Diocese twice a day every day of the year; as we look to make our contribution to civic life and the regeneration of the City; as we support the ministry of those working with homeless and refugee; as we provide space for enabling relationships and understanding between faiths, for the benefit of whole community; as we develop our links with other nations; as we welcome people of all ages to this place of worship and they enjoy the cared for green space here. And this Big Picture is not only expressed in the obvious projects but also in those, often hidden, small acts of service and mercy that are offered every day in the name of Christ.

But as the seat of the Bishop we also serve the wider diocese, soon to be the episcopal area of Bradford, still with its own Bishop and cathedral! I am energised by this bold initiative to create a new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales and the cathedral will need to be at the heart of the developments, exploring ways in which we need to develop fresh thinking about our ministry in City, District and Episcopal area.

We are at a significant time of change in both the global and local. We need a Bigger Picture, a vision of human flourishing. I believe that the Christian faith has a deep wisdom to bring to that conversation based, as Ben Quash, our Canon Theologian has written, on abiding, not in ourselves but beyond ourselves, in relationship with God and with others.  It feels like a real privilege to be here in Bradford and West Yorkshire at this time. Over the coming months I look forward to meeting and listening as well as praying and working with new colleagues. I come as one who is keen to learn and to contribute. I ask for your prayers please as together we work for the flourishing of this city, district and diocese.


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