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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 15.02.2024

15th February 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video from France.  I’m here for a few days to celebrate my Father’s 98th birthday – which is quite an achievement – the birthday, rather than getting to France!

The stories of the Bible are a salutary reminder of how difficult it is to finish the journey of faith well.  Very few of the Old Testament Kings manage it, even the great ones who started with a flourish and whose exploits are recounted with pride.  Usually, something happens to trip them up: an unwise marital liaison, a loss of trust in God in the face of insurmountable difficulties, or a catastrophic moral failure, in part because of a loss of accountability. Character development hasn’t kept pace with their obvious gifts.  Sadly, we are all too aware of the same thing happening in high profile Christian leaders today.  Usually, such falls from grace lead to huge disillusionment, loss of trust and the faith of others being undermined. Few can say with Paul in his closing remarks to his protégé Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that day.” Jacob is most unusual in that he starts really badly.  Even his name means deceiver. His life is a story of deception, appalling family dynamics and the sins of favouritism he inherited from his Father being lived out in his relationships with his own children.  And yet one incident alone is recorded by the writer to the Hebrews as an exemplar to his readers.  In Hebrews 11 it describes Jacob, “when he was dying, blessed each of Jacobs sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” This is an image of an integrated life.  His sufferings and joys are brought together into the love of the God who has led and protected him over the many decades of his life. It is an image of thanksgiving, a lack of bitterness and a trusting of his family to God’s future.

There is a contrast here with much of the talk in business circles and Church leadership seminars of legacy: what we leave behind us. A lot of this seems to me to be thinly veiled narcissism. Of course, we seek to be faithful to the Lord in the moment, and hope that we'll be fruitful but what lives beyond us is really up to God. I may be wrong, but the Bible seems to concentrate more on character development than concerns with how we are regarded by our descendants. Paul, no stranger to his own transformation through the grace of God is acute in his letters, recognising the predisposition to different failings at different stages in life. In his letter to Titus he calls the pastors to, “teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.” His advice to the younger men is simply to be self-controlled. The sins of youth are often about un-controlled passions, both physical and emotional.  Growth in maturity is accompanied by a growing self-knowledge to learn one’s own triggers and places of weakness, so one is not caught unawares.  The list for older men (I can only speak for men from a certain inside knowledge) is more comprehensive. Paul recognised the tendency as we get older to slip into cynicism, ennui, a love of comfort with a spirit of entitlement and self-protection. We easily slip into bitterness for being passed over, or our talents unrecognised.  I’ve had too many conversations with older saints who when challenged about the way they have done something or are perceived by others leap straight to self-defence and blame, rather than demonstrating the humility that shows we can continue to learn as long as we are breathing. True spiritual maturity is grateful for the correction – at least that’s what the writer of Proverbs says.

Those who finished well in the Bible are those who grew in humility, deepened their relationship with God, and continued right to the end with courageous faith, constantly pushing the boundaries of their own competence to find the Holy Spirit at work. I greatly admire my parents in all sorts of ways, not least because they took the plunge to move here when my father was a mere 80! Its the age when Moses really got going.  There is no need for faith to sink into familiarity as we get older.  There are always more adventures ahead of us. More to discover of the extravagant love of God, more to know about the inexhaustible riches of Jesus Christ.  I hope and pray that I finish well – although I hope I have a few more years yet. I, like all of us, am a practicing Christian. I still haven’t yet got it right.

+ Richard


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