On Tuesday 19th March, the Solemnity of St Joseph, Bishop David celebrated his fourth episcopal anniversary. Many people from schools and parishes throughout our diocese came to Northampton Cathedral to share in the celebrations. View pictures from our celebration here

Here is Bishop David’s homily from that day

In those days, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Nathan. When you think about it, this statement is really quite awesome. What is it like for someone to hear the word of the Lord? When God speaks to many in the scriptures, they respond in a similar way. They are challenged and disturbed. The prophet Isaiah and the apostle Peter both share in a sense of their unworthiness and inadequacy. Joseph, of the house of David, has a similar response to what has been revealed to him. This is indeed a spiritual understanding of our existential reality, our unworthiness before the divine, and which seeks a further word from the Lord, knowing that through his grace, only he can do something about this. For myself, every day, and on this day in particular, I can easily come close to an appreciation of how those in the scriptures felt when the word of the Lord came to them, a word of invitation and call to ministry. And at the same time, day by day, we discover the presence of the Lord to our own sense of inadequacy. We may look to the many ways in which others are blessed through our courage to give ourselves fully to the word of the Lord.

At the heart of our experience of the invitation of the Good Shepherd to follow in his footsteps, is an appreciation of how the Lord walks closely with his people in the task of establishing and building the kingdom of heaven. And so we are faced with the need to listen carefully to what God is saying. We often speak of this in terms of the promises made by the Lord. I think we live in a time when it is all too easy for some to set these promises to one side. We are persuaded to lean towards what we are achieving in the Church, or foolishly think we are achieving, through the natural gifts we may have been given. Something which has struck me during the season of Lent this year, and shared with you now in all humility, is this: the more I pray the Gospel, the more I think we need to take our gaze off the institutional Church and focus on the person of Jesus. And if we must think about the Church; our parish, our pastoral area, our diocese, then the kind of knowledge we are seeking is that which is given in a personal relationship between ourselves and Jesus.

So let me share this with you, in the context of what the word of the Lord is offering king David through the prophet Nathan. Every morning when I descend the staircase in Bishop’s House, I greet the portraits of my predecessors, although fortunately they never answer me back. Their faces really do ground me. Each one of them was bishop in our Diocese for a while, and now they are part of the rich and beautiful tradition which is the Diocese of Northampton. It is always tempting to look at things from our own perspective and viewpoint. But others have trodden our paths before us, and others will come after us. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers… Did king David really want to hear those words of the Lord? Well in my case, I might hope for a few days of retirement before the lying down with the fathers bit.

But the overall perspective of these sentiments fits a wholesome understanding of salvation history. We are here to make our humble contribution, hopefully building upon the work of others before us, and knowing that others will come afterwards with their own gifts and insights. But this perspective is encouraging. It stops us taking ourselves too seriously. We are part of the pilgrim people of God. It’s not all down to us as individuals and we belong to a great movement of unfolding salvation, even if there are seeming setbacks from time to time.

There is something of this salvation history dynamic in the Gospel moment we have shared together this morning. I believe these words of the Lord have much to teach the Church in these days. There is an abiding sense of loss. Where is the child Jesus? Joseph and Mary are frantically searching for him. I meet many around our diocese who feel a certain loss when they look back to how things were, and wonder where it is all going now. It is part of our human nature to hope things will stay the same. Change unsettles us. And yet, we are invited to trust and to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord.

The Gospel tells us, when they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere. It was those words, looking for him everywhere, which struck me as being very helpful in my own ministry, and I would suggest, that of each of us here today. God gives his people what they need in a given moment. This is an underlying truth of salvation history. An so it is for us today. My task is to look for the face of Jesus amongst the communities of our diocese, the parishes, the schools, in the lives of the people, clergy and religious who make up the rich tapestry of our growing diocesan family.

And it is for this tremendous gift, I give thanks to our Lord today. May St Joseph always continue to be an inspiring model for me of what spiritual paternity looks like. May I continue to seek Jesus in the highways and byways of our diocese. And may I continue to be blessed and encouraged by the many ways in which our communities bear witness to the kingdom of heaven.

St Joseph, pray for us.