All you need is love: sermon for the ordination of priests, Liverpool Cathedral 2021

Liverpool Cathedral 

12 June 2021

Ordinations to the Priesthood

Sermon: Father Richard Peers

Genesis 22:2-14

John 15:9-17


Jesus said:  love each other.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Please sit down.

Wow, bishop Paul/Bev.

Wow, diocese of Liverpool,

Wow, everyone watching on livestream.

22 amazing people to be ordained priest here today. 22 amazing priests.

22 people who are sincere, serious, prayerful, big-hearted.

X …

It was a deep joy for me to spend even just a few hours with you this week. A privilege to be at this service with you today, to pray for you and to to talk to you, your colleagues, your families and friends, about our friend Jesus.

1967, the summer of love.

The Beatles had released their album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at the end of May that year. Brian Epstein signed them up for a TV Deal for one song, to be broadcast live on June 25th.

The instruction was clear: the song was to be broadcast simultaneously around the world, the lyrics had to be simple enough to be understood anywhere, in any language.

John Lennon set about it and in the broadcast 400 million people heard for the first time: All You Need Is Love.

That television broadcast was a programme called One World. In 1967 One World experiencing the same music, One World aspiring to love.

In 2021 One World is frighteningly real. One World in which a virus can spread to every corner of the globe in just a few months, in which variants come to dominate within weeks of emerging. 

All you need is love?

All of us here in the cathedral, all of you watching at home, what do you need, what do we need, this morning/afternoon?

Possibly you need the preacher not to go on too long. 

If you are X …. you need to be ordained priest.

To get to this day the women and men to be ordained priest needed to discern a call to priesthood with the Church and their bishops. They needed to absorb and regurgitate in essays knowledge of Scripture and theology. They needed to confirm that call to priesthood with their Training Incumbents and title parishes in this deacons’ year.

All You Need Is Love.

To love is to be people of heart. St Benedict in his Rule writes about enlarging the heart, expanding the heart.

X … this is the thing you need most for this ministry, 

to be big-hearted people.

In my conversations with you over the last two days, short as that has been, that is what has encouraged me most – to see the bigness of your hearts.

To be a big-hearted person is not to absorb all the pain that you will meet in your ministry; it is not to take into yourself and hold there the brokenness of the world. 

It is not to solve all the problems the loveless; the lonely; the desperate by your own actions, your own love.

If you try and do all that you will quickly burn out. 

If you try and do all that your heart will soon whither.

To be big hearted is to be spacious. 

To have enough room in your heart not for your love, but for God’s love.

To be empty enough of yourself and your own preoccupations for the love of God to dwell in you.

The opposite of a big heart is a hardened heart. 

A heart that holds on tightly, a heart that is too full of its own hurts and injuries and in which there is no breathing space.

As I spoke with you this week some of you shared the pains, the sorrows, the brokenness of your own lives. 

And this is the best news yet.

This is how God tenderises our hearts. How God softens us. 

How we are opened up to recognise in our own suffering the suffering of others. 

To see that life can be tough and painful and sad, and that’s OK.

All you need is love.

There are various stories about how and when Lennon wrote the song. Perhaps it was quickly in just the few weeks leading up to the One World broadcast.

He wrote a song in simple words to say profound things.

That is the task ahead of you dear friends being ordained today. 

There’s no hurry, you can spend the rest of your life doing it.

From the spaciousness of your hearts, from your tenderised hearts, can you speak in simple words, as simple as the words Jesus uses: 

love each other?

From the spaciousness of your hearts from your tenderised hearts, can you demonstrate in simple actions that glorious freedom that being loved by God gives us? 

The freedom from our own histories and narratives.  

Freedom from our own internalised images of ministry; freedom from the projections of our society on us of ministry.

Only one thing can give us that freedom, only one thing can fuel our ministry.

All you need is love. 

One of my favourite spiritual writers talks of the need we have for ‘beginner’s mind’.

In the beginner’s mind there are endless possibilities. 

A beginner doesn’t mind failing, is happy to laugh at themselves,

is serious about the task but doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

A priest is never an expert.  

A priest is always a beginner. 

Always open to new possibilities, always a learner. 

For a priest there are always endless opportunities.

Bread and wine that can become the Body and Blood of Christ. Sins that can be forgiven. Lives that can be healed and blessed.

One of the things I loved over the last two days as I spent time with our wonderful priest candidates was that there was no sense of entitlement.

None of you thought you had it sussed, that you had arrived.

You talked of being completely surprised by this call; of wanting to go deeper.

The church of God, the Diocese of Liverpool, the communities you serve are blessed by your beginner’s minds.

Christian writers in the east speak of the mind descending into the heart, so that all your knowledge and experience dwells in the centre of your being in a spacious heart. A heart where love is not simply an emotion but a decision, a choice, as you are making a choice for your lives today. 

A choice for love and freedom.

Only one thing can give us that freedom, only one thing can fuel our ministry.

All you need is love.

And that love is what we find in the gospel we have just heard. 

It is friendship with Jesus.

X … never forget that above all else, above all the things that you will do and will fill your diaries and lives with, you are called to friendship with Jesus. 

You will have to guard time to sustain that friendship by reading and studying Scripture, by praying, by having a friendship with Jesus that you can talk to other people about in the same simple language that Jesus uses. 

You may not be John Lennon, but you do need to talk about Jesus from your own knowledge and experience.

And that’s the question posed to all of us who are Christians in this building today or watching on livestream: 

how is our friendship with Jesus doing, 

how is my friendship with Jesus, how is yours?

And to those of you who don’t know Jesus who are here perhaps to support a relative or friend, what does Jesus mean to you?

Perhaps you didn’t come to the cathedral this morning/afternoon expecting to discover love but that is what Jesus is offering you. 

If you want to know more about this amazing friendship that he offers speak to one of these newly ordained priests, or give them a break and speak to one of the rest of us after the service. 

Ask us about Jesus, test us out and see if we speak truthfully, authentically about this friend we have.

X … be big-hearted priests.

All you need is love. 

All I need is love. 

All we need is love. 

For this One World.