Sermon by the Rt. Rev. Ronald Owen Hall, as Bishop of Victoria, on his Enthronement at St. John's Cathedral, HongKong,
30 December, 1932
Compiled by Michael Poon
Sheng Kung Hui Documents
WITH full ritual and in the presence of a large congregation, European and Chinese, our new Bishop was enthroned by the Bean, the Rev. Alfred Swann, assisted by the Archdeacon of Canton, at St. John's Cathedral, HongKong, on Friday, December 30, 1932. The service was fully choral; and some of the prayers and the Bishop's sermon were interpreted into Cantonese.
One hundred and twenty-five years ago, Robert Morrison left England for South China. Five weeks ago I left England to come to this place, leaving the same city in which Robert Morrison grew to manhood. I was born in that city and have lived and worked there for the greater part of my life. What it cost Robert Morrison to leave Newcastle for China I do not know. I do know what it cost me¡ªthe rights, members and appurtenances thereunto belonging.
For the past six years my life has been in the homes of Newcastle people with the sick, with the bereaved, with the countless unemployed, for whom life has little hope and no meaning, and with the boys and girls, who as they grew to manhood and womanhood gave me so generously their confidence and their friendship.
Life Tied to China.
Jesus of Nazareth wept over Jerusalem. My heart is still sore for my beloved Tyneside, for my fellow townsmen, for the pits and shipyards and heather hills of the north country. In a strange way God has tied my life to China. In my schooldays I had three friends. We were as intimate together as David and Jonathan. In the stern days of the war they were all taken and I was left alone. Something was dead in me. I had lost the capacity for intimate friendship with my fellows. In 1922 I was sent to the Student Conference in Peking. At that Conference the capacity for friendship was restored to me. As a gift from God there came into my life a friendship as deep and as strong as those the war had taken from me. It was friendship for and with a Chinese Christian. Four years later I sat where you now sit while he spoke to you from this pulpit. His friendship has done two things for me. It has given me back my capacity for friendship with my fellows. And it has given me a love for the people of China second only to my love of my own people.
You can imagine then the deep joy which is mine, a joy which is not destroyed by an overwhelming trepidation, because I can now combine the two great loves of my life, my own countrymen and the Chinese people. I am proud and grateful to God that I am allowed to serve you here in this vigorous and beautiful colony, and also the great Chinese people, through whom God opened my heart again to friendship after the bereavement of the war.
Two Fold Ministry.
In another sense my ministry is a twofold one. Its first and chief aim is to share with you the knowledge and the power of living communion with the Eternal God, that we may learn from each other to know ever more fully the meaning of sonship to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the second part of my ministry, as I understand the commission that has come to me down the ages from that night when Our Lord spent the whole night in prayer before he chose the twelve, the second part of that ministry is to forge even stronger and stronger links in the fellowship of the Gospel of Jesus Christ between China and Britain, two nations whom God has made to serve one another in brotherhood and peace.
That you have set me to-night upon the Bishop's seat in this Cathedral, the Mother Church of our Communion in the Far East, and still more the Mother Church in the growing family of God which we call this diocese, that you have shared in this service means this to me that you have dedicated yourselves and tills whole diocese afresh to the work of Christ in South China. I am very grateful to you that you are willing to accept so raw a novice as a fellow worker. I do want you to know how earnestly I desire to serve you faithfully, humbly, and in the power of God.
In a way that I cannot describe I have been conscious of the power of the prayer that has been offered for my wife and myself in the past months. My predecessor was, I know, not only a great administrator but also a man of prayer. I know how much his prayers and love are with us at this time. From him and from others I have heard how constant your prayer has been. To-night I stand here first of all to ask that that prayer may be continued. To-day and in the years that lie ahead, we have more need and not less to be bound together in the bond of mutual prayer one for the other. I ask not only for your prayers, but for a particular way of prayer. I ask for forgiving prayer.
Should his crop fail, the farmer does not blame his field: he is not bitter towards it: Rather he gives it more care, he will plough it more deeply and manure it more generously. But with people we are not so wise. If we do not get from them exactly the crop we expect, if they fail us or wound us, or betray work which is very dear to our hearts, we give them not more ' but less of love and care.. There grows in us a root of bitterness towards them.
'Give More Love when I Disappoint You.'
I know that in many things I shall disappoint you. You will not get the crop you expect from this field. I ask that your prayers for me may have then and always the giving and forgiving quality of God about it: that you will give more love and care for me in your prayers, just at those times when I disappoint you most. Pray too with me that my prayer for you may be of the same sort; That I may not say in the deep places 'that man or that woman is no good,' so that the trend of my being is set against them, but rather that on my knees I may say 'I have not understood. There is need of more time, more love, more trouble for that one.' So may the fertile and forgiving love of God flow in this diocese with power to win many souls for his Kingdom.
It was inevitable to-night that I should speak thus personally to yon. I have one more thing to say about my being here. A recent English visitor to Russia was tempted to kneel down and pray in a Russian Church when his guide spoke slightingly of God. But lie dared not do it. He knew then that he in his heart had only given lip-service to the religion of his country, lie had done by neglect what his guide was doing by conviction. He was ashamed in the presence of an honesty greater than his own.
I am here among you to challenge the deep places of your hearts. What think you of God? and still more sternly What, think you, does God think of you? If there is no God this service is a pathetic mockery. If any one of you think there is no God I beg you in his name to be as honest as some Russians and refuse to countenance this dangerous superstition. For the religion of Jesus is dangerous. He came to bring not peace but a sword. So in Jesus' name I warn you that I am here as a highwayman, and worse than a highwayman. The highway at least gave the frightened travellers a choice. 'Your money or your life.' I give no choice as my Master gave me. He will have your life and nothing less. But He puts no pistol to your head. 'We, as ambassadors of Christ,' says S. Paul, 'entreat you in the name of God.' 'He emptied himself and became embodied as a servant.' Peter said 'Lord Thou shalt never wash my feet.' And the answer in word and act was 'If I wash Thee not, Peter, thou hast no part in Me.' Well did St. Paul write in his second letter to the Corinthian Church that they had been 'servanted into being.' Like his Master he had taken their lives, not with the pistol, but on his knees washing their feet.
Indeed since Calvary this Highwayman has been more active than before it. He is not limited to the by-ways of Palestine. More often than not it hns been on the Emmaus road he has been found.
Life and its Promises
I want you to notice his method on the Emmaus road. As you ponder, in disappointment or bitterness, that life does not fulfil its promises; that this youth of yours of which you had hoped so much is slipping from you unfulfilled; that the ministry given you in ordination has lost its first fire, and leaves cold against your inmost heart a fear that it is not what it seems like one dying: some of you who are married may be watching a steady decay in the strong invigorating. intimacy between wife and husband, or the failure of business or academic work to fulfil its early promise. You may hide it and turn away from these Renderings to other things, but you know, and I know, that deep in your heart there is the Emmaus question 'We thought that it had been He that would redeem Israel. We thought it had been He which would give life meaning, but now there is only a corpse.' He comes up quietly beside you as you walk with leaden steps the Emmaus road. And He explains your own experience to you in the light of His, He shows you life can only come out of death, whether for the Messiah or for the plain man and woman, that it is only when these things on which you build the solid hopes of your life have tailed you, have indeed become corpses, only then can their true life become available for you, and you find your life in His.
For the moment your heart warms within you. But He makes as though He would go further. For the next move is yours. He cannot and will not take it. Remember the depths of His courtesy. He entreats. There are no spurs on His heels 1-ut great, wounds in His feet. There is no pistol in His hand but the red marks of the nails. He makes as if He would go further. He will only stay if you want Him. You must say 'Abide with me.' Then He will come in. And when you lay before Him the bread, that so-common stuff of your everyday living, He will take it and break it, as He let them break His own body, and so making it His own He will give it back to you. And as you set out to live again in Him and for Him this old dying life of yours which He has made one with His own, you will find that it is life indeed, and you will know that peace of God that passeth understanding.
[Outpost (April 1933): 6-10]