On August 1, Ripon had the very great privilege of hosting the Yorkshire Day celebrations for the whole of Yorkshire. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and were assured that the visitors left with a very favourable impression of this ancient city.
Here is an extract from the sermon that I preached in the cathedral service.
“Streams of Living Water” is the title of this Yorkshire Day service. Our Bible readings remind us of the need for both actual water and spiritual ‘water’ to achieve fulness of life.
“The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life,” said Jesus.
Streams of Living Water; Yorkshire is full of them! Here in Ripon we are fortunate; we have three rivers: the Laver, the Skell, and the Ure – and a canal for good measure.
I grew up on the banks of another Yorkshire river, the Aire. And for over 20 years, I lived on the north bank of yet another – the River Tees, in County Durham.
I used to joke that I felt like a missionary in a foreign land! What I still can’t understand is that when you cross the Tees travelling north, you are greeted by signs welcoming you to the Land of the Prince Bishops. That’s fine.
But when travelling south, coming into Yorkshire, there are no signs informing you that you are entering God’s own Country.
Now, why is that? Isn’t this what we celebrate today on this Yorkshire Day?
The blessing of living in God’s own country?
The old Testament tells us that Moses counselled God’s chosen people, as they were about to cross the river into the Promised Land.
“The Land that you are crossing over to occupy is a land of hills and valleys, watered by rain from the sky, a land that the Lord your God looks after.
The eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” Could this not be a description of Yorkshire?
The geology and topography that have given this holy land its rural beauty and industrial wealth were a long time in the making – in the flow of history’s very slow stream.
And our far-travelled Yorkshire surely has the right to be described as holy because it is far from being of our making.
It is a gift to us. In fact, like every part of the world, it is a gift of Almighty God.
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live it.” asserts Psalm 24.
It has been said unkindly of us Yorkshire folk that we regard ourselves as being self-made. The good Lord was thereby spared an awesome responsibility!
Well, we might regard that as being rather unfair.
The history of this region since it first gained its identity in the Viking period – a shire of York with its three ridings – tells of human creativity, ingenuity and industry – seen in the rural landscape as much as the urban; seen in the churches and abbeys.
The four Yorkshire awards presented today to fine companies and charities show that the streams of creativity, ingenuity, energy, entrepreneurship and productivity still flow in Yorkshire. Moses said to the people about to enter the Promised Land, “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt… Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…”
God’s people had not been in the Holy Land for ever – it was a gift that could easily be lost.
Some of us will have moved to Yorkshire recently – by which I mean during the last 500 years!
Some of our families will have been in Yorkshire since the Norman conquest, others since Viking period.
But we are all incomers to this particular holy land. We have our share of this rich and fertile and wonderful land by God’s good grace.
We do well, on this Yorkshire Day, to come into this ancient cathedral and to praise God for our blessings.