'Building communities of hope': Archbishop preaches in Barbados
Monday 12th August 2013The Archbishop gave the following sermon at Christ Church Parish Church, Barbados on Friday 9 August. Archbishop Justin was visiting Barbados during a tour which also included Guatemala and Mexico
The full text follows:
Building Communities of Hope
Isaiah 49:5-13, Ephesians 2:13-22, Matthew 28:16-30
It is a great privilege to be here with you, to share this Eucharist together, to celebrate our oneness in Christ, and to learn from you and be strengthened in my own faith and joy in The Lord Jesus Christ. Your welcome has been overwhelming and full of warmth and grace.
I recently discovered some family I did not know about until a few months ago. It turns out that my father's family was more complicated than he had told me when I was growing up with him. There is nothing very unusual about all that, it happens to a lot of people. In my case it turns out that he had been born with a different name, and that his family came from Germany, and were Jewish. Many had come to England, but some had not and I found out that they had been killed in 1942, in one of the execution camps under the Nazis. It cannot be said that I felt personal loss, but the view I had of what my family was has changed.
Families are strange things. We may get on well or not get on at all. Or it may be, for most of us somewhere in the middle. But once a family exists, whatever we do we cannot escape it, and when that family is the family of God, its future is clear and the only question for each of us is whether we co-operate with what God wants and find all the good things in store for us, or whether we try and hide away, forget the family, and lose sight of our destiny, our hope and our salvation.
The prophet Isaiah is speaking to a people who are lost and feeble. They are scattered far from home. They have no military strength. They are suffering politically, economically, culturally and religiously. It seems that all the promises of God were empty and the reality was to be a victim. And God answers their cry as he always answers the cry of the poor and dispossessed. His answer is far more dramatic than they could have expected. He does not just say to them, I hear and will save, but I hear and will save and will turn the world the other way up, so those who were slaves will rule and the arrogant rulers will honour those who were slaves. He does not offer prosperity, or worldly success, but salvation, we are not to be imitators of the world, but those who change it.
The old rulers were cruel. The slaves who become rulers will be a source of salvation, of justice and of hope. They will be light in darkness and rescue other prisoners, they will refresh a tired and weary earth. God's purpose for His people then was to change the world through them, and He did, for from them came Jesus, who rules to save and rescue. It is to be part of that mission we are called.
It is a great task and vision, but surely it is an absurdity, a pipe dream? What great force can do such things? We can. We are God's body, elsewhere in Ephesians His family, we often forget that we belong to one another not by an accident of history, but by the purpose and will of God. Divided churches look inwards and despair. Churches that are full of those that know they are God's frail, fallible, sinful people, but God's family, even if they did not know each other find themselves built together to be those who change everything in their world.
We all know of our failures and weaknesses. In this part of the world there is a history of the church in the past having acted in oppression. We cannot forget that in every age and and every place the church is human, and humans make terrible mistakes and do terrible wrongs. But it is still the family of God.
Buildings under construction always look a mess. A few years ago I was doing some work with Christians in Palestine. They were building a school. It was a long struggle. The architect was murdered by terrorists. The money was running out because of the political struggles. I went round the buildings, listening to the shooting nearby, seeing stones and rubble and no workmen, and nearly despaired. But they persisted and struggled and God gave the means and today that is a flourishing school, hope for the people around, and starting work on the next phase to expand into a high school.
The church is under construction but Ephesians reminds us that we are not watching but being made part of it, and the architect and builder is God. Since that is the case we must persist and stick with it and see what He brings into reality. The bricks and stones will need shaping. In the UK we are being shaped in new ways and it is a struggle. Bishop Stephen Croft has led for some years the process of reconstructing and re imagining what our ministry should look like. all churches must do that as we grow and develop and as society changes around us. rebuild, extend, not buildings but in new spiritual life and new ways of reaching people, especially young people. what we call Fresh Expressions is transforming the church, having added the equivalent of a whole diocese in new people in the last 10 years. The world around us had changed dramatically, in its moral codes and expectations, sometimes in good ways sometimes in bad. Adjusting to that is tough. Relearning to be a church that communicates with those around us is difficult. But we do not depend on ourselves, but on God.
We have a great task, says Isaiah, but God is building His family says Ephesians, and in the gospel reading we hear of the means to change all things. It is to be going outwards, into all the world. Our fears and failures make us inward looking. Jesus does not say to the small group of weak, doubting and frightened men and women, "get sorted out and then we will see what we can do", He says make disciples all over the world. And they did. And we are here. And the task is the same. And we can do it because the one who gives the command has all authority and power, He has taught us and teaches us, and He is with us.
We are not alone, but in the presence of Jesus, who died and rose. He stands before each of us and all of us across the world together, looks at each heart and says, "follow me". Our response is adoration, love, worship, passion, celebration because God is with us. And our task is clear, being so filled with our love for this hungry, broken, oppressive, empty and dark world, knowing that we are called to be light and nutrition, built together and worshipping the risen Christ, as we live wholeheartedly and unafraid in the world we make disciples of Christ.