Reconciliation is our 'gift to the world': Archbishop preaches in Guatemala
Monday 12th August 2013In this sermon, the Archbishop says reconciliation is 'the gift' which the church gives to the world. But it is also 'cross-shaped', and churches that seek justice 'will find a cross, and will need to bear it'
Read the full text of the Archbishop's sermon, preached at St James Cathedral, Guatemala City, Guatemala, Sunday 11 August 2013:
Reconciliation is Cross-Shaped
Isaiah 2:2-4, Ephesians 2:13-22, Luke 10:1-9
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.
It often seems that injustice, struggle and violence are so much part of human nature that nothing can take them away. And the more we live with them, the more normal they seem to us.
The people to whom Isaiah spoke were in a society of corruption and fear. Almost everything around them told them that their society was weak and in danger. War was normal; it had been for centuries. More than that, the wars were not the sort of the time of King David. They involved calculation and politics, and God seemed far away. Where then were the dreams of what could be – the dreams that came from the old prophets, of hope and peace, and Israel as hope for the nations?
Isaiah says to them – and to us – that God has not changed, and that His call to His people is to be different, good; a source of living water in the dryness of this world. It is also what He says to us. So our first task is to learn from Him, and that means to be renewed in prayer and in our spiritual lives. We are Christians because we are loved by Christ, and we are given the gift of loving Him back. So we must start with prayer, with our lives together as communities of those who love Christ. We learn the ways of peace, as Anglicans always have, through scripture, tradition and reason, reflecting together and alone on the Bible, on what we have inherited and on the world around. They are held in tension, but unless the tensions we face are covered in prayer, the tensions will destroy the church.
But if we learn from God we will be blessed, and a blessing.
In an area of much killing where I was supporting reconciliation some years ago, I spent time with a group of Anglican priests. Several thousand people had been killed in heavy fighting during the previous week. It was the second outburst of fighting in less than ten years. The priests were bitter, mourning families, friends and church members. One gave up preaching and used the time for the sermon explaining how to strip, clean and reassemble an automatic rifle. Over a few months we worked together, thinking and praying about the situation, about the very real threats they faced, about the history of battle, and about the teaching of scripture, especially in Jonah. Slowly they learned afresh that they were loved, and learned to love and began to reach out to their enemies. The reconciliation remains fragile, but continues to this day.
We change our conflicted communities when we rediscover reconciliation in Christ for ourselves. Paul reminds the divided Ephesians that God breaks down all barriers. They are reconciled through the cross to God and are to be reconciled to others. It is costly. Reconciliation is cross-shaped. Justice is cross shaped. Churches that seek justice will find a cross, and will need to bear it. So many of you have done that. So many not only here in Guatemala, but elsewhere in the Province, know the pain of conflict. And yet we have the answer – and that answer is us, says Paul. It is extraordinary, because again he was speaking to a small church in a very pagan society, and yet he was right, and history proved it over the centuries.
So he says live it out. Overflow with the reconciliation we have received from God, who changes our relationship to Him and to each other, who enables us to be different. He says, “Be the teachers of my way, and my way is peace and justice and love, not violence, bitterness and conflict.” The gift of the church to the world is reconciliation. We have been given it as a gift for ourselves so that we may know God, and we have been given it to learn.
But what do we do? The answer is in the gospel reading. Jesus sends out his disciples in very small groups, and with few resources and a clear plan. He says to them, “Go in trust and faith, together, do what you can, not what you cannot.” And that is the point. Obedience is our problem, resourcing is God's, and we do what we can with what we have.
A friend of mine is a priest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There has been a long and terribly costly war in his area. I asked him once how many refugees there were in or around his town. He paused. "Two......... million." I was astonished. "What did you do?" I asked. "What I could," he said, very simply.
Have you noticed the common feature in all three readings? It is weakness. A weak people, overwhelmed by threats, by their own failures and sins. A weak church in a hostile culture, the centre of cults and corruption. A weak group of people, going without resources to try and change the world, and if they were not accepted, keeping on trying elsewhere.
When we think we are strong we fool ourselves, perhaps even our society – but never God. When we accept our weakness, embrace it, and turn afresh to God in prayer, share reconciliation and go out with the good news we have, then He does the work. It is dreadfully hard, always shaped like a cross, and feels like one too, but it is the way of Christ and it leads to glory.