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Jesus calls us to be 'generous and openhearted' - Archbishop Justin's Synod sermon

Tuesday 11th February 2014

Jesus calls us to a holiness that is 'positive, generous and openhearted', the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his sermon at Synod this morning. Cautioning against Christianity that is 'inward-looking', the Archbishop said we must allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by God so that we hear the call to care for all those who are lost and suffering

Listen to a clip from the sermon of Archbishop Justin reflecting on his recent visit to South Sudan:

Listen to the full sermon:

Read the sermon below:

1 Kings 8:22-30, Mark 7:1-13

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

At Coventry Cathedral, when you stand behind the high altar, you look down a huge distance to the west end of the cathedral - and there is nothing to see there, because it is glass. The eye is drawn through it into the ruins of the old cathedral, that great symbol of death and destruction, and through that into the city beyond.

When you go round the chapels, and you start in the Chapel of Unity, the glass - which is stained glass there - keeps your eye inwards on the centre. But when you get to the other end of the cathedral, to the Chapel of Industry, it’s plain glass, and you cannot only look inwards: your eye is drawn outwards.

At the heart of Spence’s great vision of that cathedral is something that draws us outwards, because we are at our best - we are only, in fact, of any worth - when we are outward-looking and committed deeply to reaching out in love to the world around us

The week before last I was in the city of Bor in the South Sudan, with my wife and with one of my colleagues. We arrived by Mission and Aviation Fellowship’s (MAF) small plane and drove through a deserted town with bodies, corpses, littering the streets. Corpses who’d been in temperatures of 40 degrees for the past 12 days.

They’d buried 3,000. They thought they had more than twice as much as that left to do. They’d been tortured before they’d been killed in many cases.

We drove to the cathedral and found there a filled mass grave, and next to it an empty one, which I was asked to bless before they put in it the clergy and lay leaders of the cathedral, whose bodies lay in white bags at my feet.

The bishop was there, devastated, and Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul was there (I shall mention him again tomorrow). What did he do, what did he say, when the television cameras came and he was in front of them? Did he talk about anger, or the suffering of the people? No, he talked about reconciliation. He looked outwards. He spoke of the need for forgiveness. It was a historic moment of profound pastoral courage.

We are what we should be when we look out into the world, confront the shambles which surrounds us, and show them the power and the love and the grace of God.

There was great temptation for Solomon to look in. He was in front of his temple, politically essential as a symbol of unity, drawing the tribes together. Materially satisfactory as completed. Strategically symbolic of his international power.

But instead, Solomon in his prayer is overwhelmed by the greatness of God, who is uncontainable - and yet who hears and forgives His people; a message equally applicable to those who heard it in exile, and to us who hear it today as we struggle with the issues of just being the Church, whether it’s one thing or another.

Because let us be clear. Our history tells us, and any sensible look at human nature tells us, that, whatever we do today and on other great issues, there will always be more, because that is what being the Church in this world means.

That is why we have to find a different way of doing what we do. And that way begins by allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by God. That is a choice we make as individuals and as a church. It comes through reflection, through worship, through contemplation, through a deep regarding of the love that is lavished upon us.

In the gospel reading, it is a choice that is not taken by the Pharisees, who want to be certain of holiness. They are not overwhelmed by God, as Solomon was, but are seeking to restrain, define and protect - and thus they find themselves, inevitably, looking inwards.

Jesus, by contrast, offers grace and freedom: a call to holiness, but a call that reflects the overwhelming of God and is positive, generous and openhearted. It is a vision which is ultimately daring that is rejected, and that is in the end crucifying; but it is the one that we must seize and follow.

This is not merely a functional difference - outward-looking because there are tasks to be fulfilled and if we’re not outward-looking we won’t do them. But it’s a difference that goes to the heart of what kind of people we are as Christians. Open and outward-looking because we are caught up in Christ, caught up in the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And let us not imagine that it is anything but deeply difficult. I look around and I see people I know who are in parishes where every instinct of the people there draws them inwards, and the cost of leadership is terrible for them. Wearing, day by day by day, because at a time when the church is struggling in many areas, those who are left say ‘look after us, don’t look out there’ - and we say it, and I say it.

But God calls us to look outwards. To have, through our being overwhelmed, a care for those things He cares for. For the poor. For the natural world around us, as we do today: particularly appropriate - though it could not have been known as it was planned - in the light of what so many people in this country are going through at the moment, who are in our prayers and in our hearts. A care for those who are lost.

And the overwhelming is seen in giving, caring, passionate delight in the goodness of God that liberates us to be light and hope.

Amen.

 


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