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Archbishop's sermon in Melbourne, Australia

Wednesday 13th August 2014

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby's sermon at the inauguration of Philip Freier as Archbishop of Melbourne, St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia, 13 August 2014.

Inauguration of Philip Freier as Archbishop of Australia
Commemoration of Jeremy Taylor
I Kings 3:6-10, Titus 2:7-8, 11-14    

We all approach the church with some kind of mental model. A businessman to whom I was speaking recently fortunately started the conversation by saying: "We differ on many things, but at least we can both agree that the church exists to do good". It was too easy a full toss for even a non cricket playing Brit to miss, "no", I replied, "we disagree on that. The church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ, and to lead as many people as it can to be His disciples. When we do those things we don't do good, we change the world." Those here may by all means disagree with the theology, ecclesiology and missiology of the statement but I am new in the job and felt under pressure, and anyway, I hope we can agree that we do not exist merely to do good.

So it is, Philip, as you well know, that people will assess your time as Archbishop of Australia or ABA I suppose, since I am stuck with ABC (and our dog with ABCD) by their own models which they will project onto you. I need not list them, there is not time, and anyway new ones are constantly being invented. But they include the church as organisation (we have every defence against that, no one accuses us of being organised), institution of state to be useful, business models needing to boost sales, hospital models, even military models - not in the UK cricket models, we have condemned those to ashes.

To go with the models, as always we live in a time of bad and good news for the church. That is not new: Jeremy Taylor had the same and worse struggles. The bad news today is that we (the church, especially the traditional churches) are swimming against the cultural tide, as ever, but in new ways. It is no mere gentle current, but, at least in the UK a rip tide, going at extraordinary speed, in which autonomy and existential self-invention tear through all assumptions about everything from the proper conduct of government to the nature of human sexuality, taking with it the ethics of our collective life. We swim laden with our systems of governance, our assumptions about how we act, our sins of the past, especially in the treatment of children and vulnerable adults, and our associations with what is often seen as nasty, bad, judgemental, condemning. That is many places the reality of how we are seen collectively in the secularised world.

Of course, at a local level the picture is very different. Day by day we visit the sick, comfort the bereaved, bury the dead, love the hungry, the poor, the outcast and the lost, seek and find forgiveness, pray and learn to love just a little better, educate, heal, challenge and serve. And wherever we find local churches doing that, they are loved and they grow spiritually - and usually numerically.

But institutionally it is a different matter. The two levels intersect and the bad punishes the good, when, in the UK the TV public image of the church is, wrongly, at best of quarrelsome idiots, and often of concealing villains.

Yet there is great good news in the context. It is that the difficulties of the time make the task very simple. We know our objectives. In England we have narrowed them down to three: spiritual and numerical growth, reimagining ministry and the common good. You will have your own objectives.

So, bad times, a simple task. The challenge whether it is for government, business, the military, or churches, is implementation. Implementation requires character, which takes us to Titus.

Titus feels heavy, but only out of context. It is written to ease the burden of Titus' charge from Paul, not to increase it. It is a call for holiness. Holiness is what tackles the bad news of our context, and makes space for the good news we bear, this good news of verses 11 and 14. The passage from Titus is part of a household code for Christians, 'be like this so people may see Christ among you'.

Titus is told of liberation, liberation from the tyranny to the riptide and to find the joy of life in the light of Christ. Paul describes that as purity, and freedom for good deeds. We do not often see purity that way, as liberation, but as grim restraint. But a pure church is deeply engaged with everything and everyone round it, freed by its relationship with Christ to transform its society and make disciples. Holiness and proclaiming the gospel of salvation are entwined.

Positive holiness and liberation means positive action that sets us free from the sins of defensive inward looking, competitive argument. Freedom means openness and confession, of our faults, especially the abuse of power that lies behind the abuse of children and vulnerable adults. It means freedom from demanding authority and liberty to wash feet. It means freedom from questioning the transforming power of Christian discipleship and confidence in proclamation. It is liberty to be diverse and yet full of love for one another. It is humanity in all its rich abundance, relishing the adventure of being the people of God. It is liberty to act in weakness and know the strength of Jesus Christ.

That is for us the essence of Solomon's request for wisdom. It is striking that the next passage is that of his judgement over the child, something not global but local, and that before this reading is his somewhat bloody ascent to power and confirming of his authority. God has called him for a purpose, to act wisely, giving justice to the poor and oppressed. Yet to do that he needs insight and wisdom. There are no simple issues, but there is deliberate action.

Wisdom was, as we all know, the practical and daily application of the Law so as to live in a way that pleased God. Today for the church as a whole and, with all the experience of just under three years as a Bishop and 18 months as Archbishop of Canterbury, it is about the allocation of resources, most of all time, of what to bless and from what to withhold blessing, of how to love in practice, how to face  the innumerable competing issues and groups that are the joy and trial of the church. Wisdom is what enables what my wonderful predecessor called the necessary gifts of the hide of a rhinoceros and the constitution of an ox to be advantages in pursuing the right actions, not mere shields against the consequences of my own misjudgements.

Wisdom, as we also know from the Epistle of James is also "pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace". Wisdom does not collude with what Ricoeur called the economy of exchange and equivalence which is the basis of so much church debate, where my gain is always your loss; but lives in what he termed the economy of abundance and grace, delighting in the flourishing of the other, even when we disagree.

There is no greater adventure than to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and no greater means to that adventure than to be part of His church as it finds afresh His call, to be a church freed for purity and good deeds, abounding in the luxuriant and gracious wisdom from above. There is no greater hope for the world than a church abounding in holiness and wisdom.

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