‘God is always faithful’ – Archbishop Justin’s sermon in Guatemala City


Archbishop Justin preaching at Catedral Episcopal Santiago Apostol, Guatemala City

Read the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon at Catedral Episcopal Santiago Apostol, Guatemala City.

It is wonderful to be in the province, and for the second time in Guatemala. When I was last here in 2013 I was very ignorant. Today I am just as ignorant, but this time I know it. So I’m going to speak quite simply.

The theme of what I want to say is this: we must remain in the calling that God has given us. At the centre of being a Christian is a relationship with Jesus Christ. And when we remain in that relationship, we demonstrate by our character the nature of Christ.

The Church shows the nature of Christ. Because in Isaiah and in Ephesians, our first and third readings, we hear there is an unalterable change that we have to live. In Isaiah, we are reminded that God creates a single people on the face of the earth who can point to the faithfulness of God, because they have experienced that faithfulness. That was true for Israel and it is true for the people of God today. God has changed us and given us a new identity.

Now, that is easy to say, but we all know it is hard to live. Whether you are a woman, a man, a lay person, a priest, a bishop or an Archbishop, everything in life tempts us to be like the world around us.

And so there is what St Paul calls a race to be run. We are to become disciples by training. This summer there will be the Olympic Games in Paris. In my strange job, and strange life, I have now met several Olympic athletes. One of them was a rower – 6ft4. Four gold medals. When you saw him on television you saw the most magnificent example of a human being. We saw the power and the skill. We did not see the alarm clock going off at 5 o’clock every morning. We did not see the struggle and the pain and the injuries of training. And we did not see the six hours every day spent going up and down a single piece of water, watching the back of the head of the person in front of him in the boat.

The Church is constantly under tension. It is under the tension of learning to be what we should be. God’s people who declared his glory. And the tension of being visible to the world with all our failings and weakness. But God calls us to be different. Whether we are the Anglican Communion struggling with the diversity around the world, or the Diocese of Guatemala wondering who will lead it next, or an individual, each of us, going to work each day.

So what do we do to train to be what God is making us? Jesus gives us some commands. And they are all aimed at getting closer, deepening our relationship with God. For example, wash feet at the beginning of a meeting (or at the end). And if you are embarrassed, so was St Peter when Jesus did it.

When we had a meeting of the Primates in 2016, and on the last day we had Communion in Canterbury Cathedral – the bit that is 800 years old. All these Archbishops, including me, think we’re very important. So when we said, “Now, you may have seen under your chair, some water and a towel and you’re each going to wash the feet of the person next to you” you may imagine they looked very, very worried. But they did it. There were two Archbishops sitting next to each other, who really did not like each other. They disagreed very strongly. But everyone else was washing feet, so they did.

And as they washed each other’s feet and prayed for each other, they began to weep as God’s Spirit softened their hearts. So I suggest, and to myself and our own bishops, perhaps every now and then at an important meeting, wash feet. As you wash, you pray for the person whose feet you are washing, and you will find that Jesus draws close to you.

Second, for every important meeting in the parish, or in the diocese, have time where you pray for each other. Have time of silent prayer. Meditation on the love of Jesus. Perhaps with a cross in front of you, or a passage from the Bible. Remember, God has changed you. Grow close to God.

The second thing to say, is God is unchangeably faithful to us. Remember what He says through the prophet Isaiah. He promises to bring the Israelites back to Israel from all around the world where they have been scattered. At the Ascension in Matthew, when Jesus sends his disciples out, he says ,“I am with you forevermore”.

God does the impossible. He never lets go of us. Not because we are good, but because He is God. As Christians, in times of difficulty and in times of joy, we must put our trust in God, not in ourselves. When we fail, God is still faithful. I begin my prayers early in the morning, every day, by confessing my own failure and sin. And then I spend time thanking God for his faithfulness.

When things go wrong in the church and we have arguments and disagreements, [for example] someone gets a position you wanted, we remember that God has changed us. So our sister and brother are never our enemy.

How do we know when we are doing that? We know it because of the honesty of our prayers. Instead of just formal prayers, we have prayers of protest. The province of the Middle East has a song that they sing that was written during the Lebanese Civil War. It begins by saying to God, “You have turned our pens into rifles, you have turned our roads into trenches.” That is an honest song. The heart is in front of God.

But also, we give thanks, we worship. I will make a short confession to finish. Last year, for the first time in 70 years, the Church of England grew in numbers. The Archbishop of York and I asked each other, why did this happen? And we concluded it was simply God’s grace. It was not our purpose. And I have been giving thanks to God for this change. I got an email yesterday from someone who said it’s very good that the church grew, but – and there is always a but - we still do not have enough money. I did not send the email I thought of sending back to him. But I wanted to. That is my confession.

We thank, we worship together and individually. But like one of the Psalms, we always remain with God because God always is faithful to us. In Psalm 88 there is no good news at all. Look it up! Everything has gone wrong. The only good news is the Psalmist still talks to God. Not because life is easy. But because somewhere in the Psalmist’s despair, they know that God is good. Amen.

Read more about the Archbishop's 12-day visit to Central America

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