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Sunday, 6 July 2008

Where Would Jesus Be? (Archbishop Rowan's Sermon 6/7/08)

It is a remarkable thing for us to have a poet as our Archbishop - sometimes we forget that theological thought can be beautiful as well as challenging, and it is Rowan Williams' lyrical gifts as much as his theological insight that made his sermon this morning in York Minster so remarkable. It wasn't exactly cheerful - he can do a feel-good sermon with the best of them, but this wasn't it. Instead he talked about agonies and complexities - something that Anglicans seem to be doing only too well at the moment. Perhaps it was ever thus, and there never was a time when we weren't riven by some imminent crisis or other, but it does seem to particularly painful and complex just at the moment.

Sometimes, he said, at a synod or something similar, it is a good thing to look out of the window. You might see Jesus going by. Ouch. Then he went on to ask - where will Jesus be at Synod, in the middle of our discussions? This is some of what he said in answer to his own question.

'With those traditionalists feeling the Church is falling away from them, the landmarks have shifted. They do not know how what they have heard and taught and been taught can be life-giving for tomorrow.

'He will be with those in a very different part of the landscape who feel that things are closing in, that their position is under threat, that their liberties are being taken away by those anxious and eager to enforce their ideologies in the name of Christ.

'He will be with those who feel that their liberty to question is under threat.

'He will be with the gay clergy who wonder what their future is in a Church so anxious and threatened about this issue.

'He will be all over the place.

'He will be with the people we do not much want to sit with because that is the place he always occupies. He pipes for them and they will dance, because in their unprotectedness they are able to meet him at a level many of us cannot.

'Where would Jesus be? In whose company?

'In the company of those who feel less than, who are lost and who are just beginning to see that lostness is the beginning of wisdom.'

Perhaps that's not so much of a surprise - this is the Jesus who sought out the Tax Collectors and the Sinners, the Jesus who told the righteous who were consequently shocked that it's the sick who need a doctor - but it is a powerful set of images, astoundingly expressed.

I sometimes reflect on the remarkable absurdity of the Christian Gospel. The last shall be first. Those who try to save their lives will lose them, only by losing one's life can one gain eternal life. The King of Glory comes to us as a helpless baby, and dies on the cross what W H Auden described as 'a death reserved for slaves'. The greatest event in human history is revealed first to shepherds on a hillside. It is absurd, but it is a beautiful absurdity. The place we are in at the moment is for many of us dark, uncertain, frightening - and around those of us who are confused by this seem to be others who are certain that they know the truth. It is the very fact that I number myself with the uncertain and the frightened that has enabled me to gain such comfort from the Archbishop's words this morning. It is a facet, surely, of that beautiful absurdity of our faith that it is my very fear, my very distress, the fact that I cannot discern the way of Christ in the dark place that I am, it is all of these things that assure me that Christ is sitting beside me, and his light will shine in my darkness - if I am prepared to look.

Justin GS373

I am indebted to Ruth Gledhill's 'instant blogging' from York Minster here. (I was there too, but I wasn't wired up...)

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