Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

The ABC's Suva sermon

Here follows the full text of the sermon the Archbishop of Canterbury preached in Suva's Holy Trinity Cathedral on Sunday, March 4, 2018.

The Archbishop of Canterbury  |  04 Mar 2018

The readings for the day were: Exodus 20: 1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 and the Gospel reading was John 2:13-22.

The gospel was brought into the cathedral in a rousing procession by Melanesian clergy and students from the Pacific Theological College…

Lord Jesus Christ - send your Holy Spirit so that as we reflect on your Word, we may hear your voice, and know that we are serving you. Amen.

Your Graces, Archbishop Philip, Archbishop Winston, thank you for the invitation to be here - and Dean, thank you for the privilege of speaking in your cathedral.

It's wonderful to be among you, and to have time to spend with you.

And it's a huge privilege to preach to you this morning, in this marvellous service.

When I was installed as Archbishop of Canterbury - you were there, weren't you, Archbishop Winston?

Do you remember the Ghanaian drummers? We had some drummers from Ghana for the Gospel procession - and they were very like the dancers we had just now.

And I think that some members of the British Cabinet who were present have still not recovered from the shock...

The Anglican Communion is truly international. It spans the globe - and we are only truly ourselves when we reflect the different cultures and traditions that are around the world.

Billy Graham's example

I want to talk a little bit today, though, about simplicity.

Some of you know that a couple of weeks back that Billy Graham, the great evangelist died, at the age of 99 in the USA.

He is said to be the man who has preached in person to more people than any person in history.

I think they said that 250 million people have heard him, personally.

He was a wonderful evangelist, and he had a huge impact in many, many countries around the world.

And one of the most striking things about him, is that he never did anything else than be an evangelist.

He could have made a lot of money. He could have run huge churches. He could have led all kinds of organisations and groups around the world,

But what gripped him, more than anything else, was his love for Christ.

And his focus on what God had called him to do. And equipped him to do.

I was very struck reading an interview that he gave towards the end of his life when he was asked the question that I think many of us have asked: If you had your life again, what would you do differently?

And he said: I would spend more time with Jesus, whom I love. I would spend more time in prayer with Jesus, whom I love.

In other words, he kept his ministry simple.

And Pope Gregory's...

There were many other things which were very costly in his life. He was away from his family, a huge amount.

But there was this simplicity.

And by contrast, leading churches, or living in churches in one place requires multiple ministries - it requires administration, preaching, healing, music, leading worship, pastoral care, teaching, nurture, vocations, and  many more things.

Pope St Gregory the Great, in the sixth century wrote of how he had enjoyed his life as a monk.

Because he knew what was coming next. He prayed, he spent time with Christ, he slept, he worked.

And he said: When I became Pope, I found that I was endlessly in meetings - does that ring a bell for some people?

And I was constantly going to receptions in Rome, and parties... and he says with a touch of humanity: 'What was worse, I quite enjoyed the parties.'...

The situation today in churches around the world, as I commented yesterday, is that we are genuinely global in a way that we have never been before.

The perils of constant connection

We know what is going on: we are connected. You know the ones using Twitter, what I say now, foolishly, will be known around the world, globally, before I end my sermon.

Contrast that with the days of Archbishop Ramsay, or Archbishop Fisher - I think Archbishop Fisher was the last Archbishop to come to Fiji.

He was away from Canterbury for three months! Mostly on a ship. Most of it travelling between England and Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

It was a leisurely life. Nobody in England knew what he was doing,

And nobody cared what he was doing.

He wrote in his biography: I had quite a successful trip - but it was no more than that.

I have to answer emails quickly: 'What are you goin to do about this? Or that? Different things that are running constantly - it will be the same for all of us.

We travel - yet we are still connected.

When he was present, he seemed to be away...

I know of two bishops in England, both retired now, so it does no harm to say.

They were both from the same diocese. The both travelled a great deal. They were both away the same amount. But they said about the first bishop: That even when he was away, he seemed to be present in the diocese.

And that they said about the second bishop - even when he was present, he seemed to be away...

I know both of them.

And the first one kept in touch - and we can do that now. and that gives us both opportunities - but also dangers.

With all the connectivity we have, we have the opportunity to mobilise people. To have an impact. To set agendas.

I can simultaneously write an opinion piece for a UK paper, and be present for the fono.

The fono can go out to the sandbank, and its images distributed around the world, to remind people of climate change, of rising sea levels.

It means churches are ever more complicated. We can form Facebook groups, WhatsApp networks -  and a million things that I have not heard of.

And you can do politics in the church, in a way that you never could before.

You can accuse people of things that they never did.

Take a sentence out of a speech and put it in a WhatsApp message and send it around the world to misrepresent.

What the readings tell us

But in the readings we had today, we are brought back to the simplicity of those things by which we should live, and which we should preach, and to which we should testify.

For we are all witnesses to Jesus Christ.

Life is complicated. It is always complicated.

But if, as Christians, we lose sight of the simplicity of the Gospel, we become simply an NGO with big buildings.

look at the reading from the Book of Exodus.

As a friend of mine says, most of us treat them as though they were 10 suggestions - and not 10 commandments.

Or we treat them like an exam paper: you have a list of questions with an instruction: you may attempt any three.

You are not to serve causes...

But the essence of the 10 commandments was to say to the people of Israel, who had lived for hundreds of years in a culture where there were many Gods: There is only one master, there is only one God whom you must serve.

You are not to serve, in today's terms, causes, and ideas and objectives, and plans...

We are all, you and I, to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And when we add to that, we lose everything.

It leads us to many other things.

Because to be a disciple calls us into caring for the Creation, into caring for the por, into caring for justice...

But it is based on only one thing:

That we follow Jesus.

Without that, we are nothing.

With Jesus, at the centre of our church life. We are part of the church, that great body and mighty, and with banners, which dominates time and space in the sight of God.

But all that starts with worship and holiness.

Pure and simple. End of sentence.

Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, speaks of the Jesus Movement, and the Jesus Revolution.

Billy Graham spoke of little but Jesus.

He served the poor and loved them. But he called people to be disciples of Jesus.

Martin Luther King led people to freedom. But he started, and remained, a disciple of Jesus.

We are constantly lured, and tempted, from holiness and simplicity - to causes and groups, and subsets of the church, to politics in the church.

To trying to win, and not simply to be a faithful disciple.

And in the Eucharist we come, as we will in a few minutes, before the presence of Christ, where the simplicity is the total simplicity of a wafer of bread, broken before us.

The living presence of Christ whom we adore.

And in that simplicity, God says to us by His Spirit: 'Are you my disciple?'

Pure and simple. End of sentence.

So that's one of the aspects of the 10 Commandments: Serve only God.

Overturning the tables leads to change...

Secondly, Jesus in the temple.

As we go on as disciples, we become accustomed to things. We see things as normal.

When Jesus went into the temple, he went into a building which every male at the time, of over 20 years of age, had to pay a temple tax to.

The authorities had ruled that the payment had to be made with the exact amount.

And so they gave you no change, if you did not have the exact amount.

The foreigners, those Jews who came from abroad had to have their money changed. And the money changers charged exorbitant rates to change the money.

The people were made to make sacrifices. But they didn't have the right animals - and the price of sacrificial animals was much higher in the temple area than elsewhere.

It was said that they cost five, or six times as much as the animals elsewhere.

And I expect that people got used to it: 'Oh we go to the temple. It's a bit expensive, the temple – all those blokes with those animals, they do charge a lot...'

But everyone gets used to it.

You think this is normal.

I don't like it, but it's normal…

And then Jesus comes in.

And he says: It's not normal. Don't accept it. And he overturns it…

Challenge what was unchallengeable

Jesus was not just anti-money changers.

But he was bringing something new.

The temple in John is almost always a symbol of what is passing. Belief in what God is revealing, that this person Jesus is truly God, is what is happening in John's gospel.

And where Jesus is, then the kingdom of God is near.

So we come with a simple gospel. But we come and allow that revolutionary gospel to change the world.

It leads us to challenge what is unchallengeable.

The determinism of economics, the injustice of global inequality, the threat of trade war, or nuclear war.

We don't say that is politics as normal, if it is not the politics of God.

The church must call out and say that God says that the Creation, including human beings, is very good…

The church must say that human beings are made in the image of God – and you have made them slaves to market forces.

As Pope Francis wrote in Laudate Si and with his work on human trafficking – when we overturn the tables in the temple, it leads to change.

Never despair

We must never despair. It's so easy to look at the problems and say: "Ohh. We better make a noise about it – but nothing will change."

Never despair – for the Kingdom is the work of God. Never despair – do what is before us. From COP23, to food banks, from repairing a neighbour's house caught in a storm, to seeking global justice in climate.

Never despair. When the Kingdom comes, in the presence of Jesus, and when the church preaches the simplicity of the gospel, and lives out that simplicity, and overturns the tables, the world has a peaceful revolution.

Not with a sword. Not with a gun, or a bomb – but with the power of God.

And the test of that, is how people see us.

The heart of what we do as Christians, according to the epistle reading, is based on the simplicity of the gospel, which is God's wisdom.

And which makes all human wisdom look foolish.

Foolishness to God

And so if our preaching, and our evangelism, and our service, and our action, and our advocacy and our campaigning – if they are not seen as foolish, then we are the true fools.

If the gospel is no foolishness to many, if the gospel that we preach is not foolishness to many, hen it is foolishness to God.

But it is not the gospel we have been given.

I remember about a year ago, in a radio interview… the interviewer started off with: "These are the problems of the Church of England… it was a very long question…

Because the problems are numerous. And she said: your numbers are going down, your average age is old – do you know that in many of the churches I go to, I am the youth group? Your congregations are elderly, you have these great buildings which cost a fortune to keep up, and were built 1000 years ago.

"But God!"

You are not relevant any longer, you dress in funny clothes… she went on and on and on.

And I said at the end: 'But God…''

And radio interviewers hate it when you give short answers.

And she said: "But God what?'

And I said: 'But God'…you didn't mention God in your question.

Because where the Kingdom of God is, is the wisdom of God, is the transformation of God – and the simplicity of the Gospel is the wisdom of God.

And look what it did, and has done.

Look at what it has done around the world. Look at the wars it has ended', the diplomacy it started, the schools it has created, the hospitals it has built.

Look at those…

And that is the simplicity of the gospel.

And it will be in 100 years.

Look at the climate change that was averted.

If we are faithful – that people add to that list: look at the climate change that was averted.

Look at the change that did not happen. Look at the wholeness and the beauty of our creation which is restored, and is seen before the eyes of God.

In quoting Isaiah Chapter 29, and verse 14: Paul shows the futility of human wisdom.

God saves those who believe and take this offer of eternal life.

And so at the end of our lives, the end of the lives of each one of us, of you and me, we will stand before Christ who will judge us.

And we will answer for how we have lived our lives.

And the answer will not be in what we did, but in the simplicity of whether we turned to God in Jesus Christ.

"We belong to you."

Whether we said to Him: We belong to you.

Oh yes, that's complex, complicated in its implications.

It's complicated in how God judges – except we know that he judges justly.

But it is a simple question: do we depend on ourselves. Do we count our own good deeds.

For each of us here, to say that we trust in Christ sets our service, guides our declaration of the Kingdom – and leads us home with Christ.

In that simplicity, we will find our way, and we will leave behind us a world transformed. Amen.