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Angola - Sermon in Luanda

Sunday 11th March 2007

A sermon given by the Archbishop at a Eucharist for the Anglican congregations of the parish churches of Luanda, Angola. The service was held in the city's basketball stadium.

Thank you once again for this unforgettable welcome. The Bishop has already spoken very powerfully about the struggle and the witness in this country, and he has shown your guests this morning what there is to hope for in this country. In what I want to say this morning, I want to reflect on some themes from the Bible readings we have heard. We've already heard how much of the reading from the Old Testament made sense in the context of this country; that was a story about how God promised to his people that they would be free, free to worship him, free to serve each other. That is a promise that God gives to his people in every generation, and when God speaks to Moses and promises that the people will be free, God reminds them of the story of their ancestors. God has been faithful already to his people, the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, and it is the same God who will now set free his people.

Yesterday I spent the day in Uige. I was reminded of the beginnings of the Anglican Church in this country, and not only the beginnings of Anglicanism but so much of the Christian history of this place- the Baptist Church also. And I was reminded of how God was faithful to his people in this place; I was reminded of how God had worked through the lives, through the courage, through the martyrdom of many Christians. I was reminded of the part that Christian martyrs and pastors had played in the days of the war of liberation, the many who were killed for their faith and for their principles. I visited the church where Joao Goncalves had ministered, we heard again of the story of his courageous death and so it was as if yesterday I was being reminded of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, of how God had been faithful here in this country.

In times of violence, injustice and unrest, God had still been at work through his people. And so it is the same God calling all of us today to work for that freedom that is his will, to work for the peace which will last. But this can only happen when we understand fully who this God is. God tells Moses 'my name is I Am, I am whatever I choose to be, I do what I choose to do'. It is as if God says 'once I have chosen to work with my people, no one can change that. Whatever happens to them, whatever they do, I will be with them.' Because God does not give up on his people when things are difficult. When God's people are slaves in Egypt, God is still there, and still has a future for them. When God's people go through times of suffering and of chaos, God is still there. God does not look at our situation and say 'that is a failure, that is too difficult, I'll go back to heaven'. God speaks, God acts, and God calls human beings to work yet again for His justice.

And this is one of the many things that makes God different from human beings. Human beings often work as if everything depended on another person deserving my love and my help. God does not work like that. However weak we are, however difficult the circumstances, however little hope there seems, God will still be at work. I think of that particularly in light of the Bishop's remarks earlier. The Bishop spoke of how sometimes the international community can forget a country whose circumstances are too difficult. Sometimes it is as if wealthy countries say to poor countries, 'When you are a success, then we will help you'. One of the things that the Church must say is that the help and the love must come first, not the success. And so I will promise you today that when I return to the UK these are things I will say there.

In the name of God and his church, Christians must always say that love comes first. We cannot wait until all problems are solved until we engage and assist. So that is the first lesson that the Bible stories this morning tell us, it is that God is faithful to his people, that God does not abandon his people in failure, and that when things are difficult and challenging, God's people must be faithful to each other as God is faithful to all.

And in the gospel reading today we were reminded of another lesson. Jesus' disciples and those around him ask him about certain people who have suffered terrible disasters, people who have been killed in violent events, are they people who deserve their punishment? But Jesus says no. It is as if Jesus says when violent events happen, innocent people die. And for that to stop every single person must be renewed and changed. And unless everyone in his and her own life turns away from fear and violence and hatred, innocent people will still die.

So that if we wish for peace we always have to say, in the famous words of the prayer 'Let it begin with me'. Jesus asks us to look into our hearts, asks us to see in our own hearts what and who we are afraid of. He tells us to ask 'is there hatred in my own heart?' and he tells us to ask 'what can I do to be reconciled with my own neighbour?' I may not be a powerful person, I may not be the president of some country, I may not be the United Nations, and yet I'm still able to make a difference. If I can struggle against the fear and hatred in my own heart, then the Kingdom of God has begun.

Yesterday I was reminded of another story, I was reminded of the reconciliation of the Anglican Church and its sister church IERA, so that when Christians begin to be reconciled, it is a sign of hope for the world. But in the life of every one of us, some reconciliation, some healing will be possible, and what gives us the courage and the vision for that reconciliation?

Once again we go back to where we began. We are able to overcome fear and violence, because we believe in a God who is faithful to us and will never leave us; even if we make the smallest turning towards him, He will pour out with great abundance he gifts upon us. Even if we only do a small thing, He will do a great thing. Because we know that He is the God that has been faithful to our fathers and mothers, He has taken them through times of darkness and death, He has shown that His love cannot be defeated. So as always there is a twofold word from God to us, first there is the truth that God tells us of himself, that is where the good news begins. He tells us 'I am the one that I am' He tells us nothing can change my mind when I have decided to love you, and He tells us that each one of us for that reason is precious beyond words. There is the good news, there is the truth about God; it is the truth that we show forth when we meet at this table for Holy Communion. Day after day, week after week, God comes to welcome us, day by day, week after week we hear about the death and resurrection of Jesus upon which our faith is founded, and we are fed on love.

And then the second thing; we heard the Good News and now comes the challenge. That challenge is to change our own hearts. God has given us the strength to see the truth about ourselves, he has told us the terrible truth about our world; unless each one of us can turn towards him, violence continues. And it continues to devour the innocent. Because of that disease and poverty will continue, but the challenge is to each one of us, the challenge is to look into our hearts and change what we see. So in the life of this country as in the life of any country, the future depends on each one; it depends on the willingness of every person to let go of fear and hatred, but much more importantly it depends on faith in the God who is faithful to each one of us.

I'm always astonished to see the amount of work that churches do in this country and across this continent. Even a very small church like our Anglican Church here can still do great things for justice and for peace. I have often said there is no such thing as a small church, sometimes there are small-minded Christians, but where the Church is real and true, it is great because its faith is in a great God; and it is because of that that it will do great things. So my prayer for this country and for the churches here is this; may the Christians of this land hear day by day the word of God that is the word of hope.

May they hear the word of God 'I am what I choose to be, I do what I have decided to do'. The word of the God who has said 'I have decided to be with you and nothing will change that'. And because of that may the Christians of this country be courageous day by day. May they have the courage to do what is in front of them, even if it seems small, it will be great in God's eyes. And as Christians grow in that confidence, that honesty and that courage, they will build a community and a nation that is confident and honest, a nation which will give glory to God.

May God give us all in this country and across the world, that courage and that faith so that we may work together to do away with the violence and the terror, the disease and poverty that make us less than human. An ancient Christian writer once said that the glory of God is a human being full of life, so may the glory of God be seen in this country, as human beings become full of life, free from fear and poverty. May God bless each one of us in the work He has given us to do.

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

© Rowan Williams 2007 

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