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China - Sermon at the Mu En Church

Sunday 8th October 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, gave the following sermon at the Mu En Church in Shanghai, China, on Sunday 8th October 2006, as part of his two-week visit to the country.

We have 'come to see' in obedience to the command of Jesus. But these words of Jesus 'come and see' tell us something which is of basic importance for the whole of our Christian life. Jesus does not come to earth to teach us a philosophy first and foremost; he comes to open our eyes to open our hearts and to take us into a new world. In this new world we see God in a new way. And in this new world we see each other in a new way. So it is not a philosophy, this is a new life. If I understand correctly, when you translate the first chapter of St John's Gospel up speak of the 'tau' becoming flesh. Not only as in English 'Word', but as in 'wisdom', and in 'life'. The wisdom and the life that is the life of all things.

So that our new life as Christian believers is a life in union with the power that may rule all things. It is a life that is always capable of renewal and so when Jesus tells the disciples to 'come and see', he is telling them to come into the new world. He tells us to come into the new world and he tells us to tell others to come into the new world. We, as Christian believers, turn to the world around us and we say 'come and see'; we do not first say 'here is a list of things which you must sign'; first we say 'the door is open and God calls you in'. And here you will see one another differently; you will see the world afresh.

And so in the reading we heard this afternoon, St John spoke of the grace and the truth that is given by Jesus. Because when we are called to 'come and see' we are called into grace and into truth. God gives us grace as a gift and God gives us truth as a task of challenge. It is not just that God gives us grace so that we feel better, as if this were just a piece of good news we held to ourselves. No; God tells us this also; 'I tell you the truth and I want you to live in the truth'. And to live in the truth is always difficult.

We must face the truth of our own hearts; we must learn the truth that we all must repent, that we all need to grow, that we all fail many, many times in our love. But God tells us 'it is alright to be truthful because there is Grace. Do not be afraid of the truth, because love is always greater'.

And when we've failed, and others fail around us, God's love remains. So it is of basic importance of our faith that Jesus tells us to come and Jesus gives us Grace and Truth. If Jesus gave us only Grace, then perhaps we would be complacent; we would be pleased with ourselves, we would think everything was comfortable. And if Jesus gave us only Truth, perhaps we would be afraid of the evil within ourselves and within our world. But here is Grace and Truth together.

If we turn back to the Old Testament lesson we heard this afternoon, here we find these mysteries are spelt out for us. The prophet tells us that we are given a spirit of wisdom and understanding. A spirit of counsel and might a spirit of knowledge and reverence. And we are told that 'the servant of the Lord will not judge by the sight of his eyes or approve unto the hearing of his ears'. The servant of the Lord is one who sees beyond appearances, who sees into the depth of things.

And so the gift of the same spirit given to us is the gift seen beyond the surface of things. We see into the heart of others, we see into the heart of our society. We see what is false, what is slow and cowardly in us; we see in our society whether in West or East all that holds back justice. And we know that God's grace is always at work and that God will assist us as we respond to one another and to our society. We have the gift of making right judgements. We know that we must live lives of honesty, lives of generosity, and even if we do not always live like that - and none of us always lives like that - yet God tells us it is always possible by his Spirit, by his gift. And then we can say to the world 'come and see'; come and see what we see; come and see beyond the surface of things, come and see into the heart of the human beings and the heart of the world.

So many people in West and East see only the surface; whether in our country or yours, many people live on the surface. They see perhaps what is comfortable today and tomorrow. Sometimes they find it hard to be honest and generous - but God opens up the surface and opens up the depths; his wisdom and his power has come among us so that we can see the truth, and St John tells us that when we see that truth, we see the Glory of God. This vision may seem to be hard and difficult for us and yet, as St John tells us, it is the most beautiful thing we can imagine. 'We have seen his Glory', says St John; 'Glory as of the Father's only Son'. So when Jesus says to the disciples, 'Come and see!' and when we say to the world around 'Come and see!', we say 'Come and see the Glory of God'.

One of the earliest Christian writers said; 'the Glory of God is to be seen in a human being fully alive'. So brothers and sisters, are we human beings who are fully alive? Are we human beings in whom God's glory? Do we speak a the same time of forgiveness and of challenge, because if we do, then when we say 'Come and see!', the world will come and see God's glory.

But there is another thing that the prophet tells us of the Old Testament; the spirit of wisdom and understanding is at work in us. There will be peace on the Earth; there will be peace between the cow and the bear, peace between the bear and the lion; and even more difficult than that, there will be peace between human beings. Because when the wisdom and word of God is alive in us; when the glory of God has come to live among us, then peace is possible. Because then we are once again in harmony with that power which holds all things in life, when life is really at work in us, then peace happens. Because we see one another differently, we see the world differently; when I see my neighbour, I do not think there is someone who threatens me. When I see my neighbour, I think 'There is someone whom God is calling me to love and friendship. When I see a stranger on the other side of the world, then I do not think 'I know nothing about that person', I know God's wisdom and God's power holds them in life as it holds me in life.

And this is one of the greatest mysteries and the greatest glories of the Christian faith. It makes us glad to meet strangers - and how difficult most of us find it to meet strangers. I come here with great delight and expectation and yet I know in my heart there is a part of me that thinks that I will meet thousands of strangers in the two weeks ahead. So I must hear God saying to me 'Come and see; come and see my glory! Come and see what I will give to you - you will be strengthened.' So when the spirit of wisdom and understanding comes, then there is peace. At the end of the reading from Isaiah, we have these words; '... the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. People have stopped hurting and destroying each other because the knowledge of God, the vision of God's glory has covered them.

There is the promise for us; for each one of us; there is the promise for China, there is the promise for Great Britain, there is the promise for Africa and America and any other country you can name. It is possible that people will stop hurting and destroying when they can see the love of God in their midst.

So this afternoon dear friends, what I pray for is that God's glory will be seen among you; that people will see in this place people who are not afraid of their own weakness and failure but who trust God to convert them to change them. People who have the courage to live at peace with one another and the world. People who have the courage to live at peace with one another and at peace with the environment. So we ask people, and we pray that they will come, to see what happens when the 'tau' of God lives among us. The incarnation is not something that happened many years ago; the life of Jesus is a life that goes on happening now and goes on happening here. That is the gift of the Spirit to you and the gift of this spirit to this world.

May God help us together to be faithful witnesses to that gift, that grace and truth.

In the name of God; father Son and Holy Spirit Amen.

© Rowan Williams 2006 

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