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Sudan - Sermon at a Displaced Person's Camp in Khartoum

Sunday 26th February 2006

The Archbishop visited southern Sudan, to offer support to Christian communities and to those projects relieving suffering. The sermon was given at Al Gariya, an Internally Displaced Persons' Camp outside Khartoum.

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ; dear Archbishop Joseph, dear bishop.

It is for me a great joy and an honour to be able to share with you the thoughts and prayers of many Christians in Britain. Day by day we remember you in our prayers - you are not forgotten here - and when I return it will be a joy to be able to share with fellow Christians in Britain what I have seen here and what I have heard from you.

Today we begin to look forward towards Easter. During this coming week we begin the seven weeks of preparation for Easter. We remember Jesus our Lord and we remember that in this desert he is with us also. Now this morning we have heard two readings about the transfiguring of Jesus. We have heard how the light, the radiance and the glory of God shines in the face of Jesus our Lord.

What does it mean to say 'We see the Glory of God in the face of Jesus'? We remember the words that we heard from St Paul: "God who made his light shine in our hearts has brought us the knowledge of in the glory of the face of Christ." Well the glory of God is the light of God's power. And if we turn back to the Gospel of John we hear some very important things about that glory and power. In the gospel of John, we are told that the glory of God shines through Jesus particularly through the Cross. When Jesus goes to the Cross, then, we are told he is glorified. It is on the Cross that the power and the radiance of God shines forth. And so when St Paul speaks, as he does here, of the glory of God 'in the face of Jesus', he is speaking of the glory of God in the cross of Jesus. Why is it in the cross that we see the glory of God? Because in the Cross we see that God's love is powerful and alive, even in the very darkest place. God is always free to love us - even when we turn from him in sin, even when we are buried in the darkness of suffering, God is free to love us. His glory is the freedom of his love. That is why we see glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

Now we are told in St John's gospel that the glory of Jesus is something that he shares with us. When we gather as a community, as we gather this morning, we should see in one another the glory of God. When you look at the person next to you, the glory of God is there. And when we, your guests, come to be with you this morning, it is the glory of God we see in the midst of you. Because we show God's glory and we share in God's glory, we are able to turn to him in faith and love even in dark places.

Do we live in suffering or loneliness? If, in suffering and loneliness, we ourselves can show the love of God, we can show the glory of God. Do we feel that we have failed God or failed one another - do we feel that we have sinned? Then, if we can turn in trust and love to God once again we show glory. Whenever in our lives an our words we point to the freedom to love us, then we show God's glory, and when we share the bread and the wine at the table of Holy Communion, it is his glory that we receive. It is always possible for us, by God's gift, to show that Glory. When we live in reconciliation and peace with one another; when we forgive one another, when we let God forgive us, when our hearts are stirred with compassion and a longing for justice, then it is glory that lives in us; it is the freedom of God that lives within us.

As the Psalmist says, 'The glory will dwell in our land; when mercy and truth have met together, glory dwells in the land'.

But St Paul tells us something else as well. He tells us that, for some, they are still in the dark; they cannot see the light shining on them. Now we recognise the light of God and we know the love of God; we know this when we sense the love of God moving towards us and as we strive to love one another then we see the light of God.

You know what it is like to look into the face of someone who loves you; someone who forgives you and to see light in that face. When someone you love and who loves you turns their face towards you it is like the sun shining. And so, in our Christian Church, in our Christian gathering, it is for us to show the love of God to one another by showing that light in our faces. And those who are still in darkness are those who have not seen love in the face of another person. The deepest darkness, the worst darkness, is to feel that you are not loved. And St Paul tells us that the devil tempts us to think that we cannot be loved or forgiven by God; we're too bad, we're too insignificant. And if the devil tempts us in this way, then we shall not see the light of God in the face Jesus Christ. Then we shall not see the glory of God. So brothers and sisters, as we try to show one another the love of God, then we make a light in the darkness; we begin to make it possible for those who live in darkness or despair to see glory. Wherever we are; whatever the difficulty, whatever the challenge before us we are still able to make that light shine.

It is that light which shines in our hearts as well as our faces and that is why St Paul says 'we do not preach about ourselves, we preach about Jesus' when we share the love of God in this way, when we witness to this kind of glory, it is not to draw attention to ourselves. It is to say to the world around; look where we are looking; look to the light - we know that God is free; we know that God is free to love us wherever we are and so we know that we are free. We may be poor, we may be uncertain of the future and yet we are free. God has given us the power to change something in our lives. Because every time we turn to another person with peace in our hearts, something is changed and when that change occurs, glory dwells in our land. And the glory of God I the face of Jesus Christ begins to be seen among us.

We are just about, as I said, to begin our preparation for Easter. Jesus in the desert is Jesus with us in our desert. As Jesus prepared during 40 days he spends in the desert for his ministry, Jesus himself discovers in those days the glory of his Father, so, day by day, as we prepare fro Easter during the weeks of Lent, let us ask God what Moses asked God in the Old Testament, 'Show me your glory'. Let us pray, day by day 'Show me your glory in the face of my brother and Sister. Show me your glory in words of peace. Show me your glory in the hope of reconciliation'. And we pray also 'Let your glory be shown in me'. And so when at the end of Lent we come to Good Friday and Easter Day then we shall see the glory in its fullness.

We have a hymn in my native country (Wales) and at the end of every verse come these two lines; "Who is a god like you, O God, who freely forgives". Today and tomorrow and the day afterwards, then, let us say to God 'Who is a god like you? Who is a god like you who is free to forgive, free to live, free to lead us to the future? How shall we find words for that glory which we see? The light of God's freedom, the light which Peter James and John saw on the holy mountain; they looked at Jesus and saw in him a brightness that could not be seen anywhere else on Earth.

To that glory, to that light we turn our eyes; we ask God to let it shine forth from our faces and our eyes and we know that in our hearts is the knowledge of the glory of God; the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.


© Rowan Williams 2006

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