Celebration of Springboard at Southwark Cathedral
Wednesday 11th February 2004A sermon given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, at Southwark Cathedral.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Like most of you I associate those words with evening. "Lord now lettest thou they servant depart in peace." I associate those words with ending, but as I thought about this text for tonight it suddenly occurred to me that in fact those words come at the beginning of St Luke's Gospel, not the end. Simeon had seen the salvation, but he has seen a beginning. And it is that beginning which gives him the strength and the courage to face his own end. Now there's a text and a theme for thinking about our mission and about our evangelism.
We like sometimes the idea of endings, rest and peace; and yet in God's eyes it seems there are only beginnings. And what is it Simeon sees the beginnings of. As we read this text we'll see that in that beginning Simeon already sees that story unfolding. He sees crisis and judgement, he sees the terribly painful revelation of the secrets of hearts, of the ministry the person of Jesus will bring about. He sees falling and rising, death and resurrection, the sword piercing the heart. He sees the cross already in the cradle.
The experience of mission and evangelism is always one which leads us to see the whole in part. The end in the beginning, the cross in the cradle. But if once we see the beginning, then there's a sense in which we have seen it all. "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God." And it's as if Simeon sees in the child before him the great saving transfiguring fact, the God who is coming in Jesus is a God who will stop at nothing. Here he is a God who has crossed the immeasurable, the infinite gulf between eternity and time and here he is weak and helpless in the arms of his mother. You begin to see a God who will stop at nothing. You begin to see the cross and the resurrection.
Over these last years Springboard has opened that long tunnel to cross and resurrection for countless people. It has made new beginnings some of which we have heard about tonight so movingly. It has directed attention to the God who will stop at nothing. And nothing except a witness to the God who will stop at nothing will really convert and change. We are praying now and looking forward to what comes next and - in brackets - there's quite a lot of work going on to do with that. But whatever happens next it must return again and again to that one basic point, uncovering, manifesting the God who will stop at nothing, who gives over his heaven for our heaven, who gives over his life for our life.
In the process of sharing the Gospel we see that God whose gift is endless whose generosity cannot be restrained, who stops at nothing. But as Simeon reminds us again we see also who we are even when we'd rather not. Faced with the God who stops at nothing we realise the poverty of our own gifts, the incapacity of our own hearts to heal themselves, the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed and when our thoughts are revealed how very painful that can be. How much we'd rather it didn't happen.
Sometimes in sharing the Gospel there's a temptation to say this is the truth about God, but you don't have to worry too much about the truth of yourself. Just take it for granted that God's here, God's fine, that's it, don't ask any more awkward questions. But the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed, and the truth of our own humanity is laid bare and in some ways that's when the work really starts. That is when the cross and the resurrection kick in in our experience, in our own lives as we begin that dreadful process of being dispossessed by God of what we thought was our health and our sense and what we thought was our good and our reason, what we thought was our heaven. Because God's reality is so much better. "Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord." Yes, we see in the beginning the word of God who will stop at nothing, who will hold nothing back, and then we are called to let that word come alive in us so that we bit by bit as Christ comes alive in us learn to stop at nothing, to give. So it is that sharing the Gospel is evangelism, is never just telling a truth about God. Nor is it even just telling a truth about you and me. It's telling a truth and about you and me so that we may change, so that light may be reflected in us.
Well, meanwhile we wait for the revelation of what God will make of us. He was waiting says St Luke and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And so we wait for the redemption of our bodies, for the manifestation of glory in others as St Paul says. We are in the dim beginnings of our faith and we are always in the dim beginnings it seems, faintly to see cross and resurrection in the cradle of our immature faith and we wait for God's generosity to be poured out again and again upon us.
Tonight we recommit ourselves, we give thanks yes, we look backwards with immense appreciation and delight and please God, we renew our promise to the God who has promised himself to us. We do so confident that what we see in small beginnings in ordinary places as we have been reminded is the infinity of the God who holds nothing back and who stops at nothing for our life and our healing. What words can contain or hold the excitement of that?
I am wearing tonight a cross that was sent to me a couple of weeks ago by some friends. In case you can't see it, the cross is beadwork. It was sent to me by some young people in the South Wales Valleys, a community consisting of young offenders who have found Christ in prison, or been found by Christ in prison and have come out to share their lives in community and to take on for themselves the responsibility of going back into young offender institutions and many other places to share the Gospel. And they have quite an international network of people who share that experience. A couple of weeks ago this arrived made by a prisoner in an Egyptian jail who had come to faith in Jesus Christ in prison in Cairo. And I thought I'd wear it tonight because it says to me something about transformation, and about waiting because being in prison is like that and about the thoughts of hearts being revealed and about the God who stops at nothing and who breaks the bars of every prison that we may erect by our unfaithfulness and our resistance, our laziness, our unwillingness to be healed, and still comes in.
As we recommit ourselves to God's promise, a promise that's come alive for us in the experience of Springboard, we can ask God to lay bare our own hearts to ourselves so that we may know again and again what the prisons that keep us as individuals and as a church from those receiving and sharing the Gospels as we should. Perhaps we can hold before our eyes the eyes of our hearts. Objects like this. The marks of faith from spirits in prison, whose prison bars have been broken, the walls have been torn down by the God who stops at nothing. In the beginning of whose work we already see the wholeness of love and transforming grace. God be thanked for his inexpressible gift.