The Archbishop's Retreat Addresses Parts III, IV & V
Friday 18th July 2008The third, fourth and fifth of five addresses given by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the retreat that began the Fourteenth Lambeth Conference.
'God's mission and a bishop's discipleship'
18 July 2008
Yesterday, as we began to think about who the bishop belongs to and with, we were beginning to move into the questions around the cost of the bishop's discipleship. And in the way I outlined the matter yesterday, I said that part of the implication of this is that the bishop is bound to be both friend and stranger in the environment in which he or she finds themselves. The bishop is truly and fully with the people given in his or her hands. The bishop is also one who speaks a strange word, a word from beyond, a word from God. It's part of what the apostle has to bear.
The apostle in the New Testament is always someone who is travelling. I remember speaking last year to the bishops of Canada and saying to them that the notion of the apostle being someone always on the road was not at all an abstract or academic idea for them, in those vast territories! But the same would be true of so many of you. The apostle is a person 'on the road'. And people on the road have to listen and adapt to all sorts of languages as they go on their way. If the bishop is not just to be someone who takes on the colour of the local language and culture, the bishop needs to take great care to preserve that balance between someone who speaks in the name of God and who knows the language of God, and being someone who speaks the language of those among whom he or she is set. And that has much to do with the proper prophetic role of the bishop. Prophecy is not simply shouting incomprehensible words in the market place. The task of the prophet is harder. Do you remember the words of Ezekiel 3? 'You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the House of Israel.' Sometimes the people whose language is hardest to learn are the people next door, the people among whom we live. We think we know how they work, how they feel and think, and yet we still must learn.
So, the bishop is a linguist. As I've travelled in the Communion, I've realized just how much that is a literal truth for so many of you. And those of us in the North Atlantic world, who find great difficultly in believing that anybody else really speaks anything other than English, are brought to our knees in repentance as we look around and see the skill and variety and language in which so many of you operate daily. (On my first visit to South Africa, over twenty years ago, the first sermon I preached there was interpreted into some five languages, and that is just in one township!)
Learning languages is one of the most basic forms of learning that we do. Once we've learned our own, most of us learn something of another language at school. And some writers have said that learning another language is one of the most central and typical forms of learning. You are up against something that has its own logic, its own rules; you can't actually make it up as you go along. If you're learning Spanish or Urdu its no use when you're in a Spanish-speaking or Urdu-speaking environment just to say 'well this is how it comes to me' because you're not going to communicate. There's something there which you have to learn; you have to be obedient – a very frightening word, but it is something to do with learning a language. And so we find ourselves, whether literally learning another language or metaphorically learning how to communicate with those around us, asked to be obedient so that we may communicate. Obedience: listening for the nuances, listening for the hidden music in what someone says or does, listening sometimes for what's beneath the surface as well as what is immediately in front of us. It's a tough experience, and it doesn't happen quickly. All of you know that.
But we're doing all this not simply so that we can appear as masters of human language. We're doing it so that we may communicate something of the God whose glory and majesty is beyond all language. We do it because we have begun to learn God's language from God's Word, because we have begun to be obedient to God, because we have chosen to live under the law of Christ, to put our lives into the hands of God's gracious Word, we must strive again and again to find ways of making that real, in one context after another. It's in that way that we become not just a stranger in the setting where we're placed, but a Christlike stranger. Christ is the Word of God; in Christ the purpose and the love of God the Father shapes everything; in his life in eternity and in his life on earth. It is difficult language to use, but we have to say that Christ is obedient to the Father in all things, hearing the Father in eternity, living out that reality on earth. But how does he live out that obedience and attention to the Father in his life on earth? He does it by learning our language, listening to our needs, answering our hunger. I don't know if this makes sense to you, but I'm often struck in the gospels by how Jesus says to those in need, 'What do you want me to do for you?' It's as if Jesus is saying, 'Tell me what to do, and I will obey you as I obey my Father. Tell me what your need is, and in giving my love to you I will be obeying my Father.' So that Jesus' humility before the needs of the suffering, sinful world is absolutely at one with his obedience and humility before God, his source, his Father. To be a Christlike stranger is to be listening for the true need around us and to hold that together with our listening to God.
Because I have only one ear that works (my left ear is just decorative!) I find it rather difficult to understand when people talk about stereophonic sound, sound coming from different angles. But I am told that for the vast majority of the human race it is a bit different. The bishop does indeed need that stereophonic capacity. The bishop listens with one ear to the word of God, and the other to the languages of those among whom he or she ministers. And somehow the messages come to the one centre of heart and brain, and we live under the law of Christ.
St Paul knew a good deal about this. His vocation separated him at one stroke from all the skill and the status that he had known. He had been (he tells us with characteristic modesty) an expert in the law. He had been one of the intellectuals of his day, and somehow, all at once, that language was taken away from him and the simple words of Christ fell on his ear, and struck him to the ground as if dead. And he was sent to learn the language of Christ. First of all, he tells us, he learnt in silence; he went to the deserts of Arabia and he listened to the new strange word of Christ. And then (and how can we begin to imagine what this was like?) he came back to where he had once been a leading intellectual and a promising politician, and began to stammer his new language, to be a fool among those who had once thought him wise. And as if that wasn't enough, Christ appears to him as he prays in the Temple and says, 'I am sending you to the Gentiles', and he has to begin stammering and struggling yet again. So we see him in Acts 17, in the midst of the elite of the city of Athens, trying to sound like a Greek philosopher, with limited success. He peppers his sermon with quotations from Greek poets and thinkers and then ruins it all by saying, 'But what I really want to tell you about is Jesus and the Resurrection'. And his sophisticated audience look at one another and say, 'What shall we do with a man like this?'
So Paul knows a lot about becoming a stranger. He knows a lot about learning languages and that's perhaps why, more than once in his letters, he seems to speak out of that experience. I suggested to you yesterday that you might like to read 1 Corinthians 9:19—23: 'Though I am free and belong to no one, I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew to win the Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law, though I myself am not under the law, so as to win those under the law; and to those not having the law I became like one not having the law, though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.' When St Paul writes sentences as tangled and passionate as that, you know he really means what he says! but he comes back to it again, at the end of chapter ten (I Corinthians 10:31): 'So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the Church of God, even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.' Paul is saying to us, having listened to the law of Christ, 'now I struggle to listen to all those with whom I engage so that when I speak, it may be for Christ's sake' – for the sake of that unity we were thinking of yesterday, that active mutual service that builds up life.
I do sometimes think that when Paul says, 'I try to please everyone in every way', somebody might have taken him on one side and said, 'You might perhaps moderate your language from time to time if that's really what you want to do!' But part of the glory of St Paul is of course that he is an apostle like us: that is, an apostle who is learning his language as he writes. Paul insists that he is no one's slave and he says it proudly. He knows who he belongs to and who has taken hold of him and yet, in another sense, he says he is public property (and I think we most of us know a little about being public property as bishops, too, and the sense of the claims that come in upon us). It brings the cross. It's the cost of discipleship. And (to fill that out a little further) Paul says that we can manage this only when we discipline ourselves, when we bring what he calls 'our fleshly nature' into submission.
When Paul talks about 'our fleshly nature'—our sarx in Greek—he talks always about those aspects of our life and our action where we are resisting God's Spirit; whether it's in physical indulgence or egotism, selfishness or division. It all belongs together: it's all a way of resisting the Spirit. Faction and rivalry, malicious talk, immoral and exploitative behaviour in our bodies, self-indulgence: it's all part of the same. And only as we look at ourselves clearly and honestly and recognize what it is that resists the Spirit of communion do we really come to be able to bear in Christ the burden of obedience to God and to the world, so that all may find life.
Two thoughts to finish with: the first is to refer you to a very significant and quite challenging American theologian of an earlier generation – William Stringfellow. He was a lawyer who worked for the sake of the Gospel and a layman who believed profoundly in the baptismal priesthood of God's people. He was also an extremely difficult and eccentric man - and a complicated writer (it takes one to know one!). But at the heart of William Stringfellow's thinking is his reflection on what it is to be what he calls a 'biblical person'; and he repeats again and again that a 'biblical' person is very different from being a 'religious' person. A religious person knows the words and the habits that satisfy religious demands, and can make a very time-consuming hobby or pastime of being religious. A biblical person is one caught in the spotlight of God's call and God's attention, called to obedience, called to danger, to transformed life. A religious person is perhaps a calm and relaxed person, knowing exactly what to do. A biblical person is very frightened. I'm not suggesting that the essence of being a good bishop is to be very frightened, though sometimes it does us good to be - but that to be a bishop is to be a biblical person, caught in the spotlight of God's attention, God's call, working out our future with fear and trembling because it's only when we know something of the fear of being caught in the spotlight of God's attention that we know the meaning of the words, 'Fear not!', which Jesus Christ addresses to his disciples.
The second thing to leave you with is not unconnected with that. I'm going to take you back to the second Christian century and to St Ignatius of Antioch. He is writing his letters to the churches as he is transported by Roman soldiers to the imperial capital where he will be executed for his faith. And at one point in his letters, he says of the leaders of the local church that 'bishops are pleasing to God when they are silent.' I don't know quite why he said this (nobody does), perhaps he had suffered from too many talkative Christian leaders. (There are such, and we do suffer from them). But, he says, the silence of the bishop is somehow connected with God. The bishop whose ministry is centered on the Eucharist, performed with the wholeness of the Church in mind, will be a bishop who is silent in respect of many of the claims and pressures that are around, holding still so that God's word—not the bishop's—can come through. Open, therefore to the differences, the difficulties in letting God's word through, but also beginning, maturing, ending in the quiet that allows God to be God and doesn't impose the agenda of the individual and their fleshly nature.
As we come to the end of this session, we have two quite sobering images to bear in mind: the bishop as a biblical person, under the spotlight, called to obedience to God and the world, knowing that he or she will never satisfy those demands and yet commanded not to be afraid, and the bishop as a silent person, silent enough for God's word to appear and transform and work.
I want in the next session to move on from there to say something more about how all this also impacts on our sense of our ministry exercised together, not just as individuals. And that means that I shall want to say something about being bishops in fellowship, in communion, being Anglican bishops.
I have already suggested that you might like to read Colossians 4.2—16, and somebody has asked whether I meant 2—6? Well no, actually I did mean 2—16 because if you look at the last chapter of the letter to the Colossians you'll find that it's one of those wonderful places where Paul mentions all the people working with him. They are all those people we only know because Paul remembered to put their name at the end of a letter; the unsung heroes and heroines of Paul's mission, the people who travelled with him, who gave him a bed for the night; the people he kept up until the early hours talking; the people he borrowed clothes from. These unsung heroes and heroines of Paul's mission are just as much a part of the apostolic foundation of the Church as anyone else.
Let us pray.
Once more, beloved Father we thank you for one another, and we pray for one another. Once more, we thank you, and we pray for all those who for whatever reason are not here in our company. Once more we thank you and praise you for the trust you have placed in our hands, and we ask for the strength of your spirit in holding that trust. Loving Father, make us obedient to you. Shape our lives in the likeness of Christ, and as we seek to attend to and be obedient to the need and the suffering of the world, deepen our obedience to you. Give us the courage to speak, and the courage to be still. Give us the courage to look into the light of your countenance as shown to us in Jesus, and not to be afraid, to stand upon our feet to work, speak, live and witness, so that your Son may be revealed in us, and your word heard to the ends of the earth; in Jesus' precious name. Amen.
Tertullian, in the second Christian century once said, 'A Christian alone is no Christian'. And I think the New Testament gives us every reason for thinking that a single apostle or disciple is no disciple. We cannot do these things alone, and that is why again and again in the New Testament, we find the Lord sending out his representatives and ministers in a group of companions. In Luke 10, Jesus sends the seventy-two in pairs. In Acts 13, Paul is commissioned along with Barnabas, and goes on his mission among his companions. Remember the importance of those wonderful lists at the end of some of the Epistles, where Paul reminds those he's writing to of the fact that he did not come to them alone, and that he did not share the Gospel with them alone.
One disciple alone is no disciple. And so our exercise of a bishop's ministry is a shared business. It is literally meaningless, if it's exercised just as the presidency of a local Christian congregation. It is to be exercised by all of us together, and when we speak of the bishop ministering and acting in synod, we don't just mean the bishop with local clergy and people gathered around, we mean also the bishop in counsel with other bishops with their clergy and their people. And one implication of that is that bishops of the Church are called to live 'in community': the community of their local churches, but also the community of the worldwide fellowship of bishops. Bishops, you could say, are meant to model in their shared life the community life that they seek to serve in their churches. And that is where, I suspect, quite a lot of bishops' meetings in different provinces might begin to scratch their heads and wonder whether that really is how it works. Happily, sometimes it does; but not always. And I know that in the provinces in which I have been privileged to serve, we have had to work very seriously and very carefully to make ourselves a Christian community, not just a gathering of (as you might say) the chairs of the local branches. We are, as bishops, a cell of the Church, and when we meet together as bishops it is in that spirit and that sense that we should be working.
That, of course, is one reason why communion matters in its widest possible sense, but also in the specific sense of our Anglican Communion. And it's why the breach of communion also matters, and why it hurts and is felt as a wound for us all. In this conference, historically, part of the agenda has been to celebrate our communion: and in our time of meeting to try and shape our life together so that we look like a Church, so that we look like a cell of the Body of Christ. That's why we worship and read the scriptures together. We don't just meet in committees and vote, we try to work as a Church. But on this particular occasion we are bound to be aware that we are not only celebrating communion, but working and praying for its restoration and its deepening. If, after two weeks, we emerge celebrating, well and good. But I hope that that celebration will carry with it also a sense of trust and confidence restored and renewed.
What I have said so far underlines, of course, some things which I've already hinted at. Yes, we need to find structures for a renewed Communion that will work well for us. But we need to resolve this breakage, this woundedness not only at the legal level, but also in our fellowship as Church together which is why we're beginning with a retreat. And perhaps as we think about that, we might turn to some of those figures in our Christian past who have been part of the inspiration of the building and the community in which we meet in Canterbury today.
The great saints of the monastic tradition, the Desert Fathers of Egypt, and St Benedict and his followers, read to us now as deeply contemporary. The problems they identify and the disciplines that they suggest are not archeology, not museum pieces, they are directly and profoundly our business. Look at the monastic fathers of the Egyptian desert. They managed to combine two things that we often pull apart: they are absolutely rigorous towards themselves, they do not allow themselves any illusions or false pictures of who they are; they do not allow themselves as we say to 'get away' with anything. They look, with a very cool eye, at the fantasies and ambitions and the consoling stories that they – like other people – tell themselves, and they lay them bare before God. They are very clear about the difference between truth and falsehood, sin and grace. And at the same time they look upon each other with a deep and principled reluctance to condemn. There are many stories of fathers in the desert summoned to councils where they are invited to condemn someone and they say, 'I carry my water in a broken pitcher and it runs out as fast as I can walk; what am I doing, gathered to condemn?'
So the Desert Fathers are not easy people proposing an easy gospel: far from it. But they do ask us all (as they ask themselves) to challenge the ease and the attractiveness with which we sometimes turn to condemn. And in our Church today, I think, the Desert Fathers turn a cool eye on both the left and the right, and turn a warm eye towards the Lord of truth and mercy. Maybe we have something to learn? And St Benedict—in whose honour and for whose Rule this great building was erected—speaks about the obedience we owe to each other, the willingness to find the imperative of Jesus even in the youngest or the least experienced member of the community. A couple of years ago I agreed to give a lecture on the Rule of St Benedict and the Future of Europe, in Rome; and all I could think of in this connection was that perhaps, in the community of European nations one of the things St Benedict is telling us is to listen to the marginal communities because they are as likely to present the imperatives of justice and truth as anyone else.
What about our communion? Listen to the young churches, listen to the small churches, and indeed be prepared to find the imperative of Jesus in anyone and everyone in this communion. Because it is not the vast glories of Canterbury, it is not huge numbers or massive resources that guarantee truth anywhere in our communion. We are called simply, to that keen, unsparing attention to Christ in one another. But that only works, as for the Desert Fathers or the Benedictines, because they are held in a common discipline and shape of prayer. They pray together to the Father and the Son in the power of the Spirit. They pray together a great deal – certainly the Benedictines do. The shape of each day is dictated by common prayer as well as by common work. And as I thought about that, I wondered what difference it would make in our communion, if every single bishop were 'covenanted' to observe a common rule of life with two or three others in different parts of the communion? What if every bishop were committed to sharing with two or three others the same pattern of biblical reading and the same psalms recited daily? so we knew that somewhere else in the world, someone was praying our prayers.
Once upon a time, part of what held the Anglican family together was common prayer, literally the Book of Common Prayer. And many early missionary Anglicans thought that they were doing their job simply by translating the Book of Common Prayer into any and every language they encountered. It was a noble enterprise and its motive was right, but it has taken us some time to realize that common prayer is more than just having the same book in your hands. But if we don't have that kind of common prayer, can we find other ways of praying together? I just put that before you as a suggestion, something which some of you might like to reflect on and which probably some of you are already experiencing. Can we find a way of connecting a small group of our brothers and sisters by sharing a similar way of life? How would that change our relations? It is that which allows the care and attention which goes on in the monastic tradition. It is that which allows us also to call each other to account, not from a distant height of condescension, but as sisters and brothers together.
I've said that as bishops-in-communion we need to be a kind of church together. We need to model sharing, honesty and common prayer. That means, I believe, that faithfulness to our Anglican identity is faithfulness to each other as much as it is faithfulness to some norm or standard of teaching: the two go together. And it is in the growth and deepening of faithfulness to each other, in our shared, collegial exercise of episcopal ministry, that we build up our confidence. In the planning and imagining of this conference, I and others have spoken from time to time of the need to restore confidence in our life as a communion and in its structures. The word 'confidence' has the same central significance as 'fidelity'; they're both in different ways about fides, about faith and trust. As we discover a real faithfulness to each other, I believe we discover the true confidence we most deeply need. We recognize in one another the same faith and the same prayer, and we communicate with each other trustfully, not suspiciously.
Well, we have some way to go. And I need to say a word about the ways in which a lack of trust can cripple us and diminish us. We know that there are those who look at other provinces, and say, 'They are changing the essence of the faith', or 'How can we recognize (how can we have confidence in) what is happening there?' There are also provinces that look at some others and say, 'There the Anglican horizon is drawing in. Things are becoming narrower than they were. How can we recognize in that narrow spectrum the breadth that we think is Anglican?' Those different perceptions fly through the air and through the electronic waves very rapidly, very fiercely and very woundingly. If (to choose some random examples) a bishop in Melanesia thinks that a bishop in Canada has let go of the essence of the faith, or if a bishop in Mexico believes that a bishop in Kenya is a slave to biblical literalism then there is work to be done. We don't just live with the suspicions and the images unchallenged. If we are in any sense a community of bishops, we work at it, that's part of what we are here to do, by God's help.
Now, we gather in hope and in prayer. But we also gather with many people feeling nervous or fearful about some others. I'm going to make a suggestion (which you don't have to act on) but I leave it for you, in the middle of the floor, and if you pick it up well and good. I'm going to suggest that this afternoon, or this evening or tomorrow, you try and identify one other bishop about whom you feel fearful or nervous. Go and ask him or her to pray with you. Don't discuss, don't negotiate, just ask to pray: you never know what might happen. Try and find someone whose image or background or location in this or that province makes you nervous. Wherever you want to put yourself on the Anglican map, there is almost bound to be somebody else who makes you nervous, so try and find them. See what God can do. However you find a way to do it, I simply hope and trust something may be possible there, because in our reflections and in our quiet, we may need to draw out some of our fears as well as our hopes for the weeks ahead - the fear that we may find ourselves excluded, powerless: that the Church we love becomes a Church we can't recognize. All of this is around us in our communion and in many, many provinces. The only thing to do with fear, is to put it in God's presence.
And all of that is not just an exercise in what one of the great theologians called 'cheap grace', as if all our problems were solved by being a bit nicer to each other: they won't be. It is, though, about how we as bishops model what the life of the Church is truly like. And it is part of our learning about how to be leaders. We throw around that word 'leadership', very freely, especially in the English-speaking world. Perhaps even as Christians we don't always pause long enough to think what we do and don't mean by leadership. Perhaps even in the Christian world we have a very individual view of leadership: and what Jesus Christ asks us to do as the servants of his body, is to find how to exercise leadership in communion. And having said that, there is only one place we can go, and that is to pray and reflect in relation to what the leadership of Jesus Christ means. Tomorrow in the final session, I shall want to be thinking with you a little about some passages especially from the letter to the Hebrews -- going a little beyond St Paul for once – about Christ as leader and what is meant in that context. And I've suggested that perhaps Hebrews 10.19—25 would be a place to begin.
In conclusion, let us remember that we are as bishops a community. For our time together we realize, what for most of the time is perhaps a rather remote notion, that we are exercising our ministry as bishops in fellowship and that if we don't do this then we are not truly exercising that ministry. And let's see what resolutions we can make to keep this experience of fellowship as bishops alive for ourselves. Whatever we do, let us remember the apostles going out with companions, to exercise their apostolate. Let's remember the seventy-two going out in pairs to spread the Gospel, and that the Gospel is only truthfully spread by people in communion.
19 July 2008
Yesterday we began to think about exercising our ministry as bishops-in-communion, and how the way in which we worked as bishops could itself be a model of communion to the whole Church. But as I said, that in itself begins to prompt the question about what Christian leadership is truly like. And so in this final time together, I shall be thinking about the leadership of Christ, especially as presented to us in the letter to the Hebrews.
First let us look at Hebrews 10.19—25: 'Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the most holy place, by the blood of Jesus. By a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience, and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold, unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together (as some are in the habit of doing) but let us encourage one another all the more as you see the day approaching.'
Jesus has opened a new way for us. That is the theme that occurs again and again in the letter to the Hebrews. He has gone ahead of us, he has gone into a place where we ourselves cannot go. It is the place of atonement, the altar at the centre of the Temple and it is at the same time the Cross where he makes reconciliation between God and the world. Jesus is our leader, quite simply because he goes before us to clear the way. He makes a new and living way through the curtain, the veil, through his body itself. We enter into his body, the fellowship of Christians and in him we pass into the holy place. So leadership, if you want to use that word here, is not about giving commands, not even about making decisions, it is quite literally about leading, clearing the way, making it possible for us to go where otherwise we could not. It is clearing the way to the cross the way to God the Father. And once we've understood the centrality of this image—Jesus leading by clearing the way—then we understand (and its really devastatingly simple) that the only way Christians lead is by following - following Jesus' way.
And our leadership in the mission of God in his Church depends on discerning that way. We need to have the skill, the insight and the freedom to see where the new and living way opens up, where Jesus goes before us. And it's an important reminder of something which I'm sure you don't need reminding of: that our mission is not 'taking Jesus where he is not already' but 'going where he has cleared the way'. Actually, when you think about it, what an extraordinary idea it is, that we should take Jesus where he's not been before! Poor, nervous, frightened Jesus who needs us to hold his hand in dangerous places. Surely not! – Jesus goes before us and we are the trembling children seeking the courage to walk where he leads. But as I've said, this needs discernment.
I want to give you one or two words which I came across while reading about the history of the Lambeth Conference. Back in 1978, that great priest theologian Alan Ecclestone was asked to write a paper in preparation for the conference on 'The bishop in relation to God'. (Incidentally, if ever you come across a copy of the preparatory papers for the 1978 conference, there's a great deal of huge value about the exercise of bishops' ministries there.) But, in this particular paper, Alan Ecclestone says that episcope is 'insight as well as oversight'. The bishop needs discernment, and the bishop's exposure to God in prayer is so that there may be discernment of where God is leading and where Jesus Christ has gone before. Ecclestone is very clear about how difficult that can be, and he refers us once again to St Paul; when St Paul is overtaken by insight on the road to Damascus, when he sees Jesus for the first time in the faces of those he has been persecuting, the insight is too much for him and he becomes blind with the excess of light. 'It's a condition of blindness', says Ecclestone, 'the effacement of those well-known images of reality in order that the new vision may be seen.' 'Insight as well as oversight' – asking God to show us (though it may be with blinding difficulty) where we have to go to follow where Jesus has led: That is leadership in mission.
If that is how we understand our leadership in mission, we have, I suppose, to realize that we are called here to embody meaning and hope; not necessarily to get the structures right all at once and not necessarily to get the ideas clear all at once, but in our witness with Jesus, walking to the cross, embodying in our own selves the meaning that God purposes. We follow Jesus into the presence of the Father, into the holy place, through the Cross. We ask for the Spirit's discernment, to show us in our daily life and ministry, where that path opens up before us, to this or that person, to this or that new situation, in this or that new method.
But before saying any more about that, it's perhaps worth just reminding ourselves that its not simply about saying, 'This is the way.' At times we need to be able to encourage oneanother as Hebrews says simply by saying, 'There is a way which God has opened.' We may not be clear where and what it is, but we put our faith in one who has promised that a way is open to the Father, to reconciliation and recreation.
There are, as you all know, groups that work by reinforcing each other's anxieties. Bishops, I'm afraid, live in such groups quite a lot of the time. But in Hebrews, the picture put before us is one of a group of Christians whose life together is about reminding one another of what God has made possible. The binding reality is not anxiety, it's hope. There is a way; and as we seek to minister together, to exercise our episcopal ministry in communion, that must be part of what we continue to say to one another. God opens a new and living way in Jesus.
We need in all this, that greatest and toughest Christian gift, courage. We need to be free for some institutional risk-taking. And I say that because, like many of you, I often hear discussions of new ventures in mission that at some point raise the question, 'Is it Anglican?' (that's not always an easy question to answer, given the variety of things that are already Anglican!) But I always want to respond, 'Let's ask first if this can be part of the new and living way, and if this is where God is opening the way to the cross and the resurrection and the Father's presence. And if you're not sure whether it's Anglican or not I'm inclined to say, 'make it Anglican' by your prayer and your critical faithfulness and your friendship. If you discern it to be of God, draw it in by your commitment. At a time when so many of our provinces are thinking about what in England we're calling Fresh Expressions of the life of the Church, these are some of the questions and the perspectives we need to have in mind.
And all of that is another illustration of how insight and oversight belong together. When new mission opportunities and structures suggest themselves we should ask for insight, not first into whether they're Anglican, but first as to whether they are part of a new and living way. To grow in that insight we shall need one another. And of course that suggests that when we fail in leadership, it's because we're failing to witness to a new and living way. We're following models of leadership that are too much about command and decision and not enough about the opening of a new way. Like all of you, I examine my conscience regularly about the exercise of Christian leadership, and I have plenty of advice on this subject from many quarters! But when I do examine my conscience, what brings me to my knees is not so much a failure to take decisions, it's my failure to hope in Christ, to believe that there is a new way, which because it's new still has to be discovered by me. It's so easy when we're thinking about leadership, to think about it in terms that do not point us to the Cross and the presence of the Father. And that's perhaps how we should begin to examine ourselves and our consciences in this connection.
And so we come back to that initial point, that initial vision in the letter to the Galatians, the point where we began as this retreat opened on Thursday: the revealing of the Son of God in us, which perhaps we can also now see as the revealing in us of a new way. A new way that involves us in walking the way of the cross, that involves us in risk and uncertainties, but which we can confidently proclaim to one another and to the world around, as God's possibility opened up in the very heart of our powerlessness. That is what we offer: each of us to all of us, all of us to God's people in general, God's people in general to the world. And there is no separation between our leading and our following Christ: only as a disciple can we lead, only as a learner can we teach. If there really is one royal road, the final reconciliation to the Father's heart, the road that is in Jesus, then walking that road and following that way; learning the language of that new world, is how we lead.
So, in conclusion, let's simply pray for Christ to lead us in the days ahead. We don't know precisely where we shall come to in our discussions, in our exchange of perspective and experience and fear and hope. But at this stage of our meeting, what I believe is essential and life-giving, is to know that God has opened a new and living way; that Jesus truly is ahead of us, calling us to follow with him. Let's pray for grateful clarity about what he has done, and what he is doing and what he will do. The way he has opened is the way to the cross. The way to the cross is the only way to the resurrection and the Father's heart. All that we know, all that we tell ourselves daily – let us now simply allow that to sink in as both challenge and hope.
To end, I want to go back to Hebrews once again and to read two more passages and then to suggest that we simply keep silence together and allow some of that to soak through us as we prepare ourselves to come out of our time of retreat and begin to engage in different ways. So I'll read from Hebrews 2.9—15:
'What we do see is Jesus, who for a short while was made subordinate to the angels, crowned now with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that, by God's gracious will, he should experience death for all mankind. In bringing many sons to glory it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings; for he who consecrates and those who are consecrated are all of one stock. That is why he does not shrink from calling men his brothers, when he says, 'I will make your fame known to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you'; and again, 'I will keep my trust fixed on him'; and again, 'Here am I, and the children whom God has given me.' Since the children share in flesh and blood, he too shared in them, so that by dying he might break the power of him who had death at his command, that is, the devil, and might liberate those who all their life had been in servitude through fear of death.
© Rowan Williams 2008