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Exeter Diocese 1100th anniversary sermon

The Archbishop preaches at the Exeter Diocese 1100th anniversary

Saturday 27th June 2009

The Archbishop preached at an open air service to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of Exeter Diocese, which drew a crowd of over 5,000 people.

Click link on the right to listen to the sermon [21Mb]

Read the transcript below:

(Gospel Reading - John 17:18-23)

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

Well Happy Birthday Exeter and many happy returns because there is more to receive where this came from, there is more to receive from God's abundance and more to do for God's glory and may God give you all the imagination and joy and strength you need both to receive what he gives and do what he desires.

But if we've been listing to the words of the gospel just a few minutes ago, we might have heard one phase that ought to shock us rather, the glory you have given me says Jesus I have given them. We are glorious brothers and sisters glorious with the glory of Jesus himself. Not just because we live in Devon, glorious Devon but because the very distinctive glory that Jesus shows is reflected in us. A Christian writer nearly nine hundred years ago said the glory of God is a human being who is fully alive and we are glorious because God has made us through Jesus Christ fully alive and the rest of the gospel of Saint John tells us quite a bit, about what it means to be fully alive and glorious. Glory begins in Heaven in the relationship between the son and the father as the very first chapter of John's gospel makes clear. That is where it all starts, the everlasting word of God next to the Fathers heart receiving and showing his glory. In all eternity the word of God, who became human in Jesus Christ, turns his face towards the outpouring love of the Father, receives that love and reflects it back, because he receives the overflowing of love, he shows glory.

So the first and the simplest thing we learn, from the gospel of Saint John is that in our Christian lives we need above all to turn our faces to the overflowing love of God, and receive. Before we try to do anything or change everything, we must receive, something and that something is the promise of a love that never lets us go, that is never bored, disgusted, disappointed, disillusioned. A love that goes on everlasting, pouring out towards us and of course we can't contain it, anymore than you could contain Niagara Falls in a thimble. All we can do is leave our hearts and hands and lives open, so that the love is drawn in. Drawing begins in receiving, it begins in all the ways in which day by day we turn towards that everlasting light and everlasting love. It begins in wonder, delight, with thanksgiving that God is God and that God has shown himself to be everlasting love in Jesus and as we grow in that learning, through the gift and grace of God the holy spirit, then we can pray that the everlasting light that shines perfectly in the face of Jesus begins to shine is us as well.

So far wonderful and then of course this being Christianity the difficult bit kicks in. The New Testament frequently operates on the principle, first of good news, then not so good news. The not so good news for us rather selfish, rather lazy, rather dim people the not so good news is that the way glory shows itself is in sacrifice and self giving love, St John's gospel tells us again and again, that the glory of Jesus is shown most fully, first drastically in the cross, we can't understand what glory is until you see that overwhelming, endless love worked out in an act of supreme self giving. Outpouring not just of nice feelings and warm benevolence, but the outpouring of life itself, so that others may live. There's glory for you as Humpty Dumpty said. Real glory, the glory of the Cross and it's as we learn and live our way into that glory becomes compelling and transforming for those around us. For our world. Not just that we have our faces turned towards the light and glory shines from our faces by reflection, but that somehow in our relations with God, and one another that love impels us beyond our boundaries, beyond our comfort zones, beyond our safety and defences, to be there, for others as totally as can be. Not so good news as I say because we don't very much like the sound of just being there for others, we'd quite like others to be there for us, but we're never quite so certain about the reverse principle and yet that's where the glory of Jesus, comes alive, most totally, in the self giving of the Cross.

St John's gospel tells us that that is something so extra ordinary, so unusual, so almost unthinkable that in the long run it draws all human beings towards itself that I'm lifted up, says Jesus on the Cross, I'll draw everybody towards me. So can we as Christians live surprising lives, lives that because they are so involved in and given over to the life and joy of our neighbours, that people are surprised. This I say is life, this is the human being, fully alive and we never knew what life really was until we saw what love could be. The challenge for us is to make that real in our life together as Christians and that perhaps, is why Jesus says the glory you've given me, I've given them so that they may be one. You see it's no good plotting and planning for Christian unity with schemes on paper. It's no good working out complicated schemes, negotiated treaties, there's a lot of hard work to be done that needs doing, but won't really make a difference because you see Jesus is saying unity is the effect of glory. If we're really living in glory, living with our faces reflecting God's selfless love, living is such a way that that selflessness is real in our relations with one another, then we get to be one. Get to be one because of love, because of love that is always ready for the need of our neighbour. All true Christian unity comes from that.

We might go just a little bit further. When I look at my neighbour, what I see in the fellowship of Christians, is someone else in whom God's glory is coming alive. Where's the glory of God to be seen? Well look at the person next to you, there's glory for you. The person next to you might be someone you've spent your whole life with and this being a rounder bout gathering it might be someone you've never seen before and it may be somebody you hope you'll never see again and yet there is glory. The person next to you has been drawn by the beauty and surprise and extra ordinariness of Jesus to be here and so there's glory in their face too. Learn to look upon one another with your eyes open for that glory and it is amazing what levels of unity, friendship and compassion can come alive between Christians. The glory you have given me, I have given them so that they may be one as we are one, I and them and you and me. In heaven for all eternity, with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, pour out the radiance of delight and joy and love in and for each other. Jesus making real in his flesh and blood, all of that joy, that radiant love, pours it out towards us. We turn our faces to that and we find each other's faces begin to shine, Glory dwells in our land in the words of the psalmist. Glorious Devon indeed, inhabited by a glorious Church. We learned our faith, from those who've shone glory before us, those wonderful figures parading in front of us this morning, our just a reminder of the glory of discipleship as it's been lived in the place, in this family of Christian families, for over a thousand years and now reflecting that glory, giving thanks for the glory in the face of the person next to us, turning together to the glory of the face of Jesus Christ, coming fully alive in him and through him, giving thanks to the Father in the glorious power of the Holy Spirit, we'll if that doesn't change the face of the world, what will? There's our agenda, there's our call, there's our mission that glory may dwell in our land.

Can we do this? Can we make it real? Of course we can't on our own and that's why finally we need to remember what's actually going on in that gospel passage. Jesus is praying, he's praying he says' for the friends around him, at his table and he's praying for us, on behalf of those who will believe in me, through their word. That's us. In this gospel, Jesus Christ, the everlasting word of God made flesh and blood, is praying for you and me and when the everlasting word of God prays for someone or something, they stayed pray for, quite literally. We are held up in the everlasting prayer of Christ. When we celebrate Holy Communion we bring ourselves into that prayer, into that great everlasting movement, of Jesus toward his Father. Of course we can't do, but Jesus prays without ceasing for you and me, prays that his glory will be in us. We fail again and again, we fall short, we get it dramatically and horrible wrong, and he doesn't stop praying. If that's true, glory will dwell in our land and we shall be recalled day after day and century after century to that same vision of joy and self giving. Almost unbelievably costly, but unbelievably exhilarating, so that the world may know, that you've said to me I love them, even as you have loved me.

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

© Rowan Williams 2009

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