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Sermon on the Occasion of the Meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council

Sunday 3rd May 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, preached at the service held at the National Arena, Independence Park, Kingston, Jamaica.


Read a transcript below, or click download on the right to listen [9Mb]

Archbishop of Canterbury’s Sermon

At the Service on the Occasion of the Meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council at the National Arena, Independence Park, Kingston, Jamaica

Sunday 3 May 2009 at 1000

The Lord is Risen Alleluia!

He is risen indeed Alleluia!

Dear brothers and sisters, I greet you in the name of the risen Jesus and I pray that my words and the thoughts of all our hearts will be acceptable in the sight of our God and Father. Amen.

First of all, let me say on behalf of the Anglican Consultative Council, your guests in these days, how profoundly grateful we all are, not only for the welcome you have given us, but for the opportunity we have to share this morning with you in the worship of Almighty God at his table. Thank you for showing yourselves, brothers and sisters, to us in this way. We give thanks to God for your witness, we give thanks to God for the largeness of your heart, and we rejoice to be with you on this occasion.

In this morning's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard a story that was very like the story of Pentecost. The Apostles are gathered together and suddenly the place where they are is shaken by the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit renews in them their vision and their courage – they speak the word of God with boldness. This story reminds us that when the Holy Spirit comes, the Holy Spirit gives us the power to speak in a way that changes the world we live in; to speak with such boldness that lives are changed.

And as the story continues, we hear what the effect is of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the speaking of the word. And the effect of this great earth shattering gift of the Spirit of the word, the effect of this is that a new kind of community is born. Immediately we have heard about the coming of the Spirit, we are told something about how the Christian community lived together. And we are told that among the believers in Jerusalem there was not one needy person. Now that immediately tells us something about what is at the heart of our life as a Christian community. When the Spirit comes, when the word is spoken, the human family comes into being where there are no needy persons; the Church is a community where there are no persons in need. And because the Church is a kind of hint, a foretaste of God's purpose for all human beings, we can conclude from that that the world God wishes us to see is a world in which there is no one in need.

We as a Church have to be the kind of community which shows what God's promise is for the whole of humanity, and we shall do that by asking ourselves day by day and year by year: "Is ours a community in which there are still people in need?". Well, the answer sadly is "yes", isn't it? In the Church and in the world there is need wherever we look. We are still on the way to becoming the Church that God wants us to be, and so we are still on the way to expressing the fullness of the gift of the Spirit, and the fullness of speaking the word in boldness.

And the first challenge which this reading from the Acts of the Apostles puts before us, is are we as a Christian community here in this island, across the world, are we prepared for working to be a community where there is no needy person? Are we prepared to be a community where we are so attentive, so careful to notice the needs of others that our instinct is always to go out to them, to ask what their hunger is and to meet it? And in this way, and in this way alone, the Church will be able to challenge the whole world and say, "God's purpose for the world is a human family where there is no one in need".

God knows that in this island you have felt the effects of international debt and the way in which the economy of our world seems to turn its back on those in need. God knows that in many different societies represented here in our Anglican Communion that experience is the same, as if the world has turned its back on need. And so for us, as a Christian family worldwide, this must be at the heart of our witness and our message. Are we prepared so to be shaken by the Holy Spirit, so to hear the word of God that we become a community where the need of all is seen and understood, and felt and met?

So brothers and sisters, I ask your prayers for the meeting of our Anglican Consultative Council this week, that in all we do we may assist our Anglican family to become more deeply a community shaken by the Holy Spirit, speaking the Word of God with boldness – a community where the needs of the poorest are always before our eyes, where we seek to create a community in which there is no needy person.

But as soon as we have said that, we may very well remember some other words of Scripture. It is not by bread alone that human beings live. The needs that are around in the Church, the needs that are around us in the world are not only the need for material wealth, the need for food or healthcare. Our needs go deeper. We need forgiveness, we need reconciliation, we need justice; as Jesus himself says, "Those who are hungry and thirsty for justice are blessed". And that is a reminder of how deep that need is. We need to hear from one another words of hope.

And once again this is a challenge to us as a Christian family and a challenge to us as a human family. Are we in our own context meeting one another's need to hear words of hope, meeting one another's need for a word of reconciliation?

In the Church we must constantly be asking: "Whose forgiveness do I need? Who needs my forgiveness? Who is it who is hungry for a word of hope from me? Who is it that I am hungry to hear a word of hope from? When we look at the deep conflicts of our world, at the terrible tragedies that divide so many countries – the anguish of Palestine and Israel, of Sudan, of Sri Lanka – those are not situations where all that is needed is bread or healthcare. There is, as the prophet says, a hunger for the word of the Lord, there is a hunger for the word of hope and of forgiveness. And so we, as Christians, must begin by asking ourselves within our own community, "Who needs from me that word of hope? From whom do I seek forgiveness?"

And once again, I ask your prayers, dear friends, for our meeting in these days, that in our Anglican Communion too we shall find the words and the prayers that will unleash, unseal the power that comes seeking and offering forgiveness. That we may ask ourselves as an Anglican family how we speak of hope to one another, how we meet that need, the word of transforming mercy. Because at the heart of it all lies our need for the overwhelming reality of love, which is God revealed in Jesus Christ our Saviour. We cannot speak about that need for God unless we also make it real in our lives in terms of the need for solidarity, the need for compassion, the need for forgiveness and for words of hope. God is there to meet that deepest need. God speaks the greatest and the fullest word of hope and reconciliation that we could imagine. In the Cross and the Resurrection of our Saviour, God offers himself as food for our hunger, the hunger of Spirit and body alike. God does not simply meet our needs by sending manna from heaven as he once did for the Israelites. God meets our material needs now by touching the hearts of his people so that they are moved to give and to serve. This morning as we gather to be fed at this the Lord's Table we must let ourselves be fed by a power that drives us to feed others, to see their material need and to see their spiritual hunger.

And we must go from here committed yet again, renewed in the vision yet again that God's purpose is a world where needs are met, where the poverty and wretchedness of people is met by love and generosity of neighbours, where the despair and the violence of people is met by the transfiguring word of hope and reconciliation. By God's grace and goodness we have so many stories in our Christian family that we can share, of that powerful word spoken across the gap of hunger and fear and despair. May those stories become our stories too. Because finally the key to all this is given to us in the words of today's Gospel: God has met our need by putting himself completely at our service. God's own life in Jesus Christ is laid down so that we may live. God holds nothing back in pouring himself out into the need of his creation. And God has swept us into his action and his life so that our own love, weak and frail as it is, is carried forward by the great action of his love into the service of the world's need; into the act of mercy and the word of promise.

The Holy Spirit comes upon us as a Church so that our actions, our loves, our hopes, our feelings, are caught up into the action of God in Jesus Christ; so that our weak power is overwhelmed in the power of God to give and to serve. And we, caught up in that self-giving love of God in Jesus Christ, we begin to understand that the hunger and the need of this world is met not simply by policies, not by words, not by documents, but by the gift of ourselves in prayer and in love. And to give ourselves means a great risk – letting go of what makes us feel safe. Sometimes, as we all know, it makes us feel safe to ignore the needs of others. "They are needy, but I am safe." Sometimes, sadly, in conflict with others, I can say, "I am right and that makes me feel safe, so I have no need of reconciliation." God help us when we deny our needs like that, because it is that refusal of God's act of transfiguring love that holds us back from giving ourselves in and through the love of God into the life of God's world. There is no needy person in the company of Jesus' friends in Jerusalem.

There it is – a huge challenge for us as a Church, and a challenge that we as a Church give to all our neighbours. A challenge to imagine a world where poverty is not ignored and the needy are not forgotten. But a challenge also to imagine a world in which we truly understand how deep in human beings is the hunger, the passionate devouring hunger to hear words of hope; to hear the possibility of reconciliation. We have come here to be fed. To be shaken by the Holy Spirit and fed by the Word of God. To share in the Holy Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood. And as we go from this place, we go committed to feed others with that life we have received. We go in the commitment to a world where there are no people dying forgotten because of their hunger for food, and dying forgotten because of their hunger for reconciliation. As we put out our hands to be fed by Jesus Christ, so we take into our hearts the life and the promise that is in him, our Good Shepherd, feeding and nourishing the life of the whole world to which we are sent.

And now to Christ, our Good Shepherd, to his Father, and his transfiguring Holy Spirit, in praise and thanksgiving, Glory and Majesty forever. Amen.

© Rowan Williams 2009

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