Mission and the Kingdom is a title that could take us in several directions; any and all would be profitable. But before we go rushing off, let’s take a moment to remember who we are.
We are the baptized. Those called by Christ to be members of his Body. We have entered the mystery of His death and resurrection and are changed forever. And if there is anything that makes us different from the almost countless others who are baptised also, it is simply that we are aware of what we have been given. We have heard God speak our name and our lives are a response to God’s gift of life in Christ. In the words of St. Augustine “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not”.
As catholic Anglicans we hold fast to the mystery and glory of God, and revere the gift of the Word made flesh above all. Allow me to remind you of the words of T.S. Eliot from The Four Quartets: The Hint Half-Guessed, the Gift Half-Understood .
Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for a saint –
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love.
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time.
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lighting
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action
The hint half-guessed, the gift half-understood,
The extraordinary beauty of T.S. Eliot’s poetry reminds us that as the Word became flesh; as God became man; we, in baptism, are invited into the divine life. That is who we are, and the mission we speak about, and put our shoulder behind is nothing less than the mission of God in the world.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
By his great mercy he has given us a new
birth into a living hope through the resurrection
of Jesus Christ from the dead, and
into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled,
and unfading kept in heaven for you.
In this you rejoice, even if now for a little
While you have to suffer various trials, so
That the genuineness of your faith – being
More precious than gold that, though
Perishable, is tested by fire – may be
Found to result in praise and glory
And honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
(1 Peter 1.3,4,6,7)
As we are all aware it is a calling, this mission of God, that costs not less than everything, yet gives us the realization that for this very reason we were made in God’s image and invited into the new life of baptism.
It is not to our credit that there are so many Christians who do not understand the gift they have been given, nor the pilgrimage, the Kingdom pilgrimage that the waters of baptism began for them. But, as has been said so many times – and said so well in this Conference – the answer is not to hound the poor souls in the pews (if they are even there) to remember their baptismal promises, but rather to invite them to consider with awe and wonder that they are the beloved of God.
And then, if you have managed to catch their attention (no small accomplishment when they have mortgages, and sick children, and difficult employment situations, and the list goes on), you might tell them that the pilgrimage that began at the font is a different sort of pilgrimage because they have both arrived at their destination and yet have only just begun. You might tell them and remind yourself that the journey towards God is never-ending as Gregory of Nyssa so beautifully spells out in his Life of Moses, yet the entire journey one is caught up in the embrace of God.
I think one of our calling as leaders in the Church and participants in God’s mission is to so live the life that we become the very promises we speak about. Now you can’t just decide to do that. But at the same time you can’t speak authentically about what you only know through reading. This is where the life of the Spirit (not charismatic per se) becomes real. We’ve all heard the stories and we may have even met some of the people – but it needs to become us. Let me remind you of some well known stories that illustrate my point:
Mother Theresa in one of her countless interviews with the media was asked how she began her day. “We rise early” she said, “and go to the chapel. We listen to Scripture and spend time in adoration before the sacrament.” “Why is that?” asked the Reporter. “After all, you have a long day ahead of you.” Mother Teresa replied “Oh you see it is very important to spend time with Jesus at the start of the day. Otherwise we might not recognize Him when we see Him in the faces of the dying, on the streets later on”.
And Francis of Assisi who heard the brothers complaining that they had all this work to do and never got to preach the Gospel. “What did you think you were doing?” asked Francis.
For myself, I remember being in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, working with the Sisters of St. Margaret in their inner-city schools, in the unstable days (Haiti is always unstable) following the regime of Papa Doc. The military would occasionally start firing rifles into the air or even into crowds of people, purely to keep their fear high. When it happened, the crowds would run for cover. One day the shooting began near St Vincent School for the Handicapped and the crowd started running towards the school and its courtyard. Unfortunately the timing couldn’t have been worse. It was recess and the courtyard was full of children, some blind, some deaf, some in wheelchairs and some without limbs, on crutches. It was a disaster in the making.
Sister Joan called for the doors to be closed but the adults knew a crowd of terrified Haitians could knock them down easily. So Sister Joan, a tiny woman, partially disabled herself with arthritis, climbed the stairs to the tiny balcony over the courtyard gates. And she spoke to the crowd. “My friends I know you are scared. But behind those doors are children: your children, my children, God’s children. If you push in the doors, the children will be hurt. Please, go to your homes, go in peace.” And some 300 Haitians – a moment ago a mob, did as they were asked.
How does such spiritual authority happen? It happens over months and years of faithfully reading Scripture, praying and attending the Eucharist. There are not many Haitians in the capital city who didn’t know Sister Joan, but that day it was not simply a little elderly nun speaking. It was the word of God delivered by one of his faithful servants.
It seems to me that what Sister Joan did was nothing more than what is our calling and the calling of every baptized Christian. But if the leaders – clergy and laity alike won’t lead by living that life, how will anyone ever know about participation in the divine life and spiritual maturity born of servanthood and obedience? If we want spiritual maturity in the pews, we need to model it.
Well if it all begins with the Incarnation and the invitation to enter the Kingdom through the waters of baptism, then, as we heard in the story of Sister Joan, who has gone to her rest, the ongoing life of the mission of God and the life of the Kingdom as we know it here and now, is found in and sustained by the Eucharist:
At the heart of it all is the eucharistic action,
a thing of an absolute simplicity – the taking,
blessing, breaking and giving of bread
and the taking, blessing and giving of a
cup of wine and water, as these were first
done with their new meaning by a young Jew
before and after supper with His friends on
the night before He died. Soon it was simplified
still further, by leaving out the supper
and combining the double grouping before and
after it into a single rite. So the four
action Shape of the Liturgy was found by the
end of the first century. He had told his
friends to do this henceforward with the
new meaning “for the anamnesis’ of Him, and
they have done it always since.
So wrote Dom Gregory Dix at the end of the second world war. He reminds us of the sublime simplicity of the acts of Jesus shortly before He died for the world He loved. I wonder if one of the ways we need to embrace God’s mission is by teaching about the sacraments. I have to say I thought yesterday’s U2 Mass was absolutely extraordinary. It spoke so deeply to the spiritual hunger and thirst of the people we serve. And I am sure that there are (almost) countless other ways to break down the barriers that have been erected to keep God at a distance. C.S. Lewis wrote about the damage we inadvertently do with religious education with children when we stuff them with knowledge but deprive them of relationship with God. The same is true of adults who are so needing to know God’s love and acceptance. We need to find ways of slaying the watchful dragons that keep the people of God from knowing their Saviour. Like C.S. Lewis there are many people who need to be surprised by joy.
I remember shortly after being ordained to the episcopate, being asked if I thought the Gospel was really passé. Did we need something new and different? Not surprisingly I said I believed the Gospel was exactly what was needed but I did think that the ability to hear the Good News was almost gone. Somehow we need to find new packaging but at the same time to make sure that packaging never obscures the holiness of God and the invitation to holiness that is extended to every person. And one of the best ways to help someone hear the invitation is to share the story of one other person who heard the invitation and said yes. I suspect for most congregations and mission activities the story told will be a present day example. That makes absolute sense. But every once in a while, and you would need to judge the rightness of the occasion, it may be surprisingly helpful to dip into Anglican history and share the stories of the communion of saints. There is something very deep and powerful about reminding people that others have walked this road before. Others have wrestled with the love of power and wealth, and have then discovered the love of God as infinitely preferable. To know that the spiritual hunger that one experiences is not unique but shared across time and space is often helpful. Allow me to remind you of the way the poet and preacher John Donne described his pilgrimage:
“God gave me the light of nature when I quickened in my mother’s womb by receiving a reasonable soul. And God gave me the light of faith when I quickened in my second mother’s womb, the Church, by receiving my baptism. But in my third day, when my mortality shall put on immortality, he shall give me the light of glory, by which I shall see Himself. To this light of glory the light of honour is but a glow worm; the majesty itself but twilight; the cherubims and seraphims are but candles; and that Gospel itself which the Apostle calls the glorious Gospel, but a star of the least magnitude. And if I cannot tell what to call this light by which I shall see it, what shall I call that which I shall see it by, the essence of God himself? And yet there is something else than this sight of God intended in that which remains. I shall not only ‘see God face to face’, but I shall ‘know’ him ….and know him, even as also I am known”.
To my way of thinking it doesn’t hurt for the people we are trying to reach, to realize that they are in the company of giants. It also doesn’t hurt to know that out of the treasury of Christ has come some of the most exquisitely beautiful pieces of poetry, art and music. The call of God to put down our nets and follow Jesus has stirred the human heart to heights of creative genius. And all to the glory of God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
Thus far I have really been focusing on the Kingdom. That which beckons us forward even while giving us membership right now. It is the “already and not yet” part of the Gospel wherein we receive so much more than we ever thought, yet are also beckoned onward to continue the pilgrimage.
As you are well aware the Synoptic Gospels are full of parables of the Kingdom. Of particular importance is the parable of the sower. In Matthew it is given 23 verses; Mark, 25 verses and Luke 15. In every instance the parable appears with minimum preamble. It’s just put out there. There is some reactive confusion on the part of the disciples (nothing new) and then Jesus provides an explanation (more confusion).
I suggest to you that God is the sower and Jesus is the seed or Word that is being sown. Jesus is shared liberally. In some places he gets a better reception than others but the main thing is that he isn’t hoarded or kept just for a few. When the disciples question what the parable means, they are told that they have just received the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven. Is it possible that in this parable we are being told that Jesus is for all people and that few will actually understand this but it is so. How we understand the kingdom will have no small bearing on how we understand the Catholic mission. Robert Capon, an American Episcopal priest argues that the parables of the Kingdom depict the Kingdom as catholic, full of mystery and real. In this instance catholic most definitely means universal. Mystery suggests that there is a lot more going on than is immediately apparent, and real means that while the kingdom is a mystery, it is nevertheless breaking in, breaking down barriers and effecting change. In short, the Kingdom invites reverence before mystery; and calls for the ability to hold the paradox of knowing and not knowing, at the same time, in silence and adoration. The kingdom opens horizons and never imprisons us in a fortress. The Kingdom invites us to do things we could never do on our own. And the kingdom will invite the hostility and ill will of those who do not understand.
By now it should be clear that the mission of the Kingdom grows more out of adoration than argument. Unfortunately we don’t very often turn to adoration when caught up in decision making, and consequently many, many bad decisions have been made in the name of mission for the Kingdom.
Let me share one such “bad decision” mission story:
Many of you are aware that in recent years the Anglican Church of Canada has lived through a series of lawsuits that arose from the physical and sexual abuse legacy of the Residential Schools for Native People of the last century. In most instances the Anglican Church was peripherally concerned with the running of the schools, offering Christian education and chaplaincy. Our involvement was at the request of our Federal Government. Nevertheless when the Government was sued by the graduates of the schools, the churches were third-partied by the Government. One of our dioceses, Cariboo, in British Columbia, actually ceased to exist due to bankruptcy. As in so many court cases, the lawyers did very well; the plaintiffs received somewhat minimal compensation; and everyone experienced anguish and distress. Arguments about who was really at fault will continue for a long time. But what is not debatable is the Gospel question, “Who is my neighbour?” If we were prepared to be neighbours when the Residential Schools were operating, then it is clear that we are still neighbours when the rather horrific consequences of those schools were judged and found wanting.
The Residential Schools were part of the mission of the church and we failed to recognize that how we were carrying out that mission was not to the glory of God and the furthering of the Kingdom. We were fooled by the appearance of good works and failed to see the deeper, ugly reality of racism. As a former Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Michael Peers, has said, “it is time we stopped being our brother’s keeper, and started being our brother and sister’s brother and sister”. We are only beginning as a church to realize that there is a Gospel opportunity hidden in all this hideous litigation, if only we can stop worrying about the legal battle and hear afresh the call of the Gospel to be present to those in pain. We need to be attentive to the call of Christ to pick up our cross and follow Him; to our Lord’s teaching about strength in weakness; about the first and the last, and the grace found in and through vulnerability. If we really care about catholic mission and the Kingdom of God, there will be less concern about success.
It is worth mentioning that the Diocese of Cariboo, which did cease to exist as a Diocese, continues to thrive and says that the most important lesson they learnt was that no one can deprive them of the sacraments or the Word of God. By the grace of God I hope that those Christian communities will continue to have eyes to see what is the true Gospel imperative in their midst. It is a harsh truth that the Anglican Church around the globe has occasional selective blindness about poverty and abuse. Whether it is northern communities, the inner-cities of metropolitan centres or the sex-trade, there can be a cultivated blindness to needs that are crying out to be heard. It begs us to remember the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees in John 9.39-41 “I came into the world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind”. Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.”
It is always easy for us to look “over there” and see that some other province of our Communion is blind to the needs that surround them. But the Kingdom calls us to recognize our own blindness and to ask for sight. It is my prayer that in Canada we will cease to be obsessed about sexuality (and I speak of all sides of that debate) and begin to care about stewardship, the environment and care for our neighbour.
It is abundantly clear that one obvious Gospel mandate for mission is reconciliation. “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do”.
It fascinates me that we live in a world where huge salaries are commanded by trained mediators and those involved in alternative dispute resolution. Yet the church who is in the business of forgiveness, seems to be better at picking fights than bringing peace. I can think of no more Kingdom centered, mission for catholic minded Anglicans than reconciliation. And as you ponder that, let me remind you of the story of Nelson Mandela:
Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving 27 years. In a press interview shortly afterwards he was asked if he was resentful of the unjust imprisonment. He quietly said no. A day or two later another interviewer, this time it was Jimmy Carter, asked Mandela if he was angry, resentful, etc. Again the answer was no. Carter pressed him and asked again. This time Mandela said “If I was carrying resentment, anger or hatred, I would still be in prison for those against whom I was angry would still have control of my life. But I have no resentment. I am a free man. And indeed when Mandela was sworn in as the President for South Africa, he invited his white jailer to have a VIP seat. And to the Presidential luncheon, he invited the lawyer who had prosecuted his case. Mandela received a life sentence but the prosecutor had argued for the death penalty. And Mandela said “Let’s have lunch”.
Given our present difficulties in the Anglican Communion, I believe we need to pay particular attention to the ministry and mission of reconciliation. What would happen if we committed to pray daily for those we most seriously disagree with. And not a prayer that says “O God help them see the error of their ways” but rather a prayer that we might understand them as God understands them.
At the last Lambeth Conference the hot and heavy topic (apart from sex) was women in the episcopate. At the invitation of another Canadian bishop I began meeting with the flying bishops and those strenuously opposed to women bishops. Two other women in purple joined us. Did we resolve our difficulties? No we still disagree but we talked and talked and together wrote a resolution commending mutual respect. Many, many people were furious. They saw it as a sign of weakness. But if we aren’t going to try to live the Gospel, what are we doing here?
My last pitch for Mission and the Kingdom is really a subset of reconciliation. It is the call upon every catholic minded Anglican to engage in ecumenical dialogue. In recent months superb documents have been published from the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue and from ARCIC – the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission. I am fairly certain that the Church of England is further ahead than Canada with respect to ecumenism but even so the unity of the Church is something we need to pray for and work towards. It is no good if international bodies write documents if those at the local level don’t do everything they can to promote good relationships. Every couple of months for the last ten years I have enjoyed lunch with the local Roman Catholic bishop, local Lutheran bishop and the local Ukrainian Catholic bishop. We have gone on the radio together and written letters to the press. But in Australia in the Diocese of Newcastle the Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops went to all the football matches together and once a year at the football final took up a collection from the fans for the Two Bishops Trust. I wonder what a bit of imagination and conversation could do at the parish level. I’ll leave it to you.
Early in this talk I read from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets . It spoke of the vocation of a saint being intimately connected with the Incarnation. I’d like to end by reading another section of the Four Quartets which remind us where we are bound – where the Kingdom is calling us.
The End of all our Exploring
With the drawing of this Love and the Voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple tree
Not known because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea
Quick now, here, now, always
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are en-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
This address was given by Bishop Victoria at Westcott House, Cambridge, England, on September 19, 2007. She was installed as Bishop of Christchurch at the end of August.
Archbishop David Moxon's last sermon in Taranaki coincides with a poignant ceremony involving...
Ever tried herding cats? Spanky Moore has – and he reports considerable success. Here's his ac...
The office of Archbishop of Canterbury is conferred on the Most Rev Justin Welby under the dom...
The Gospels are not obsessed with sexual relations, says Bishop Victoria Matthews in a pa...
Bishop Brian Carrell explores the inside story of the globally acclaimed A New Zealand...
In an exclusive interview, the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury tells how he weathered the st...
ANGLICAN TAONGA is the communications arm of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia / Te Haahi Mihanare ki Niu Tireni, ki Nga Moutere o Te Moana Nui a Kiwa. TAONGA magazine is published three times a year and distributed to all Anglican ministry units and agencies. TAONGA also publishes occasional booklets on church, ministry and sacraments. The General Editor of TAONGA is accountable to the Communications Commission of General Synod / te Hinota Whanui, 200 St Johns Road, Meadowbank, Auckland 1742.