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Sermon at Southwark Cathedral

Sunday June 25, 2006
Southwark Cathedral, London UK, Diocese of Southwark

Often when I ascend the pulpit of a church I find there a text set before me on the lectern, 'Sir, we would see Jesus.' or, 'Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and him crucified.' or a prayer... Here I find the 'Emergency evacuation procedure...'. I hope I shall say nothing that will bring upon us the need for that!

I begin, of course, with a word of very sincere appreciation to The Dean for his invitation, his welcome and his hospitality. My wife and I are accompanied by my Chaplain, Archdeacon Paul Feheley, and the Slees have graciously welcomed us as house guests for a full week, while we accomplish a number of things in and around London, including a lecture which is to happen Tuesday evening about which you have heard, under the title: 'Stretching the Bonds of Affection - the role of the Canadian Church in the Anglican Communion' and our events have also included a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

A word about Canada for those who may not know us. Next to Russia, the largest land mass on the planet comprises 10 million square kilometres and the Diocese of the Arctic is 2.5 million square kilometres in and of itself, clearly the largest diocese in the world. The country includes six time zones from east to west and our church is divided into four geographical provinces, each with a metropolitan archbishop. There are some 2,500-3,000 parishes across the land and we are organised into 30 dioceses and our bonds, of course, with this country have been very close over the years.

This Cathedral has particular significance for me personally in that here lie the remains of that great scholar-bishop of Ely and then of Winchester, who led the first secretariat of translators of the Authorized Version of scripture commissioned by King James, namely Lancelot Andrewes. By some complicated connection, the Bishop is an ancestor of mine, and the reason for my Christian name being Andrew. On our first visit here, years ago, the Verger was kind enough to open the vault to show us the good Bishop's own copy of the Authorized, or King James, Version and indeed, that performance was repeated this morning and I was delighted to see inside the cover, precisely the same portrait of the Archbishop when he was the Ordinary of Ely as hangs on my office wall in Toronto. When I was Dean of Montreal, we were happy to invite your choir to our cathedral in Montreal and along with your then Succentor, who in turn, provided hospitality for our son on a later visit here in England.

Well, more important than all of that, perhaps, is the fact that we are here because we are all family through baptism, and as Anglicans, part of a global family of churches rooted in a common history and tradition. So I bring you the very sincere greetings and good wishes of the Anglican Church of Canada as you celebrate this trinity of anniversaries - 1400 years, 900 years and just over 100 years as a cathedral. And I bring you also our appreciation for the prayers and the words of encouragement you have offered as we have found ourselves involved in a controversy that has widespread implications in our beloved Anglican Communion. Clearly, however, the issue once thought by the Primates to be a North American one, is now lively in many Provinces of the Communion - not least of all here in England and in this Diocese of Southwark.

The Gospel for today speaks of the disciples of Jesus caught in a storm that threatened to capsize the boat they were travelling in, and of their turning to Jesus in fear and desperation. Jesus responded by calming the waters, and then challenged the disciples:

Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?

This is a metaphor we might well apply to our present situation. The Church is sometimes referred to as the ship of faith. In fact, the part of the Cathedral in which you are sitting at the moment is called the nave - from the Latin word navus, meaning ship, or the French navire. We are moving across the waters of creation towards a promised destination, not always remembering that Jesus is in the ship with us. Sometimes the voyage is like sailing on a pleasant afternoon, with the wind of the Spirit blowing gently in the sails to move us onward. Sometimes the weather is less favourable, and stormy enough to make us fearful that the ship will be swamped by the raging storm. Do we forget at such times that the Lord of all life is always present in the Church? "I am with you always, to the end of the age", he said. And of his Church he says, "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it". The ship of faith will not go down but will move on towards its promised destination - God's kingdom of justice and peace - through all the perceived crises that impinge upon us.

Well if that be true, and I most certainly believe it is, then why are we afraid of the storm that we find ourselves involved in just now?

First, I suspect, because we have forgotten our history. Particularly, we as Anglicans were born in controversy, and that has been our constant companion through the centuries. In earlier times, our conflicts were brutal and bloody, and we have come through them all. That is because always we have had someone to remind us who it is who set us upon this journey and who travels with us in the ship. And at such times, the waters have been calmed sufficiently to allow us to correct our course and trim the sails, that we might receive the wind of the Spirit again to move us onward. The Elizabethan Settlement, of course, is surely the best example of that, allowing room for Puritan and Episcopalian alike. We are the Church of Richard Hooker that makes accommodation for everybody - an accommodation, to use his words, not of compromise, but of inclusion. Among the churches of the world, we are an inclusive church that welcomes diversity and theological debate.

Second, the Communion of which we are a part has changed radically in its brief history of less than 150 years. Once culturally homogeneous, even as small colonial churches for British expatriates grew with the expansion of empire, we now comprise nearly 80 million Anglicans in 164 countries organized into 38 independent provinces. When we meet, it is necessary to have translation in no less than five languages, which does not even begin to cover the countless languages, histories and cultures that are the Anglican Communion. If there were such a thing as an "average Anglican", she would be black, and would not speak English as a first language. And with the remarkable growth of developing countries, the balance of numbers, of course, has shifted from North and West to the South.

Third, whereas once Anglicans were generally known to be literate Christians, with a long tradition of lay theologians and scholarship, as well as scholar-clerics, the level of biblical and theological scholarship has not kept pace with the growth of our geography and of our numbers. One can only be thankful that the present Archbishop of Canterbury puts theological education for the Communion at the top of his list. On the one hand, we have too many Anglicans who know very little of what is in the Scriptures; on the other hand, we have too many Anglicans who regard the Bible as an operator's manual and accept the whole canon uncritically on face value. The Scriptures are not in and of themselves the "sovereign word of God"; that is a title reserved for the one to whom the scriptures point - the eternal and incarnate Word who is with us and revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.

We have recently celebrated the feast of Pentecost. The Gospel for that day (at least in our lectionary in Canada), tells of Jesus speaking to the disciples and saying:

'I have so much more to teach you, but you cannot bear it now.
When the Holy Spirit comes, he will lead you into all the truth
And show you things that are to come'

So since the earliest days of the Church, the Spirit has continued to teach the Church, and to empower it for witness to the Gospel in a changing world. Once, we accepted slavery, concluding from the Old Testament that people of colour were clearly the sons and daughters of Ham, destined to be hewers of wood and carriers of water. And did not Jesus himself say: "Slaves, obey your masters"? But the Spirit had more to teach us, and that which we once justified from Scripture, we now repudiate. I well remember my grandmother being distressed over the fact that women were not permitted to attend Church meetings, and most certainly not to hold office and their exclusion was justified on the basis of biblical teaching that the man was to be head of the woman as Christ is head of the Church, and that women are to be silent in church. And for centuries the Church required in marriage that wives obey their husbands. But the Spirit had more to teach us. Similar justification was later used for the exclusion of women from Holy Orders. But the Spirit had more to teach us. And today we welcome women to all three orders of the Church, and I have just returned from the election of the first woman Primate of the Anglican Communion in the United States. My father was a life-long Anglican and churchwarden. Ten years after my mother died, he met a wonderful woman who years before that had been deserted by her husband and because she was divorced, the Church refused to marry them. After all, did not Jesus himself speak very clearly about divorce? But the Spirit had more to teach us, and today re-marriage after divorce under certain conditions is accepted widely within the Anglican Communion. In the present crisis of relationships, we again have words in Scripture about homosexuality. But perhaps the Spirit has yet more to teach us again.

The Bishops at the Lambeth Conference in 1978 undertook to study the subject of human sexuality. The Bishops at the Lambeth Conference in 1988 undertook to listen to the voice of homosexuals, and affirmed their entitlement to full membership in the Church. The Bishops at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 in the famous resolution 1:10 undertook to listen to the voice of homosexuals, again assuring them of the Bishops' concern for their pastoral care and their full inclusion in the life of the Church. Obviously, some Provinces have not heard either of those three commitments. Canada is among those that took the Lambeth Conference of 1978 seriously and we have been engaged in this difficult conversation for nearly 30 years, and we have yet to come to a conclusion as a national body. One diocese has moved ahead of us with due process, and under strict conditions, blesses same gender exclusive, life-long relationships. That is after three successive synods in which the members of Synod called upon their bishop for such permission. In that Diocese, only eight parishes have been authorized to do blessings and the total count of blessings since 2002 is about twelve - this in a land in which same-gender marriage is now legal in every civil jurisdiction from coast to coast, and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in any circumstance is against the law, except of course, in the Church. A cynical colleague of mine in Canada said at one point: "If you wish to be a bigot, you must now join a church, because it is illegal anywhere else!".

The waters over which this ship of faith is moving are churning, and there are those aboard who are fearful, and wondering why Jesus seems to be sleeping through it all. We continue to try to discern what the Spirit is saying to the Church in our context and in our time. Because we are a global family of churches, we must think globally, but we must act locally for the benefit of those entrusted to our pastoral care, with deep sensitivity to the specific context of our actions. The question before us in the Church in Canada, and indeed in our relations with the rest of the Communion, is whether our traditional commitment to diversity will allow space at the table for those who agree, and for those who disagree, with the full acceptance of committed, loving relationships between same-gender partners as being worthy of God's blessing. Do we accept the Scriptural texts as being both relevant and binding, or does the Spirit have yet more to teach us through modern science and the cries of yet another minority longing for full inclusion in the body of Christ? We ask for your prayers as we move towards our General Synod at this time next year.

We need the Spirit to remind us of our history - of the trials and struggles that brought into being that part of the Church we have come to know and love. We need the Spirit to teach us that we are now a multi-cultural family of independent Churches, and that that calls for respect for a variety of responses to the Gospel in different contexts. We need the Spirit to help us understand how the love of God in Jesus Christ is revealed for our time through the record of Scripture. And above all, in every generation we must be open to the Spirit leading us to faith in the one Lord who called us to travel with him, and who is with us throughout the journey.

I offer you these words in the name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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