Chrism Mass 2011
Location: St Paul's Cathedral
The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
How good it is to be with friends who share a vision.
There are plenty of idle dreams of course, like winning the lotto or fantasies like the belief that we can continue to have economic growth without limit and with no end in view beyond the process itself. Visions, by contrast, create communities through which life flows, transforming the world.
Dreams are projections of our current desires. The transforming visions are those which come to us from beyond ourselves and have the power to create new relationships and to open up the world to new possibilities.
When Jesus gathered his friends together in that upper room in Jerusalem, he was conscious of his approaching betrayal, arrest and passion but he spent no time in fruitless regret. Rather he handed his future in the world over to his friends and gave them the vision we meet to refresh and enact on this holy day.
Our second lesson was read by John Root who has kept the vision bright in Alperton for more than thirty years. As a result the church there assembles people from many tongues and cultures in a joyful celebration of the fact that God so loved the world that he gave Himself to us in his human face Jesus Christ our Lord. The generosity of God is at the heart of the vision which brings us together here.
The generosity of God knows no limits beyond our capacity to receive his love. It is his love which fills our lives with meaning and value.
The power of positive thinking is not enough. We cannot give value to our lives by bigging ourselves up and having more stuff.
A new movement Action for Happiness has been founded. The organisers define happiness as “feeling good about our lives” and various everyday tactics for spreading happiness are commended. Interestingly – and rightly – there is an emphasis on going out to others and opening up the day by gratuitous acts of kindness. They tried an experiment on the Today programme, buying cups of coffee for people queuing in Starbucks. Being London, there were many who shrank back wondering what the angle was.
I wish the movement well and do not disagree with the analysis that we are less happy pleasure seekers than we were fifty years ago.
I doubt however whether the Action for Happiness strategy goes deep enough. Unhappiness today is a widespread problem because of the disappearance of convincing dramas that give us a sense from beyond ourselves that our lives are meaningful against the backcloth not only of this tiny planet but of the cosmos as a whole.
All societies are religious in the sense that human beings look for such convincing dramas. For the moment our society’s own prosperity gospel fills the void but it does not take a seer to look ahead to very turbulent times.
In the love of God and in the blood of Jesus Christ shed for us on the cross we have been entrusted with the ultimate truth for which human beings have been searching.
This is cause for great rejoicing as we prepare to keep Jesus company through the darkest of days in which the high priests mocking him spoke truer than they knew – he saved others; himself he cannot save.
We are those who have received this vision and have been ordained to assemble the new Israel around his table. If we know ourselves most of us know that we are ourselves debtors for whom the good news of generous love has yet to penetrate to every corner of our lives but we will that it may be so and we work for the vision, re-membering Christ’s body the church in the here and now.
In this task and in this time we need to encourage one another. Our task is re-membering the body not dismembering it – through not being interested in anything that was not invented in our part of the church; by denigrating other ministers; by talking down the church and establishing our own superiority by thanking God that we are not as other Anglicans are.
At a time when the Big Society concept has become mired in political wrangling we are at work building small societies – Christ centred but outward facing to serve the whole community.
Together we can penetrate every part of the life of this great city. In particular 2012 will be a great opportunity. We are pledged to equip and commission next April, 2012 young ambassadors for Jesus Christ. As well as participating in various aspects of the programme surrounding the Olympics, part of the legacy of the games will be 2012 young people more confident about giving reasons for the hope that is in them.
There seems to be a misapprehension that we are jut looking for teenagers. They are of course very welcome but the programmes are also designed for young adults in their twenties. I am glad that recruitment is good and that the usual suspects have responded with enthusiasm – thank God for them – but it is vital that every part of the church is engaged. The bio-diversity of the Diocese is one of its great strengths and our effort is weakened without your participation. If you want to be put in touch with the organising team send me or one of the other Area Bishops a message.
I believe that we are heading for white water and dangerous currents as a country. The church, in its Christ-centred and outward-facing human scale communities, is regarded by many people as peripheral and unimportant. That is not something which ought to dismay us unless it is by our negligence and self absorption that we have been marginalised.
I came across some powerful words which were delivered in a very different context but which seem to me to fit our situation.
Milton Friedman the economist said to his fellow monetarists in their wilderness years in the 1970’s the following:
“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That I believe is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”
“I am the Alpha and the Omega says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” We are used to looking back over what seems to be the long history of the Christian Church. In reality I believe we have not yet exhausted Alpha. The plan of God which has been revealed in Jesus Christ points the way to the spiritual evolution of the whole human race. It is our privilege to have been called at such a crucial time to work in a century of promise and peril. The peril arises from godless arrogance, from power and knowledge divorced from wisdom or compassion. Christ is the promise. In his name let us keep a joyful Easter together.