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Sermon by Archbishop Carey at final Lambeth service

Posted on: August 8, 1998 3:09 PM
Related Categories: Abp Carey, Lambeth Conference 1998, sermon

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey

Just a few days before the Conference began, two visitors from South Africa came to see me - a little girl aged four and her young mother. The girl's name is Dorah and, at the age of seven months, the shack she and her mother were living in, in a squatters camp near Jo'berg, caught fire. She was trapped inside it and, as a result, her face was burnt away; she has no nose - simply a hole remains; she has no ears or eyelids and has just a little sight. She has no hands either because they were so badly damaged that they had to be amputated. But Dorah is a person even though she has no face and through the skill of surgeons and the love, the costly love, of her mother and her friends her new face is beginning to emerge.

But in the most important sense of all Dorah, as with all of us, already has a face which she will never lose; the face known to God, unblemished and uniquely hers.

For the last three weeks we have been studying Paul's moving letter which we know as 2 Corinthians. In it, 'faces' are important. The 'glory' of Moses' face after he had met with God; our own 'unveiled 'faces when we are open to the word of God; the glory of God 'mirrored' in each others' faces as we see Christ in each other; and then in Chapter 4 comes Paul's breathtaking picture: 'For God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ'.

Faces. On the screen behind me we have seen so many faces; faces of speakers, faces of the musicians, faces of one another as the camera has roamed over us. Before we came here we knew about each other but we didn't know each other's faces. Now we have seen them. In doing so we have begun to see, and to know, each other. We have recognised too that mystery, that every face is unique. And we have also recognised that behind each face stands a Diocese which is unique, and a Province which is also unique.

That is one glory of a gathering of Christians like this. In beginning to see each other as unique, in all our diversity, we have also begun to glimpse something of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in each other. And yet, in all that personal and cultural diversity, there is also that family likeness as Anglicans, as Christians, and as human beings whose ultimate source is to be found in the Trinity, in that mystery of the family likeness of the three Persons of the one God.

Our Anglican Communion has long declared its belief in the joy of that diversity. And while we have been here together that belief in the goodness of diversity has become a felt strength and a joyous reality to many, particularly in the marvellously varied worship we have experienced. We have come to know for our own selves that so to delight in each others' diversity is not - as some commentators sometimes seem to suggest, - in any way to "fudge" the hard questions. Quite the opposite. As the Virginia Report reminded us, God invites his people to enjoy diversity, to use it not to weaken but "for the building up of the body". So it is not an amiable compromise but a diversity through which we are strengthened to face the hard questions, based on our actual experience of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, as we have seen it, seen it with our own eyes, in the faces of each other. A 'diversity-in-unity', I must remind you, founded in the personal God revealed to us in Jesus Christ and rooted in scripture and the creeds of the Church. That glory is given to us to celebrate and proclaim.

And we have seen that glory in oh-so-many ways! That wonderful opening service in Canterbury Cathedral; in the intimacy and opennness of our small Bible Study Groups; in the Vigil led so beautifully by our friend Jean Vanier; in the harrowing stories of pain and suffering through poverty, persecution and war, as well as in those of growth and success.

But perhaps it became less easy in some other situations, such as in the heat and lengthiness of some of the section meetings and the plenaries, particularly where a view was being put forward with which we did not agree. And so we know too what it is to move from a "diversity" which can be delighted in and celebrated, to something quite different: a "differing" from each other which gathers heat, and can turn into a very painful "dispute". That, too, has happened this week, hasn't it? It is so easy to "demonise" one another when that happens and to part company in the family. We must resist that and face the pain together, studying the scriptures together, praying together. Remember back to that wonderful play "Wrestling with Angels". It seemed impossible that Jacob could glimpse the glory of God in the face of Esau. Yet, you will recall the angel's reply when, in anguish, he pleads for God's blessing. "You have my blessing. Turn and receive it." And there, standing behind him, was Esau, offering his blessing of reconciliation.

That play offered us a vital Gospel insight. For the truth is that where, in the name and strength of the Christ, Christians work hard in honesty and pain to enter into each other's experience and understanding, the glory of the crucified Christ is found. At this Conference we have begun to see - and it has changed us. A bishop said the other day: " what this Conference has done for me is to blow my mind and heart right open to ways of living and thinking I hadn't begun to imagine. And out of that I begin to see just a little of how the face of Christ looks in cultures so unimaginably different from my own."

What an important discovery and how central to all that we have wrestled with together! For the kind of unity we have been seeking in this Conference, the kind of unity we want to achieve for the world's sake, is not the facile coming-together of the like-minded or the pretence of agreement where there is none. It is that profound unity which belongs to a family which has been tried and tested not just by the diversity of its members and the variety of their life-styles, but by controversy and profound disagreements encircled by a still deeper love which holds a family together. The kind of unity that, for us, is bonded in blood and in love. Christ's blood shed for us on the Cross because of the great love with which he, and indeed, the Trinity love us. As Archbishop Glauco commented at one of our Eucharists: 'Grace is free but it is never cheap'

And so we shall remember faces long after words, statements and resolutions have been forgotten. For what God spoke to the world, what transformed it, was something greater even than the divine law written on tablets of stone. Tablets of stone have quite a lot in common with carefully honed Reports and Resolutions. They are necessary, to keep us on the right track. But ultimately God used a human face to bridge the profoundest division of all, between his own holiness and purity, and our intransigent, sinful humanity. It is then to the human face we must attend: each others'; and the faces all round us of the world's needy, pressing in upon us because in them we see the face of Christ.

But whatever struggles towards that kind of unity we have won here are not an end in themselves, just as this Conference is not an end in itself. The only valid consequences of this coming-together will be, in the end, what we take back to our Dioceses and Provinces. Whatever Christ-like victories we have won in finding out how to live and work together under the Gospel, whatever victories of reconciliation in the Law and Grace of Christ, these are the offering we take back to our people, the food we bring them from the banquet we have shared, the dynamic we bring them from the power that has flowed through this gathering. TS Eliot, after whom Eliot College is named, had something very profound to say about the renewal of the Church in his play The Rock. It is that God's Church will only be renewed and rebuilt if all its members work together.

"Where the bricks are fallen
We will build with new stone
Where the beams are rotten
We will build with new timbers
Where the word is unspoken
We will build with new speech
There is work together
A Church for all
And a job for each"

(from Choruses from 'The Rock')

And therefore, my dear sisters and brothers, it is our responsibility to take back from here the materials to transform and renew our local churches, and the ministry of all our people, lay and ordained. For if we take back only rotten timbers eaten with the woodworm of criticism or suspicion; or if our bricks were the crumbling old bricks of unchanged vision; and if, above all, we had heard no new word from the Lord to take back a 'new speech' to our people, then we would, indeed, have failed.

But I do not believe for one moment that we have failed. I believe that we have learnt many things from our own experiences of 'Leadership under pressure' as we have listened to those moving accounts on video, linked with our Bible Studies and heard stories of victory and transformation under pressure. Above all, I believe we have been brought afresh to lay claim not just for ourselves but for our churches on the transforming, renewing power that is Christ's. As Paul wrote, 'If any one is in Christ, there is a new creation', and all else flows from that.

And that is the true purpose of Lambeth Conference. It represents a pause, a staging post, where we are refreshed in spirit (and body and mind too, I hope) for the next stage of our journey. It marks a stage in the life of our Communion. And it marks a stage in our own personal journeys. So, what are the things that will you take out into the next stage of your own journey, your Diocese's journey and your Province's journey?

I hope you will take a keen awareness that you are not alone. You belong to a great family of God, and here you have come face to face with brothers and sisters from all over the world as we have spoken, prayed, eaten and worshipped together in the intimacy of that family.

I hope too you will take a renewed sense of the bonds of prayer binding you with your brothers and sisters right across the world, guarding you with that shield which only such fervent loving prayer can offer.

I hope you will leave here with an enriched theology which has led you deeper into your thinking about God. A sharper sense of the wonder of the Gospel and the Lord at its centre; and so into a closer and more profound love -relationship with him.

I hope you will also carry with you newly stimulated ideas about mission and the proclamation of the Gospel; new ideas gathered from across the world of new and different and challenging ways of telling the story of Jesus.

I hope, with all the passion I can muster, that together we will take out into the world from this 13th Lambeth Conference a strengthened Anglican Communion more deeply committed to the weak, the very poor, the suffering and the marginalised. May we be a great 'Protest' movement against anything that dehumanises our sisters and brothers anywhere, raising our voices about international debt and world poverty, speaking for young people and working for a strong and growing Anglicanism world wide.

But above all, of course, what you will be taking back to your diocese is yourself: the person you have become during these weeks. For you will remember that I said at the beginning that our first task as a Conference was to be transformed ourselves. So what will your Diocese see in your face, when you return? Will they see in you the sort of 'brightness' that Paul talks about, brightness like that of Moses when he had been with God; the brightness of 'unveiled faces' as they are open to the word of God; above all that light which shines from a renewed knowledge of the glory of God as you have glimpsed it in the face of Jesus Christ?

I want to end, as I began, with Dorah, that little girl with a face totally disfigured by fire who slowly, fraction by fraction, painfully, is being given a new face. It is not only fire that can almost obliterate the beauty of a human face. Long distress, hopes denied, vision blocked, trust withdrawn, calumny, humiliation, and apparent failure can all disfigure our countenance. And such has been and will be the experience of some of us, perhaps most of us, from time to time.

But just as Dorah's true face is known to God in heaven, so is yours. And inch by inch, slowly and painfully, that unique face that is already ours before God is being shaped and formed here in our earthly life. So, my dear sisters and brothers, as you prepare to return home and take up again the heavy burden that is yours, remember that your heavenly Father knows you not just by name but by face. And that one day, in his own good time, we shall see him, not just in part, as we do now, but we shall see him "face to face". It is in that hope and conviction, a hope and conviction not just for ourselves only, but for the whole world, that we have met here. It is in that hope and conviction that we shall go out from here to tell the world that there is a saving God, God incarnate, made known to us in the face of Jesus Christ.

And so, as we come to the point where I must say 'goodbye' I want to use T.S.Eliot's words from his poem The Dry Salvages: 'I do not say 'farewell' but 'fare forward, voyager!' Yes indeed, may we all 'fare forward' - into the next millennium, into God's future which is our hope and glory towards that goal of the high calling which we have in our Lord Jesus Christ.

But let Paul have the last word - that great Apostle whose profound letter has fed us these three weeks - and in his own final words to those fallible Corinthian Christians, so like us: "Finally, brothers and sisters . . . . live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you'.

Amen. So be it.