We are going on a trip this Sunday and I want you all to take out your passports. Don’t worry if you don’t have yours handy, because I don’t mean your U.S. passports, I mean your Christian passports, the one you received at your baptism, the one that gets you into that heavenly country which the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews was talking about when he wrote that letter so long ago.
If we had time this Sunday morning, I would take you with me to each of the 164 countries over the face of the globe where more than 70 million Anglicans like us come to worship. It would be a remarkable journey. But we don’t have enough speed to get us all around today, so come with me back to England to the twelfth Lambeth Conference.
Every decade the bishops of the Anglican Church meet in Canterbury – the place where we believe our peculiar brand of Christianity got its start. The first of these Lambeth Conferences was held in 1867, not so long ago. There were 76 bishops at that first conference. In 1998, there were almost 900 bishops at the Lambeth Conference, which I take as an encouraging sign.
Depending on how you look at Church meetings, you could with a cursory glance think that this Lambeth Conference was not very different from our own Virginia Council, which meets yearly. People of the church, gathering to worship, pray, and talk about where we are going as a church. In a way, every diocese is its own microcosm of Lambeth. But Lambeth, indeed, is different.
One description of what happens there goes like this:
“The Lambeth Conference is the most comprehensive, and perhaps the most comprehensible expression of the Global Anglican Communion. For in its membership and meetings, its strengths and its weaknesses, its unity and diversity, it dramatically pictures the nature of the Communion. It provides, a once in ten years, opportunity to survey the life of the Communion in its totality, as given through the experiences and opinions of its global order
of senior leaders, its diocesan bishops.” (Lambeth: A View from the Two Thirds World, by Samuel and Suglan)
I know that you have read about some of the resolutions that have been approved by these bishops in conference. Although these resolutions have no binding authority on any diocese, they are debated in order to show the mind of the church, which is indeed, a very diverse mind.
But I don’t want to take up your time talking about Church politics today, rather let me tell you about some of the things I saw and heard. Everyone agrees that the most fun at Lambeth is found in worship. Bishops from around the world take turns leading the daily and Sunday services. On the Sunday I was there, the services were led by the Bishops of Polynesia and they where glorious. There were drums leading in the Gospel procession, there was a
nun in habit and barefoot who danced in praise of God, and there were some very Spirit-filled Bishops leading the way.
They had the whole congregation, which is filled with Bishops from Virginia to India, from Australia to Nigeria, sitting side by side with a few of us hangers on, pass the peace in the Polynesian way. You will recall that the Church in Virginia had some rough spots when it came to passing the peace in the way our Prayerbook now suggests. These Bishops had us all pass the peace by rubbing noses. Yes, that’s right, you heard me, rubbing noses. Here I was
rubbing noses with the Bishop of London and the wife of the Bishop of Texas who were seated on either side. At first, it didn’t work, but these Polynesians were stubborn and would not take us further in the service until we joined into the Spirit of such a peace. You could hear the cries of laughter and joy as people overcame their inhibitions. Pretty soon an infectious energy lit upon that crowd of Bishops as you would not have imagined.
The Primate of Polynesia, whose name I will not even try to pronounce, explained to us that in the Maori tradition the rubbing of noses was the symbolic passing of breath to one another. He recalled how Jesus had gone to each of his disciples in the story of Pentecost in John’s Gospel and breathed upon them giving them a new spirit, infecting them with the Holy Spirit and he told us we are repeating that act in our peace. Well, it worked for me!
Later, at a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, our Bishop Peter Lee asked me how I thought such a peace exchange would go over at St. James’s. I told him he would no doubt be surprised because we have a lot of spirit here, and we are not God’s frozen chosen.
I was sitting in Canterbury Cathedral waiting for Evensong, when one of the bishop’s from Sudan came and sat beside me. He told me the terrible story of how his people were starving. He said the Muslims in his country will not give food unless they convert. He told of how hard it was for people to survive. He watched his own family eat the bark off trees in order to live. And he marveled at being here. I knew I was in the presence of a holy man who would die seeking that heavenly country if he had to.
The next day I spoke with a Bishop from Rwanda, where living is still not easy. He showed me a picture of a man he said was the governor. He was from a different tribe, and was not a Christian. But he was Harvard educated and very enlightened. He said this man had been a good and just governor until the revolution. Then he changed. In his province, he hunted the Christians like animals; old men, young men, women, children, babies all where brought into
the football stadium and forced to stay there in very bad conditions. “There were thousands of us,” he said. Every hour, seven names were read. These people were then lined up before the rest and shot until conversion to Islam was agreed upon.” Think of it. Imagine being in that stadium, and we heard names read out….
One of the ideas we are trying to work with in the Compass Rose Society is something we call micro-enterprise. Heres how it worked in two cases. We lent a widow $50 dollars to buy a cow. With that cow she was able to sell milk, and in a year she paid her loan back, and had raised enough money to buy a second cow. Her children, of which there were four, now were able to escape starvation.
In Bangladesh, we lent a women some $150 in order to buy a cellular phone. It was the only phone in her village. She became the communicator for that village and was able to repay her loan and feed her children.
The wife of one of the Bishop’s in the Sudan told me that if she could get five sewing machines for the women, just five, they could produce enough goods to keep the whole village from starving.
Another of Rwanda’s Bishop’s told me about the 600 orphans that live on the land near his house. They are starving, except for the generosity of his people and his own garden that feeds them. He is trying to raise $30,000 to build an orphanage that will double as a school.
The stories of suffering and poverty and courage rend your heart and make you want to be a part of doing something to help. I discovered two things at Lambeth: one was that we can help, and the second, was that God takes our little bit of faith and makes us some miracles.
Most of us know the technical term for nearsightedness, myopia. It is something that I have been since the first grade – nearsighted. I take off these glasses and I can’t see much beyond my nose. Some people as they get older, have their vision change. They become Hyperopia or farsighted. What happens is that reading newspapers and menus becomes much more difficult but suddenly those distant highway signs are easier to see.
Sometimes I suffer from spiritual myopia. I think Christianity is what I experience here at St. James’s or in Richmond, until I put myself in a place where my vision can be expanded to see the road signs that are calling me to God’s homeland which is not Richmond or Virginia.
Robert Frost, the great poet once said, “The Founding Fathers didn’t believe in the future, they believed it in. You are always believing ahead of your evidence. What was the evidence that I could write a poem? I just believed in it. The most creative thing in us is to believe a thing in…you believe in each other. You believe it is worthwhile going on… I believe the future in. It’s coming by my believing in it in.”
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That’s one of the greatest verses in the Bible. I came away from Lambeth with a conviction that it’s worth being a Christian and that we can make a difference if we have two things: faith and love. They produce hope, and hope brings the future in.
Abraham is a perfect model for us. Abraham believes in God’s promises. Because he believes, he acts on those promises. Abraham hasn’t done a self-study. Abraham hasn’t got himself a feasibility portfolio. He believes the future in. The land where he is going is unknown. It doesn’t matter. Abraham believes that God can do the impossible. God can make him the father of a great nation when physically he cannot father a child. Abraham believes in
There are lots and lots of things in the Church that give us pause. Sometimes people are mean, sometimes they disappoint us, sometimes the Church does something we disagree with, and sometimes we disappoint ourselves. But those things are only cursory, time bound events, and we are on a different journey.
You are very lucky to be here in this Church at this time. You are lucky to be a Christian on your search for a homeland that is not of this world. Because here you have the opportunity to believe in what you have faith in, with others. There is enough joy and hope in this congregation to give you and me courage to trust our faith and do something about it.
Faith is the heart of the eternal mystery of God’s love that touches us and all our sisters and brothers in 164 other countries today. Come today, not because you must, but because you may. Come today not because you are perfect, but because you are a pilgrim seeking God’s promises. Come today not because you are “saved”, but because you are seeking the Savior who is seeking you. Here the future is made ready for us and, by God’s grace, we are made ready for the future as heirs through hope of an everlasting Kingdom.
And when you come today, do not come for yourself alone, come for the Christian in the Sudan who will starve today for his faith; come for the orphan in Rwanda who is hoping to grow up; come for the widow in Bangladesh; come for the Palestinian Christian who has lost his home; come for the homeless who will seek food from us; and come for those you love, for we are not alone we can see far beyond ourselves that the only limit on God’s love are those placed there by us.
Come today because no matter who you are, or what you have done, or not done, you are redeemed, you are loved, you are forgiven, and you have hope. Come with a smile for the great joy that has embraced you in the love of Jesus. Come because this is where we ought to be.