I was looking at one of the first sermons our new Bishop of London preached at the annual festival of the Sons and Friends of the Clergy at St Paul’s’ Cathedral on Tuesday 15 May. Bishop Sarah quotes Archbishop Desmond Tutu on his understanding of interconnectedness. He changes the old adage of ‘I think therefore I am’ into ‘I am human, therefore I belong…I am because you are’. Studying Paul’s, or one of his disciple’s letters to the Church at Ephesus, the author give thanks for the Ephesians’ faith in Christ, but the author does more, he gives thanks for their prayers and support of their fellow Christians. There is an acknowledgement in this letter of their interconnectedness in Christ and the understanding this leads to support for others. This is at the heart of the Church, we are a community of relationship, impaired communion results in a fracture of the Church. We must work for unity. That might seem an impossible task and indeed without a significant amount of humility and penitence on all sides I fear we are a very long way from that unity for which Christ prayed. However, we can take small steps. It is precisely for this reason that 10 years ago I suggested we begin a relationship with the parish of St Simon and Jude, Namacunde. The relationship is sometimes difficult and frustrating, Angola is a long away away and communication is difficult. Not only do we have the problem of language, but also cultural considerations and yet, with all these difficulties, we are one in Christ we are brothers and sisters in faith, we are the Church.
Some of you might know of Mark Oakley, who has been Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral for the past eight years. He is a great preacher and also loves literature, poetry and theology. He has recently been appointed as the new Dean of Chapel at St John’s College, Cambridge. Mark is a most engaging and challenging preacher. Last Sunday, when we remembered the Birth of John the Baptist, he preached his last sermon at St Paul’s, at least in his present role. Always a campaigner for social justice, Mark spoke powerfully as follows:
[John the Baptist was] someone speaking again the language of God – someone who looked into the future and could see where it will all end and who reports back quickly before it’s too late, someone who is urgently telling us to take a look at ourselves, admit where we’ve gone inhuman, telling us to uphold what is just and right and not always seek compromise.
Someone who asks us for God’s sake to be a citizen of the kingdom of love and not a consumer of the world of competition, consuming away even the environment we live in and breathe, consuming away our hearts in envy, consuming away compassion towards those who so need it in a hard life.
Anyone who tells you that belief in God shouldn’t be mixed up with political consequences – well, show them John the Baptist, show them Martin Luther King, show them Archbishop Tutu, show them William Wilberforce, show them Elizabeth Fry, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Edith Cavell, Janani Luwum, Esther John, Gene Robinson and ask how they could speak the truth, rebuke injustice and evil and suffer for God without being political? They were following Christ who, if he were a man who just spoke about spiritual things with no threat to the establishment or status quo, why did they execute him?
Mark has made a great contribution to the life of St Paul’s and will be greatly missed.
With every blessing