Friday, August 17, 2007

From Armagh: "Roll Away the Boulders"

A sermon preached by the Most Reverend Alan Harper, Archbishop of Armagh, adresses a number of topics. Drawing from the text appointed for the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, he uses the image of rolling away the stone.

The first boulder he identifies as needing to be rolled away is biblioatry:

...There is, for example, the impediment or boulder of Bibliolatry: the business of mistaking the Word of God for a mere text.

The sublime evangelist St John makes clear from the very beginning of his testimony that the Word of God is incarnate and personified. “The Word” is “He”, not “It”.

The words of the scriptures describe and explore the experience of human witnesses in their attempts to set down what each has known and seen of the action of God in the world. Those written words include, pre-eminently, accounts of the experience and understanding of those who walked the roads of Palestine with Jesus himself. The Gospels are pre-eminent in informing our encounter with the living truth of Jesus Christ. Thus it is “He”, the incarnate Word of God, He alone who is worthy of worship, not the text, which tells of the experience of those who knew, loved and came to worship Him.

The Word of God is not only living, He is dynamic, that is endued with power, and his work continues. John, the Gospeller, concluded his gospel with these words:

There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were to be written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

In other words, the activity and therefore the unfolding revelation of God go on beyond the written text. Such activity includes the actions of those who, in Paul’s words and theology constitute “the Body of Christ”, the Spirit filled entity, changing and deepening its experience of the love of God over 20 centuries.

They also include direct actions of grace, the prevenient action of the living God, forging ahead, calling into new experiences of the Way, the Truth and the Life those who are the contemporary agents of incarnation, that is to say, the People of God, the Church.

Bibliolatry is a boulder threatening to obscure the dynamic and contemporary truth of the resurrection. It is also the mother of dogmatic fundamentalism. Love for the scriptures is tainted when scripture and not God becomes the object of worship...
The second boulder is "division and disunity within the Body":

...Often, when the Church finds itself immersed in controversy, the proposition is advanced that one may never sacrifice truth for unity. So simplistic a mantra misses the point.

Where unity is compromised so is a fuller experience of truth in all its wholeness. This is not to say that unity guarantees truth, but rather that disunity guarantees that aspects of the whole truth are concealed or discounted. This is so because one has deliberately chosen to cut oneself off from such aspects of truth as may have been vouchsafed, through the Holy Spirit, to those from whom one chooses to withhold the hand of acceptance.

Furthermore, let us suppose that, in the particular position you hold, you are entirely right about some aspect of the faith and I am wholly wrong. If you break with me, not only will you seriously hamper your own ability to help me to understand, encounter and accept the truth, you are likely to strengthen in me my adherence to my error, and so you will have refused to be an agent of my salvation.

Equally, although in some respect I may be wrong, it may be that there are some insights and experiences that I have which might contribute to the wholeness of your understanding of the love of God and the life of resurrection. In breaking with me you will have cut yourself off from any gift of God that I might otherwise have had the chance to share with you.

It is not then the case that unity is maintained at the expense of truth, but rather that disunity guarantees that access to a fuller knowledge of the truth is consciously inhibited.

I am coming to believe, with William Temple, that division is a greater sin even than heresy!
This is the explanation for the saying,"Schism is a greater sin even than heresy." Bp. Lee of Virginia once used that quote, for which he was heartily rebuked by those in Virginia looking for excuses to leave. As explained above, I find myself agreeing with Abp. Temple.

Abp. Harper continues by addressing the false charges of heresy that are currently being tossed around to justify the sin of schism:

...I have yet to meet any “leader” who does not treat with the utmost respect and indeed reverence the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. I have heard no one in this crisis deny the fundamental tenets of the faith as Anglicans have received them. Yet I have heard believing Christians attack other Christians for not believing precisely as they themselves believe. Equally, I have heard believing Christians attack other Christians for not attaching the weight they themselves attach to this biblical text compared with that.

This is not the way of Christ; it is the way of fallen humanity. It is a boulder of our own creation and I do not know who will help us to roll it away...
The Abp. reflects on the proposed Anglican Covenant:

...Some fear, and I am among them, that an Anglican Covenant, unless it is open and generous and broad, may simply become a further means of obstruction: a boulder, rather than a lever to remove what obscures and impedes our access to the truth that sets us free...
He closes with words that I think we all need to take to heart:

...Throughout history the way of the Church has been strewn with boulders of her own making. Those boulders conceal from us what God has already done and is continuing to do. They are boulders compounded of pride, hypocrisy and conceit, envy, hatred and malice and all uncharitableness.

From such things, good Lord, deliver us! And deliver especially this tortured Anglican Communion of Churches.

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