Chrism Eucharist sermon, Liverpool Cathedral, 2019

The Breath and the Oil

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Hildegard of Bingen,  1098-1179. Saint and Doctor of the Church.

Listen.

(Female voice:) Listen; There was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour.
Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along.
Thus am I a feather on the breath of God.

Look around. Here we are, ministers of the Gospel; baptised, some of us commissioned, some of us ordained.

Look around. See yourselves as God sees you. You are, all of you, pillars of the Church, great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour.

You preach the word and you minister the sacraments. You have asked God faithfully for the bigger church that makes the bigger difference, your life is spent on pilgrimage as you make the inner journey and the outer journey, as you pray, read and learn; as you tell, serve and give.

I trust you. You have trained, and studied, and reviewed and refined your ministry. You have offered your lives to God in God’s church and the offering has fed and nourished you. And you have spent yourselves in service and have become weary in well-doing. You are built up and you are worn down, because you responded to the call of God.

Yours is a calling without end, you whose lives are fragile and freely offered. Yours is an infinite calling, you who are finite. Your ministry is demanding of your spirit.

Some of you are tired, and some of you are beyond tired.  Some of you suffer stress, some of you suffer severe stress, in your mind and heart because of your love for God’s people, God’s wonderful, ungrateful, supportive, demanding, exasperating, blessed people, the people God has chosen and has given you to love.

So you come today after a year of carrying the weight of your ministry.

And you cannot bear the weight of this ministry in your own strength.

(Female voice:) Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along.
Thus am I a feather on the breath of God.

The Bible tells us about Jesus. Read the passage printed below. In that version St Luke says: “Jesus opened the book; he found the place where it stood written: A breath of the Name upon me because of which he anointed me to announce good news to the poor.”

Luke reminds us that Jesus’ ministry began with a breath of the Name upon him. His words are an echo. In Isaiah we heard the words first, you heard them read today. In Hebrew the reading is this, Ruach Adonai, and then a word, and then alay.

It says Ruach, the movement of the air, the wild wind of the desert and the gentle human breath. It says Adonai, the Lord, because there is another word there in Isaiah, the Name of God, the word our elder sisters and brothers in Judaism usually don’t speak. When you see that name in the scripture you say, Adonai. And when you see that same word and it’s not in the scripture in worship you say haShem, the Name. It says alay, on him.

In the Authorised version it says, “the Spirit of the Lord GOD…” In the English we heard and we usually hear, it says The Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me. So the anointing comes first, and then the Spirit comes upon the anointed one to give strength for the ministry already given.

Whenever the Bible talks about Holy Spirit it means Holy Spirit. But beyond that phrase the church can get a bit churchy about this Hebrew word, ruach, this Greek word pneuma, these Bible words that the scholars tell us can mean Spirit, or wind, or breath; and can mean any of these things anywhere.

So perhaps it’s this, as it’s written in the extract printed below: “Jesus opened the book; he found the place where it stood written: A breath of the Name upon me. A breath of the Name upon me because of which he anointed me to announce good news to the poor.”

Jesus is a feather on the breath of God, borne along by his Father, borne along, sustained, beloved. The Son does nothing by himself, Jesus said in St John, the Son does only what he sees the Father doing. To Nicodemus Jesus said in St John, God’s breath blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Breath.”

So perhaps it’s this, a breath of the Name upon him, and that came first. Because of which he was anointed to announce, to proclaim, to send, to proclaim. Perhaps the breath came first and then the oil, the choosing first and then the anointing, beloved first and then appointed.

(Female voice:) Listen; There was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour.

Here we are, then, we who are pillars, great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory. Here we are, ministers, Appointed. Baptised. Commissioned. Ordained. Consecrated to the service of the King sitting on the throne. Here we are, responsible. Accountable. Entrusted. Here we are with the burden that we agreed to bear. And I see you, bearing the banners of the king with great honour.

And Jesus said to you, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and bear fruit and so that your fruit could last.”

Jesus appointed you, the Spirit anointed you. Anointed; mashach, this word from which we get meshiach, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. The One who was anointed has chosen and anointed you. You share in the burdens of the Christ, you share the anointing of the anointed One.

Jesus said that his burden would be easy. It does not always feel that way. And yet scripture says that we are to receive ”…the oil of gladness instead of mourning…”. So we are commissioned for joy and for an overcoming hope.

And this anointing is the presence of God in us that enables all our actions, to announce, to proclaim, to send, to proclaim. To spend, to nourish, to build up, to wear down.

And in the ordinal the bishops say to the ordained, and today I say to you all and not only to the ordained, “you cannot bear the weight of this ministry in your own strength”.

(Female voice:) The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along.
Thus am I a feather on the breath of God.

We follow Jesus. As it was with Jesus, so it is with us. A breath of the Name upon us, a breath of prayer to pray, a breath of the word to read, a breath of wisdom to learn, because of which he anointed us to announce, to proclaim, to send, to proclaim, to tell, to serve, to give. The breath came first and then the oil, the choosing first and then the anointing, beloved first and then appointed.

And we come today to lay our appointment once again before God, for a fresh breath. So that together we can remember our belovedness, we can remember before one another, we can reconnect to that sense of belovedness that is the wellspring of our ministry and our first love.

We are sent to give of our lives, we are responsible for that giving, we are held accountable for that giving, and so here as appointed ones we recommit ourselves to our promises; but here first as beloved ones we receive again the life of the One who loves us.

We receive life in our own companionship, crystallised as we share peace together in a moment and as we share lunch together later.

We receive life in the promise of God’s grace extended through the church, crystallised as we pray together for one another and as, if we wish, we receive again the anointing for service, from our sisters and brothers who like us are sent to serve.

We receive life from God where God promised life would be, the life of the God in Christ, the God in the anointed One, who gave God’s own self so that we might live, crystallised as we receive the blessed sacrament at this table in a moment.

And all this takes place today. Today it has been fulfilled, this writing, in your ears.

In the Bible you feel the shock of the words in the Nazareth synagogue, on the day that St Luke calls the day of the sabbaths, perhaps it was a high and holy day, certainly it was a religious day, but surely it could not have been “today” when it was fulfilled.

And I pray God for all of us here, that we too feel that shock, we who have the Spirit, the breath of the Name upon us, when we hear that today it has been fulfilled, this writing, in our ears. That we go from here to our communities in the power of the breath –  beloved, appointed, fulfilled.

Listen:

(Female voice:) Listen.
There was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour.
Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along.
Thus am I
Thus are we
Thus are you

A feather on the breath of God.

 


Bible passage adapted from Richard W. Swanson, ‘Provoking the Gospel Storytelling Project’.

Luke 4:16-21

16  Jesus came into Nazareth

where he was brought up.

He went in,

in accord with his custom

in the day of the Sabbaths,

into the synagogue.

He stood up to read.

17        It was given to him:

a book of the prophet Isaiah.

He opened the book;

he found the place where it stood written:

18                  A breath of the Name upon me

                           because of which he anointed me

                                to announce good news to the poor.

He sent me,

to proclaim

to exiled captives:

release;

to blind people:

seeing again;

to send those who have been crushed
into release,

19                      to proclaim a year of the Name acceptable.

20        He rolled the book.

He gave it back to the attendant.

He sat.

The eyes of all in the synagogue

were staring at him.

21        He began to say to them:

  Today it has been fulfilled,

                       this writing,

      in your ears.

 

Know where you stand

A brief contribution to the Debate on the State of the Nation, General Synod, February 2019.

I offer Synod the words of Fr Dan Berrigan S.J., a courageous and articulate US campaigner for peace, recently deceased. He said: “Know where you stand – and stand there”.

I support the motion and I thank the presidents for tabling it and I thank the Archbishop of Canterbury for his initial speech and for its strong emphasis on the preferential option for the poor, which echoes so much of what he consistently says in the public square, not least in his speech to the TUC last September.

We must know that if we affirm this motion we will attract the opprobrium that he attracted there, and frankly from the same quarters. We will be accused of political naïveté, and of abandoning the tower of intelligent nuance for the simplicity of a preferential option. We will not then be seen as the voice of convening calm whose proud boast is that no one knows the political choices we make. We will be seen instead as those who take a stand. I hope that we will do so wholeheartedly today.

I strongly agree with the Bishop of Chelmsford that our Gospel is indivisible, and with Andy Salmon that the divisions in the nation are sharpening; as in Salford, so in Liverpool.

In the Diocese of Liverpool we say that we’re asking God for a bigger church to make a bigger difference, and we say “more people knowing Jesus, more justice in the world.” In saying this we echo the scriptures as we understand them, and we echo the emphases of all the dioceses and of this Synod in this session.

Our Lord made it clear that those who set out to build a tower must count the cost of it. Will we therefore count the cost of building this tower, the tower of decision, and of making a political choice. In a context of rapidly shifting tectonic plates politically, the old Anglican nostrum “I’m not making a party political point” has lost its meaning and it’s power to intimidate. As Bishop Peter Selby noted years ago in his book “Liberating God”, pastoral care wll inevitably imply political solidarity, with all the negativity and risk of misunderstanding that attracts.

Our corporate stance is always political. It implies and demands advocacy, advocacy for the preferential option for those on the edge of things. I am delighted to see that this motion avoids the call for people just to get along which so often renders us anodyne.

It’s right to seek the common good and within that to establish good disagreement. And of course it is good for people to get along. But this motion tells us that our own contribution to the common good is to offer a direction with which some may disagree, and then for us to disagree well about that.

The question to others is therefore, “Since we have a preferential option for the poor, since we will not accept political solutions that make the poor poorer or that accept the abolition of the rights of the poor or erase the place of the poor, since this is where we stand, let’s see how we can get along.”

If that is indeed where we stand, then we should approve this motion and thereby choose repeatedly and consistently and unswervingly to defend those on the edge of things. If that is indeed where we stand, then please, in every conversation in private and in the public square, let us stand there.

Speaking love fluently

Literally two minutes on youth evangelism: an uncalled speech from the General Synod, February 2019.

Words from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s presidential address yesterday: “There is an eternal struggle in each of us and among all of us to speak love fluently…”

I strongly support this motion as amended and I commend it to the Synod. It was my privilege to serve on the Archbishops’ task group on evangelism which made this area of work a priority as Mark Russell has said.

When Archbishop Justin invited us to give our testimonies early in the life of that group, we found that everyone had come to faith in their teenage years or as students at college.

Mark has pinpointed the critical importance of this age group for our evangelism. Because it is at this age we learn to think, and we learn to love. There is an eternal struggle in each of us and among all of us to speak love fluently.

I concur with Mark when he says that young people respond not to institutions but to people. This I hope will be the focus of our debate as we see it discussed beyond this chamber.

I want to say that the key thing about evangelism for all ages, but especially for this age group, is the moment of invitation, and that this is a people moment, a moment of love and a moment for everyone. In our First Peter bible study yesterday we saw the human dynamic – a falling for the beauty and love of God in Christ, and an indescribable and glorious joy. From this flows the engagement with holiness to which Angus Macleay referred in his speech in yesterday’s debate.

Mark said that evangelism is knowing that God thinks you’re fantastic. I am in love with Jesus. Jesus found me as an older teenager with a nervous breakdown, and showed me his love and restored me, and since then I’ve tried to live a life of holiness. Why? Because Jesus is lovely.

The moment of evangelism is a moment of openness to the living, loving God. It is God who gives life to the dying. It is the living spark, rather than a treatise on light, which will prevent people from stumbling. It is the living bread that nourishes; and though menus of argument can look lovely with their paper and card and print, no one would want to eat one. As St Paul sharply and correctly said, ‘Knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds people up’.

Evangelism is about the love a person, Jesus, has for us, and about the love we offer in return. It starts there. Love, not argument. We could do worse.

‘There is an eternal struggle in each of us and among all of us to speak love fluently.’ Some have testified today to what happens among young people when we lose that struggle. We may stammer love; but for all ages, and especially for this age, at least let’s aim to speak the language of love, when we speak.

The God who makes a pitch

Christmas sermon 2018. Liverpool Cathedral.

 “And the word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14)

This verse from St John sums up the Incarnation. It pre-echoes another verse from the very end of the Bible, where in Revelation 21 the writer says: “See, the home of God is among mortals; and God will dwell with them, and they will be God’s peoples, and God’s own self will be with them.”

“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Or as “The Message” translation says: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood”.

But these translations, lovely and true and moving as they are, don’t catch the visual image that the Bible writers wanted to convey.

A year ago I was not present in this Cathedral church, because I was on study leave, preparing to visit the United States in order to write the book which will shortly be published as “The Table”. I began that study leave in San Francisco, where among other things I spent some time with a parish church: St Gregory of Nyssa, in Potrero Hill.

If you go there on public transport you have a ten minute walk from the rapid transit stop. And on that walk you see a sight that, when I saw it, I had never seen in England – though I have seen it now. Where the sidewalk is wide, around two sides of a block, you see a township made of tents, pitched there on the street, housing the homeless poor. Scores of people, living quietly and courteously but very precariously, in a ramshackle collection of tents and lean-tos, one of many across San Francisco.

Three weeks ago here in Liverpool Kate and I went to one of our favourite coffee shops, just round the corner from the Radio Merseyside studios off Hanover Street. And there, sitting at the window seat in the coffee shop, we looked out on three or four tents, pitched up against the back of a supermarket, a tiny village made of tents, housing the homeless poor.

And we have all seen pictures of the Calais Jungle, still present there, cleared by the police again this month, a city made of tents pitched in rows like streets on the derelict land, housing the homeless poor.

There’s a marvellous new translation of the New Testament, just published this year, written by David Bentley Hart. He tries to be really faithful to the original language, even if that makes it sound a bit edgy in English. And when he comes to John 1:14 he writes this: “And the Logos became flesh and pitched a tent among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the Father’s only one, full of grace and truth.”

It’s what the Greek says: “The Logos – the word – became flesh and pitched a tent among us”. That’s the visual image that the Bible writers tried to convey.

Now of course they didn’t have our sort of tents in those days. What they did was build booths, or a sort of temporary hut, or a “tabernacle” as the old Bibles would say. In the Old Testament a whole feast was built around that. And when Jesus is transfigured in the Gospels and Peter is watching and doesn’t know what to say he talks of building three tabernacles – in other words three huts, or as we would say pitching three tents.

And at the end of time, so the very end of the Bible tells us, God says “Look! The tent of God is with people, and he will pitch a tent with them and they will be his people.”

So God’s presence with us is all a bit in-tents, really. (See what I did there?) We live out of touch with God in our day-to-day lives as a people, and we look for God and we look for glory. And then at Christmas, and at the end of time, when the tabernacle of God was renewed, it is like a tent.

Tents take different forms. It’s hard to see this glorious building, this Cathedral church,  as a tent, as temporary. You might think that if everything else passes away in Liverpool, still this huge building will remain. And yet fundamentally it’s a tent. It’s a temporary booth, made for the eternal God. And the Bible tells us that there is no temple in heaven. We will go there; but the tent won’t.

And as Christians we may learn from all this where we are to look for God.

In the Diocese of Liverpool we say that we’re asking God for a bigger church so that we can make a bigger difference, and we say: more people knowing Jesus, more justice in the world.

Here at Christmas we look at the tiny refugee baby, born on someone else’s property, fleeing to someone else’s country. And seeing that baby we open the door of the tent which, like Dr Who’s Tardis, is bigger inside than outside. We open the door offered by the Lord Jesus, which is tiny outside and infinite inside. And we meet God where God said God would be.

In a moment this talk will come true, right here, in this big tent. You will be offered the infinite love of God contracted to a little wafer and a sip of wine. And you will be called to take that infinite love inside, and to live inside that infinity.

And how does that life look on the outside? Where do we meet God then? Where will we stand then?

There’s a story from the Jewish tradition where someone asks a holy teacher, “Why can we no longer see the face of God?”, and the teacher answers, “It’s because we have forgotten how to stoop so low”.

If I am to see the face of God again today, then I can do worse than go to Hanover Street, or to Potrero Hill, or to the tents of the Calais Jungle, overlooking the fences that fence the tunnel. Or to the coast of the Mediterranean where the refugees camp before they risk their lives on the sea, before they risk drowning because they have nothing better before them. Or to the southern border of the United States, where the caravans stop and pitch camp, looking at a fence, and at the beginnings of a wall that some people say is beautiful.

God is there. When Pope Francis made his first ever overseas trip as Pope, to Lampedusa, he understood that. When we see the crosses made from the wood of the broken refugees’ boats, we understand that. The tent of God is with people and God will pitch a tent with them and will be among them.

We’re called and sent, called to worship and sent to stand, called to recognise Jesus and sent to recognise Jesus, to stand with those on the edge of things, to stand for example here, to stand for example in tent city.

Called and sent – to know where we stand, and then to stand there.

Love came down at Christmas, and made a pitch. Our God makes a pitch. God who is here, in bread and wine and words. And God who is there, among the homeless poor and all those on the edge of things. We know where God is. I know where God is. So where will I be? Where will you be?

 

© +Paul Liverpool 2018

 

The presence of Jesus

An introductory contribution to an ecumenical conversation on the Eucharist, organised by Liverpool Parish Church as part of “Adoremus”, the Roman Catholic National Eucharistic Congress, held in Liverpool, September 2018.

The Archbishop of Liverpool, Malcom McMahon OP, and the chair of the Merseyside Methodist District, Dr Sheryl Anderson, shared in this conversation. We each began with a brief prepared statement. Here’s mine.

I’d like to talk about two things: about theological and philosophical theories of things, and about what Anglicans do when they come to Communion.

ARCIC 1 on Eucharistic doctrine says: “When his people are gathered at the eucharist to commemorate his saving acts for our redemption, Christ makes effective among us the eternal benefits of his victory and elicits and renews our response of faith, thanksgiving and self-surrender.”

I don’t know of any Anglican who would deny this. As one writer has said: “Anglican eucharistic theologies universally affirm the real presence of Christ in the eucharist… Evangelical Anglicans believe that this is a pneumatic presence, while those of an Anglo-Catholic churchmanship believe this is a corporeal presence.” But we stay in the same church. In other words, corporately speaking, philosophical clarity is not all-important for us. We put up with diversity. This is most clearly summed up in the verse attributed to Queen Elizabeth I:

“Christ was the word that spake it,

He took the bread and brake it,

And what the word did make it,

That I believe and take it.”

This relaxed approach to philosophy is not, of course, held by all individual Anglicans. For some there is a full and glad embracing of the doctrine of transubstantiation in its most conservative expression. For others there is a passionate adherence to the bare memorialising of Ulrich Zwingli, for whom the Eucharist was helpful, useful, even central; but in the end a mnemonic, a reminder, like a photograph, and nothing more.

The problem can be that these two extreme views, neither of which is held by many, is presented to Anglicans as a bare choice. “Do you believe in the presence of our Lord Jesus in the sacrament or do you not? Philosophically speaking, is it all or is it nothing?”

This crude opposition is not a helpful frame for our theology, or our devotion. For myself I prefer to look to the language of two of the Fathers in God of the universal Church, John Calvin and Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI.

Calvin said that in the Eucharist we see “the true and substantial communication of the body and blood of the Lord”.

Pope Benedict said that “[The doctrine of transubstantiation] is not a statement of physics. It has never been asserted that, so to say, nature in a physical sense is being changed. The transformation reaches down to a more profound level … Christ lays hold upon what is, from a purely physical viewpoint, bread and wine, in its inmost being, so that it is changed from within and Christ truly gives himself in them.”

Queen Elizabeth’s verse may imply that it doesn’t really matter what the theology is. But for Anglicans it is not so. We come to church to engage in the true and substantial communication of the God who gives himself and changes creation from within, and we understand it variously.

This is a way of speaking that embraces a mystery. And so in this spirit Anglicans can all say that we meet Jesus in Communion in a real way. We tend to talk about what it means to us in pictures, or not to talk about it at all.

Let me give an example of how we speak in pictures, and try to echo the Bible. You’ll hear the echoes I hope in a moment.

When I was installed as Bishop of Liverpool (that makes me sound like a piece of software, but I prefer it to the older word “enthroned”!) I preached a sermon to the Diocese in which I spoke of the Christian Church as if it were a table. And in that sermon I said this:

“It’s a simple table but it’s well made, because it was made by a carpenter. The guy who made it is a poor man, but he’s generous. He offers a place at the table to anyone who wants to sit and eat. This is a table that started in one place but now it can stretch down every street, and it can go into every home, if people want to sit there.

“Most of all it’s a table for eating. You can’t eat alone at this table. You can’t buy a meal at this table. You can’t buy a ticket to sit here. Anyone can sit here. It’s a table like a table at a wedding. You sit with guests you never knew, and you find out about them, and they become your friends. And the table is spread with a beautiful fair white linen cloth…

And if you eat the food served here you will never be hungry again. Because the poor man offers the food at this table. And the poor man will serve you, and the poor man’s hands are wounded when he serves you, because the food came at a price, and he paid the price.

The poor man’s name is Jesus, who though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich. And if you sit at his table he will feed you and he will ask you to feed others; he will serve you and he will ask you to serve others; he will love you and he will ask you to love others.”

With this understanding I can stand gladly beside my brother here (the RC Archbishop) and my sister here (the Methodist Chair of District) as a Eucharistic Christian. I can rejoice that Adoremus is here in our city. And I can walk proudly and gladly in the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament tomorrow. I cannot receive that sacrament. But I know and I hope that in attending the Solemn Mass, and in venerating what my friends venerate, I am gathering with them around the table of the poor carpenter where in the end we will all sit and be filled. Thank you.

Tapping into love

First posted on via media.

Last week the General Synod met to address a wide-ranging agenda which included listening to victims and survivors of abuse, debating the Church’s approach to climate change, to appropriate investment in (or disinvestment from) energy companies, to nuclear weapons, and a large raft of legislative business. In and among all this a debate on evangelism, built around the final report of the Archbishops’ Evangelism Task Group, was squeezed out and will be debated at a future Synod, hopefully and presumably in February 2019.

This was a pity, not least for those of us who had prepared for the debate and had written the report on which it was to be based.

I need to declare an interest in all this, as I served as vice-chair of the Evangelism Task Group (ETG), under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I’m so glad to have been asked to serve on the ETG and to have worked with an outstanding group of colleagues from all traditions, whose presence on the group at different times blessed the whole Church. I thank God for every single one of them, and I thank God that in our Church there is a place at the table for them all, for as long as they wish to stay in the room, or to re-enter the room if they’ve left it, so that wisdom and grace may abound.

The motion on evangelism which the Synod hoped to debate asked the national officers of the Church to continue their work of resourcing and supporting Christians in their sharing of the good news of Jesus. This was an excellent thing, as far as I was concerned. I served for six years as the National Mission and Evangelism Adviser in our Church of England, and I am proud to have done so and to have tried to make a difference from that position. I continue to value the work of national officers and of the new and expanded Evangelism and Discipleship Team. So I would have supported the Synod motion.

But as I have reflected on the non-debate, and on the undebated motion, I find myself worrying that it might have deceived the Church into believing that the responsibility for evangelism lies solely with Church House teams and officers and diocesan staff, as if without nationally smart ideas no evangelism can be expected to take place.

It is not so. Evangelism is simple if you do it, as Archbishop Moon Hing said to the Synod from his own experience in Asia. Evangelism happens when people talk. It happens when people talk. Evangelism cannot be delegated upwards. It takes place between friends, across kitchen tables and at school gates and in workplaces, when Christians listen to the ones they know and talk to them about Jesus.

Evangelism, the sharing of good news, happens most especially when there is love; that is when the redemptive love of Jesus is shared by people who have been redeemed, and who (you might say) love large.

Outstandingly the most significant single example of commending the faith in recent memory is the sermon preached by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church at the Royal Wedding. Bishop Michael communicated his humanity and he told the couple, and 1,900 million people besides, that there was power in love, and that Christians were people committed to redemptive love and to justice.

As the Archbishop of York said at the Synod, this came as welcome news to the world. Millions of people did not know that Christian preachers could be human, and they did not know that the Christian faith was about love. Repeatedly in newspapers and magazines Bishop Curry’s message was described as “unorthodox”. Since then, preachers have been invited to be like Bishop Curry. I agree that we should be like Bishop Curry, if that means we communicate who we are as beloved children of God (not pretending to be who he is!) and talk about the love that has made us beloved. As the man said, there’s power in love.

Evangelism is a long, churchy word, and love is a short, everyday one. Evangelism is a blah blah word and love is a real word. I’m afraid people expect blah blah from church people. They don’t expect Christians to talk about love. They think it’s unorthodox. That is a sadness and an indictment of course, but let’s not be too gloomy. We beat ourselves up too much as it is. Instead, let’s look on the bright side;  when we talk about the power of love then people are surprised and they want to hear it. People are glad that love is real. Isn’t that great?

The Washington Post was one of hundreds among the media that reported positively on Bishop Curry’s sermon. This is what they said:

“Based on social media, the reaction to Curry’s sermon showed that it was incredibly well-received, especially by black Americans. But emphasizing the power of love seemed to resonate across countries, races and even political views perhaps because such a unifying message is rarely shared so prominently. And it also possibly connected because the current times are politically divisive, and even violent.

Curry spoke for an alternative:

“Think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way,” he said. “Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive.”

There is a lot to take away from Saturday’s ceremony, and there will be numerous pieces reflecting on it. But the component of the day that had the greatest potential to connect is that hate will never be an effective approach to righting societal ills. Therefore, tapping into love is worth a try.”

Tapping into love is worth a try, the love that’s “unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive”; as we would say the unique love of Christ that saves the world. Churches that speak of this love are like sprinkler systems on a parched lawn. Suddenly the dry and brown grass becomes green again. Suddenly the dry, harsh, misrepresented, half-forgotten Christian narrative makes sense again. Suddenly the ones on the edge of things realise that they are included. Love makes things work. Love large; love is big. Dante hit the bullseye when he said that it is love that moves the sun and the other stars. Love is as big as it gets. In short God is love, and Jesus is the word of God. As Brian Zahnd puts it, Jesus is what God has to say.

But we must, must, must be clear; if we live as Jesus people and say what God has to say, if we tap into love as the way God is, then people will expect to see love as the way we are.

In his Presidential Address at the recent Synod the Archbishop of York specifically and explicitly reminded the Church that its leaders have committed it to a radical new Christian inclusion. Each of those four words matters. No one of them cancels out the other three. Together they speak of a deeply rooted and refreshed welcome within a changed and changing world. Together they speak of love. There’s power in love.

Becoming a community marked by radical Chrisian inclusion has not been postponed until 2020, or even till next week. Our Archbishops have called us to it now, today, this moment, this breath; this welcome. There will be no evangelism without it. If it’s not radical, not new, not Christian, not inclusion, then it’s not good enough.

In my own Diocese we have a rule of life and each person who commits to it will be committed to prayer and to reading scripture and to living justice and to generosity, but they will also be committed to bringing one friend into the conscious company of Jesus each year. Talking to one, listening to one, bringing one. If that happens it will be because of love, radical, new, Christian, inclusive love, and where that is seen there will be evangelism. There’s power in love.

Can we then democratise evangelism, a radical, new, Christian, inclusive evangelism? Between friends and across kitchen tables and at school gates and in workplaces, can we speak of the love that is for all, of the power of love to embrace and to bless and to redeem the world? Can we tap into Jesus’ love? It’s worth a try.

Rule of life: practical steps

Over the past six posts I’ve looked briefly at each of the six dimensions of our Rule of Life. I’ve tried to suggest what it might mean in each of these dimensions to live as a disciple in the Diocese of Liverpool, as we make the inner and the outer journey together.

Here at the end of the series, and before the Summer break overtakes us all, I just wanted to make some practical suggestions for you to consider and perhaps to include in your daily and weekly routine. As with everything in the Rule of Life, let me say clearly that these suggestions are not a whole new initiative for you to pile on top of what you’re already doing. Instead of that, here are six simple suggestions for now which will help you take your place with the 60,000 other disciples in the Diocese as a practical follower of Jesus.

1.      Called to Pray.
Say the Lord’s Prayer each day. If you already pray the Lord’s Prayer as part of your daily pattern, this is great.

Before you pray it, simply say something like this in your heart: “Together with all disciples in the Diocese of Liverpool and across the world, as our Saviour has taught us, so we pray…”

2.      Called to Read.
Read a short passage from the Bible each day. Some will want to use the daily readings set by the church. There are many other reading plans, and in the next week or so I shall be offering my “Called to read: Summer challenge”, which will recommend a book of the Bible and a commentary (if it helps) for you to read over the Summer.

Before you start reading, simply say something like this in your heart: “Together with all disciples in the Diocese of Liverpool and across the world, I open my heart to God’s inspired Word.”

3.      Called to Learn.
Commit yourself to finding other people in your church, school, fresh expression or chaplaincy who want to learn together. Learning happens when we meet others, whether in person, or in the pages of a book, or online.

If you’re already in a house-group, study group or similar, simply continue. If not, talk to your church leaders about the right way to join a group.

Before you study, simply say something like this in your heart:  “Together with all disciples in the Diocese of Liverpool and across the world, we commit ourselves to learn from Jesus though His Church.”

4.      Sent to Tell.
As a disciple you will want to see more people knowing Jesus. Commit yourself to bringing one friend to church each year, and to speaking to them about your faith as and when the moment comes. Pray that you will know the right moment to invite that person.

As you pray about who to bring, simply say something like this in your heart: “Together with all disciples in the Diocese of Liverpool and across the world, I commit myself to sharing my faith with another person.”

5      Sent to Serve.
As a disciple you will want to see more justice in the world. Commit yourself to doing ten things each year that will contribute to the common good. These may include volunteering for a charity, visiting a neighbour who is unwell or housebound, campaigning on behalf of people on the edge of things, and many others. Pray that you will know the right things to do.

As you pray about what to do for justice, simply say something like this in your heart: “Together with all disciples in the Diocese of Liverpool and across the world, I commit myself to work so that God’s Kingdom may come closer.”

6     Sent to Give.
As a disciple you will want to give your time, your talents and your material resources so that God’s work may go forward. Commit yourself to a generous lifestyle that will help and bless others.

As you pray about how to live the generous life, simply say something like this in your heart: “Together with all disciples in the Diocese of Liverpool and across the world, I will seek the right way to give back to God what God has given me.”

None of this is rocket science. But if we make these simple beginnings I believe we will be sharing in God’s work in the Diocese and beyond. Resources and materials will be made available to us all over the next few months. Meanwhile, may God bless you as you take these simple steps.