Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep Paul says in the continuation of Romans 12 set for today. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
As I read these words I recall with you what I shared last week about Romans 12-15 being Paul’s ethical application of the doctrine of Christ set forth in Romans 1-11. I also recall how a book I recently read chimes in well as a topical illustration of this teaching. Anne and I have both profitably read the newly published work of Andrew Atherstone with title Archbishop Justin Welby Risk-taker and Reconciler.
If ever there was a job to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep it’s that of a priest and even more so that of a bishop. As we all know leading Anglicans is no plain sailing whether you’re Rector of Horsted Keynes or Archbishop of Canterbury. Leading the Church of England is as easy as taking your cat for a walk!
Justin Welby is an impressive figure. From a successful career in the oil industry he was appointed among other reasons because he was easy in his own skin which seems rare among clerics. The lack of ease of his job is such that his predecessor as Archbishop talked of needing ‘the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros’. Like many impressive figures he has shown great bravery working with Canon Andrew White now in Baghdad but formerly in Coventry where I briefly knew him and Justin when we were priests in a Diocese famous for its ministry of reconciliation. The Archbishop wears around his neck a cross built from nails found in the ruins of the bombed Cathedral which burned to the ground in September 1941. Before his appointment his work on international reconciliation brought him like Canon White on occasion within an inch of his life. A year into the job as Archbishop that track record for reconciliation has been extended through his establishing a settlement for women bishops, charting a way forward re same sex unions and setting forth an agenda for prayer, monasticism, church growth and kingdom-oriented social engagement that sees Churches reconciled with the Pope as a leading partner.
On the night of the women bishops vote he appeared on Newsnight literally to Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Our Archbishop spoke directly to those found in deep pain that July night He has shared life sufficiently with people like me and my ecclesiastical neighbour Lisa Barnett at Scaynes Hill to be equipped to make what was bad disagreement into good disagreement. My ‘two cheers for women bishops’ in P&P has Lisa very much in mind and takes a leaf out of Justin Welby’s book.
When you share life with people, as we do here at St Giles, you grow through tolerance of difference to respect of difference. You really can rejoice when they rejoice even if what they’re rejoicing in is painful to you. Paul knew and taught this. So does our Archbishop and so should we! For example it’s not good enough to tolerate Muslims – we need to respect them, which means have the capacity to imagine ourselves in their shoes, something friendship can achieve.
Andrew Atherstone’s book on Welby is peppered with joyous life, growth and change far more typical of the Church of England than letters to Church Times would have you believe. Sympathy with our Eton educated subject is won by tale of a broken home which sent him to boarding school and no doubt skills him in dealing with dysfunction in his Anglican family.
Intellectual brilliance made him a fast riser in the oil industry and the church as ‘risk-taker and reconciler…able…to synthesise a lot of information quickly and under pressure’ be that linked to collapse of oil prices or Anglican affairs.
Throughout the book there are quotes of how Jesus on the Cross impacts him: ‘The cross is the moment of deepest encounter and most radical change. God is crucified – my Friend died – in some way, for me. ... A person caught by the implications of the cross will be a person who has found the fullness of the life which is the gift of God through him… The cross is the great pointer where the suffering, and the sorrow, and torture, and trial, and sin, and yuck of the world ends up on God’s shoulders, out of love for us’.
This profound sense of redemption underlies his strong sense of the church. Again I quote: ‘Because God has brought us together [as his Church] we are stuck with each other and we had better learn to do it the way God wants us to. That means in practice that we need to learn diversity without enmity, to love not only those with whom we agree but especially those with whom we do not agree’. This sort of sentiment echoes that of Paul before us this morning in Romans 12. As Archbishop he says he isn’t trying to get everyone to agree but to transform bad disagreement into good disagreement, working for unity not unanimity. I quote: ‘Reconciliation among Christians does not have unanimity at its heart, or tolerance, but the capacity to love despite disagreement, and to differ and be diverse without breaking fellowship. The difficulty is where to draw the boundaries and decide that a difference is of such fundamental importance that a breakdown of fellowship is necessary’.
Speaking last year at a commemoration of the great 17th century Anglican writer Jeremy Taylor he describes our Anglican scenario in these words: ‘Like a drunk man walking near the edge of a cliff, we trip and totter and slip and wander, ever nearer to the edge of the precipice. It is a dangerous place, a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present. On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message. On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth, and exclude any who question. When we fall into this place, we lose touch with human beings and create a small church, or rather many small churches – divided, ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering, incapable of living with each other, and incomprehensible to those outside the church’.
This description brought me back to today’s section of St Paul. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; Paul says. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Our own readiness to accept and respect fellow Christians of different belief or, as with Islam or militant atheism, those far from our own conviction, will invest love which always brings a return. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour.
I close repeating one of the Archbishop’s quotations: A person caught by the implications of the cross will be a person who has found the fullness of the life which is the gift of God through him... It is out of that fullness brought us here in the eucharist that we gain courage to say, and not just of fellow Christians, because God has brought us together we are stuck with each other and we had better learn to do it the way God wants us to. So be it! Let’s apply it!