TO EACH one of us,
whoever and wherever we are, joining us from far away by television
or radio, or here in the Cathedral, Jesus calls through the storms
and darkness of life and says: "Take heart, it is I, do not be
Our response to those
words sets the pattern for our lives, for the Church, and for the
whole of society. Fear imprisons us, and stops us being fully
human. Uniquely in all of human history, Jesus Christ, the Son of
God, is the one who as living love liberates holy courage.
"If it is you, tell me to
come to you on the water," Peter says, and Jesus replies: "Come."
History does not relate what the disciples thought about getting
out of a perfectly serviceable boat, but Peter was right, and they
The utterly absurd is
completely reasonable when Jesus is the one who is calling. Courage
is liberated, and he gets out of the boat, walks a bit, and then
fails. Love catches him, gently sets him right, and in a moment,
they are both in the boat and there is peace. Courage failed, but
Jesus is stronger than failure.
The fear of the disciples
was reasonable. People do not walk on water, but this person did.
For us to trust and follow Christ is reasonable if he is what the
disciples end up saying he is: "Truly you are the Son of God."
Each of us now needs to
heed his voice calling to us, and to get out of the boat and go to
him. Because even when we fail, we find peace and hope, and become
more fully human than we can imagine: failure forgiven, courage
liberated, hope persevering, love abounding.
For more than 1000 years,
this country has, to one degree or another, sought to recognise
that Jesus is the Son of God: by the ordering of its society, by
its laws, by its sense of community. Sometimes we have done better;
sometimes worse. When we do better, we make space for our own
courage to be liberated, for God to act among us, and for human
beings to flourish. Slaves were freed, Factory Acts passed, and the
NHS and social care established through Christ-liberated courage.
The present challenges of environment and economy, of human
development and global poverty, can only be faced with
extraordinary Christ-liberated courage.
In humility and
simplicity, Pope Francis called us on Tuesday to be protectors of
each other: of the natural world, of the poor and vulnerable.
Courage is released in a society that is under the authority of
God, so that we may become the fully human community of which we
all dream. Let us hear Christ, who calls to us and says: "Take
heart, it is I, do not be afraid."
The first reading we
heard [Ruth 2.1-2, 15-20] dates from the time of Israel before the
Kings. It is the account of a Moabite refugee - utterly
stigmatised, inescapably despised - taking the huge risk of
choosing a God she does not know, in a place she has not been; and
finding security when she does so. The society Ruth went to was
healthy because it was based on obedience to God, both in public
care and private love.
Today we may properly
differ on the degrees of state and private responsibility in a
healthy society. But, if we sever our roots in Christ, we abandon
the stability that enables good decision-making. There can be no
final justice, or security, or love, or hope in our society, if it
is not finally based on rootedness in Christ. Jesus calls us over
the wind and storms: heed his words, and we will have the courage
to build a society in stability.
For nearly 2000 years,
the Church has sought, often failing, to recognise, in its way of
being, that Jesus is the Son of God. The wind and waves divided
Jesus from the disciples. Peter ventures out in fear and trembling
(as you may imagine, I rather relate to him at this point). Jesus
reconciles Peter to himself, and makes the possibility for all the
disciples to find peace.
All the life of our
diverse Churches finds renewal and unity when we are reconciled
afresh to God, and so are able to reconcile others. A
Christ-heeding life changes the Church and a Christ-heeding Church
changes the world: St Benedict set out to create a school for
prayer, and incidentally created a monastic order that saved
The more the Church is
au- thentically heeding Jesus's call, leaving its securities,
speaking and acting clearly and taking risks, the more the Church
suffers. Thomas Cranmer faced death with Christ-given courage,
leaving a legacy of worship, of holding to the truth of the gospel,
on which we still draw. I look at the Anglican leaders here, and
remember that, in many cases round the world, their people are
scattered to the four winds or driven underground: by persecution,
by storms of every sort, even by cultural change. Many Christians
are martyred now, as in the past.
Yet, at the same time as
suffering, the Church transforms society when it takes the risks of
renewal in prayer, of reconciliation, and of confident declaration
of the good news of Jesus Christ. In England alone, the Churches
together run innumerable food banks, shelter the homeless, educate
a million children, offer debt-counselling, comfort the bereaved,
and far, far more. All this comes from heeding the call of Jesus
run refugee camps, mediate civil wars, organise elections, set up
hospitals. All of it happens because of heeding the call to go to
Jesus through the storms and across the waves.
There is every possible
reason for optimism about the future of Christian faith in our
world and in this country. Optimism does not come from us, but
because to us and to all people Jesus comes and says: "Take heart,
it is I, do not be afraid."
We are called to step out of the comfort of our own traditions
and places, and go into the waves, reaching for the hand of Christ.
Let us provoke each other to heed the call of Christ, to be clear
in our declaration of Christ, committed in prayer to Christ, and we
will see a world transformed.