‘The work of the Church is to be Jesus in the world’

Text of Archbishop Justin Welby;s address to World Youth Day in Lodz, Poland, on 21 July 2016. 

Archbishop Justin Welby gave this talk at the Paradise in the City Festival in Lodz, Poland, on 21 July 2016. The festival is organised by the Chemin Neuf Community as part of celebrations for World Youth Day, which is being held in Poland this year.
 
The work of the Church is to be Jesus in the world. We are called to be those who, by our unity, lead people through Jesus to a relationship with the Father.
In these verses, Jesus sets out in the clearest possible way that that only happens by our unity. If we are not one, the world cannot see Jesus; even more than that we will not be Jesus for the world.
 
This matters so much in the times in which we are living. We need to realise that there is no static situation in unity or disunity. Either we move towards unity or we move further apart. If we stand still, and make no move towards unity, then the very reality of our sinful humanity makes us move apart.
 
We see this in our friendships and relationships, with those whom we love and who love us. If you fall in love with someone, either the relationship develops positively and you grow closer and closer in love until you get to the point where a commitment to each other for life is the best choice you can make, a gift to each other of our bodies, our lives, our love and every bit of what we are. Or, if the relationship stagnates then it begins to move apart.
 
It is the same with our churches. Four hundred and ninety-nine years ago, we began the process within the Western Church of breaking apart. Through the sinfulness of leaders, through lust for power and through complacency about evil, the Church split.
 
As the centuries went by, the split grew deeper and deeper, the distance between us more and more extreme. Within the whole Christian body, some hundreds of years before that was the Great Schism in which the Western and Eastern Churches divided. We have become used to the situation. Like people living on different continents who do not see that over the centuries the movement of tectonic plates is dragging us further and further apart, and the seas between us are deeper and wider and rougher and more difficult to cross, we travelled through the centuries.
 
And then, after much terrible bloodshed, especially in the 17th century, the Church to no one’s surprise except our own, found that our divisions discredited its message in the eyes of those who looked at it from outside.
 
Indeed, we converted much of the world through our missionary activity, yet so often, the best of the missions had some contamination of self-seeking and self-will. Today, in many parts of the world, and especially in Europe, faced with huge materialism, with nationalism, with developing technology, we find that the gaps between us makes space for damage to the Church, for further and deeper divisions, and for being unable to be Jesus in a world that needs Jesus more than it ever did.
Sometimes we think that technology can help us, but this is a lie. Technology gives us information about each other but not relationship with each other. Relationships take time, and very often they require a meeting.
 
Some months ago, a newspaper discovered that the person who brought me up was not my father, although both I and he thought he was. He died many years ago. We discovered that my actual father was a different man, who had died in 2013. I also discovered that I had other relations. Of course, we had always been related. . . Once we knew we were related, we could find out about each other. They could look me up on the web and see how I grew up, what I looked like, that I wore spectacles, that I had less and less hair and more and more weight!
 
But we could not know each other through information, and the mere fact of being related did not give us a relationship. We have to meet, to exchange views, to learn to know each other in order to belong truly to one another as family. Such meetings take effort, courage and thought. We depend on each other and must learn quietly and gently, without forcing or pressure one from the other.
 
But the temptation, surrounded by information about each other, is to use it as a substitute for relationship, both for good and for evil. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, preached to the opening of our General Synod (the governing body of the Church of England) in the presence of the Queen in November last year. It was a wonderful sermon. He spoke from the Prophet Haggai and the call from God to “rebuild my house”.
 
This is the call he gives to you and to me today. He described the situation of the exiles, who had come back to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. They set to work, but soon grew discouraged, each preferring to work on his own house instead. It is the word of God that comes to them in Jerusalem that breaks down their attitude and calls them to look to the House of God, the Church, rather than getting our vision stuck in our own church or diocese or denomination.
 
Let me quote him: “Unity is not a simply matter. One has to start with the big churches, those that are well-structured, putting together that which unites them, which is vastly more important than what divides them; not imposing uniformity but aiming at what Pope Francis calls ‘reconciled diversities’. Nothing is more important than to fulfil Christ’s heart’s desire for unity (…). In many parts of the world, people are killed and churches burnt, not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes we are already one! Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God.”
 
And what a world of need we have. It is a world in which information without relationship makes us less and less good at coping with difference. A few weeks ago, the voters of Britain voted to leave the European Union, to put distance between us and that institution. Many people were deeply saddened by this situation, but the answer to such events as Christians, is not to be saddened, but to call on Christ to demonstrate something different. The worst part of the decision is that in the days after it, permission seemed to be given to some people by having voted as we did to leave Europe, that foreigners and immigrants and those who spoke a different language, or who looked different, or who were of a different faith, could legitimately be attacked.
 
What a sin! And yet, are we truly surprised?
 
In these verses, spoken to his disciples as the last significant piece of teaching he gives his disciples before he goes to the cross, Jesus tells them that in their unity and in their relationship with the Father that comes with unity, they find their true identity. Who am I? Who are you? As I said a few minutes ago, I discovered earlier this year that genetically I was someone different from the person I had thought I was for many years. Each of us has an identity.
 
In the Western world, we are told that we find that identity through our actions, through what we make of ourselves. The danger is that we become self-made, we form our own identity, and having created ourselves, we worship our creator, ourselves, and not the God who is the true source of all identity.
 
That explains so much of the selfishness and narcissism that afflicts our society, the sense that I must make of myself what I will be, that I can create my own identity.
But rather than that, we are to be Jesus to the world, and we can only be Jesus to the world when we find our identity in Christ, in the one who made us, who loves us at a deeper level than we can imagine, and who calls us to be those in our turn who love the world.
 
The Church that is in unity thus brings transformation to itself, to each individual member of the Church, and to the world in which we live. First of all, to itself. The Church that is in unity is a place of healing, of hope and of generosity, of ‘gratuity’ as Pope Benedict called it. It is a Church that gives of itself to those around. It is the Church that relies on relationship as well as information, not on information acquired in a handheld smartphone or on Facebook as a complete substitute for intimate relationships.
Let me be clear, I think that the development of information technology and social media is a great gift to humanity. We can find out about each other, keep in touch with each other, and find compassion with each other. But it is not a substitute for face to face meeting, which is why gatherings like this one are so important. It does not enable us to escape the responsibility that comes when we look into the eyes of someone and see the person of Christ. It is relationship that means when we are walking in the street and see someone begging, we do not always just put something in the cup and move on, but sometimes we sit down next to them and talk to them, find out their name and tell them our name.
 
I had a wonderful conversation in a metro station in London, sitting by the side of the corridor as people went past. We sat together, he had no idea who I was, and didn’t care, except that I was someone who was happy to talk to him and to listen to him and to enjoy his company. It was a blessing to me. Social media does not enable us to wash the feet of the prisoner, to sit by the bedside of the sick and to laugh with an intimate friend over a joke that only we understand.
The unity of the Church brings relationship and love that is healing and transforming.
 
It also transforms the individual. Being part of a Church that is united will enable us to find Christ in a way we cannot imagine, and have lost for 500 years. A living relationship with Jesus Christ is the offer of God to each of us. When we know that we are loved by Jesus all the pressures and problems of life are made lighter, there is hope and peace in each of us. Yet Jesus promises that the more we are united with one another, the more we are united with him: our divisions limit the joy we find in Christ.
When we move towards unity, we will find a love for one another that is deeper than we ever knew and as individuals we will have more confidence in being Jesus to the world, in the place where we are, at university, in our workplace, with our friends, in our family, in our communities, in politics, in business, in the armed services, in NGOs, in health and education and every other aspect of human life.
 
The unity of the Church is a blessing to the world. If the Church is united, the world will see that Jesus came from the Father, that is his promise. And when the world sees that, it is confronted by its sin, it is offered the hope of salvation that escaped from its brokenness and it begins to learn to live with its diversity. Christians may disagree, all families disagree, but we are to disagree in love for one another, to disagree well. All around us the world disagrees with violence, killing of one another, destruction of the environment, oppression of the vulnerable. A United church is the last and best offer of hope in our world.
 
What does that look like? It must be that we pray, serve the poor and challenge oppression as one people, full of love for each other, for our neighbours, even for our enemies. Only together can we find strength to love like that.
 
This year, at Pentecost, in England Anglicans prayed for the evangelisation of our country, prayer together that spoke of our love for Christ being greater than our differences. We were joined by Catholics, and by many others. With Europe in such a state, with debts and austerity oppressing the poor, could we not pray for our continent next year in every capital city, for its evangelisation, its renewal, to show that unity in Christ overcomes political turmoil?
 
In many places we are seeing people attacked for their faith, for being Muslims. It is the confidence that comes from being a Church united in Christ that will enable us to reach out to other faiths in love, and not judgement, nor fear.
 
But how do we find unity?
 
First, by rejecting disunity, and never being comfortable with it. As I said earlier, we drift apart if we do not make a conscious effort to grow together. It is for the people of the Church, for every Christian disciple, to call out to God for unity and to reach out to each other in unity. We need to create such pressure that it is impossible for the bureaucratic structures of the Churches to resist any longer the power of the Spirit impelling us towards one another. Yet 500 years of separation creates deep set resistance to unity. It is a resistance that can only be overcome by new generations of Christians who ask the question “why?” and are not satisfied with the answer “because it has been that way for so long”.
 
Secondly, we move towards unity by prayer. I am going to pray a prayer in a few minutes that we pray every day in the Chapel at Lambeth palace, a prayer of the Chemin Neuf. It is a prayer for the unity of Christians. I hope you will join me in saying Amen.
 
Thirdly, we move towards unity when we see the cost of our disunity to the world around us. Information without relationship leads to fear and enmity without hope. Wars begin when we know about people, and can only imagine the threat that they are to us, but because we do not know them, we are unable to imagine the love that we might feel with them. The cost of our disunity is the suffering of a broken world. God calls us to repent of disunity and to make progress towards unity so that we may be Jesus to the world.
 
So before I pray, I ask you: will you be part of the revolution that says to me we cannot continue like this? That says to every other Christian, we cannot continue like this? That works in a way that resists everything that sets barriers between us?
 
Yes we have deep questions which divide us, but they are questions not about the nature of God or the nature of Jesus Christ, but about how we organise the Church and who is in charge. These are questions of power and of tradition, and we need to have a respect for tradition, but not let it be our master when it is the Spirit blowing through the world today who challenges us as God’s servants in Christ, to be those who transform the world around us.
 
Let us pray:
 
Lord Jesus,
Who prayed that we might all be one,
We pray to you for the unity of Christians,
According to your will,
According to your means.
Enable us to experience the suffering caused by division,
To see our sin and to hope beyond all hope,
Amen.
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