Sermon given at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 27th January 2013
27 January 2013 at 11:00 am
The Reverend Dr James Hawkey, Minor Canon and Sacrist
The phrase “Think Global, act local” rings around much of English-speaking Western society – in environmental ethics, in business, in town-planning, in education, this is the current orthodoxy. So much so, that the Sony Corporation and other multinational industries have coined the word “Glocal” to describe their sphere and style of orbit.
Think Global, act local. The past week has been the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, when Christians of all denominations are encouraged to beseech the Lord for the gift of Unity. One of the many totalitarian metanarratives to break down in the twentieth century, in different places and in different ways, was the notion that Christian Unity was about a simple “return” to a global megalithic Church – no more simple, “come home to mother”, but rather a more scriptural and patristic vision of the diversity of the Church, the diversity of different Christian confessions, constituting the whole in their rich variety. We have been encouraged to “Think global, but act local”, working at ecumenical relationships on the ground, and doing as much together as Christians as we can. All of this has been underpinned by some brilliant formal theological work, in bilateral ecumenical dialogues, at the WCC and through the Faith and Order Movement. They have encouraged us to think globally about our interconnectedness, to be in touch with our own and one another’s theological identity and history, whilst acting locally with Christian integrity and love towards brothers and sisters of other churches.
But in the midst of rapidly diversifying secular cultures and atomised societies, where the very fact of instant communication is often a beguiling chimera rather than something which enables genuine observation and honesty, there is a very genuine question asked by many people about what precisely the Church’s mission is, and how she should operate. Over the last three Sundays, our liturgies have celebrated Jesus’ showing-forth to the world at his Epiphany, when the Magi brought him gifts which revealed his identity, at his baptism where the voice of the Father acclaimed him as the Beloved Son, and at the Wedding at Cana, where in abundance of new wine he revealed the seemingly superfluitous generosity of the New Creation. Today, these facets of Jesus’ identity are brought into one whole. Into a mission. Into a shape which will fuel and reveal not only Christ’s own mission, but the mission of those who follow him, of those who will be the sent ones of this Sent One.
Today’s Gospel and Epistle give us the macro and the micro. They show us the global, and the local. The Gospel tells us that Jesus returns from his temptation in the wilderness, to Galilee, striding onto his stage in the power of the Spirit (the ultimate Lucan accolade) as reports spread about him throughout the country like wildfire. He goes to his home in Nazareth, and opens the scroll at a passage which would have had everyone on the edge of their hearts and nerves. Reading from the prophet Isaiah, he quotes one of the great Messianic prophecies of anointing. No wonder all eyes in the synagogue were on him, as he unveiled this manifesto at the beginning of his public ministry, and as he tells them that today this scripture has been fulfilled. The Year of the Lord’s favour was the year of Jubilee, when debts were cancelled, prisoners released – today proclaimed in their hearing. This was no longer something just to be hoped for; today, in their presence the hope was enfleshed. They were brought into the Messianic Age in the presence of Jesus, because the prophecy of Isaiah was a prophecy of the end-times, when all would be gathered in. No wonder that in a few verses time they would chase him out of the town, not accept him in his own country: because his mission extends beyond it. This is global stuff. A global mission, where those in Jesus’ company are offered to share in its action. Think Global. Good news to the poor, freedom for those held captive, sight for those who cannot see, the cancelling of debts, and liberation of burdens to an extent which seemed impossible. This manifesto plants thoroughly new coordinates, new priorities. It offers the most expansive vista possible. But how does this global mission translate? That’s a question which was not simply solved in Jesus’ own earthly lifetime – we see elsewhere in the New Testament that the evidence is not quite clear as to how the message of the first-century Jewish Messiah will unfold for the whole world. But this short passage from Luke’s Gospel does give clear coordinates, which are universally applicable, and hold universal truths: that wherever the Good News of this Jesus is told, wherever people risk coming into relationship with Jesus, the year of the Lord’s favour is proclaimed, and reality looks different. It’s a global message, which cannot be contained by parochialism, protective cultural superiority or jealous guarding.
Think Global, act local. Most accounts of the Church in first-century Corinth blow the whistle on the rumour that the early church was comfortably united. I suspect that Ecclesia Corinthia was at least as divided as Ecclesia Anglicana! There was no golden age, and in our epistle reading from 1 Corinthians today, St Paul in a breathtaking mixture of rhetoric and pastoral theology teaches his Corinthian Church about the local application of the density of Christ’s Global, universal mission. The watchwords are interdependence and balance. Although we are one body and all have shared in the same Spirit, it is through different charisms, different roles that the Body of Christ experiences the fullness of Christ’s gifts. Paul teaches that God has arranged the gifts of the body as he chose, and mutual dependence is essential for its flourishing. Through his understanding of the distribution of gifts, Paul shows how the dazzling beauty of Christ’s mission is unveiled and can be lived in the life of each local Church. But the brilliance of scripture is that we can also read these passages the other way round. It’s possible to see Paul’s teaching about the body as the “global” thinking, and Jesus’ Messianic proclamation as the local reality. One part of the Church can’t do everything or be everything – we need to rely on one another to experience the fullness of Christ. Through loving one another, and through being implicated in one another’s lives, and especially in the life of the poorest churches, the most vulnerable, those experiencing persecution, we see the face of Christ more clearly. This is global Christianity, to appreciate the gifts and characters of one another’s situations, culturally as well as theologically, to see that what might appear foreign or strange might actually be the greatest gift.
In each one of our communities there are people who are vulnerable, poor, locked into patterns of despair or imprisonment. Every human situation needs the liberation of the year of the Lord, and it is into these situations that the Church must plunge. Christ’s universal proclamation of healing and peace finds its particular resonance in every culture, every place, in Westminster as much as Wyoming, in Chelsea as much as in Kabul. Some parts of our Church, including our own at times, are paralysed by the complexity of the world, such that it’s hard to really get below the surface of our cultures to effectively proclaim the liberation Christ came to bring. The poet Geoffrey Hill expresses such paralysis of vision in his epic book-length poem “The Triumph of Love”: “As I see you, I see you, but as I see you, you are in dumb show” When this happens, and our Church’s mission becomes hazily confused, lazy, apathetic, we will need to renew our global and local vision. There will be few better ways of doing that, than by holding Jesus’ great manifesto of life in the Kingdom together with Paul’s practical description of how the Church should work. In mutual dependence on one another, whilst fuelled with Christ’s risen presence in broken bread and outpoured wine, we will proclaim the Year of the Lord’s favour, in justice, reconciliation, truth, and peace.