Rowan Williams on Mission, the End of the World and the MDGs
The second keynote of the morning was the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was tasked with laying out a Biblical foundation for our engagement with the MDGs. I hope we are given copies of his talk, because it was outstanding. Briefly, here's the basic gist (and this just scratches the surface). Quotes where I'm sure I'm quoting him. Sorry I don't have time for all the cool hotlinks I could put in. Use Google
if you want to look stuff up.
He began with a working definition of mission as "that set of actions and habits that makes God in Jesus Christ known" -- so the ultimate goal is knowing God ... intimate knowledge, not just acknowledging God's existence.
He then went to Jeremiah 31:31-14, which looks forward to the period of Israel's restoration to peace as a time when "everyone knows the Lord." And what is knowing the Lord? Jeremiah 22:16 says knowing the Lord means "giving the poor a fair trial" -- doing justly by the poor.
Knowing God is not a "religious awareness" or an individual mystical glow but knowing how to "see the world with God's eyes." Sharing God's perspective on the world that God has made.
"Knowing God is in anticipation of the end of time when all will know God. It's a glimpse of God's final purpose -- God's perspective becomes instinctive and natural to a redeemed people."
The essence of Old Testament law/justice is that no one is forgotten, no one is invisible. "All are responsible to God and each other for each other." Fairness to the poor is central to the law that all Israel received (he relayed an interesting piece of Jewish midrash that every single Jewish soul -- past, present and future -- was actually present with Moses on Mt. Sinai). Fairness to the poor is central to the law. The true community is one where no one is invisible.
This ultimately spills over from the chosen people to the rest of the world -- particularly in the second part of Isaiah where it talks about Israel being a beacon of hope for all the nations.
The theme is continued in the New Testament. The NT operates from the perspective that the end times are already at hand -- "God's final purpose is being uncovered in the life, death and resurrection of Christ."
Jesus is the embodiment of life in the restored Israel -- a world seen perfectly through God's eyes where no one is invisible, no one is forgotten. The community of Christ is a community that shows what the end of world looks like -- "where each is interested in the good of all."
"We are part of the end of the world -- where God's love determines the boundaries of human living."
After Christ's resurrection, the new Christian community begins to explore its role. Paul in his talk about the body of Christ pulls out a positive and a negative aspect. The positive is that every Christian is gifted for the good of the other -- mutual enrichment. The negative is that every person deprived is deprivation of the community -- mutual impoverishment.
As this is lived out, the Kingdom of God becomes real and concrete.
And like in the Hebrew scriptures, thie isn't just about the community of believers. The promise of Christ, the Christlike life is not just for those who have heard but for all.
The kind of community that makes God known is the kind of community that lives this deep concern for the empowerment of all and the deprivation of none because they know they all are enriched or impoverished by EVERY member of the community (or their absence).
"Every action in which God's justice becomes manifest is a kind of sacrament in the sense that it shows God's future."
That makes the Eucharist a sign of God's future. 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 talks about as they gather each one is willing to give precedence to the other. Everyone is waiting on everyone else, attending to the reality of others.
When we come to the Eucharistic table, the needs of the neighbor comes first.
"We look sideways as well as forward (at the table), and as we see others fed we ask, 'How may I be part of Christ's feeding of them?'"
"The first thing -- and sometimes the only thing -- you know of the person next to you at Eucharist is that they are Christ's guest. It is imperative to ask, 'How may I join in Christ's nourishment of them?'"
"The Eucharist is an open door into a new world. We are cutting ourselves off from our deepest roots when we fail to realize that all communion comes from that foundational event where all are heard, seen, welcomed and nourished at the Lord's table."
"There are no gated communities in the kingdom. There are no communitites protected from the loss or trauma of others."
How is this applied?
The Biblical imperative is not a set of orders, but a revelation of God in reference to a community that lives in a way that knows God -- where no one is invisible, unloved or forgotten.
This is "not an indifferent 'yes' to everyone." Conversion and repentance are required. But still no one is left invisible.
"The Church, faced with the Millennium Development Goals is bound to ask:
-who is being forgotten?
-whose deprivation is wounding us all?
Church has to be involved in creating participation and empowerment. Church is "where people learn to make choices that affect themselves and others."
"The Church has a deep committment to the absolute significance of every moment of change because it is sacramental." No moment is too small. Take the example of the widow's mite -- her two coins won't make much of a difference to the world, but it will to her. She's doing what she could. Make the difference you can make. "you don't have to do it all but you do have to make the difference you can make."
So what is the difference we can make as the church? "The church is probably the only organization in civil society that can deliver these goals on the grassroots level in concrete ways." That's the real difference no one else can make.
The church needs also to put this question to the wealthy nations of the West and North: "Have you understood that YOU are deprived by a system of global injustice?"
WE are victims of injustice. "To be a perpetrator of justice is also to be a victim of it. We become less human."
Quoted Augustine -- the problem is not just the suffering of the oppressed but the corruption of mind and heart of the oppressor.
We need to say as the prosperous (and help the prosperous to say) "I am caught up in something that I need help to see and find my way out of."
Working for the MDGs is "not just working for *the poor*. It's working for our own healing -- "that form of healing we usually call 'conversion'"
Quoting St. Antony "Our life and our death is with the neighbor."
Finally, closing, he mused "What will future generations look back on at us and say 'How on earth did they miss it?" (as we do with the church's complicity with slavery).
I don't have a lot to add on this. I could go on about various points, but I think I'll just let this sit for itself for now. I welcome your comments.